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Is the Oilers Roster Set? And Free Agent Thoughts

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Photo credit:Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports
Jason Gregor
9 months ago
NHL free agency creates significant hype and interest, but history suggests the busiest teams in free agency are rarely rewarded in the upcoming regular season. Most of the top teams only make a few additions, because the majority of their roster is already complete. For the first time in over a decade, the Oilers weren’t involved in any big dollar signings (at least for this coming season). None of their new players will carry a cap hit above the league minimum of $775K for the 2023-24 season.
Connor Brown was their biggest UFA signing. He was in a rare position where he could sign a bonus-laden deal despite not being on his entry-level deal or being 35 years of age. His cap hit this season will be $775K, but he likely will earn $4m. He has a $3.25m bonus that kicks in when he plays his 10th game. The Oilers’ 10th game is Saturday, November 4th v. Nashville.
There is no issue with Brown’s contract this season. It should be a massive value contract, based on points earned v. cap hit. However, next season it will be an issue, depending on how the Oilers manage their cap this season. The $3.25m he earns as a bonus will be put towards next year’s cap. If the Oilers finish the season $1m under the cap, then they will carry $2.25m bonus overage from the Brown contract into next season. If they are $500K under the cap, then $2.75m carries to next year. If they finish the season with no cap space, then all $3.25m will be on the books for next season. Not ideal.
The Oilers currently have 19 players on their NHL roster and need to sign Evan Bouchard, Ryan McLeod, and Raphael Lavoie. They have $6,383,499 in cap space. If Bouchard signs for $3.2m and McLeod is at $1.8m that leaves them with $1.383,499 in cap space. Lavoie will be similar to McLeod last season, who signed for lower than his QO. Lavoie has until July 15th to accept his qualifying offer, but I won’t be surprised if he doesn’t because his QO will be a two-way deal. I’m guessing his camp would rather get him on a one-way deal. I see Lavoie signing for $775K. If he does, then the Oilers, based on a total of $5m for McLeod and Bouchard will start the season with $608,499K in cap space. If McLeod and Bouchard add up to more than $5m, then the Oilers will have less cap space to begin the season.
The Oilers will have a few new faces up front. Their projected lineup today looks like this:
Forwards (13)
Evander Kane – Connor McDavid – Connor Brown
RNH – Leon Draisaitl – Zach Hyman
Dylan Holloway – Ryan McLeod – Warren Foegele
Mattias Janmark – Lane Pederson – Derek Ryan
Raphael Lavoie
Defence (7)
Darnell Nurse – Cody Ceci
Mattias Ekholm – Evan Bouchard
Brett Kulak – Vincent Desharnais
Philip Broberg
Goalies (2)
Stuart Skinner and Jack Campbell.
I still think Holland will add one more depth forward around league minimum. They’ve also signed Drake Caggiula for $775K, and Caggiula mentioned to me he understands he could be in the NHL or the AHL next year. He just wants to be around a team with a chance to win. He said it is easier to accept any role when you have a chance to win and being around a team who can win is exciting. I’d expect Holland to look for another centre. There are many options for a 4th line C, but they need to accept a league minimum, or close to it, offer.
I’d expect Ken Holland to make a few acquisitions at the trade deadline, but the above roster, with potentially a few different faces on the 4th line, is what they will begin the season with, barring injury.
The Oilers’ core is intact. Edmonton has been a very good team since Jay Woodcroft arrived. In his 120 games, the Oilers rank near the top in many categories.
Second in wins with 76. Boston is first with 90, Carolina and Colorado are 3rd with 75.
Second in regulation wins with 65. Boston is first with 71. Toronto is 3rd with 63.
Tied, with Carolina, for second in points with 164. Boston is 1st with 187.
First in goals/game at 3.92. Florida is 2nd with 3.70.
First in PP% at 30%. Tampa is 2nd at 26.3%.
Areas they need to improve.
Goals against. They are 13th in goals against/game at 3.01. Above average, but room to grow.
Goals against at 5×5. They are 15th at 2.01/game.
Penalty kill. They are 18th at 78.6%.
The areas of improvement will come from limiting the glaring giveaways. Leon Draisaitl said it best. “We beat ourselves too often.” The players who play the most minutes will impact these stats, and I didn’t expect them to address it via free agency, other than signing Brown. It is more a mindset and an overall team commitment to more consistent defensive play.
It needs to occur early in the year, and then at the trade deadline, Holland will know exactly what areas he needs to improve.

FREE AGENCY THOUGHTS…

Nov 23, 2022; Elmont, New York, USA; Edmonton Oilers left wing Zach Hyman (18) controls the puck against New York Islanders goaltender Ilya Sorokin (30) during the third period at UBS Arena. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports
I like Matt Duchene’s one-year deal in Dallas a lot. He scored 86 and 56 points the past two seasons and with a $3m AAV, he should be a great value contract. Blake Wheeler at $800K with the Rangers, should also give them good value.
What the New York Islanders doing? The Ilya Sorokin eight-year deal makes sense, but seven years for Scott Mayfield and Pierre Engvall, and giving Semyon Varlamov four years at $2.75m when he is 35 years old makes little sense. The Islanders can’t score and none of these signings will improve their offence. I don’t see them as a playoff team.
The Detroit Red Wings’ third D pair will have a combined cap hit of $6.4m or more. They have Olli Maatta ($3m), Justin Holl ($3.4m), and Shayne Gostisbehere ($4.125) to battle for the third pair. I assume Jake Walman, Ben Chiarot and Moritz Seider will be in their top four. Detroit wants to lower its GAA. They were 26th at 3.63, but they were also 26th in goals scored/game at 2.84. They signed JT Compher ($5.1m for five years), Daniel Sprong ($2m), and Christian Fischer ($1.25m) each for one year. Did they improve?
I like Buffalo signing Erik Johnson and Connor Clifton. Clifton at three years $3.33m might be a tad high, but right-shot D are rare. Johnson for one year, as a veteran presence should help Rasmus Dahlin and Owen Power. They are special talents, but veteran D-men can always give them little tips that really help their game. Duncan Keith and Mattias Ekholm helped Evan Bouchard immensely. Patrick Kane won’t play until December at the earliest, and if I was him, I’d wait and see how teams look at that time. If his hometown Sabres are playing well, he’d be a great fit down the stretch. He’d fit on a lot of teams, but the Sabres being close to home could entice him.
Vancouver will have a much different looking blue line than the one they had to start game one last year. Filip Hronek, Carson Soucy, Ian Cole, and Matt Irwin (if Tucker Poolman isn’t healthy) could be on the roster. The Canucks underachieved last year. They finished strong and I think will push for a playoff spot this year.
Carolina, Colorado, and Toronto made the biggest moves among the top-12 teams. Dmitri Orlov and Michael Bunting will help Carolina, but they still lack a game breaker. They do have the best six D-men in the NHL though with Orlov, Jaccob Slavin, Brent Burns, Brett Pesce, Brady Skjei and Jalen Chatfield. But until they add a game breaker up front, I don’t see them hoisting the Cup. Toronto’s forwards are better and greasier (Tyler Bertuzzi, Max Domi, and Ryan Reaves), but is their defense core good enough? John Klingberg will help to move the puck, but can they defend? Colorado added Ross Colton, Ryan Johansen, Miles Wood, and Jonathan Drouin. Their top-six isn’t as good as their 2022 Cup-winning group, but if they stay healthy, they are a legit threat.
Los Angeles has Cam Talbot and Pheonix Copley as their goalies at a combined $2.5m cap hit. David Rittich is their #3. Copley started the most games for them last season with 35, but they added Joonas Korpisalo down the stretch. Talbot only played 36 games with Ottawa last year as he battled injuries. He is reunited with Todd McLellan and the Kings’ strong defensive play means they don’t rely heavily on their goalies, but who starts more games next season – Talbot or Copley? Will they acquire a goalie at the deadline again? I could see it.

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