Welcome to part 2 of my series on which UFA targets that the Oilers should pursue this October. Last week I focused on the goalies, and this week I’ll move my focus up front.
Another obvious need for the Oilers is a scoring winger to play with Connor McDavid. James Neal wasn’t cutting it, Andreas Athanasiou was ineffective, and the rest simply don’t have the talent to stick with McDavid long-term. Taylor Hall is obviously the biggest and most exciting name available, but he’s not coming back here. He has stated that he wants to be in a situation where he has a chance to win more than he wants money, but money will definitely be a major roadblock in signing Hall. I don’t see him taking enough of a pay cut to come here. I still don’t think he’s a good fit with McDavid at all (although he did mesh nicely with Draisaitl), and I don’t think he will want to come back to the team that traded him away.
There are other options that could work out nicely:
Tyler Ennis – OTT/EDM ($800k): I really liked what I saw out of Ennis as an Oiler. He was not afraid to get in on the forecheck, he has speed, and he was able to continue his approximately 0.5 points per game pace that he had going in Ottawa. He wouldn’t be the most productive option on this list; but he would be a great value contract, which is something the Oilers need with the flat cap.
Mike Hoffman – FLA ($5,187,500): We have all been fantasizing about a pure sniper to play with McDavid, and Hoffman is exactly that. I figured that Hoffman would be one of those guys that would only be successful in the place where he broke out based on his 5th round draft status, but I was wrong. He has increased his goal scoring output since arriving in Florida. He had 36 goals in year 1, and 29 in 69 games before the pause. He was 17th in the league with 11 PP goals, which is a number that I think would go down in Edmonton because his role on the Florida PP was to stand on the right half-wall and smash one-time bombs, and that is exactly where the Oilers run their PP from with McDavid or Draisaitl playing quarterback. Money will be an issue for Hoffman as well as he will command more than he got on his last deal.
Conor Sheary – PIT ($3M): Sheary is an interesting name because of his previous success with Sidney Crosby. He can play with elite players. Crosby is a bit different than McDavid, but both are dangerous off of the rush and off of the cycle. Sheary had his best season in 2016-17, which was a long time ago. This would be far from a sure thing if the expectation would be for him to flank McDavid, but Sheary could provide decent value.
Ilya Kovalchuk – LA/MTL/WSH ($700k): To say that last season was tumultuous for Kovalchuk would be an understatement. I don’t think he got a fair shake in LA honestly. He was benched and ultimately had his contract terminated, but he had 9 points in 17 games in LA prior to getting benched last season. The Kings weren’t getting the production that they paid for out of him, but Kovalchuk was still putting up over a half a point per game for them. He continued that trend in Montreal where he got 13 points in 22 games before being dealt to Washington at the deadline. His production in the regular season was similar (4 points in 7 games), but he disappeared in the playoffs. If his cap hit is under $1 million, then it would definitely be worth a gamble on one of the best snipers of our generation.
Tyler Toffoli – ($4.6M): Toffoli was impressive in his short time as a Canuck. He got 10 points in 10 games before the pause, and he made an immediate impact in his playoff debut against the Golden Knights. Prior to being traded to Vancouver, Toffoli matched his 34 points from 2018-19 in just 58 games with the Kings. Toffoli is known for his shot, so he could be a great fit along side McDavid. Toffoli didn’t suddenly turn into a point per game player though, and his numbers weren’t much better before signing his last deal at a $4.6 million AAV than they were in LA recently. He will probably get around $5 million on a 3 or 4-year term.
Vladislav Namestnikov – COL ($4M): Namestnikov’s production over the past couple of seasons isn’t exactly anything to write home about, but the exciting thing about Namestnikov is his 2017-18 season in Tampa Bay when he played alongside Nikita Kucherov. He was able to rack up 44 points in 62 games that season before being traded to the Rangers in the deal that brought Ryan McDonagh to the Lightning. His production in the last two seasons hasn’t warranted any kind of a pay raise, so he should come fairly cheap to whoever team signs him. He’s got size, speed, and an example of recent success while playing with one of the game’s best forwards. He could well be worth a risk from Holland.
Evgeni Dadonov – FLA ($4M): This was a bit of a down year for Dadonov, but if a down year for him is 47 points in 69 games, then this is still a player to be excited about. He has spent the last three seasons quietly putting up points alongside Aleksander Barkov and Jonathan Huberdeau in Florida. He consistently puts up close to 30 goals a season and he meshes well with skill players. Who knows if that would translate to playing with McDavid; but Dadonov would be the cheaper of the two UFA wingers out of Florida, and the gap in production from Hoffman isn’t all that big.
There are some exciting names in this group. I think that Toffoli and Dadonov would be the best mix of quality and price point for the Oilers. Namestnikov is the most intriguing name on the list in my eyes because he has the highest potential of providing the greatest value based on his past success with Kucherov. I’d be excited about Kovalchuk coming here as well, although I would temper my expectations of him if he were to sign in Edmonton. I’d also be happy to see Holland re-sign Ennis because of the season he had in 2019-20 and because of his excitement about playing in his hometown.
Next week, a look at the best UFA options at 3C, which is a more important upgrade for Holland to make this October than a scoring winger in my opinion.