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Photo Credit: Andy Marlin-USA TODAY Sports

New Free Agent Options?

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.

UFA CLASS…

Apr 18, 2019; Raleigh, NC, USA; Washington Capitals right wing Brett Connolly (10) skates against the Carolina Hurricanes in game four of the first round of the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs at PNC Arena. The Carolina Hurricanes defeated the Washington Capitals 2-1. Mandatory Credit: James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports

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.

PARTING SHOTS…

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,
Sophia

Recently by Jason Gregor:

  • I agree that market changes perception of players, and Marner is getting more attention because of that, but it’s hugely because of cap space. Carolina and Colorado have just under $26 and $38 million respectively, where TO has just over $6. (puckpedia) That’s were the smart articles are coming from. Col and Car can easily match any offer but T. needs to make decisions and moves.

    • Jason Gregor

      It isn’t just the offer sheet. But look at Tampa. They have less cap space than Toronto. I don’t see people talking about offering sheeting Point in same regard as Marner. So I disagree that it is simply about offer sheets. Many are writing like Marner is the best of the RFAs, and I don’t agree.

      • OriginalPouzar

        100% – being a Leaf has a ton to do with all the verbal regarding Marner and the potential offer sheet. At the same time, when comparing this to what is out there with comparables like Rantannen, Point and Aho, another key point is the rumored “requirements” from Marner – i.e. 5 year term (terrible for the team) AND upwards of $11M.

        I don’t know how negotiations are going to COL, TB, CAR however I haven’t heard that the player (or his agent or his dad) are looking for, essentially, a 100% player favorable contract in all facets. If only he was going to give up a UFA year, I’m sure a full NTC/NMC would be a requirement.

        • Jason Gregor

          Do you think he would balk at $11 million a year only because he didn’t have trade protection in the final year of that deal? He could be traded in the first four regardless, so if he was dealt in the 5th year, he would only be on that team for one year before becoming a UFA again. Is that really that much of a sticking point? I’d be surprised if that was the hold up on a deal that paid him that well on a short term. I know Matthews got one, so maybe he wants it, but it only protects 20% of the contract, since the first four years he can be traded anyways. And the fact you haven’t heard what others are asking for illustrates my exact point. If Marner wasn’t in TO there wouldn’t be the oversaturation of discussion on his contract.

      • Glencontrolurstik

        No one is writing anything about hockey in the Summer in Tampa…
        It’s Florida for crying out loud,… The season’s over. They could care less about hockey in the regular season (and a top tier baseball team for that matter, but that’s another story) let alone when the season is over & NFL is on the horizon.
        So, no one cares about how much “cap space” the Bolts have in their market… or offer sheets, even if they knew what one was, they wouldn’t care.
        So, we probably won’t get many articles and blogs etc. written about hockey in Florida Jason. You cannot compare Toronto… And there is no one in Florida going to “Point” out how good the Florida players are against the Leafs players… (see what I did their). The southern American teams with no local interest are taking away a lot of the shine from the NHL, especially in the off-season…
        I work in an industry that caters to so many Mericans, and honestly, they could care less about hackey… When I say, oh, Congratulations on the _______’s making the playoffs. They say, “what, who?”…. Oh yeah, hackey. “You people love that here”…
        Those guys are hardly going to write about offer sheets…

        • billsbills

          I think the point of the article is that it is media bias. Jason does a better job than most Toronto media. They seem to be more worried about their popularity in the market than being objective while doing their job.

          Of course I’m biased too. I hate the Leafs.

          • Glencontrolurstik

            I hate the Leafs as well. And I roll my eyes at Leafs this, Leafs that, articles… It gets old fast. My point is though, that without T.O. and their writers about all things Leafs & NHL in general… We wouldn’t hear much about anything at all, especially in the off-season.
            The T.O. media stir the pot enough in Canada and to a certain extent US, that we have other markets writing about hockey.
            I’d go as far to say that a lot of writers would be out of a job, and would even doubt the existence of websites like this, if TO didn’t keep hockey in the media… As an example, the CFL was huge Canada-wide up until the 80’s. When all of a sudden some writers in the bigger markets kept saying that it was an inferior game…
            Like a great restaurant that turned bad, no one was flocking to the games any more & we have what we have now…
            If it wasn’t for the T.O. media giants (love them or hate them) the interest in hockey just wouldn’t be there to the same extent. Especially in the off-season.
            They keep it front and centre in our minds.

  • Holland won’t be big name hunting for sure but he still does need to add some pieces, this roster was pushed to its limits and still couldn’t get results. Knowing Holland he has Yamamoto, Marody, and Benson booked in for another season in Bakersfield(rightfully so). Connolly and his agent sound very legit about their interest in Edmonton and that’s a name that’s growing on me. If they can sign two of Connolly, Donskoi, and Mrazek then im okay with it. Free agency hasn’t been nice to us recently but I still think it is a way to fill a few needs. If even just one of Haas or Nygard live up to expectations it would go a long way in helping out the forwards.

  • Dapper Dan 3099

    would Florida be interested in Lucic + pick, for Reimer (or something along those lines) I wonder? I think they have some cap space to take on the difference in Lucic /Reimer , and I cant see Lucic complaining about playing in sunny Florida…. I highly doubt anyone does the Oil that favour…

    • Nanook

      I don’t know whay and maybe call me crazy, but I think tippet is going to help Lucic unlock something and we are going to see a much better Looooch this year. I know it feels like a long shot but something is just telling me that tippet’s game is going to help Lucic a ton.

      • The future never comes

        I’ll call you crazy, he has plummeted in skill and he is only getting older while the leagues getting younger. Coaches cannot suddenly make players learn to handle the puck better.

        • Nanook

          he doesn’t need to neccesarily get better hands, he just needs to do looch things, be in better position, crash and bang infront of the net and start throttleing people again. I agree he will never be worth his contract but if someone could light a fire under his ass then he can bring many more intangibles to the ice. Its not like he has to be the guy to transport the puck up the ice, but he sure could go plant himself infront of the net and get mean like he used to be good at.

          • The future never comes

            Well I guess I will stop at agreeing to disagree with you in respects to needing hands for the NHL. At the end of the day if all you do is crash and bang, then maybe he is better suited for football as that does not require having hands.

          • Vanhellian

            You’re right. Actual structure and discipline, in a more focused role, and Looch could be back to be being a contributong force on the team. Don’t worry about handling the puck. Dish it off, get to the net, work the corners. You don’t need sweet mitts to be effective. Perhaps Tippett will help Looch to find that focus. The last half of 2018/19, under Hitch, Looch wasn’t getting goals but he looked measurably better defensively and was adding some helpers along the way. Couple that with the recent comments from his agent, and there is hope he will regain some form.

  • ed from edmonton

    The No 1 priority ,as stated by Tippet, is trying to solidify the goaltending situation. The two goalies that might be able to give the Oil a semblance of a starting goalie are Vharlamov and Mazurek. I am discounting Bobrowsky who will be to expensive and Lehner who I expect to resign with NYI. Vharlamov has been a starter during his career and Mazurek although he has not been able to establish himself as a starter has much more impressive credentials than Koski. Can they attract either of these guys? I don’t know but they need to give it their best shot, including willing to spend a significant portion of their FA money on a goalie.

    The other need is to improve forwards. There are a number of possibilities here, but with limited cap space it will ne necessary to do something else as well. If swapping of bottom Dman for a bottom forward is possible, they should do it. So if Benning for Brown is real, they should do it. The other possible move is dumping an expensive bottom Dman, preferably Russel and use money freed up for a forward. But be wary, if Russel can be moved it may not be “free”. Russel does not have the same issues that Marleau has, but freeing up cap space wil come with a cost.

    So what forwards might be of interest at a price the Oil might afford.

    Connelly – only if cap space opens up, otherwise he might be too procey.
    Donskoi – a real likely target. A contract starting with 3
    Collin Wilson – Also a contract starting with 3.
    Chaisson – in the $2.5M range. I think teams see him as a guy who scored 20, not a 20 goal guy and will still be available at an economical price.
    Richard Panik – This year’s Reider (maybe he will score a goal and then according to BN the Oil will then make the playoffs).

  • FISTO Siltanen

    Jason,

    With Connolly I’d even go $4M/year on a 3 year term (I would consider my options before signing it though). But I’d structure the deal to be $6M/$3M/$3M with a signing bonus in each of the last two years. If he struggles his contract is infinitely easier to move. I would also be firm on a no gratuitous NTC/NMC. First year, sure. After that the number of teams he can refuse goes down.

  • RJ

    I think the challenge for Connolly is going to be Capitals depth versus Oilers depth at RW.

    Capitals have Ovechkin as an undisputed 1RW and future hall of famer. They have Oshie as their 2RW, so Connolly in Washington as a 3RW.

    With Ovi and Oshie on the RW, there’s also no logical space for Connolly on the PP1 or PP2.

    Put him on the Oil. The best RW is Kassian, who is ok as a fill-in as needed but he’s no Connolly. It’s simple to see he could have a role on the Oilers PP and add that scoring to his 5×5 scoring.

    I think it’s easy to see him produce more if given PP time.

    I certainly don’t expect him to be the top scoring RW in the league next year, but on this roster, he’d be the best of the lot and should be able to move up. Even if he wasn’t an elite RW, he’d be better than Kassian.

  • OriginalPouzar

    I’ve been pumping the tires on Riemer since a potential buyout of his contract was put out there. If they could get him for apx $2M (either on a retained salary deal or post-buyout signing), I think he’d be a perfect 1B.

    His three years prior to this past year were very good and exactly what is needed.

    • The Whispererer

      Manning’s NHL Cap hit if he is buried in the AHL is ~ $1.15. Trade him to Florida for Riemer with Florida retaining ~ 25% ( $0.850 ). Florida buries Manning and saves ~ $1.4 this season and ~ $2.55 next year. The Oilers get Riemer at an incremental cap hit of ~ $1.4 this season and ~ $2.55 next year. The Florida retention % might need some adjusting to make it more fair/attractive to Florida.

      • The Whispererer

        The same type of transaction could be using Manning to get Colin Miller from Vegas, but without retention. Miller out @ $3.75 and Manning in @ $1.15 saves Vegas $2.6 this year and $3.75 next year. Edmonton gets Miller at an incremental cap of those same amounts by dumping Manning.
        Moving Russell is key though. The space to improve the forward ranks would have to come from his disposal.

        • The Whispererer

          Nice constructive reply Ed.
          Florida is reported to be considering their best way out of Reimer’s contract ( including a buyout which would not be their 1st choice ) and Vegas is reported to be trying to move Miller for Cap savings. I made a couple of proposals that, presumably with some flexibility, might be a good starting point for negotiations that could meet their requirements while fitting within the Oilers’ budget. What have you done ?

  • OilTastic

    If the Oilers sign Connolly, Hartman and day….Mrazek, then the Oilers have improved already over the ineffective sludge that was Rieder and Rattie! And if just one of Benson or Marody can come in and be somewhat effective, then I believe we have improved from last year, as long as one of these guys doesn’t end up scoring ZERO goals again!!

  • Petey Summers

    Connolly has the potential to be the next Pouliot. Gregs is right, the guy has played third line minutes with just over a 13 minute TOI. In Edmonton, he would be expected to play 18-19 minutes with many of those coming on the top line. Can he even keep up? If the Oil need a top six guy they should go out & get one, not sign this dude to 3-4-5 years with a high AAV & hope he can be a top six guy. When will they ever learn?

  • billsbills

    Wouldn’t Hartman be an automatic over-pay? I don’t see why else he would come here unless you offer him more than Dallas.

    If you promised to play him with McDavid, do you think he would believe you?

  • OilCan2

    Sign the goalie first. Wingers are far easier to find and we have two of them from Europe coming in. There is also improvement from within. JJ or JP or a Condor or two could step up with 10 or more goals.

    Bravo on giving the Grads stylish threads.

  • billsbills

    The way I see it, in today’s NHL you simply cannot over-pay for bottom six forwards, bottom 3 defencemen or back up goalies.

    If you’re a bit high on a performing player, over the life of that contract as the cap grows, the hit adjusts.

    Bottom roster players certainly need to be able to play and contribute. But they have to be on favourable contracts. Ideally guys on the end of their career playing with guys at the beginning of their careers for mentorship. Something that was missing here for a long time.

  • T Shuttz

    What about putting the squeeze on the Canucks and getting Virtanen out of Vancouver for lets say JP? V would look great on the right wing, plus they won’t be able to afford everyone after next year.

    • cityofchampions

      why would Vancouver do that? Especially to a division rival? Its like Canuckleheads saying why not pry Nurse out of Edmonton for Tanev as the Oilers can’t pay him next year. Deals have to work for both teams.

  • Mrazek, Pirri, and Connolly. Roll the dice with these intriguing Europeans and maybe one of the condors can pop. If they can add those three guys I am certain we can be in the playoff mix. Cap friendly is saying we have 8.3 mil so I think there are ways of getting creative, and Pirri could be a steal. Mrazek May be enticed by a prior relationship with holland and the opportunity to grasp the title of starter, which might give koskinen some needed accountability. He stole the net and soon as he got paid he didn’t have the same solid look. Please Gord give me a team this year…

  • Big Nuggets

    I always liked Hartman. He was great with Chicago, very competitive. I feel he must have some off-ice issues to be traded yet again. I never heard anything but his value has dropped a long way from where it once was.

  • Well if everyone thinks the career third liner is going to make this team better then we should once again over pay for a bottom 6 guy who averages 13 minutes a game. And oh ya he doesn’t kill penalties and doesnt get power play time. If he plays on our third line he might get 12 goals and 25 points maximum. I think burakovsky would be a better choice