July 1st is a big day in the hockey world as in typical years past, it marks the start of free agency frenzy.
But due to the pandemic flipping the whole world upside down, that’s not the case. We still have 27 days until we see the first official free agent moves.
So, let’s see what the Oilers got up to on July 1st each year over the last decade and let’s give them a grade, just for fun.

2011

Starting with the oldest first, 2011 was a busy July 1st for Steve Tambellini.

Ben Eager

The Oilers signed Eager to a three-year, $1.1-million AAV deal. He played all three years with the Oilers, but only appeared in 84 games over that time scoring nine goals and 16 points while tacking on 134 PIM. He was out of the league by the time his contract was up. This signing deserves an F.
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Corey Potter

He signed a one-year deal worth $525,000. He appeared in 62 games the following year scoring 21 points, but also posting a -16. He spent another season and a half in Edmonton where he fared a bit better before Boston snagged him off waivers. This signing gets a C.

Darcy Hordichuk

Hordichuk was the second tough guy signing that day, and he got a much more reasonable one-year, $825k deal. He had one job: to protect the Oilers young guys. This signing was probably directly linked to Taylor Hall being injured in a fight with Derek Dorsett a few months prior. Hordichuk played in 43 games scoring three points and posting 64 PIM. He re-signed in 2012-13, but played in four games before his NHL career ended.

Cam Barker

Oh boy. Barker only got a one-year deal worth $2.25-million, but it was baaaaddddd. He had just been bought out by the Minnesota Wild after a horrible season there. He played only 25 games for the Oilers due to an ankle injury suffered a dozen games into the season. He scored two goals and Edmonton didn’t re-sign him. He was out of the league one year later. F grade.
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Eric Belanger

Belanger got paid. And it didn’t really work out. He got a three-year deal worth $1.75-million. While he was coming off a very solid year with the Coyotes, he wasn’t able to replicate that success in Edmonton. He appeared in 78 games scoring 16 points and was a liability for the Oilers on the ice. He appeared in two dozen games the next year before his contract was bought out. Another F grade.

Overall

Yeah, things weren’t great in this free-agent class. While mainly depth deals, none of these players did much of anything for Edmonton. Overall, this FA class gets a big F.

2012

After a busy and disastrous 2011 free-agent class, Tambellini was a bit quieter in 2012.

Darcy Hordichuk

See above. F.

Ryan Smyth

Hey! An actual good one! After being acquired the year before, he signed a two-year deal worth $2.25-million. While he wasn’t the Smyth of his prime, he scored 36 points in 119 games but struggled to stay positive in terms of goal rates. I’d give this a C grade, solely based on his status as an Edmonton icon.
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Yann Danis

A fairly inconsequential one-year, $800k deal gave the Oilers some organizational depth. He only played in three games with the Oilers and didn’t do well, but was solid for the OKC Barons. This gets a B grade solely for his success in the AHL.

Overall

I guess this class gets a C? There weren’t any major implications in this class.

2013

Goodbye Tambellini, hello Craig MacTavish. Visually, this class was insignificant in a way. There were no moves made on July 1, but instead, the Oilers made six (!) signings on July 5th and two more on July 6. Let’s take a look at them.

Taylor Fedun

He got a one-year, $675k deal and appeared in four games for the Oilers after coming back from a broken femur suffered the year prior. He’s gone on to bounce around the league in minor roles, having his most success in the last two years. Given how inconsequential it was in the big picture, it’s a C grade.
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Will Acton

He got a two-year, $680k AAV contract from the Oilers for reasons we don’t understand because his dad was an assistant coach with the Oilers. Acton Jr. played his only NHL games with the Oilers over the two years appearing in 33 games scoring five points. I guess he wasn’t terrible, but he surely wasn’t good. D grade.

Jesse Joensuu

The first Finnish Jesse to play for the Oilers, he got a two-year deal worth an AAV of $950k. He struggled to get traction in the Oilers lineup scoring nine points in 62 games over two years. He was out of the NHL after his contract ended. D grade.

Boyd Gordon

Now, this was an interesting deal. Edmonton inked him to a three-year, $3-million AAV deal. Brought in to be a strong presence in the bottom-six, Gordon struggled. He appeared in 142 games scoring 34 points but got absolutely caved in analytically. With one year left on his deal, he was traded to the Arizona Coyotes for Lauri Korpikoski. F grade.
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Ryan Hamilton

Hamilton inked a two-year deal worth an AAV of $600k. He appeared in 18 games with the Oilers scoring two points, but he was a strong player for the Oilers AHL clubs. C grade for the organizational value he provided.

Jason LaBarbera

A one-year, $1-million deal for LaBarbera. He played two games in Edmonton and two in the AHL for the Oilers. C grade for it being completely inconsequential.

Andrew Ference

The last of the July 5 deals, the Oilers inked the vet defenceman to a four-year, $3.25-million AAV deal. It was a deal to bring in some veteran presence, and it failed. His play had clearly fallen off a cliff, and he clashed hard with others in the locker room. A great advocate off the ice, his on the ice performance was awful. In 147 games, he scored 32 points and posted some insanely awful underlying numbers. If I could give this grade lower than an F, I would.
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Overall

This class gets an F. There really anything good to come out of it.

2014

Hey! This year wasn’t totally bad in a way! It did, however, mark MacTavish’s final FA class with the Oilers.

Mark Fayne

Fayne was an interesting one that divided many. He got a four-year deal with an AAV of $3.625-million. He remained on the books for three years before a buyout, but really only played two. All in all, he appeared in 147 games with the Oilers scoring 17 points but was able to keep his head above water when it came to his underlying numbers. This one gets a C grade and would’ve been higher had the OIlers not needed to buy him out.

Keith Aulie

A one-year, $800k deal saw him play 31 games in the Oilers threads and was out of the NHL the following year. His underlying numbers were bad. Another inconsequential signing in the big picture, so a D grade is in order.
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Luke Gazdic

Say what you will about Gazdic, but he knew exactly what he was and what his role was on the team. He became good friends with Taylor Hall and spent time living with him. He got a two-year, $800k deal. He scored his first NHL goal on his first NHL shot in his first NHL game and went on to play 136 games in Oilers threads posting eight points and 194 PIM. His underlying numbers were bad, but he had his value. C grade.

Benoit Pouliot

Much like Fayne, the Pouliot signing was a controversial one. He inked a five-year deal with an AAV of $4-million and was an effective player in the three years he lasted in Edmonton. He played 180 games scoring 84 points as a bottom-six player and his underlying numbers relative to the team were strong. Edmonton bought out his final two years, and I still think that was a mistake. This deal gets my highest grade so far, a B.
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Overall

This class gets a C. Edmonton got some pretty useful players out of it, despite the fact they had to be boughtout.

2015

Heading into the 2015 FA class, Peter Chiarelli started to make his mark on the Oilers. He made just one signing that year though.

Andrej Sekera

Inked to a six-year deal worth an AAV of $5.5-million, he only played four before being bought out. He appeared in 221 games for the Oilers scoring 14 goals and 77 points and his underlying numbers were never horrible. Overall, he posted good underlying numbers compared to his teammates and his buyout remains on the Oilers book to this day. While he probably got more term and money than he should’ve, he was a solid defenceman for the Oilers, but the buyout hurt. B grade.
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2016.

Gulp. This is the year Chiarelli really made his mark. I wrote about it in detail here last week, but we’ll still take a look at it today.

Jonas Gustavsson

Hey! Another minor deal. He got a one-year, $800k deal and played seven games for the Oilers that year. He was solid for the Condors in the AHL, however, so this deal wasn’t all bad. C grade.

Milan Lucic

Oh lord no oh god… The Oilers famously inked Lucic to a seven-year, $6-million AAV deal. We knew down the road the deal would have its issues, but those surfaced sooner than many hoped. He gave Edmonton a good first year of his contract, but then the drop-off came swiftly. Edmonton had to eat some salary and give up a pick to move him, taking on James Neal who appears to be off to greener pastures this offseason. F grade.
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Mark Fraser

This is a name I forgot about. He signed a one-year, $575k deal but only played 23 games for the Oilers. They traded him mid-season for Cameron Abney and Teemu Hartikainen with the latter of the two players playing some games for the Oilers. C grade.

Overall

F.

2017

Chiarelli’s third free-agent class was filled with players who never played in Edmonton. Keegan Lowe, Brian Ferlin, Grayson Downing, Edward Pasquale, Ryan Stanton, Mitch Callahan, and Ty Rattie. The last player appeared to be The Answer after a wild preseason riding the coattails of Connor McDavid, but he never lasted. Nobody here is worth a deeper dive into.

2018

A moderately quiet day for Peter Chiarelli saw him make three signings.

Kyle Brodziak

Brought back to Edmonton to hopefully provide some good bottom-six depth, but struggled to do so. He inked a two-year deal with an AAV of $1.15-million, but only played one year. He appeared in 70 games scoring six goals and nine points. His underlying numbers were bad, but the deal was largely inconsequential. D grade.
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Kevin Gravel

A one-year deal worth $700k provided Edmonton some organizational depth on the backend and someone who has remained in the Oilers AHL system. D grade.

Tobias Rieder

Oh, Tobias. He played in 67 games, didn’t score a goal, but put up 11 assists. He inked a one-year, $2-million deal. He was insanely snakebitten that year and left via free agency the next year. C grade.

Overall

A D grade for this class. There wasn’t much to come out of it.

2019

2019 was a big year with multiple pieces from this class shaping the Oilers we see today. It was also the first free-agent class Ken Holland put his mark on.

Gaetan Haas

Haas for a one-year deal worth $925k and played well enough in year one to earn a second contract. He scored five goals and 10 points in season one and was a solid depth centre for the Oilers in season two. He’s since signed back in the Swiss league. C grade.
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Tomas Jurco

This one had all the elements of being a solid deal but Jurco had suffered a hip injury and only played 12 games with the Oilers. He left the team following the season. C grade.

Markus Granlund

Granlund inked a one-year deal worth $1.3-million, but he really struggled. He appeared in 34 games scoring four points. This last year, he played in the KHL where he had a bunch of success. Good for him. F grade.

Alex Chiasson

Now, this is one that I can get behind. He came in on a PTO prior to this two-year extension and it’s one he deserved. Say what you will about Chiasson, but he’s been a very solid addition to the Oilers’ bottom-six and has helped provide that group with some stability. Now in his third year with the Oilers, he’s scored 42 goals and 78 points in 183 games during his longest stint with a team in his career. His game took a bit of a step back this year but has remained a solid player. C grade.
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Mike Smith

Oh, Schmiddy. Oilers fans clamored when they signed him to this one-year deal and rightfully so after an abysmal showing with the Flames the year prior. He wasn’t great in year one with the Oilers, but battled and helped the team win some games. Year two, however, he dipped into the fountain of youth and even earned some Vezina votes.  I think we can call Smith’s time with the Oilers a W. B grade.

Overall

I’d be willing to give this one a B grade. Haas, Chiasson and Smith have/had all been solid players for what their roles have been.

2020

“July 1st” happened on October 9th last year, but we’re still counting it!

Depth moves

The Oilers made a few depth signings that didn’t impact the main roster. Seth Griffith, Alan Quine, and Anton Forsberg all got one-year deals, but none played in any NHL games.
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Tyler Ennis

The Oilers inked Ennis to a one-year deal worth $1-million and for some reason, the Oilers didn’t really use him all too well. He only played in 30 games scoring three goals and nine points, but likely should’ve been used as an everyday player in the Oilers’ middle-six. Nonetheless, in his sporadic showings, he managed to keep his head above water. I still think there’s a very useful player here. B grade.

Kyle Turris

Edmonton made a bet. It didn’t hit. Turris signed a two-year deal worth an AAV of $1.65-million and his first season with the Oilers was… bad. There’s a case to be made he was the worst player on the main roster with his game seemingly haven completely fallen off the cliff and tumbled to a crash below. It’s had to imagine him coming back from it. F grade, because this was a bet the Oilers shouldn’t have made.
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Overall

This class gets a D grade. Ennis has been solid, but Turris’ deal offsets this from being any higher.

All in all

The Oilers really, really didn’t do a good job on day one of free agency in any of the last 10 years. In fact, it’s pretty easy to give the Oilers a D, or maybe even an F for what’s happened. The signings that have actually hit are few and far between and more often than not were only good because it gave the team some organizational depth. Edmonton has wasted a lot of money on day one on a lot of not very good players and even when some appeared to be “safer” choices, it blew up in the Oilers’ face.
Let’s see what Ken Holland can do on day one, and further into the offseason.
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Zach Laing is the Nation Network’s news director and senior columnist. He can be followed on Twitter at @zjlaing, or reached by email at [email protected]