Over the last week, I have been looking into what Ken Holland could do with the three pending restricted free agents on his roster and now, I want to shift my focus to the unrestricted free agents.
Holland has already taken care of a few of them with the signings of Joakim Nygard, Gaetan Haas, and Josh Archibald but there are still a few left that the Oilers should be interested in bringing back.
I’m going to start with Riley Sheahan. Out of the three pending UFAs, I believe he is the most likely to resign. He was brought in right before training camp started last September and after getting off to a slow start, he ended up being a very serviceable player for the Oilers.
He was a solid penalty killer, a reliable defensive centreman, and he was actually on pace for close to 20 points when the season was cancelled. He was well worth the $900k that the Oilers paid him. Once he got comfortable, he also developed a nice chemistry with Josh Archibald. If the two of them could carry that into next season, it would give the Oilers a really nice bottom-six duo.
If the Oilers could find a way to bring in a better third-line centre and Sheahan was slotted on the fourth line, I think he would thrive even more. Regardless, they know that Sheahan is capable of surviving as a third-line centre and I would expect that he’ll be resigned for next season. He probably deserves a raise, but not a major one. A one-year deal worth $1 million or a hair more would make sense for both Sheahan and the Oilers.
Next up is Tyler Ennis, who was acquired at the trade deadline from the Ottawa Senators. I really liked what I saw from the Edmonton product in the first handful of games since he was acquired. He scored two goals and two assists in nine games but was a player that Dave Tippett could use anywhere in the lineup. Whether he was paired up with McDavid on the top line, or lower in the lineup I really felt like Ennis was impactful. I would love to see the Oilers bring him back, but it might be tough.
The Oilers cap situation is the first big hurdle. If the cap stays flat at $81.5 million, then the Oilers will have just over $10 million in cap space. With that money, they’ll need to sign Ethan Bear, Matt Benning, and Mike Smith (or a different goaltender). After they sign those three, they’ll have 12 forwards (assuming Sheahan is signed and Benson is in the NHL as well), seven defensemen (assuming Bouchard is in the NHL to start), and two goaltenders.
How much money will they have left to sign Ennis? Not a lot. But since they have so many players under contract, they could potentially shed some money. I’m looking at players like Jujhar Khaira, Alex Chiasson, and Kris Russell as ways the Oilers could save some money. If it came down to needing to find an extra $1 million to bring back Tyler Ennis, then I would think Ken Holland would be willing to move out JUJHAR KHAIRA to do so.
It’s also tough to predict what the market will be for a player like Ennis. If the season didn’t get paused, he would have almost hit the 20 goal mark. He’s just 30-years-old as well, so there’s reason to believe he still has some good hockey in him. He’s coming off a one-year deal that paid him just $800k, so there’s no doubt that he’ll get a raise, the question is just how much?
Like the Oilers, there aren’t a lot of teams around the NHL that will have money to spend on unrestricted free agents, which should drive down the price for a player like Ennis. If this was a year where the cap was going up by $3-4 million, then I think Ennis would do just fine on the open market but he’ll likely have to settle for far less than he thought he would get four or five months ago.
It might actually be a smart play for Ennis to take a one-year deal with a team like the Oilers. He’ll have a chance to play with some of the most skilled centremen in the league and become a UFA once again next summer when some teams might have some more spending money. If he clicks with McDavid or Draisaitl and explodes for 25-30 goals next season, he could put himself in a very nice position.
I’d say it’s 50/50 that Ennis is back next season.
Mike Green is the final UFA that Holland and the Oilers will have to deal with. This is a tough situation to get a read on. After being acquired at the deadline, Green played in just two games with the Oilers before going down with an injury. Looking at the Oilers depth chart, there are clearly three right-shot defensemen ahead of him (Larsson, Bear, and Benning) and that’s not counting Evan Bouchard, who will have a very real chance to crack the NHL team once next season begins.
So is there any way that Green could be back with the organization next season? It’s unlikely, but what if Holland were to move on Kris Russell this summer to save money, the team could be in search of a reliable veteran defender. Green isn’t in a great spot heading into free agency, especially when you consider his age and recent injuries. But what will he be willing to sign for? I would say that for the Oilers to be interested, it probably needs to be around $1 million.
Green would be a nice insurance policy for a blueline that could be very young next season and while I would like to see him back in that role, I fully recognize that it’s very unlikely.
BONUS: Sam Gagner was sent to Detroit at the trade deadline in the Andreas Athanasiou deal and will be a UFA this coming offseason. I would love to see Gagner back on a one-year deal for the league minimum and I get the sense I’m not alone in saying that.
Gagner is a fan favourite and by all reports, was very well-liked in the locker room. He’s very versatile in the sense that he can play centre or the wing and he’s skilled enough to slide up into the top six for a few games if you need him to.
He’s back in Edmonton right now doing some great work with local small business’ and it’s clear that he loves this city. I would imagine that he’d love to be back in orange and blue next season and I think it’s a very real possibility that we see him with the team in 2020/21.
Got another big offseason question that you want me to look into? Comment it below or shoot me a message on Twitter!