As great as it would be to see McDavid get a scoring winger, I don’t think that filling that hole is as important as creating a 3rd line that can score. A scoring winger would make it easier for McDavid and Draisaitl to put up points, but it would not ease their burden of having to be the entire team’s offence. A 3rd line that can score would take some of the load away from McDavid and Draisaitl and provide much needed balance and depth.
We don’t have to look any further than the current Stanley Cup Finalists to understand why balance and depth are important. Tyler Seguin has just 2 goals and 8 points in 22 games for the Stars. Meanwhile, Denis Gurianov is tied for 2nd among forwards on their team with 17 points, and he leads them with 9 goals. Jamie Benn and Alex Radulov are the top two point producers among their forwards, but Joe Pavelski (15 points) and Roope Hintz (12 points) are right behind them. Oh yeah, and they have two defencemen that are the top two point producers on their team.
Meanwhile, Steven Stamkos hasn’t even played a game for the Lightning in the playoffs yet. Their best players (Nikita Kucherov, Brayden Point, and Victor Hedman) are leading the way, but they also have three other forwards with at least 0.5 points per game (Palat – 14, Gourde – 13, Coleman – 12).
Meanwhile, the Oilers had McDavid with 9 points, Nugent-Hopkins with 8 points, and Draisaitl with 6 points against Chicago. The next closest Oiler was James Neal with 3 points, and he was on the 4th line. Granted, 3 points in 4 games is pretty good, but the fact that the 3rd highest point total was double that of the 4th highest point total in the series against Chicago is troubling.
My point is that championship teams don’t win without offensive contributions from guys lower in the lineup. The Oilers lost to Chicago, and McDavid and Draisaitl were hot in that series… it would’ve been a sweep had they been cold.
Look at the list of possible wingers on both sides before any external candidates get thrown into the mix:
Nuge x Yamamoto
AA (RFA) x Kassian
Neal x Archibald
Khaira x Chiasson
Ennis (UFA) x Puljujarvi (RFA)
Sure, there are no true drivers of play on the wing, and there are no true offensive dynamos, but there is quality scoring depth on that list. We didn’t see that come to fruition last season, but that could change with an upgrade over Riley Sheahan at 3C. If Nuge, AA, Ennis, and Neal are your four LWs, then you could really create 4 scoring lines. You could even have Benson one of those lines. My mind is swirling with all of the possible 3rd scoring line combinations that Coach Tippett could create! I would bet that AA would’ve been more effective if he weren’t stuck with Sheahan as his centre when he wasn’t with McDavid or Draisaitl. If James Neal can’t produce without McDavid, then I don’t see him producing with Gaetan Haas or Jujhar Khaira as his permanent centre. How about the idea of Tyler Benson and Jesse Puljujarvi flanking an actual 3C that can produce some offence?
Ken Holland needs to find a 3rd line centre that is capable of scoring at least 30 points, if not 35 because that player will allow the depth wingers to produce more offence, and it will take the burden off of McDavid and the current Art Ross, Ted Lindsay, and Hart Trophy winner. By the way, congrats to Leon Draisaitl for being fucking phenomenal last year!
Here are some UFA 3C options:
Mikael Granlund – NSH ($5.75M): The first Granlund that we tried didn’t pan out, but who’s to say the more skilled of the two brothers wouldn’t be better here? Mikael’s agent has announced that Granlund will be testing the free agent market. Mikael was given a big contract by Minnesota after a 69-point season, and he backed it up with a 67-point effort the next year. He has been in a downward spiral ever since though, especially after being traded to Nashville. He has not been a good fit there. He only put up 30 points in 63 games this past season. I would expect that to be his floor, which would make him a highly productive 3C. The interesting thing about him is that he can also play wing, which means that he could earn a shot on McDavid’s wing if Tippett were to decide that he wants to do that. I’m not sure how Markus’s experience in Edmonton would impact Mikael’s decision to sign here, but my guess is not positively. I think that Mikael will be taking a pay cut on a short-term deal, so the money could potentially work here.
Carl Soderberg – ARI ($4.75M): At 34 years old, Soderberg will be taking a pay cut for next season, and he surely won’t get a long-term deal. He can produce at a 0.5 points per game clip. He even has a history of playing on solid defensive teams in Boston and Arizona. That type of production with some level of defensive competence is exactly what the Oilers should be hoping to find.
Erik Haula – FLA ($2.75M): Haula has fought knee injuries for the last couple of seasons, but he has still proven to be effective. He had 22 points in 41 games in Carolina before being involved in the baffling trade that saw Vincent Trochek get moved out of Florida. He would come at a more than reasonable cap hit, which I would expect to be a bit lower than his last contract due to his recent injuries.
Colin Wilson – COL ($2.6M): He only played 9 games in 2019-20 because of a leg injury, but 3C production is still very much in the cards for the 30-year old. His 49 points in 130 games with Colorado in the last 3 seasons translates to 31 points over a full season, which is right where a decent 3C should be. I also like that he spent the first 7 years of his career playing for a stout defensive team in Nashville. Like Haula, I’d expect Wilson to come fairly cheap due to injury concerns.
Joe Thornton – SJ ($2M): The only way that Joe Thornton would ever leave the Sharks is if he felt that the team he would be going to would be a legitimate Cup contender. The Oilers aren’t that at this point, but they are only a few pieces away, and Thornton could be one of those pieces. He got 31 points in 70 games as a 41-year old on a bad Sharks team, so the guy can still produce. Put him in the 3C spot with a guy like Puljujarvi, get him on the powerplay, and watch him tear it up. The cap hit would be reasonable for Thornton as well, and we know it would be a short-term deal.
Jason Spezza – TOR ($700k): WhiskeyTodd (@mebro01149134) asked me if I see Spezza as a 3C option for the Oilers, and my first thought was no because I didn’t think he had 3C chops anymore. I was basing that on an outsider’s perspective seeing him get healthy scratched in Toronto a bunch of times; but he did manage to get 25 points in 58 games for the Leafs as a 36-year old. That would put him at 35 points for a full season. I was wrong, he does still have 3C chops. The other nice thing about Spezza is that he shoots right. For a near league minimum contract, Spezza would definitely be worth considering.
Alex Galchenyuk – PIT/MIN ($4.9M): Galchenyuk will be a reclamation project for any team that chooses to sign him, but it’s all about expectations. If the expectation is that he will be on your top line, then you’ll probably be disappointed. If the expectation is that he plays on a scoring 3rd line, then he will be an acceptable risk. He was on pace for a 30-point season in Pittsburgh, but then he got traded to Minnesota and he got 7 points in 14 games for them before the pause. Nobody can argue that he has a ton of skill. He’s a failed top 6 forward at this point, which is usually what makes a good 3rd liner on good teams. The cap hit will be affordable for Galchenyuk as he is a bit of a reclamation project. Like Granlund, he can play centre and wing. He could be incentivized to sign here with the potential of earning an opportunity alongside McDavid should he prove himself on the 3rd line. Wouldn’t it be a cool story if the Oilers could steal the 3rd overall pick in 2012 and turn him into a success story after 2012 1st overall pick Nail Yakupov turned out to be a bust here?
Mikko Koivu – MIN ($5.5M): The Wild recently announced that they will not be re-signing long time captain Mikko Koivu for next season. The 37-year old will surely not command anywhere close to his previous $5.5 million cap hit. Koivu can still bring it though. His 21 points in 55 games this season works out to 31 points extrapolated over 82 games, so he fits my criteria for 3C production. He has also been over 50% on his face-offs in every season since 2006-07. I’ll state the obvious and say that the veteran Finn could be a great mentor for a certain young Finn with a big smile and an affinity for pizza.
Derick Brassard – NYI ($1.2M): I’d say the Isles took a successful gamble on Brassard this past season. He ended up with 32 points in 66 games after a tumultuous 2018-19 season that saw him play for 3 different teams, and he had 8 points in 18 playoff games during the Isles’ run to the Eastern Conference Finals. Brassard is known as an offensive player rather than a 2-way threat, but he worked out just fine on a team that allowed the 5th fewest goals against in the league. I imagine that the Isles would want to re-sign Brassard after his performance this season, but you never know what will happen.
I’d be super interested in Granlund or Galchenyuk based on the idea that they could play on McDavid’s wing in a pinch. Knowing that, I’d also want to sign another of the cheaper UFA 3C options in addition to whichever G guy gets signed whether it be Haula, Wilson, Koivu, or Spezza. Either one of the G guys would play 3C and the cheap veteran would play 4C, or one of the G guys would move up to the wing and a guy like Haas would play 4C. Of course, money is a concern in that scenario, but it would be the best-case scenario in my eyes.
If I were to choose one guy to go after though, it’d be Soderberg. I like that he’s a veteran that is still under 35, I like his history of playing for solid defensive teams, I like his offensive production, and I think his cap hit will be affordable.