Over the next week, I’ll be going through this summer’s free-agent market position by position. Today, we have wingers.
Ken Holland has a lot of work to do this off-season. As we know, the Oilers’ lack of depth scoring was exposed in their first-round sweep at the hands of the Winnipeg Jets.
In order for Edmonton to get over the hump and become a serious contender, the team’s top-nine forward group needs to be improved. The Oilers need two lines that can outscore their opponents and a third line that can, at the very least, break even.
Adding a few wingers will be one of Holland’s biggest priorities this off-season. As of right now, the Oilers only have four top-six forwards under contract for 2021 and their entire third line needs an overhaul. Holland has money to work with this off-season and the free-agent market features a lot of interesting names who could be upgrades on the wings.
We’ll start with a familiar face. The former No. 1 overall pick is eligible to hit the free-agent market for the first time in his career but he’s doing so after his least productive season in years. Nugent-Hopkins was near the point-per-game mark in 2019-20 but then put up just 16 goals and 35 points in 52 games in 2021. The worry with Nugent-Hopkins is his lack of offence at even-strength, as 20 of his 35 points came on the power-play.
He’s the longest-tenured Oiler and a part of the team’s leadership group. Keeping Nugent-Hopkins, who just turned 28 years old, around makes a lot of sense but Holland has to avoid overpaying.
Another familiar face, Taylor Hall is set to hit the free-agent market again after his one-year, $8 million deal comes to an end. Hall signed with the Buffalo Sabres and it was a complete disaster. He put up just two goals and 19 points over 37 games on a miserable Sabres club that was nowhere near competitive. Hall’s season turned around when he was traded to the Boston Bruins. He scored eight goals and 14 points in 16 games with Boston and he has five points in 10 playoff games.
Hall wasn’t able to get his payday last off-season but he’ll get it this time around. My guess is that he sticks around in Boston but there was talk last year about a reunion in Edmonton. It would be a pricey sign but Hall is one of the best play drivers on the market.
Like Hall, Mike Hoffman inked a one-year deal last off-season because he couldn’t find a big payday. After putting up 17 goals and 36 points over 52 games with the Blues, Hoffman is a free agent yet again. Hoffman is a proven sniper who has scored goals wherever he’s played. He scored 20 or more goals in six consecutive seasons and would have done so again in 2021 if the season was a normal length.
The problem is that a lot of Hoffman’s offence comes on the power-play and the Oilers need even-strength producers. Hoffman is also 31 years old, the same age James Neal was when he signed his deal with Calgary.
Gabriel Landeskog, the No. 2 overall pick behind Ryan Nugent-Hopkins from the 2011 draft, is also eligible to hit free agency for the first time in his career. He’s been a rock for the Avs throughout his career, reaching the 20-goal plateau in all but two of his 10 seasons in the league. Landeskog, a big, strong winger who plays an exceptional two-way game, would be a great addition, but it’s difficult to imagine Colorado letting their captain go.
A more realistic option for the Avs is Brandon Saad. Colorado acquired Saad from Chicago last off-season and he scored 14 goals and 24 points over 44 games on the team’s second line with Nazem Kadri and Andrei Burakovsky. Recording 13 goals and 21 points at even-strength is certainly nice production but Saad’s 22.1 shooting percentage is a bit worrying. That said, Saad has pedigree, as he’s consistently scored goals playing in Chicago, Columbus, and now Colorado.
Zach Hyman has more than likely priced himself out of Toronto. He scored 15 goals and 33 points in 43 games for the Leafs this season after back-to-back 21 goal seasons before that. Hyman is a hard-working, physical winger who forechecks effectively and isn’t afraid to go to the dirty areas of the ice. He’s thrived playing with Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner and would likely thrive playing with Connor McDavid or Leon Draisaitl.
There’s hope among Leaf fans that Hyman, a Toronto native, will take a hometown discount, but Kyle Dubas hasn’t been able to get anyone to do that so far.
Here’s a player Ken Holland knows well. Tatar was a second-round pick of the Red Wings back in 2009 and he developed into a quality goal scorer in Detroit at the tail end of the team’s playoff streak. Holland dealt Tatar to the Golden Knights in 2018 for a first-, second-, and third-round pick and then he was flipped to Montreal in the Max Pacioretty deal.
Tatar had a bit of a down season this year, scoring just 10 goals in 50 games, but he scored 22 and 25 goals in his two seasons with the Habs before that. His 59.3 percent even-strength goal differential is also very impressive and indicates he drives play effectively.
An under-the-radar, late-bloomer on the Devils, Blake Coleman has made a name for himself since being traded to the Lightning. Coleman was great for Tampa during their Stanley Cup run last summer and he put together a strong season in 2021, scoring 14 goals and 31 points in 55 games. The thing that makes Coleman an attractive option is that he produces virtually all of his offence at even-strength and he’s very effective defensively.
He plays both centre and wing and can fit on a skill line or be a driving force on a very good third line. I imagine a lot of teams will recognize this and Coleman will get a significant raise from his current $1,800,000 annual salary.
After re-signing in Nashville on a one-year deal, Mikael Granlund will again look for a multi-year contract in free agency. He hasn’t produced at a high level since being traded from Minnesota back at the 2019 trade deadline. Over two-and-a-half seasons with the Predators, Granlund put up 31 goals and 62 points in 130 games. A change of scenery to a different situation could help bring Granlund’s production back up to where it was with the Wild.
Once a consistent goal-scorer for the Blues, Jaden Schwartz’s production saw a steep decline in 2021, as he scored just eight goals in 40 games. That’s four fewer goals than he had in 26 games during St. Louis’ Stanley Cup run in 2019. Schwartz obviously has skill and can score goals, but, now at 29 years old, a long-term contract would be a big gamble. Schwartz might be best served to take a one-year, show-me deal like Hall and Hoffman did.
After five consecutive seasons scoring between 24 and 30 goals, Kyle Palmieri scored just 10 goals in 51 games in 2021. He had eight in 34 games with the Devils and then scored two in 17 games after being dealt to the New York Islanders. Despite the mediocre season, Palmieri has upped his value with a solid playoff run, as he’s scored six goals in 11 games for the Islanders, who are one win away from reaching the semi-finals.
Palmieri is a quality veteran with a lot of NHL experience but one-third of his goals in the league have come on the power-play.
At a glance, Joel Armia had a down year this season, scoring seven goals and 14 points over 41 games for the Habs. That said, he had a very impressive 61 percent even-strength goal differential playing on the right of Nick Suzuki and Tyler Toffoli. Edmonton’s priority is left-wingers but Armia would give them a player who can score for their third line. Four goals and three assists in 11 playoff games for the Habs will also help his case in free agency.
Sticking with the Habs, we have an old nemesis. Perry has just 14 goals in his last 106 regular-season games between Dallas and Montreal but he’s been excellent on both team’s respective playoff runs. Perry has three goals and six points in Montreal through 11 games this spring and is an effective veteran at the age of 35. He’s one of the best at getting under his opponents’ skin, we in Edmonton know that all too well.
Alex Galchenyuk has bounced around to five different teams over the past three seasons but there’s no questioning his skill. The former No. 3 overall pick scored 30 goals with the Habs in 2015-16 but hasn’t come close to matching that production since. He scored four goals and 12 points over 26 games with the Leafs and proved that he can be a fine complementary player on a skill line. On a cheap one-year deal, you can do worse than Galechnyuk.
Finally, there’s Tyler Ennis, who scored just three goals in 30 games for the Oilers this season. Though that’s far from impressive, Ennis is one of the few Oilers forwards who was in the green at even-strength this season as he posted a 52 percent goal differential. More impressive is the fact he was also in the green when not playing with Connor McDavid. Leon Draisaitl and Dominik Kahun were the only other Oilers forwards to do so. Ennis on a cheap contract is a solid depth player.