Unrestricted Free Agent Possibilities

Welcome to the first of a series of articles outlining the Oilers’ potential off-season game plan. From now until July 1, I will be proposing several scenarios that could unfold for the Oilers in advance of the 2018-19 season. It is an important off-season for Peter Chiarelli because another season without the playoffs would likely spell the end of his time in Edmonton.

Here is an updated look at the roster including all of the contracts signed for the 2018-19 season after Ty Rattie’s Saturday contract signing:

Nuge ($6M) McDavid ($12.5M) Rattie ($0.8M)
LW Draisaitl ($8.5M) Puljujarvi ($0.925M)
Lucic ($6M) Strome (RFA) Aberg ($0.65M)
Caggiula (RFA) Khaira ($0.675M) Kassian ($1.95M)
Pakarinen (RFA)

Nurse (RFA) Larsson ($4.167M)
Klefbom ($4.167M) Russell ($4M)
Sekera ($5.5M) Benning (RFA)
Gryba ($0.9M) Bear ($0.925M)

Talbot ($4.16M)
Montoya ($1.06M)

Total Cap Hit = $62.879 million
Buyouts: Pouliot – $1.33 million

Total: $64.209 million
Space with $78 million cap: $13.791 million
Space with $82 million cap: $17.791 million

Before diving into potential scenarios, I’ll introduce you to the players that could fill the needs that the Oilers currently have.

Up first, a look at which unrestricted free agents the Oilers could consider signing.

*Note: all expected cap hits listed are purely speculative.

The Oilers need to make changes on the wing. Patrick Maroon’s departure has created a hole at left wing in the top 6. Milan Lucic’s lack of production from Christmas onwards would suggest that the new left winger should be able to play above Lucic in the line-up. The right side is young, but promising. Any top line right winger would be worth looking at as well. Here are the unrestricted free agent wingers that the Oilers could consider signing:

Ilya Kovalchuk, RW (SKA St Petersburg – KHL)
Age as of July 1: 35
32 G – 33 A – 65 P in 55 GP (KHL)
Previous Cap Hit: N/A
Expected Cap Hit: $7-8 million

Kovalchuk has won the Gagarin Cup given to the KHL champions. He won an Olympic gold medal in Pyeong Chang. He now has his sights set on a Stanley Cup. Kovalchuk will be returning to the NHL after spending 5 years in Russia. His 65 points in 55 KHL games last year would translate to 72 points over a full NHL season according to a KHL to NHL points per game factor of 0.74 derived by hockey statistician Rob Vollman. The former Rocket Richard Trophy winner will sign with a team that has an opportunity to win now, but the problem will be finding a contender with enough cap space to afford him.

James van Riemsdyk, LW (Toronto)
Age as of July 1: 29
36 G – 18 A – 54 P in 81 GP
Previous Cap Hit: $4.25 million
Expected Cap Hit: $6.5-7 million

van Riemsdyk had a career year at just the right time. He will be getting a massive raise. With Auston Matthews, William Nylander and Mitch Marner all playing ahead of him in the Leafs line-up this year and needing big contracts of their own soon, it’s not likely that he will return to Toronto. His silky smooth hands would be a welcome asset on any team.

Evander Kane, LW (Buffalo, San Jose)
Age as of July 1: 26
29 G – 25 A – 54 P in 78 GP
Previous Cap Hit: $5.25 million
Expected Cap Hit: $6.5-7 million

Kane is the youngest of all of the unrestricted free agents this summer. He has proven that he can produce, but he hasn’t shown it consistently enough. His off-ice antics are a big part of the reason that he has been traded twice in his career already. He looked great with the Sharks after the trade deadline, and I’d be content to let them have him.

James Neal, LW (Vegas)
Age as of July 1: 30
25 G – 19 A – 44 P in 71 GP
Previous Cap Hit: $5 million
Expected Cap Hit: $6.5 million

Neal is a legitimate sniper. He has scored at least 21 goals in each of the last 7 seasons, with his career high of 40 coming in 2011-12 while playing with Evgeni Malkin in Pittsburgh. 30 goals would be an easy feat for Neal playing with McDavid or Draisaitl. He has Stanley Cup Finals experience gained with the Predators in 2017, although he and the Preds lost. He seemingly enjoyed his season in Vegas, but Vegas may choose to go with a cheaper option.

Rick Nash, LW (New York Rangers, Boston)
Age as of July 1: 34
21 G – 13 A – 34 P in 71 GP
Previous Cap Hit: $7.8 million
Expected Cap Hit: $4.5-5 million

Nash is a former scoring champion. His 21 goals this season show that he can still play. However, his best years are behind him and the team who signs him will likely over-pay for the production that they will get out of him.

Thomas Vanek, LW/RW (Vancouver, Columbus)
Age as of July 1: 34
24 G – 32 A – 56 P in 80 GP
Previous Cap Hit: $2 million
Expected Cap Hit: $2.5-3 million

He has played for 4 teams in the last 2 seasons; but he continues to produce everywhere he goes. He has been traded to playoff contenders at the trade deadline in each of the last 2 years because he has been a good player on bad teams. He will provide tremendous value for whichever team signs him. He looked pretty comfortable at Rogers Place while scoring a hat-trick against the Oilers in March, so perhaps that gives the Oilers a leg up on the field.

Michael Grabner, LW/RW (New York Rangers, New Jersey)
Age as of July 1: 30
27 G – 9 A –36 P in 78 GP
Previous Cap Hit: $1.65 million
Expected Cap Hit: $3 million

Grabner would certainly add speed to the Oilers line-up. He is versatile as well. In addition to scoring goals, he can kill penalties. His low assist total is slightly concerning if the expectation is that he will play in the top 6. However, this would be a value signing for whoever signs him.

Ilya Kovalchuk is the best winger available by a wide margin. He would be a risk due to his age and due to the fact that he hasn’t played in the NHL in 5 years. van Riemsdyk would be a great fit because of his ability to finish in close to the net, which is exactly where McDavid likes to leave the puck after driving wide on defenders. JVR is also a magician in front of the net on the powerplay, and he would be a giant upgrade over Lucic in that position.

The Oilers would have to move out some existing cap space in order to make signing one of those two possible.

Thomas Vanek is a more realistic option. He can score from anywhere, and he can play both wings. More importantly, he would be significantly cheaper than Kovalchuk or van Riemsdyk would be.

The Oilers also need a top right-handed offensive defenceman. This type of player is extremely rare. Ethan Bear got an audition at the end of the season. He could be that type of player in the future, but the best-case scenario would be adding another option at the top of the depth chart. There are two unrestricted free agents worth considering at that position this summer:

John Carlson, RD
Age as of July 1: 28
15 G – 51 A – 66 P in 82 GP
Previous Cap Hit: $4 million
Expected Cap Hit: $7-8 million

Carlson lead the NHL in scoring by defencemen this year. Great timing on his part. His 51 assists are evidence that he can distribute the puck, especially on the powerplay. He’s going to get paid! Like with Kovalchuk and van Riemsdyk, the Oilers would have to move some existing salary out in order to make room for this player. It would be worth it though.

Mike Green, RD
Age as of July 1: 32
8 G – 25 A – 33 P in 66 GP
Previous Cap Hit: $6 million
Expected Cap Hit: $5-6 million

Any team signing Green needs to be careful. Green was once an elite point producing defenceman, but he has had his share of injury problems in recent years. He is due to have cervical spine surgery in the off-season. While he could be an impactful player, he could also be an expensive problem to have on the roster.

The likelihood of either of these defencemen signing in Edmonton is low. Reports indicate that Washington wants to re-sign Carlson; but Washington doesn’t have much cap space to work with, so there is some potential for him to move on. Rumours suggested that Green would only waive his no-trade clause to go to Washington or Tampa Bay (the commonality between those two teams being that they are in the Eastern Conference) at the deadline, so the odds of him signing with a Western Conference team seem low.

Patience may prove to be prosperous because there are a good number of right-handed offensive defencemen becoming UFAs before 2020, including Karlsson and Doughty in 2019 and Pietrangelo, Barrie, Spurgeon, Faulk, and Vatanen in 2020.

Unrestricted free agents are always risks because they are expensive and they are signed either at their peaks or when their performance is about to drop off. They can give a team a boost in production, but they can also become bad contracts like Lucic has been up to this point. In a market like Edmonton where patience is lacking, a big unrestricted free agent signing might be just what the Oilers need.

Next week, I will present the best possible trade targets for Chiarelli this summer and what it would cost the Oilers to acquire them.

admin :

Comments are closed.