It was announced today that the NHL Draft will be held on October 6 and 7, and that the Free Agency Period will open up on October 9. What good timing for my series on potential Oilers UFA targets.
In a normal world, the UFA route might not be the best way to go about adding core pieces to a team. In a flat cap world, it is really not the best way to add those pieces to a team. However, the hockey trades that we all expect to see this off-season are typically lateral moves that make teams different, not necessarily better. The UFA market is full of useful players that could fill positions of need for the Oilers in the short term without having to give up important pieces of the core.
As always when doing this type of exercise, we have to understand where the team is at in terms of financial commitments for the coming season. I’ve included the current salary cap situation including the re-signing of Patrick Russell and the cap overage that came as a result of going over the cap with performance bonuses last season:
Neal ($5.75M) McDavid($12.5M) Kassian ($3.2M)
Nuge ($6M) Draisaitl ($8.5M) Yamamoto ($894,166)
Khaira ($1.2M) 3C Archibald ($1.5M)
Nygard ($875K) Haas ($915K) Chiasson ($2.15M)
P. Russell ($700k) 14
UFA F: Sheahan, Ennis
RFA F: Athanasiou (QO $3M), Puljujarvi (QO $971,250)
Prospects: Benson, Marody, McLeod
Nurse ($5.2M) 1RD
Klefbom ($4,167,000) Larsson ($4,166,666)
Russell ($4M) Jones ($850k)
RFA D: Bear (QO $735k), Benning (QO $2M)
Prospects: Bouchard, Lagesson, Lennstrom
UFA G: Smith
Retained: Lucic ($750k)
Buy Out: Pouliot ($1,333,333); Sekera ($2.5M)
Overage: $676,000 (?)
Cap Space: $9,172,835
Active Roster: 18
Avg $/plyr: $1,834,567
The Oilers still need to re-sign Ethan Bear, and Holland will want to keep a $1-$2 million buffer for the season, so that $9,172,835 cap space number is actually much smaller than it appears. Unless there is money moving out, then the UFA signings will not be big money deals. The coming posts on UFA options for the Oilers will focus on the most realistic options, but I will also include some that might cost a little bit more just in case there is some money moved out via trade or buyout.
Today, my focus will be on the goaltending situation.
There has been a lot of chatter about a potential goalie trade, but the route that Holland is more likely to take with his goaltending situation is free agency. We just watched Montreal spend about $14 million in the crease after adding Jake Allen to their goaltending tandem alongside $10 million man Carey Price. I don’t see the Oilers spending anywhere close to that kind of money on their goaltending, so that will likely leave the Oilers on the outside looking in on some of the bigger names on the market like Braden Holtby, Jacob Markstrom, Robin Lehner, and Corey Crawford. Those are clearly the best names on the market, but there is still plenty of quality at reasonable price points in the UFA goalie market:
Mike Smith – EDM ($2M): Holland has said that he would not rule out re-signing Smith for next season. Smith is old and inconsistent, but he is still capable of putting up wins. His strong relationship with Coach Tippett will keep him in the running for the backup job in Edmonton. I would expect a new Smith contract to come in under his previous $2 million cap hit, which would be a plus.
Anton Khudobin – DAL ($2.5M): I can’t say enough positive things about what Khudobin has done this post season with the Stars. He has been thrust into the starter’s role after a Ben Bishop injury, and he has guided the Stars to an early lead in the Western Conference Finals. He can handle 30-40 games in the regular season, and we are currently watching him handle the load in the playoffs. He hasn’t had GAA worse than 2.57 in any of the last 3 regular seasons, and he has at least 30 starts in those 3 seasons. His .930 save percentage from the 2019-20 regular season was sparkling as well. He will be due for a bit of a pay raise, but it should still be a reasonable ask from Khudobin. I’m guessing it will take just shy of $4 million to sign him.
Thomas Greiss – NYI ($3,333,333): Greiss has quietly established himself as one of the best backups in the league with the Islanders. He has a 103-61-18 record since joining the Islanders in the 2015-16 season, and those Islanders teams haven’t always been good. He is 34 years old, and it’s not like he is coming off a sensational breakout season. His cap hit should be close to what it was last season. Perhaps the German netminder will want to join forces with a certain German Art Ross Trophy winner.
Jimmy Howard – DET ($4M): There’s no sugar coating it, Howard had a shitty season in Detroit. Guess what… so did everyone else in the Motor City. Howard is a veteran goaltender that can handle playing the 35ish games that Holland would want him to play. GMs tend to go with the guys they know, and Holland knows Howard quite well from his Detroit days. This would be quite reminiscent of the Smith signing from last summer. It would not shock me in the least to see Holland sign Howard. This would be a low-cost signing, but there is quite a bit of risk associated with Howard’s potential performance.
Brian Elliott – PHI ($2M): Speaking of low-cost, high risk veteran goaltenders, how about Brian Elliott? The fact that he had an .899 save percentage on what ended up being a really good team in Philly is a bit concerning. Elliott does have a track record of previous NHL success, but that success was many moons ago.
Aaron Dell – SJ ($1.9M): If Holland wanted to take a bit less of a controversial risk, he could opt for Airdrie’s Aaron Dell. His numbers are less than spectacular, but the Sharks have never been a stout defensive team. They tend to outscore their mistakes, with the exception of last season. Dell played in a career-high 33 games this past season, which is about the workload he would expect in Edmonton. His 3.01 GAA and .907 save percentage leave something to be desired, but we have to cut him some slack for being on a bad Sharks team last year. He is a risk, but he is younger (31) than the other older risks I’ve just discussed. I would expect him to come in a little under his cap hit from last season, which would be a comfortable number for the Oilers.
The Oilers need an affordable low-risk option in goal, which may not be a possibility. Khudobin or Greiss would be the highest quality options outside of the big names, but the Oilers would need to dump salary from other positions in order to sign either one because both would cost more than what Smith’s cap hit was last season. That doesn’t make signing either one an impossibility, it just makes it more difficult. Fans are not going to want to hear this, but I believe that Smith and Howard would be the most likely options given Holland’s penchant for veterans and his pre-existing relationships with both players.