I don’t expect Ken Holland to be courting top-end free agents, he has basically said as much, but he will be bargain hunting. Yesterday was the deadline to submit qualifying offers to restricted free agents, and 31 players who played at least one NHL game last season didn’t receive a QO. They are now free agents, except the team who didn’t qualify them still has their exclusive negotiating rights until midnight on June 30th.
The excellent site PuckPedia put together a list of all the players who didn’t receive a QO yesterday. It includes Tobias Rieder, Ty Rattie, Tyler Vesel, Robin Norell and Colin Larkin from the Oilers. I reported last week that Rieder and Rattie wouldn’t receive a QO so there were no surprises from the Oilers, but a few names did pop up and some have asked if they’d be a fit for the Oilers.
Let’s have a look.
Ryan Hartman has scored 31, 31 and 26 points the past three seasons. He had 19 goals and 31 points with the Blackhawks in 2017, then had 8-17-25 in 57 games in 2018 before being traded to Nashville where he produced 3-3-6 in 21 games with the Predators and another 2-1-3 in nine playoff games. Last year he tallied 10-10-20 in 64 games with Nashville before the Flyers acquired him in for Wayne Simmonds and he produced 2-4-6 in 19 games.
Hartman was traded to Dallas on Monday for Tyler Pitlick and then the Stars didn’t qualify him. They still want to sign him, but had they qualified him he could have filed for arbitration and the Stars were concerned he’d get too big of an offer. It is a risk by Dallas. Hartman was part of their team for less than 24 hours. He has no connection to them. Why wouldn’t he wait until July 1st to see what other teams offer? I know I would.
He turns 25 in September. He has played 245 NHL games. I outlined his point production above, and his underlying numbers are decent as well via Corsica. He is mainly a 5×5 player. Over the past three seasons, he has a total of 65:13 on the PK and 113 minutes on the PP. He could play on the second PP unit.
Nick Cousins scored 16, 19 and 27 points the past three seasons. The first in Philly and the last two in Arizona. He didn’t play under Dave Tippett. His underlying numbers aren’t nearly as good as Hartman’s. He played on the second PP unit in Philly in 2017 and in Arizona last season, but is not a penalty killer. He is a left-shot centre, and I think the Oilers really need a right shot centre for their third or fourth line. I’d pass on Cousins.
Brendan Leipsic has bounced around the past two seasons. In 2018 he had 2-11-13 in 44 games with Vegas and 3-6-9 in 14 games with Vancouver. Last year he produced 2-3-5 in 17 games with Vancouver and 5-13-18 in 45 games with Los Angeles. The Kings didn’t qualify him. He skates well, was a dynamic scorer in junior, and can chip in offensively in small doses in the NHL. His underlying numbers are nothing to get excited about and he is likely a fourth line player. I’d argue he would upgrade their 13th or 14th forward position, and could fill in his spots, but I’d look elsewhere first.
Markus Granlund scored 19-13-32 in 69 games in 2017, then got banged up in 2018 and produced 8-4-12 in 53 games and last season potted 12-10-22 in 77 games. All three season were with the Canucks. He, along with Brandon Sutter, were their top two PK forwards in PK TOI the past three seasons. The Canucks PK was 29th in 2017, 21st in 2018 and 11th last season. He is listed as a C, but he has played more wing than centre the past three years. He was sixth, seventh and sixth on the Canucks in total faceoffs in each of the past three seasons. His GF% at 5×5 is an ugly 40%, and the rest of his underlying numbers are less than ideal. I’d pass if anything more than a one year deal.
Hartman is the best option, followed by Granlund.
We know the Oilers have met with winger Brett Connolly. Connolly is very intriguing. I like him as a player, the question is the term. I’d rather pay a bit more on a shorter term, than go an extra year. Buyers remorse is much higher the longer the term for non-elite players. Connolly is very productive at 5×5. Over the past three seasons with Washington, he is third in 5×5 goals with 45, trailing only TJ Oshie (47) and Alex Ovechkin (68). He had 14 in 2017, ten in 2018 and 21 last season.
His most common linemate was Lars Eller at 1,696 minutes over three years, followed by Andre Burakovsky (898), Jakub Vrana (352) and Evgeny Kuznetsov (284). He produced five goals with Kuznetsov, nine with Vrana, 14 with Burakovsky and 34 with Eller. He and Eller have had excellent third line production. An odd stat: 159 minutes playing alongside Nicklas Backstrom Connolly had no goals.
Connolly has been an excellent third line player for Washington. The challenge when you sign him, is in Edmonton he might become their first line right winger. He would get to play with more skilled centres than Eller, but he’d also face tougher defencemen. Does playing with McDavid or RNH balance out the increased quality of competition? Possibly. But playing with McDavid is a challenge. You have to keep up. You have to play fast.
The other factor is the mental side. Connolly would have much more responsibility in Edmonton. There would be more expectations. He’d put more expectations on himself. It is natural, anyone would do it. He’d want to live up to the contract, but he’d also know the team was relying on him more. You can say don’t think that way, but that is easier said than done.
The biggest mistake, I believe, teams make in free agency is often, not always, they sign a player hoping he will be more than what he was. Connolly has been an outstanding third line player in Washington. He has excelled in that role. He, and all the teams courting him, believe he can be more and that’s why whoever signs him will likely expect him to a be top-six winger.
When projecting numbers it is important to remember all of the variables that come into play. Tougher competition, new surroundings, more pressure. You hope the player is capable of handling it and still be productive, but often it doesn’t work.
I like what Connolly brings, and he’d be their most productive RW on the depth, so I understand why they want to sign him. Cost is always a question, but for me, term is more important. Shorter is always better. The max deal I’d look at is four years, but I’d be much more comfortable at three years, even if the $$ was a bit higher. But if he signed people the team, fans and media need realistic expectations. Just because he makes more money doesn’t mean he is suddenly a better player.
1. If I’m Colorado I keep Tyson Barrie for the season, and worry about an extension after. If he leaves, then Cale Makar, Samuel Girard and Bowen Byram can fill in the offensive void in 2020/2021. I’d send Byram back to junior for this year, but I see him being NHL ready next year.
2. I’m hearing Corey Perry and the Oilers will not be a fit. He is older and the travel of an eastern-based team, after so many years in Anaheim, is very intriguing for him. Pittsburgh makes a lot of sense, because he and Crosby have played on Team Canada many times, and the Penguins are still a contender.
3. Brandon Tanev, Joonas Donskoi, Richard Panik and Daniel Carr are players we have discussed on here for months as potential targets for the Oilers. I’d look at Donskoi first, then Tanev, Panik and Carr. Donskoi shoots right and he and Connolly, along with Zack Kassian would give them three experienced right shots. Dusty Nielson wrote about Tanev and Donskoi earlier today.
4. If Mitch Marner played for Colorado or Carolina there would be fewer articles talking about an offer sheet for him. Mikko Rantanen and Sebastian Aho are just as good, if not better in some facets, and no one talks about them, or Brayden Point, nearly as much. Marner is a very good player, but the market he plays in impacts how some view him, both positively and negatively. It will be fascinating to see which of those four RFAs signs first. I don’t see an offer sheet making sense for any team. You’d have to really overpay them for their team to walk away.
5. Take it to the bank: there will be five UFA contracts signed on July 1st where teams will have severe buyers remorse within 18 months. Term is the bigger killer than money, yet too many GMs still give out too long of deals to non-elite players.
6. The goalie UFA carousel will be moving quickly. Teams don’t want to be left on the outside looking for a backup. The Flyers re-signed Brian Elliott today to a one-year deal worth $2 million. Does that set the bar for the likes of Mike Smith, Cam Talbot, Michal Neuvirth, Petr Mrazek, Curtis McElhinney, Cam Ward? The Islanders and Robin Lehner still don’t have a deal, so maybe he walks. Semyon Varlamov has spoken to teams this week teams, but supposedly his asking price is too high. Once the music starts you don’t want to be without a seat, and if Varlamov is coming in that high he might price himself out of a few markets, and then find himself having to take less elsewhere. It is interesting both from a team and goalie standpoint in how they negotiate and see if they can get the best deal possible.
7. I asked Kevin Woodley from In Goal Magazine: if we assume Dave Tippett will demand similar attention to detail defensively as he did in Arizona, is there is a goalie, based on style, who would fit best in Edmonton?
“To be honest any goalie will benefit if it resembles anything like it was in Arizona,” said Woodley. “There should be layers of structure and consistency in front of the goalie which frankly has lacked in Edmonton in recent years. Mike Smith is one name I have heard linked to Edmonton. Another name is James Reimer, because Florida needs to get rid of him, especially if they land Bobrovsky. Reimer had a .921sv% when Luongo was on the IR. A lot of his underlying numbers are good, but the Panthers would have to eat some of his $3.4 million cap hit. I see a fit in Edmonton for his style and Dustin Schwartz’s approach as a goalie coach. I know a lot of people will look at his numbers from last year and wonder what I’m thinking, but I think he is better than last year’s numbers suggest.”
8. An advanced thank you to those who will play in the 3rd annual Oilersnation golf tourney this August. Registration opened today and you can get your tickets here. It is a great day, and a major fundraiser for Gregor’s Grads. Gregor’s Grads provides high school grads, who aren’t in a position to afford one, with a new suit, shirt, tie and shoes. This past year we fitted 109 grads. And every one of them had a huge smile on their face. So thank you in advance for playing. Sign up, you will have a great time and help a great cause. In case you are wondering how the grads feel. This is an email I received from one of who received a new suit.
Dear Gregor’s Grads,
I would first like to thank you on behalf of everyone in Edmonton and surrounding areas for dedicating your time to help kids who are in need of it. Your organization has helped me in ways you couldn’t even imagine. I wanted my grad to be special and filled with joy, but because I didn’t have the support or funds I feared that wouldn’t be possible. I never owned a suit before because I was scared of being judged by the fitters and others, everyone who helped me at Gregor’s Grads made me feel welcome and accepted and I thank you kindly for that.
I never thought I would be able to wear a suit to grad, but thanks to the support in my school and support from my loved ones we found your organization. No student from my school had ever reached out to you before so we didn’t know how it would go and I was quite nervous.
When I arrived everyone was incredibly welcoming, caring, understanding, and non-judgmental. You made the atmosphere fun and lively with good food and music and showed very professional qualities. I was listened to the entire time and was helped through the entire process of finding the perfect suit. I was beyond excited to wear my own brand new suit for the first time in front of all my loved ones and it is all thanks to you.
I have immense respect for everything you do, you help kids in the slightest way to make the biggest difference and you don’t do it for money. You do it to make that kid the happiest possible on their special day, that’s amazing. I felt incredibly confident and I looked amazing on the day of grad, my suit was just perfect, it was everything I hoped for and so was our grad. I sincerely hope you continue to run this organization and change lives one suit at a time and I hope you all get as much love and happiness in your life as you give.
With much gratitude,