UFA Targets

Busy times lie ahead for NHL teams. The Stanley Cup Finals are underway, which means that there is about 2 weeks left in the season. The draft is less than a month away. That also means that the negotiation period for UFAs is less than a month away.

Last week, I wrote about trade targets the Oilers could have this summer. Today, I bring you the UFAs that the Oilers should be looking at. The Oilers have already signed Joakim Nygard out of Sweden, and I don’t expect him to be the only UFA addition this summer.

Before we dive into the list, here is an updated look at the depth chart and salary cap situation. I have identified what I believe to be vacant positions in bold here.

Draisaitl ($8.5M) McDavid ($12.5M) 1RW
2LW Nugent-Hopkins ($6M) 2RW
Nygard ($925,000) 3C Kassian ($1.95M)
Lucic ($6M) Brodziak ($1.15M) Gagner ($3.15M)
Cave ($675,000)

Klefbom ($4.167M) Larsson ($4,166,666)
Nurse ($3.2M) Russell ($4M)
Sekera ($5.5M) Benning ($1.9M)
Manning ($2.25M) Persson ($1M)

Koskinen ($4.5M)
2G

Current Active Roster: 18
Active Roster Needs: 5

Cap Hit: $71,533,666
Buyouts: Pouliot- $1.33 million, Gryba- $300,000
Total: $73,163,666
Space ($83M projected cap): $9,836,334
Avg $/Player Left: $1,967,266

Internal Unsigned Options: Khaira, Puljujarvi, Chiasson, P.Russell
Internal Signed Options: Marody, Benson, Yamamoto, Currie, Gambardella

Of the internal unsigned options, I expect Puljujarvi to be back for sure. I would also predict that Jujhar Khaira will be back, although the plot is now plenty thick after the Nygard signing. Both players seem to be decent options for the 3rd line, and I don’t believe that either player is strong enough to be slotted in as a 2LW next season. Khaira could play centre, but he seems to be better on the wing, and there are better options out there for the centre position.

There is still a decent chance that Chiasson ends up re-signing here, but I’m not willing to put that in pen just yet. Chiasson had a nice scoring streak and provided great value for the Oilers, but even his great year with a 38-point performance was reminiscent of a 2nd line and 3rd line tweener. I’m not banking on a repeat of his 22 goals.

There isn’t any winger in the organization that I feel can produce enough offence in a consistent role in the top 6 right now (aside from whichever of Draisaitl or Nugent-Hopkins plays with McDavid). Kassian looked good there for a stretch last season, but his first half was miserable. Gagner could cameo on the 2nd line once in a while, but that should not be a consistent expectation. Puljujarvi is the guy with the most potential to produce top 6 offence, but he hasn’t proven that he can do it yet. Right now, the supporting cast is full of “fake it until you make it” options to fill up 3 spots in the top 6. Tyler Benson looks like he’s close to becoming an NHLer, but he’s not quite ready. I wouldn’t be penciling him in yet, especially not in a top 6 role.

There’s also nobody in the organization at the moment that I feel is capable of playing 3C and producing enough offence in that role. Sam Gagner is the closest thing to that in my estimation. Gagner has played centre for most of his career, but he primarily played on the wing last season because his foot speed isn’t what it used to be. Khaira would be the next best option, but I also think that he is best suited for the wing.

There’s a rumour flying around about Brodziak’s time in Edmonton being over, whether it be the result of a trade or a trip to the LTIR. If that’s the case, Holland will be looking for a new 4C as well. Khaira could potentially fill that spot. Colby Cave could also potentially do that. However, I think there are likely to be better options out there in the UFA market. I won’t dive into 4C options here because there are a lot of them; and really, that’s the least exciting position that I could dive into here!

Holland has suggested that he would be looking to the UFA market to find a back-up goalie. His criteria is that this goalie needs to be able to play 30-35 games (leaving Koskinen in that 47-52 start range). It’s important that this back-up can take the reigns and start for long stretches if Koskinen falters. This back-up needs to be a good insurance policy for Koskinen.

As of right now, the Oilers have $9,836,334 in cap space and 5 roster spots to fill. The league minimum for new contracts has been raised to $700,000 for next year. Given the current active roster that I have outlined above, the absolute maximum that the Oilers could spend on one player is $7,036,334. That would mean signing 4 players to the league minimum and expecting them all to contribute in a meaningful way… that’s just not going to happen. No, the Oilers won’t be in on any of the truly big names in free agency; but there are still some guys available that would fit the Oilers’ needs.

With all of that being said, here are the options that the Oilers should be looking at. Expected Cap Hit figures are simply my estimations, not based on any reports.

Wing:

Gustav Nyquist
Age: 29
22 G – 38 A – 60 pts in 81 GP
Previous Cap Hit: $4.75M
Expected Cap Hit: $6M

Nyquist is the biggest name that the Oilers will have a chance at. He isn’t a guy that will blow you away with any one particular skill, but he’s a good all-around player that provides legitimate top 6 production. He also has an existing relationship with Ken Holland from his days in the Motor City. I wouldn’t rule out the possibility of a reunion here in Edmonton.

Marcus Johansson
Age: 28
13 G – 17 A – 30 pts in 58 GP
Previous Cap Hit: $4,583,333
Expected Cap Hit: $5.25M

Johansson has struggled with injuries over the last couple of seasons. His production is slightly down compared to when he was healthy. However, he never got fewer than 44 points in his last 4 seasons in Washington, and his best was 58 points in 2016-17. He didn’t have much success after being traded to Boston this season, but he has chipped in with some big goals at important times in these playoffs. There’s a strong chance that he will re-sign in Boston, especially if they win the Cup; but he’s a name to keep an eye on.

Thomas Vanek
Age: 35
16 G – 20 A – 36 pts in 64 GP
Previous Cap Hit: $3M
Expected Cap Hit: $2.5M

Vanek will be 35 years old coming in to next season, but he could be just what the doctor ordered for the Oilers. He keeps on producing no matter where he goes and how old he gets. He will be cheap, and he has averaged 0.71, 0.7, and 0.56 points per game in each of the last 3 seasons respectively. Yes, there was a decline last season, and durability might be an issue; but he would be a veteran winger that you could put on a 2nd line and expect him to get you about 0.5 points per game. He would also be a short-term solution, which is ideal if you expect Tyler Benson to be a top 6 LW in the next year or two. Once again, a pre-existing relationship with Ken Holland is in play here… Vanek has signed with Holland’s Red Wings as an UFA twice in the last 3 off-seasons. Was that because of Holland, or because he likes the city of Detroit? Kevin Lowe’s offer sheet didn’t get Vanek to Edmonton, maybe Holland can get him here as an UFA this summer.

Joonas Donskoi
Age: 27
14 G – 23 A – 37 pts in 80 GP
Previous Cap Hit: $1.9M
Expected Cap Hit: $3M (*updated because I believe my original $2.25 million forecast was low)

Donskoi set career-highs in points and games played this past season, but he only suited up in 12 of San Jose’s 20 playoff games this spring. Donskoi isn’t a game-breaker, but he does a lot of good things. He’s a determined player that has decent hands. He would be the most productive RW on the Oilers depth chart automatically if Holland were to bring him in, but utilizing him in a top 6 role isn’t ideal. This would be a Band-Aid solution, but not a bad one on a short-term deal.

Ryan Dzingel
Age: 27
26 G – 30 A – 56 pts in 78 GP
Previous Cap Hit: $1.8M
Expected Cap Hit: $4.5M

Dzingel was a coveted piece at the trade deadline because of his 44 points in 57 games with Ottawa, but that production didn’t travel with him to Columbus (12 points in 21 games). I would have a lot of time for Dzingel, but only at the right price. I feel like some team is going to over pay for him, and he might get more than the $4.5 million that I have predicted. If Dzingel was to be signed for somewhere around that $4.5 million mark for less than 5 years, I’d be good with him as a 2nd line winger. I would just be weary if the expectation is that he will continue to produce like he did in the first part of last season in Ottawa because his past performance and his age all suggest that he won’t. Expect 40-45 points per season for him.

Michael Ferland
Age: 27
17 G – 23 A – 40 pts in 71 GP
Previous Cap Hit: $1.75M
Expected Cap Hit: $3M

Ferland has certainly made a name for himself with his fast-paced and physical style of play. He proved that his 41-point season in 2017-18 with Calgary wasn’t a fluke by putting up 40 points in 6 fewer games in Carolina. Carolina has all the cap space in the world, they like the player, and they had a nice playoff run this spring. My gut is telling me that he will re-sign in Carolina, but there will be suitors for him on Canada Day if the trade deadline buzz surrounding him was any indication.

Brett Connolly
Age: 27
22 G – 24 A – 46 pts in 81 GP
Previous Cap Hit: $1.5M
Expected Cap Hit: $4M

Connolly was a man amongst boys in his Prince George days, but it has taken him some time to find his footing in the NHL. He appeared to have found his game this past season. He’s big, and he knows how to score goals. He also comes from a championship calibre team, having won a Stanley Cup with Washington last year. Connolly be a sneaky good pick-up, but I haven’t seen enough out of him to give him big money and big term just yet.

Brandon Tanev
Age: 27
14 G – 15 A – 29 pts in 80 GP
Previous Cap Hit: $1.15M
Expected Cap Hit: $3M

It’s hard not to like what Tanev brings to the game. He’s got speed, he can forecheck, and he can defend. Make no mistake about it though: Tanev is a bottom-6 forward, and the Oilers have too many of those on their hands already. I’m only including him here because there has been a lot of discussion amongst Oilers fans about bringing Tanev here. Holland just signed Nygard who looks to be a 3LW, and the Oilers have RFA Jujhar Khaira who also looks to be best suited for a 3LW or 4LW role. There’s also Milan Lucic to worry about. I’d much rather see Holland go after Nyquist or Vanek for the 2LW spot than having him go after Tanev for the 3LW spot. Tanev only makes sense if Nygard can play 2LW (which I wouldn’t be planning on) and if one of Khaira or Lucic gets moved.

Nyquist would clearly be my first choice here because he is a legitimate top 6 winger. Johansson can play some centre too, but I’m weary of the price for him. Vanek would be a solid pick-up if the price were low enough, but health is likely to be an issue for him. The others would be gambles if the expectation is top 6 production. They would be upgrades over what currently exists in Edmonton, but they would be passable top 6 options at best. Tanev just doesn’t make sense to me based on what the Oilers already have.

3C:

Jason Spezza
Age: 35
8 G – 19 A – 27 pts in 76 GP
Previous Cap Hit: $7.5M
Expected Cap Hit: $4M

Spezza isn’t worth $4 million in my opinion, but someone will give it to him because of his resume. Of course, Spezza isn’t the player that he used to be; but he would represent an upgrade at 3C for the Oilers, albeit a slight one. The nice thing about him is that he wouldn’t require a long term, which is good because Ryan McLeod is likely only 2 seasons away from 3C duty in Edmonton.

Derick Brassard
Age: 31
14 G – 9 A – 25 pts in 70 GP
Previous Cap Hit: $5M
Expected Cap Hit: $3M

This looks like a good time to buy low on a player. Brassard has been a mainstay in the rumour mill since 2016. He has played for 4 teams since the start of the 2016-17 season. This past season was a brutal one for Brassard, but he could still be an effective 3C if the price is right. 30 points isn’t out of the question for him. He has played a lot of playoff hockey in recent years, and his experience would be valuable to the Oilers. The contract has to be right though… he has to take a pay cut and it has to be short-term.

Colin Wilson
Age: 29
12 G – 15 A – 27 pts in 65 GP
Previous Cap Hit: $3,937,500
Expected Cap Hit: $4.5M

Wilson has good size, he skates fairly well, and he can put up some points. He got his start on some good teams in Nashville, and he has been with Colorado for their last two playoff appearances. Teams with Wilson are usually pretty good, and I assume there is at least a little bit of causation there. The price might be a bit rich for Holland, but it would be nice to get Wilson.

Valtteri Filppula
Age: 35
17 G – 14 A – 31 pts in 72 GP
Previous Cap Hit: $2.75M
Expected Cap Hit: $2.5M

Like Spezza, the big reason to go with Filppula is the short term. 30 points seems like a solid bet for Filppula next season, despite his age. Oh yeah, Filppula is a former Red Wing as well, so the Holland factor is at play once again here.

The centres that I’m looking at are all experienced veterans, and we know Holland is big on experience. I’d lean towards Filppula as my first choice, but Brassard would be a good bet as well. There is one other name that has been discussed recently…

Pavel Datsyuk
Age: 40
12 G – 30 A – 42 pts in 54 GP (KHL)
Previous Cap Hit: –
Expected Cap Hit:?

There have been rumours about Datsyuk wanting to come back to the NHL. It seems like he would only want to go back to Detroit, but speculation suggests that Holland might be able to lure him to the Oilers. 40 years of age scares me, but Datsyuk could very well be like Jagr. Datsyuk is too talented and too smart to not be effective wherever he plays. I would certainly welcome Datsyuk on a one-year deal to see what would happen. I have no idea what the price would be, but I’d definitely be excited if he came here, knowing that he won’t set any scoring records.

Defence:

Tyler Myers
Age: 29
9 G – 22 A – 31 pts in 80 GP
Previous Cap Hit: $5.5M
Expected Cap Hit: $6M

Myers is an absolute giant at 6’8” and 229 lbs. At that size, mobility is definitely an issue; but he has been a good player on an elite team in Winnipeg. It’s not like he would be a boat anchor on a team. I honestly think a team is going to over pay for Myers and they are going to regret it a few years from now… That isn’t that type of move that I would make right now if I were Holland.

Jake Gardiner
Age: 28
3 G – 27 A – 30 pts in 62 GP
Previous Cap Hit: $4.05M
Expected Cap Hit: $6M

Gardiner moves the puck really well and he is a gifted skater, but this just wouldn’t make sense for Edmonton because he is left-handed. The only reason to even think about Gardiner is if Holland trades Nurse for some dumb reason. Gardiner has a history of questionable defensive plays, especially in big games. His back issues are a huge red flag in my opinion. I’m steering clear of Gardiner if I’m Holland.

As you can see the UFA market for defencemen is pretty slim. Erik Karlsson simply isn’t an option due to his lack of desire to play here, his expected cap hit, and his injury troubles. If the Oilers are going to get an upgrade on their defence this summer, it’s extremely likely that it will be through a trade.

Back-up Goalies:

Cam Ward
Age: 35
16-12-4, .897 SV %, 3.67 GAA
Previous Cap Hit: $3M
Expected Cap Hit: $2.75M

Ward had a decent record in Chicago last season despite his questionable numbers. The local product that lead his Carolina Hurricanes to a Stanley Cup over the Oilers in 2006 coming home to back-up the hometown team would be a fun story.

Brian Elliott
Age: 35
11-11-1, .907 SV %, 2.96 GAA
Previous Cap Hit: $2.75M
Expected Cap Hit: $2.5M

The ship has sailed on Elliott being a starter in the NHL, but he could prove to be valuable as a back-up. If he can stay healthy, he would be a decent insurance policy for Koskinen. He has proven that he can carry the load in the past, so he could start for a few weeks at a time if need be.

Michal Neuvirth
Age: 31
1-4-1, .859 SV %, 4.27 GAA
Previous Cap Hit: $2.5M
Expected Cap Hit: $2M

Injuries have been Neuvirth’s undoing in his career. He’s a talented goaltender, but he just can’t stay healthy. Last season was particularly rough for him as you can see from his numbers, but he has career marks of .910 and 2.71, which really aren’t all that bad. He would be as good of a bet as any, but the money would need to be low and the term would need to be short.

Keith Kinkaid
Age: 29
15-18-6, .891 SV %, 3.36 GAA
Previous Cap Hit: $1.25M
Expected Cap Hit: $2M

Kinkaid didn’t have a particularly good season last year, but neither did his Devils, which is why they are in line to select Jack Hughes next month (that along with a little bit of lottery luck). Just last season, he went 26-10-3 with a .913 sv % and a 2.77 GAA and lead the Devils to the playoffs. He can handle the volume, and he has the most long-term potential of any of the goaltenders that I’ve listed here. Columbus will be losing Bobrovsky to free agency, and they could retain Kinkaid for themselves; but they’ve got two young goalies that they like in Joonas Korpisalo and Elvis Merzlikins. Jarmo Kekalainen may opt to just go with the youngsters and let Kinkaid walk.

Scott Darling
Age: 30
2-4-2, .884 SV %, 3.34 GAA
Previous Cap Hit: $4.15M
Expected Cap Hit: $1M

Darling isn’t technically an UFA yet, but reports suggest that he will be bought out by Carolina after two disappointing seasons. He excelled as a back-up in Chicago, but he faltered as a starter in Carolina. I believe that teams will explore other options before circling back to Darling, but I do think that he will get a shot somewhere. He definitely wouldn’t be my first target though.

Kinkaid is the most interesting name on the list, although realistically I’d be happy with any of the five. I’d be the least excited about Darling given his recent struggles. There are better goalies out there like Bobrovsky, Varlomov, and Smith, but they will be too expensive for the Oilers.

The UFA market is tricky. It is possible to sign impact players that can improve your roster right away, but those players also tend to decline more quickly than teams would like (cough, cough, Lucic, cough cough). There is value to be had, but there is inherent risk in banking on UFAs. I expect Holland to sign an UFA back-up goalie, and I expect him to sign one UFA forward at a minimum. I’ll be excited for Canada Day to see what happens!

Look out for next week’s article where I’ll look into the possible offer sheets that the Oilers could put out there.

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