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What can the Oilers do in free agency?

The Oilers have a few glaring needs to deal with this off-season and a little bit of wiggle room to try to solve them in free agency. The most important items on the new general manager’s agenda this summer will be scoring wingers, puck-moving defencemen, and a 1B goalie to play alongside Mikko Koskinen.

As things stand right now, the Oilers have about $71 million tied into eight forwards, six defencemen, and one goalie. They have some restricted free agents (Jesse Puljujarvi and Kukar Kharia are at the top of this list) to deal with a few prospects (like Kailer Yamamoto and Evan Bouchard) who could crack the team, but it looks like the Oilers will have about $8-10 million to work with in free agency.

Forwards:

As I said, it’s difficult to imagine the Oilers being in on the top tier of free agent forwards on the open market this summer. It would obviously be amazing if the team could somehow find the cap room to make an offer to Matt Duchene, Artemi Panarin, or Jeff Skinner, but it isn’t realistic. Instead, the Oilers will have to look at the mid-level and under-the-radar forwards out there.

Jordan Eberle: I wrote about this possibility a few weeks ago. Jordan Eberle had a down season on a defensively-oriented Islanders team this year but he silenced his critics with a very good first-round series in the playoffs. Signing up Eberle for a redemption tour would chew up a lot of the open room the team has to work with but he perfectly fills the need of a scoring winger.

Tyler Ennis: While the idea of Eberle coming back is funny to think about, it isn’t very realistic. The Oilers are more likely to sign under-the-radar, cheaper free agents. Tyler Ennis, who scored 12 goals in 51 games with the Leafs last season, would be a cheaper option to add to the team’s top six. Ennis has the speed and tenacity to thrive with Connor McDavid. He was paid just $650,000 last season.

Brandon Pirri: While Brandon Pirri has a lot of holes in his game, he’s always been able to score goals. The Oilers need a winger who can do just that. Pirri played most of 2017-18 in the AHL and racked up 29 goals in 57 games. In the two games he played for the Golden Knights that year, he scored three. This year, he was recalled halfway through the season and scored 12 goals in 31 games for Vegas. He’s always been undervalued and could probably be had for cheap.

Daniel Carr: Another Golden Knight who could be a breakout candidate is Daniel Carr. The Sherwood Park native scored 30 goals in 52 games in the AHL this year but has never really been given much of a chance at the NHL level.

Michael Ferland: Back to the mid-level free agent forwards for a moment. The Hurricanes were expected to deal Ferland at the trade deadline but ultimately kept him around for their playoff run. He’s scored 15, 21, and 17 goals the past three seasons, adds sandpaper to the lineup, and has experience playing as a power forward with Calgary’s most skilled players.

Ryan Dzingel: The Blue Jackets acquired Dzingel when they decided to go all-in at the trade deadline. He has solid for them down the stretch this year but hasn’t done anything in the playoffs. If a good playoff run can boost a player’s value, can a bad playoff run bring their price tag down?

Brandon Tanev: Brandon Tanev quietly scored 14 goals for the Jets last season. That isn’t major production, but it’s very solid for a bottom-six guy who can also kill penalties. He’s basically the player the Oilers thought they were getting with Tobias Rieder this year.

Alex Chiasson: I liked what Chiasson did this year as Edmonton’s bargain bin addition, but I’m skeptical of paying him for a late career year. I think the key is finding next year’s Chiasson rather than paying for last year’s Chiasson.

There are quite a few attractive names out there on the open market when it comes to forwards. I talked about a few interesting names but there are many more I didn’t touch on. If the Oilers move some things around they could probably afford one of Eberle, Ferland, or Dzingel, but given the roster’s lack of depth, they’re better off signing multiple under-the-radar players.

Defencemen

Like with the forwards, the Oilers aren’t really going to be in on the top prizes among defencemen on the free agent market. That means the team isn’t going to sign Erik Karlsson. Is there anybody else out there who can fill that offensive-minded role?

Tyler Myers: It feels like a lifetime ago that Tyler Myers won the Calder Trophy for rookie of the year with the Buffalo Sabres. He never evolved into that top defenceman everyone expected he could be, but he’s still a right-handed defenceman who can produce some offence. Given the money he’ll likely command, Myers probably isn’t worth the risk for the Oilers.

Brad Hunt: Here’s another familiar name. Brad Hunt spent a few years in the Oilers organization back during the tanking days but didn’t find much success until he played in Vegas in 2017-18. Hunt put up 18 points in 45 games for the Golden Knights in their inaugural season and could be a cheap power play specialist.

Tim Heed: Despite posting very good numbers in the AHL, Tim Heed hasn’t been able to find a permanent role on San Jose’s blueline. In 2016-17, Heed’s first year in North America, he racked up 56 points in 55 games. There could be a player there and it wouldn’t a very expensive a risk to take.

Ryan Murphy: The former No. 12 overall pick has never been able to hack it at the NHL level. He scored 25 points last year in the AHL in 58 games. Like with Heed, it would be a cheap risk to take to see if there’s anything there.

It isn’t a very inspiring list after Karlsson when it comes to defencemen this year. The Oilers already have a fairly solidified blueline and they’re probably best off to see if an internal option like Ethan Bear, Joel Persson, or Evan Bouchard can be that offensive defender they need.

Goalies:

Signing Mikko Koskinen to a fat contract was a puzzling decision, to say the least. Given how enigmatic he is, the Oilers need to sign a 1B type goalie to split the net with him rather than a cheap, mediocre back-up.

Robin Lehner: Once a highly-touted prospect, Robin Lehner finally had his breakout season last year. Lehner split the net with Thomas Greiss with the Islanders and is one of three Vezina Trophy finalists this year. That said, he played just 46 games, so will teams be comfortable paying him like an ace starting goalie?

Curtis McElhinney: Though he’s always been a backup throughout his career, Curtis McElhinney was excellent for the Hurricanes this year when the team’s goaltending situation was in flux. McElhinney played 33 games and posted a .912 save percentage and has been excellent in the playoffs since Petr Mrazek got injured.

Brian Elliott: Brian Elliott is familiar with splitting the net with another goalie in a 1A/1B format. I wouldn’t expect him to replicate the Vezina-calibre success he had in St. Louis given he hasn’t been great anywhere else he’s played, but Elliott is a steady and consistent option who won’t be expensive.

Keith Kinkaid: This would be the goaltending example of buying low. Kinkaid played a key role in helping a very underwhelming Devils team sneak into the playoffs in 2017-18 when Corey Schneider fell off a cliff. Since then, though, he’s struggled. Kinkaid had an .891 save percentage in 41 games with the Devils last season, but, as I said, it would be buying low to hope Kinkaid could replicate past success.

This is a challenging predicament for the Oilers. They’ve already made the strange decision to dedicate $4.5 million to an unproven goalie and now they don’t have much space to find a capable goalie to share the net. It would be great to sign somebody like Robin Lehner, but the Oilers will likely have to settle for a cheaper option.

    • OilerForLife

      Sad thing is the best of the batch of FAs and the problem with free agents is that the best of the batch command huge money, and teams get involved in a bidding war and the Oilers are squeezed out of the running. Even the 2nd tier FA’s usually command more money than they are worth.

      The rest of the group weren’t signed by their teams for a reason. Last season was so bad that the Oilers had to sign some players nobody wanted and were likely headed to sit out and wait for injuries, or take a farm deal somewhere. Then the Oilers have to pick up waiver players. The only sane option is to draft or develop, so let’s hope we get some graduating players for a change.

  • Schmidt Head

    The most important thing the Oilers could do in free agency is…… nothing!!

    OK, that’s a bit harsh but still, they need to resist this urge they have every year of trying to magically “one-trade” or “one-signing” their way to the promised land. That never works and wise managers know it.

    Free agent season is like a free banquet table for the free agents themselves because stupid, panicky managers; desperate to keep their jobs, always overpay.

    You can’t buy a championship team and even if you could, it wouldn’t last. Building a winner is a long, slow process which is made all the slower when stupid managers think they can short-cut the process every summer with Hail Mary moves which only end up backfiring and putting us right back where we started (or worse) for yet another season.

    Draft and develop!!!

    • Bluetomorrow

      There’s different types of signing in FA based on the list of players above I’d say most of them would be short 1-2 year contracts to fill holes. Can’t draft and develop if you don’t have 23 NHL players, pushing the young players down to the AHL

      • Alberta Bound Edmonton

        Holland’s first job is finding a goalie via trade or free agency. You do
        not go into next year with the status quo. Pete screwed this up and Ken will fix it.

        • Oil Can

          Holland is not going to fix anything. He is Chia. two point zero. When you remove Babcock from the RedWings, it shows that Holland has been rebuilding for ten years and has done absolutely nothing to move the RedWings forward. In three or four years people might look back and think that Chia. was good compared to Holland. I have been cheering for this team since the WHA days, but it is just a joke, how incompetent they can continue to be.

    • Die Hard Oiler Fan

      It’s hard to determine which of the many articles written about the new GM search are accurate, however Elliott Friedman has indicated that several of the candidates told Bobby N. that it would take several years to turn things around properly. In other words, it would be a huge mistake to try and make some “big splash” and, or trade this summer expecting to fix everything. I hope that this actually sunk in the heads of the interviewer(s), and that they hire one of the candidates pitching the draft and develop approach.

  • Beer

    I package Lucic with Benning in a trade. If Nobody bites, then so be it. Cap Hell ends next summer, and begins for other teams.
    I would consider that if it brings back somebody that can score goals and maybe fills in at center once in awhile.

  • McHitch

    Koskinen will be fine. Bring in a reliable backup like Elliot and create some competition.

    Our defence is set for once, our defensive prospect pool is elite. Lots of players ready to make the jump.

    We need to upgrade our wingers. Trade Benning and go from there.

  • Kelly Youngblood

    Tyler Eniis, Brandon Pirri and Alex Chiasson. If Edmonton can get this trio of free agents signed for a combined $5 million dollars it’d be a great start.

  • JasonY

    This team is a couple of years away from competing, because they still fail to realize and learn from their mistakes. They are in cap hell and are content to do so as proven by recent Koskinen signing, who is yet another gamble given his inconsistent performance. They continue again to pay for potential rather than actual current substance. It shows they are desperate for the quick fix given the media outrage. Until we get out of that ” rob peter to pay paul” mentality, this team is gonna continue to not improve.

    Talking about multiple buyouts (Lucic, Sekera, Manning etc) shows how this town and media continues to show how desperate they are for a quick fix. I understand that. This team under Katz has been arguably the worst organization in the history for almost 13 years. However, this only continues to compound their problem trying to quickly fix these on-ice issues.

    I hope they find someone that exemplifies fortitude to be patient regardless of the pressures of the hypocritical media and fans in this city. The media around here is a huge part of the phallacy. One day, they stress patience with the young players. Next day they say well, let’s move Sekera or Russell as Bouchard or Jones is good enough to play next year. I am still skeptical with either be consistent enough to play well enough for an entire NHL season and beyond. Just look at how the media and fans turn on Benning this past season.

    Regardless, I hope the fans and media actually take their own advice and stress more patience on this team. I don’t see them contending next year and perhaps the following year given the financial situation they are in. Buyouts and trading Lucic, Sekera has a high likelihood of not benefitting Oilers. Only trades I could see where the Oilers marginally would win would be Lucic for Eriksson type of deal similar to that Gagner for Spooner types. But these trades are only marginal wins that will inch them closer to the playoffs.

    • Die Hard Oiler Fan

      JasonY:

      Very well written. I like your comments that include the media in terms of the “desparation for a quick fix”. IF the team adopts a patient strategy for another two years, contracts for Gagner (aprox. $3.1M cap hit), Sekera ($5.5M), and Russell ($4M) will all have expired. In addition, the Pouliot buyout will be done (forget the amount, but it is about $1.3M. During that time some promising prospects (i.e. Benson, this year’s #8 overall pick, Bear, Jones, Bouchard, Lagesson, and maybe even McLeod) will have continued to develop, and should be ready to fill holes in the middle of the line-up.

    • Dallas Eakins Hair

      I agree. and yes buying out Lucic does nothing for the Oil, they are better off seeing if they can package Lucic with a sweetner or find a team that needs to hit the cap floor or someone that wants to get rid of a player on a bad contract that may work out here bteter than Lucic may, either way it wont be easy

      As for Sekera, I dont see why everyone wants Sekera out of town, the guys was moving the puck last year well after he came back, people forget the guy hadnt played in ages, so he might have been a little out of form but I though he did really well, I cant wait to see what he will be like this season, yes they could still trade him but right now I would hold the phone on that. If I am the Oilers I look at moving Larson and Benning

      • Big Nuggets

        Keep Sekera, bot because he will have no trade value and he is remarkably still our best puck moving defenseman. I wouldn’t be so quick to trade Larsson just yet. I would certainly entertain trades for Russell and Benning. Both should have at least a little trade value. maybe try to get a couple forwards for them and sign someone like Myers if he’s cheap enough. I’m not really a strong advocate for Myers but a puck moving RD would be nice to pair with Nurse. I also like Hunt as a depth option. could add a different look on the PP and would be cheap. Also resign Chiasson if he is under 2 million, which personally I think he will be.

  • Dallas Eakins Hair

    The Oilers should have singed Chaisson to a cheap deal long ago when they could have had him for around 1.5 to 1.75 now they risk him going elsewhere or trying to sign him in the 2.0 2.25 range I think Chaisson is going to get signed by someone else. As for the free agency pool, good luck with that, too mnay guys under contract, the Oilers have to keep an eye on how many guys they have under contract cause with am lot of contracts that we can not get out under from it is going to hamper the Oilers ability to do much same with the cap woes.

    If I am the Oilers I am going to look for guys like Chaisson was where teams have to sacrifice not signing guys because of the cap issues they have or to stay under the amount of players they can have under contract. I dont expect much to happen on the free agent front. The Oilers are going to be forced to find a goalie, but if I am them I look to either find a diamond in the rough like Colorado did or go the route the rangers did and look overseas.

    I am not too excited about some of the older goalie that have been mentioned in articles before the Oilers need someone to play at least 30 games or more because I dont know if Koskinen will handle the load and they sure as hell better hire another goalie coach because Schwartz isnt and should not have a job after the new GM is hired, he should have been gone after last season

  • OilCan2

    The Oilers should go the slow burn of their crap contracts and let the Condors and other prospects move onto the show. If Holland is the next GM let him get some contracts WITHOUT overpays and NMCs done for short terms. As far as building a “contender” any team in the playoffs can go deep; Connor & Leon will lead the way.

    • cityofchampions

      I agree completely. Be patient, let the bad contracts run out and let the young guys ease into the lineup on cheap deals. With McD and Drai we should have a chance at sneaking into the playoffs and from there anything can happen. If this is done right we should be real contenders in 2-3 years.

  • BrandieBear

    This is an uninspiring list of players. Honestly the path I would go down is offer sheeting an RFA or two. There are some good RFAs out there and for the cost of a second or third round pick I would chase after them. Players like Connor Brown or Kasperi Kappinen from Toronto would be people I would target. Brown might be able to be had for a third round pick and a manageable contract. Let’s say $2 mil x 2-3 years it’s a reasonable bridge contract and if the leafs can’t/won’t match he would cost us a third round pick. Losing a third round pick for a player we know can play now would be a risk I’d be willing to take. I think if we take a risk on an RFA or two like this it might help the team for a reasonable cost

  • Total Points

    Going forward the Oilers should draft and develop. Free agency is always a overpay.

    Play Lucic on the 4th line. That way he won’t screw up the other lines and can play a energy role. Every team has a Lucic so Oiler fans need to get over the Lucic contract. It is what it is

  • Arfguy

    I will always be behind getting Dzingel. He’s fast and he’s skilled. With a poor playoffs run so far, I think his asking price during the off-season will be acceptable.

  • Arfguy

    Also, I am in favour of getting Tim Heed. I think he’s got a great shot and I think we need that on the PP. I find him to be more mobile than Oscar Klefbom, who seems to be just given the PP 1D spot.

    We have some good defencemen in the minors and I honestly still like Matt Benning a lot and hope he can stay in the organization this upcoming year. Personally speaking, I think Oscar Klefbom has become a stronger version of Adam Larsson, with some offensive upside and good defensive skills.

    If I were the Oilers looking to find some cap space, I would move out right-shot Adam Larsson and sign right-shot Tim Heed to a lower AAV.

  • Quoteright

    I think patience is really important
    No more line juggling
    Kill the blender
    Create a team
    Chemistry
    Accountability
    I’m not sure our pro scouting is as bad as the treatment players receive.
    The Strome deal wasn’t bad…
    The way Strome was used was garbage.
    We then trade him and he flourished on another team.
    Eberle flourished
    Hall flourished
    Shultz
    Is it the players or the way they are being used.
    Even the players are asking for it.
    We’ve fired everyone
    The team is on fire
    No quick fixes
    Rebuild trust and team
    Develop what you have until you have value
    Stop losing trades trying to quick fix

    • Dallas Eakins Hair

      I get that sometimes a coach needs to bring a blender out when thing arent going in a game, but last year was atrocious both TM and Hitch were blendering the lines so much it was brutal, like some of the line combos made no sense. Call Currie up and put him on the 4th line? Why? may as well have left him in Bakersfield.

      Last year there was just no gelling between the guys because the blender was out, when Drua Chasisson and Reider were having success how long did that line last then TM took the blender out, I didnt understand it at all. Why break up a 2nd line that was putting up points? I get what you mean though , it was brutal last year

  • Consultant

    Holland strikes me as a patient guy, heard his trade count is low. We do need a guy with experience and preaches the draft and develop route. It’s what we’ve been wanting for years. Would he also be poho? Or just GM? The new organizational structure that is being discussed is so needed. A new beginning is just days away.

  • You should only use free agency to get complimentary pieces. The ones who go after that franchise-changing “splash” are the ones who make mistakes(*cough Lucic). Get 2 or 3 guys on reasonable deals that we can plug in is the ideal free agency for this team