The Edmonton Oilers will spend the 2014-15 season assessing their options with several soon-to-be free agents. Defensemen Jeff Petry and Justin Schultz are going to get paid next summer—possibly by the Oilers—and Nail Yakupov will reach the end of his entry-level deal. If these three players are productive this coming year, they could literally break the bank. The Oilers are going to have to make some tough decisions.

JEFF PETRY…..

When the NHL organization that drafted you signs Nikita Nikitin for $4.5M a year and Mark Fayne long term in the same summer they agree to a one-year deal for your walk year, the writing is on the wall. Plenty of chatter about re-visiting, but it doesn’t take a genius to suggest this relationship is headed to a crossroads.
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Petry’s blue bubble says his Corsi (Rel) is very good, and he’s in the tough minutes portion of the Vollman Sledgehammer, while also getting zone starts in the low 40%’s. He does not fight and he is not rugged. He is an effective NHL defenseman.
My prediction:
Petry sails at or before the deadline, for a young NHL player who is under control. Edmonton should get good value for Petry, there will be a lot of teams interested.

NAIL YAKUPOV….

The Oilers are having a hard time finding room for Yakupov this fall. The 2line sees (so far) Leon Draisaitl lining up between Benoit Pouliot and David Perron. It looks good, very good. The Oilers lack the center depth for three scoring lines, so skill wingers Teddy Purcell and Yakupov will have to make the most of it on the third line. Yakupov’s struggled on LW further complicates the issue.
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My prediction:
Dallas Eakins needs to win hockey games this fall, and Yakupov is going to be important to the team’s success. Coach Eakins will find a way to make it work—it may involve placing David Perron back on LW—and the young Russian should score 20+ goals this coming season.
I’m less convinced about Yakupov as a long-term solution in Edmonton. The Oilers may decide their top wingers will be Taylor Hall, Jordan Eberle, David Perron and Benoit Pouliot in the future, meaning young Yakupov is sent away for help in other areas.
Much of the decision will no doubt come down to contract. If Yakupov demands big money next year, or his agent uses the KHL as a hammer, the Yak City craze may be over in Edmonton far too soon.
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JUSTIN SCHULTZ….

If Petry is gone for sure (which I believe) and Yakupov is 50/50 (which seems right) then Justin Schultz is the likely player to stay. Edmonton rewarded him with a contract far richer than the blue book value, and will probably give a long term deal for big money next summer.
If you look at the graph above, Schultz may get a break this season with better zone starts, and may face softer opposition at home because of improved defensive depth. He is a gifted offensive defender as we saw the other night in Winnipeg, and goal generators get paid in any era.
My Prediction: Schultz signs a long-term deal for great money some time during the 2014-15 season. It’ll ensure he’s with the team through the end of the decade.
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WHAT DOES IT ALL MEAN?

The Oilers will need to make decisions on UFA Jeff Petry and RFA’s Justin Schultz and Nail Yakupov in the next 12 months. Some or all of their next contracts could start in the $5M plus range and chances are Edmonton will send at least one of these players away.
My guess? Jeff Petry is on his way out of Edmonton. It’s only a matter of time.