For the most part, Oilers fans got very excited earlier this week when Georges Laraque tweeted that the team had signed veteran centreman Derick Brassard to a one-year deal. Brassard is coming off a down year that saw him play 70 games with three different organizations yet still, he managed to score 14 goals and as a one-year bet, he would have looked good on the Oilers third-line.
That report never came to be. Instead, Brassard signed a one-year $1.2 million contract with the New York Islanders. That means if the Islanders win the Cup this year, Oilers fans will be able to complain about the Reinhart trade AND the fact that Brassard chose Long Island over Edmonton.
Now, the Oilers are sort of back to square one. They don’t have an established NHLer on their roster that is capable of being their third-line centre.
Kyle Brodziak is too slow, Colby Cave doesn’t have the track record to be trusted in that role, and the likes of Jujhar Khaira, Sam Gagner, and Markus Granlund are better suited to be wingers. In the system, they have Cooper Marody, who could very well step in and earn the job, but the Oilers have been burnt in the past by banking on young players to handle significant roles. They can’t afford to make that mistake once again.
It might end up being a player on a PTO, and I do believe that within the next 10-14 days they will announce that a veteran winger will be coming to camp on a tryout, but I think they need to go out and sign one more NHL calibre forward who can step in and handle the third line centre responsibilities.
The list is pretty short simply because we’re getting to the end of August and most of the quality unrestricted free agents who can play centre have been snatched up, but there are three players still on the market that I’ve had my eye on.
Riley Sheahan: He’s the best fit in my opinion. Sheahan was originally drafted by Ken Holland back in 2010 and he spent his first four full NHL seasons with the Red Wings. Holland is known as a loyal GM so it wouldn’t surprise me if he has already reached out to Sheahan.
Last season was a very disappointing one for Sheahan. He appeared in 82 games (split between Pittsburgh and Florida) and posted just nine goals and ten assists. That would have put him tenth on the Oilers in scoring. However, in his 33 games with the Panthers, he won 54% of his faceoffs, averaged close to two minutes per game on the penalty kill, and shot just 4.44& at even strength.
Based on that, I’m willing to say that Sheahan is an experienced, capable centre who can handle penalty-killing duties and is due for a slight increase in goal scoring based on his low shooting percentage last season. On top of that, he should only cost $1 million at the most.
Brian Boyle: There’s no denying that he is a better player and would make a greater impact than Sheahan, but I had him second on my list for a few reasons. First, I still believe he’s going to get close to $2 million on a one-year deal. He’s getting old but he still scored 18 goals last year. Some team will step up before training camp and make him a better offer than I believe the Oilers would feel comfortable doing based on their cap situation (which I will explain in a second).
Second, Boyle is now over 35-years-old, I have more concerns about his ability to keep up at the NHL level and be an effective centre at even strength than I do with a 27-year-old Riley Sheahan.
Still, he proved last season that he can really help a team out on both the powerplay and penalty kill. He’s a proven veteran leader as well and I think the Oilers could benefit from his presence on and off the ice but I just don’t know if the Oilers could make it work from a salary perspective.
Oscar Lindberg: He’s third on my list and honestly, he might even be a PTO candidate. Last season, he scored a total of nine goals and 11 assists in 55 games played with Vegas and Ottawa. Over an 82 game season, that’s a pace of 13 goals and 16 assists. That kind of season would have put him fifth amongst Oilers forwards in 2018-19. He shot just a hair under 10% as well, so that pace is more than sustainable. On top of that, he barely played on the powerplay and averaged just over 12 minutes a game at all strengths.
Regular top-nine minutes and a role on the second powerplay unit could be incredibly beneficial to his success on the stat sheet.
He wasn’t very good in the faceoff circle last season so that’s certainly a concern. On top of that, he almost never saw any time on the penalty kill with either of Ottawa or Vegas. That’s also a concern.
For that reason, I wouldn’t pick him over Boyle or Sheahan but if both those players are gone, I see nothing wrong with taking a gamble on Oscar Lindberg for next season.
THE SALARY CAP
Right now, PuckPedia has the Edmonton Oilers with $2.5 million in cap space. That’s with them having a full 23-man roster and having already buried Brandon Manning in the AHL. If they sign a player, they need to send one down. That could free up around $1 million as long as it’s Kyle Brodziak or Gaetan Haas being shuffled out.
As long as the centre they bring in makes less than $1.5 a season, they will enter next year with $2 million in cap space. That either gives them enough wiggle room to do something at the deadline or enough space to comfortably eat whatever bonuses Mike Smith ends up making.
Ken Holland has the space to make something happen, I’m really hoping he pulls the trigger on something before camp opens up.