Assuming all goes according to plan, we’re a little under one month away from the start of the 2021 NHL season.
The target date for puck drop is Jan. 13. The league and the players still need to come to an agreement on the logistics and protocols of playing through the COVID-19 pandemic while not in an isolated bubble, but the most difficult part of the negotiation, the financial side, has been cleared, so this should be doable.
Over the next month, we should start to see some movement when it comes to the remaining players on the unrestricted free agent market. Some big names like Mike Hoffman, Mikael Granlund, and Travis Hamonic highlight the leftovers, but there are also a handful of quality veterans and depth players still out there looking for jobs.
That brings us to this week’s What Would You Do Wednesday (ACTUALLY ON A WEDNESDAY EDITION) question. Should Ken Holland dive in and do some pre-season bargain bin shopping? Are there any leftovers on the free-agent market that the Oilers should pursue? How about players who could come in on a professional tryout?
Remember, the Oilers are tight against the salary cap, so making a last-minute stab on a big name like Hoffman probably isn’t realistic. Instead, Edmonton could be in the mix for some cheap depth upgrades, much like Dominik Kahun was last month.
Here are some names that I think could make sense for the Oilers…
Edmonton re-signed Gaetan Haas and added Kyle Turris this off-season, giving the team quite a few options down the middle behind Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl. As it stands right now, I would expect Turris to centre an offence-oriented third line and for Haas and Jujhar Khaira to split time as the fourth centre.
Still on the market is Carl Soderberg, an underrated veteran centre who plays a good two-way game. Soderberg scored 17 goals for Arizona in 2019-20 and scored 23 goals for Colorado the year before that which is great production from somebody who excels in the defensive zone.
Both Haas and Khaira are competent fourth-line centres, but Soderberg would be an upgrade here. He would also be a better option on the penalty kill than Turris.
The Oilers acquired Andreas Athanasiou, a former Ken Holland draft pick, from the Red Wings ahead of the trade deadline in February but decided not to tender him a qualifying offer in the off-season because of the risk of him earning a big, one-year price tag in arbitration. A couple of months have gone by and the speedy winger is still on the open market.
With the room freed up by not qualifying Athanasiou, the Oilers went out and added a couple of other wingers, re-signing fellow deadline addition Tyler Ennis and signing the aforementioned Kahun. Edmonton’s wing depth on the left side, as of right now, looks like Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Kahun, Ennis, James Neal, and Joakim Nygard, with Tyler Benson fighting for a call-up in the AHL.
Bringing back Athanasiou would give the Oilers some more depth on the wings and it would allow them to continue an experiment that never really got started. Athanasiou played only nine regular-season games for the Oilers in 2020, scoring one goal and one assist.
Finally, there’s Melker Karlsson, a long-term depth forward of the San Jose Sharks. Karlsson had an ugly season last year (along with just about everyone on the Sharks), scoring a career-low 12 points over the course of 61 games.
The thing about Karlsson that makes him a nice fit is that he plays all three forward positions and is actually pretty decent on face-offs (47.4 percent for his career) despite mostly being used as a winger. Karlsson is also a very good penalty killer, which is an area that’s a bit of a question mark for the Oilers with the departure of Riley Sheahan.
Speedy, quality penalty killer, experience in the Pacific Division. On a one-year, league-minimum deal, Karlsson checks a lot of boxes for the Oilers.
Those are just three names who I think make sense for the team as last-minute additions. There are still a lot of names out there, such as…
- Anthony Duclair enjoyed a great season in 2019-20 but hasn’t found a gig yet.
- Conor Sheary is a bounce-back candidate with experience playing with Sidney Crosby.
- Ilya Kovalchuk playing alongside Connor McDavid would be insanely cool.
- Riley Sheahan could be brought back to be in the mix for the fourth-line centre gig and in a penalty-killing role.
- Michael Grabner is another name out there with loads of PK experience.
- Corey Perry is an interesting veteran and seeing him in an Oilers jersey would be hilarious.
- Zdeno Chara can still eat major minutes on the blueline despite being nearly 100 years old.
- Ron Hainsey is a solid, versatile, veteran defenceman who could help the team compensate for the loss of Oscar Klefbom.
What say you, Nation? Should Holland go bargain bin shopping? Who makes sense? Who can the Oilers afford?
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