Photo Credit: © John Hefti-USA TODAY Sports

Mid-Tier Options in Free Agency

Jeff Skinner just signed an eight-year $72-million extension with the Buffalo Sabres instead of testing free agency. Skinner had a career-high 40 goals but only tied his career high in points with 63. Skinner scores goals. He’s had over 24 goals the past four seasons and over 20 goals in a full season every year but one in his career. $9 million per year is a lot for a top-six winger.

Skinner wasn’t going to be an option for the Oilers. Skinner is the type of player the Oilers need, like Artemi Panarin and Sergei Bobrovsky, but he was always going to make too much money and term for the Oilers. There are options in free agency that could help Edmonton.

The Oilers won’t be buying at the top of the free-agent market this summer, but there are plenty of options that could improve the roster without significant contracts.

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I’m using EvolvingWild‘s 2019 contract projections here.

RW Brett Connolly – 81GP – 22G 24A 46P

I thought Connolly could have been a nice buy-low candidate after Boston didn’t qualify him in 2016. Washington signed him and he’s been a productive middle-six option for the Capitals since. Connolly should come in at a reasonable cost. EvolvingWild projects a three-year contract at $3.53 per year for Connolly. Connolly’s scored 22 last season and 15 goals the two seasons prior. 21 of those goals in 2018-19 were at even strength. Connolly might flourish next to Connor McDavid, but I like him as secondary option next to Ryan Nugent-Hopkins or Leon Draisaitl. Although, he spent the bulk of last season next to Lars Eller on Washington’s third line. Connolly also adds a much-needed right-handed shot to the roster.

Connolly has been a very good 5-on-5 scorer the past three seasons and could continue his scoring surge with additional minutes in Edmonton. Could Connolly be Edmonton’s second-line right wing?

RW Joonas Donskoi – 80GP – 14G 23A 37P

Donskoi is another right wing with solid goal scoring and 5-on-5 production. Donskoi’s scored 14 goals the past two seasons. He doesn’t have eye-popping totals, but he’s played with good players higher up in the lineup in San Jose. Donskoi’s spent most of his time last season with Evander Kane and Tomas Hertl. When he wasn’t with Kane and Hertl, he played a bit with Joe Pavelski. You could sign Donskoi and reasonably expect him to ride shotgun on right wing in the top six.

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EvolvingWild projects Donskoi at $2.84-million per year for three years. That’s a nice price for a 27-year old winger who skates very well, can score 30-40 points, and play against good players.

LW/RW Richard Panik – 75GP – 14G 19A 33P

Panik has scored at least 14 goals in the past three seasons with Arizona and Chicago. Panik had 22 goals and 44 points with the Blackhawks in 2016-17, but they quickly traded him to Arizona mid-season the following year. Panik’s a solid .40-.50 points per game player who can play on the penalty kill. Panik spent most of last season with Derek Stepan and Vinnie Hinostroza. He can play with good players.

EvolvingWild projects Panik at $4.88-million per year for four years. That’s a little much. They also have Panik at a $3.71-million AAV for three years, but as most likely to sign for four or five years. That’s too much and too long for the Oilers, but I’d be interested on a two or three-year deal.

LW Ryan Dzingel – 78GP 26G 30A 56P

Dzingel stretches the mid-tier definition. He’s the fifth highest scoring UFA player left with Jeff Skinner extended with Buffalo. But Dzingel was also healthy scratched in the playoffs with Columbus and only scored one goal all postseason.

Dzingel still had a good season, but I wonder if he gets a less expensive contract than people initially thought. Dzingel is a great skater who could be a top-six winger for the next few years in Edmonton. Dzingel spent a bunch of time with Matt Duchene in both Ottawa and Columbus last season. He split 2017-18 with Duchene and Derick Brassard.

EvolvingWild projects Dzingel at $4.33-million per year for four years. That’s not a huge amount for a guy who scored 25 goals and 56 points. Dzingel only has one 50-point season to his resume. $4.33 million still seems a bit low, but EvolvingWild have been pretty accurate with their predictions so far.

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RD Anton Stralman – 47GP 2G 15A 17P 20:31 ATOI

Stralman had a down year influenced by injuries. He had the worst possession numbers of his career and only played in 47 games with Tampa Bay. Stralman played mostly with Ryan McDonagh on the Lightning’s second pair, but also spent time with Victor Hedman.

Stralman will be 33 next season and Father Time might be catching up with the right-handed defenceman. I’d be interested in Stralman depending what the Oilers do on defence. They should move out some salary on their blueline, preferably Kris Russell, and that’s where Stralman might come in on the right side.

EvolvingWild projects Stralman at $4.55-million per year for three years. The Oilers can’t give Stralman that money or term, but should definitely look into him on a one or two-year contract. On a one-year deal, EvolvingWild has Stralman at $2.5-million and $3.82-million for two years, which is much more around what the Oilers can afford.

I like Donskoi, Panik, and Dzingel for forwards. They’ve all played top-six minutes and you wouldn’t be signing them and expecting them to play a role they haven’t. With Connolly, he’s been more of a third-line guy but there’s a chance he could play higher in the lineup. Stralman could help the defence on the right side. The Oilers won’t sign the top-tier free agents, but a couple of mid-tier options could improve the roster nicely.

    • RJ

      Every season there are some mid-tier and low-tier options that outperform their contract, similar to what we saw with Chiasson. And every year we see UFAs that underperform (see nearly every Oiler UFA signing).

      Who would be the likely candidate to over perform? I’m not excited about a player who’s likely to get $2.85m AAV averaging 14 G/season. But if Donskoi can evolve into a 20-25 G/season player playing with McD, Drai or Nuge, then by all means target him.

  • vetinari

    Teams panic and overpay in money and term with the threat of free agency and the Skinner contract will not age well. We’ve already travelled this path with Nikitin, Khabibulin, Russell, Lucic, Ference, Sekara and others. Frankly, unless you are one to two players away from fielding a contender, stay away from most free agents until July 15th and then go shopping. Mistakes can be minimized and players can be obtained for test drives. If someone like Chiasson walks, we got our money’s worth from him and if someone like Reider leaves, we cut our losses to one season. Also, the greedy teams overpay the first two weeks and then have to trade away decent secondary players to make payroll room– that’s the market where we should be capitalizing this season.

    • BobbyCanuck

      Why would a UFA sign with us for a 1-2 yr term, when some team will offer them 7 yrs, that is the golden goal for UFA’s, 7 yr contract to ride into retirement. May get value for the first 2 yrs, but after that?

      • jesse says yep

        Times are changing for older ufas. Young kids are being given big contracts with lots of term earlier while the older players are being frozen out. Some may get the money but not the term. Too many GMs have seen the horrific downside to signing 28+ year olds to these contracts. Its a similar situation in other sports as well. Cost controlled young players are all the rage these days.

    • TruthHurts98

      Vetinari you are spot on, one of the most intelligent posts I’ve read in a while. Oh how I wish the Oilers would take this approach. They might be forced to which wouldn’t be a bad thing. Holland has to get very creative in the coming weeks.

      • Randaman

        To add if I may, I hope Holland has a long look and only signs someone that is affordable. If not available, stay the course and dump salary for the following FA period. Unfortunately, that’s where we are at thanks to PC.

    • crabman

      I agree that taking your time in free agency is propbably the most prudent approach. The way the league is going where the top tier RFAs are cashing in early that 2nd tier of quality players, if not stars, will continue to get cheaper. Locking into a long term deal with a decent player this year may hurt the team long term.
      That said Donskoi at $2.84×3 would be good value and fill a hole this year. I do like the idea of Dzingel as well but not sure if the price. The rest I would pass on.

    • crabman

      goal scoring costs a premium and dispite a lot of young talent in Buffalo they were one of the lowest scoring teams in the league. Skinner was in a prime possition to take advantage of them.

  • The Rookie

    Stralman is the perfect stop gap for the oilers while waiting for Bouchard. He could play 2nd pairing in place of Russell and then be moved down the chart as guys develop. I’d be interested at $3M for 2 years or $2.5 for 3. That is dirt cheap and fits the short term need.
    This year

    Klefbom- Bouchard
    Samorukov- Stralman/Jones
    Second year

    Samorukov-(pick a prospect)/Stralman
    Third year.

    It’s good to have that aging veteran that can take turns with the rookies sitting out in those last 2 years. And in the third year, $2.5M for a 6/7 guy is reasonable. I commented a few months ago that Stralman should be a target just for this reason, and I still believe so. As for the forwards i would love to see Connolly and Dzingel. We don’t need elite, just proven contributors. I’m sick of trying to plug 4th liners and AHL tweeters on the top lines just because a fire hydrant should be able to produce there. Give the boys some help ffs.

    • crabman

      I would like Stralman if he wasn’t already 33 and coming of a season with injuries. With all good young D prospects pushing for NHL time the last thing the team should be adding is a 30+ year old stop gap. We already have 2 of them and there has been much discussion about trading 1 or both of them.

        • crabman

          not a reason to take on a 33 year old on the downswing of his career. I have a hard time believing he would be an upgrade on Russell and I would like to see Russell moved for a younger cheaper stop gap.

        • crabman

          He is only significantly cheaper on a 1 year deal. On a 1 year deal at $2.5M I would consider him but I would still be cautious. As a player in his 30s the wheels maybe falling off. He missed significant time due to injury and hasn’t been much if a point producer/puck mover for 3 seasons now on a very high scoring Lightning team. Ar this point in his career I don’t see him as much of an upgrade, if any, over Russell. I also think a desperate team will give him 2 years minimum putting him in the Russell cap range.
          If Stralman is still unsigned at mid June, and Russell had already been traded, I would look at Stralman at 1×$2M or less.
          You are correct saying there isn’t much in FA to play 2RD stop gap. That’s why I wouldn’t be looking to FA for a defenceman this year.

  • TKB2677

    Stralman after playing his entire 12 yr career in the east, the last 10 season in the US, the last 5 in Tampa. He is not coming to Edmonton on a 1 – 2 yr deal for 2-3 mill. No chance in hell. The only way you are getting that guy is if you are committing to him 4-5 yrs which would be a bad idea.

  • Spoils

    in the way that I guy like Caleb Jones is chomping at the bit to play in the NHL, I’d like to see the Oilers find forwards in other organizations that are ready to matriculate. Ideally in places that have a need for LD so a win-win trade can be pitched.

    At the end of the day, the more competition we can have for spots the better.