Identifying Free Agent Targets for the Oilers

Photo credit:Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports
Tyler Yaremchuk
1 year ago
Considering their salary cap situation, the Oilers will likely not be major players when it comes to the free-agent market. I don’t think they’ll have the ability to go sign a player who’’ command north of $5 million on the open market.
Frank Seravalli has a great piece up on Daily Faceoff where he teamed up with AFP Analytics to give an expected contract for each of his top 50 free agents.
The top end of this free agent is not sexy but features a pair of quality defensemen. Both Damon Severson and Dmitry Orlov are projected to get long-term deals worth more than $6m annually. That takes them both out of play for the Oilers. I just can’t see a way for the Oilers to clear up enough cap space to make one of those two moves possible.
Yes, trading both Kailer Yamamoto and Cody Ceci would give them just over $6.3 million in space, but they still need to re-sign Evan Bouchard, Ryan McLeod, Klim Kostin, and fill other spots in their lineup. Spending $6m on any one roster spot this offseason just doesn’t seem realistic.
There are a few defensemen who I would view as upgrades on Ceci and aren’t expected to be overly expensive.
Scott Mayfield’s projected contract is three years at a cap hit of $3.75 million and Carson Soucy’s is three years at $2.5 million per season. 
Both would be great fits on this blueline and generally fit the mould of defenseman that Ken Holland likes to target (tall, defence-first players). If they could find a taker for Ceci and then sign Soucy for that amount, they’d both open up cap space and improve their blueline.
Of course, moving Ceci might not be that simple. Other teams would surely prefer to go sign one of Mayfield or Soucy in free agency before they give up an asset for Ceci. This will be a difficult situation for Ken Holland to navigate.
As for the forwards on this list, there are a few that should intrigue the Oilers.
If they move on from Kailer Yamamoto, then they’ll be looking for a player who can slide into their top six and produce offence. The best fit on this list is Connor Brown. He’s a player who’s scored 20 goals multiple times and has a history with Connor McDavid as the two were teammates in junior.
His projected contract is four years at $3.3 million per season but I wonder if the Oilers couldn’t talk him into a one-year deal that’s loaded with incentives. He missed basically the entire 2022-23 campaign and if he wanted to try cash in big next summer when the cap could go up significantly, then why wouldn’t he try to rebuild his value by playing on Connor McDavid’s wing? Of course, it would also be hard for him to turn down over $12 million in guaranteed money but even if that was the cost, I think the Oilers should be pursuing him. I would love him on a three-year deal worth $3 million.
There are other names on the list like Garnet Hathaway, David Kampf, Jesper Fast, and Sean Monahan who all sound interesting, but none are legit top-six options and that’s where the Oilers need to be focused first.
One player whose projected contract is very low is James Van Riemsdyk. The 34-year-old didn’t have a great year in Philadelphia, only scoring 12 goals in 61 games but prior to that he had scored at a 20+ goal pace for ten straight seasons.
Now, you don’t want to pay a player based on his past seasons but JVR’s projected contract is just $1.8 million on a one-year deal. I would be comfortable with the Oilers giving him a two-year deal worth $2.25 million per year. If you threw him next to McDavid or Draisaitl, I think he could very easily score 25 goals.
I wouldn’t be surprised if he preferred to stay south of the border though and I do think he’d be a great fit with the New Jersey Devils, which is where he’s from. It may not be realistic, but he could be a great bargain signing.
Speaking of bargain signings, the Oilers should be looking at Jonathan Toews. If Nick Bjugstad prices himself out of the Oiler’s range, then they will be looking for another bottom-six centreman and Toews would be a decent choice if he’s healthy.
That’s a big if but we do know the Oilers were interested in him at different points during the regular season and considering how much money he’s made during his career, it’s reasonable to expect that if he does play next season, he’ll value playing on a contender over getting a solid paycheck. If he would sign in Edmonton for $1 million, then he could be a very good add. He scored 15 goals and added 16 points in just 51 games last season.
When healthy, he can still contribute and he brings a lot of intangibles that we know Ken Holland loves.
What do you think? Should the Oilers look to add a more expensive player to their blueline? Or should they head into free agency looking to identify some low-cost, high-reward forwards?

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