Ken Holland signed several players on day 1 of the free agency period, but the biggest story from the day was about who he didn’t sign.
There were reports suggesting that the Oilers offered Jakob Markstrom a 7-year, $35 million contract, but the Swedish goalie ended up crossing Oilers and Canucks fans by signing a 6-year, $36 million contract with the Flames. Markstrom was the biggest name signed on day 1, and he was the highest quality starter available. It would’ve been nice to land him, but it’s also nice to have avoided that long-term contract. We’ll be laughing when the Oilers beat the Flames in the playoffs every year for the next 6 years.
Holland’s biggest move was to sign recently bought out centre Kyle Turris to a 2-year deal with an AAV of $1.65 million. Holland kept the value coming by re-signing Tyler Ennis to a 1-year, $1 million deal. The Oilers got some AHL help by signing Anton Forsberg, Alan Quine, and Seth Griffith.
Before we dive into the analysis, here’s the current salary cap breakdown fueled by CapFriendly:
Nuge ($6M) McDavid ($12.5M) Puljujarvi ($1.175M)
Ennis ($1M) Draisaitl ($8.5M) Yamamoto ($894,166)
Neal ($5.75M) Turris ($1.65M) Kassian ($3.2M)
Nygard ($875K) Haas ($915K) Archibald ($1.5M)
Khaira ($1.2M) Chiasson ($2.25M)
Nurse ($5.2M) Bear (RFA)
Russell ($4M) Larsson ($4,166,666)
Jones ($750k) 3RD
IR: Klefbom ($4,167,000)
Retained: Lucic ($750k)
Buyout: Pouliot ($1,333,333), Sekera ($2.5M)
Cap Space: $6,385,835
The forward group appears to filled out, so it would appear that Oilers fans’ hopes of signing Taylor Hall or Mike Hoffman have been dashed barring something drastic happening in the coming days. If we include Patrick Russell, there are 15 forwards signed to the NHL roster already. Nobody of substance could be added without moving a guy out.
Turris was bought out after the second year of the 6-year, $36 million deal that he signed with the Predators. He was simply not living up to those expectations in Nashville. Turris had 31 points in 62 games last season. I don’t blame them for wanting more for their money. It’s easy to look at Turris and say he’s lost his way because he isn’t the 55-64 point version of himself anymore, but it’s all about expectations here. 0.5 points per game is not enough for $6 million, but I would ecstatic with that kind of production for $1.65 million! I’d even be happy if he were to decline to 0.4 points per game for that kind of money.
I’m so happy that Holland decided to fill the 3C position with someone more talented than Riley Sheahan! That was the most important position that needed to be filled in my eyes because of the impact it will have on McDavid and Draisaitl. The Oilers scored 225 goals last season. Leon Draisaitl got 110 points, so he was in on 48.9% of the team’s goals. Connor McDavid had 97 points, so he was in on 43.1% of the team’s goals. The alarming thing is that there were only 70 goals out of the 225 that neither Draisaitl nor McDavid were involved in last season. That’s 31.1% of the goals. That means that Draisaitl and McDavid were in on 68.9% of the Oilers goals in 2019-20. That number is FAR too high!
Riley Sheahan was effectively the 3C last season, and he only got 15 points. The year before that, they couldn’t find anyone to play 3C consistently, and nobody that they tried there that season got more than 10 points. Ryan Strome had 34 points in 2017-18. That was the last time the Oilers had a 3C that was productive enough. Turris is likely to be able to produce that level of offence, especially considering that he won’t have Milan Lucic weighing him down.
Another big benefit of having a productive 3C is that it should result in an uptick in production from the depth wingers. I think James Neal stands to benefit the most from Turris. If Neal wasn’t playing with McDavid, then he was useless at even strength last season; and he wasn’t very good with McDavid at evens either. Turris will be able to make plays with Neal, which is better than Neal having to chase the puck around all night with Gaetan Haas or Jujhar Khaira as his centre. Turris gives Neal some value as a bottom 6 winger.
The other thing that I like about Turris is that he is a right shot that is good at faceoffs. Last season was his first season finishing below 50% in the circle since 2012-13. Having a right shot centre that can win draws is important for defensive zone faceoffs in the right circle. It’s easier to get the puck to the corner from the right circle in the defensive zone as a righty because it’s easier to win the puck back on the backhand. Coach Tippett can put Turris out for defensive zone faceoffs on that side and expect Turris to not get caved in there. That is a subtle little thing that will make life easier for the Oilers.
Tyler Ennis enjoyed a nice offensive bounce back season last year. He had 37 points in 70 games, including 4 points in 9 games with the Oilers after the deadline last season. He also had 2 more in 3 playoff games before breaking his leg in game 3 against Chicago. He can play up and down the line-up, but he looked really good with Draisaitl and Yamamoto against Chicago. He’s quick, and he’s not afraid to get in on the forecheck. He got just a shade over 0.5 points per game last season, and if he can replicate that performance, he will be an absolute steal for Holland and the Oilers.
Forsberg is going to be the 3rd goalie on the depth chart. We just don’t know who that 2nd goalie will be yet. As for the others, they will all provide needed AHL roster players for the coming year.
Holland currently has $6,385,835 left to spend on Ethan Bear, a goalie, and two more defenders. Bear received a qualifying offer from the Oilers, but he will definitely sign for more than that. I don’t see there being enough money available to sign him to anything more than a 2-year bridge deal, which I’m guessing will carry about a $3 million AAV, give or take.
That leaves just shy of $3.4 million for a goalie and another two defenders.
The Oilers missed out on Markstrom, but there are still some interesting names available. Corey Crawford, the man that guided the 12th seeded Blackhawks to a play-in series victory against our Oilers, was not extended by Chicago. I’m not sure what it would take to get him, but it looks to be a buyer’s market for goalies right now. The other interesting option is Thomas Greiss. He would likely be the cheaper of the two, and I think he would be in the Oilers’ price range. Khudobin went for $3.5 million, and I don’t expect Greiss to get even that much in the open market. If Holland must go with the UFA route, Smith would be the next best option unfortunately. He could still trade for someone like Darcy Keumper or a Columbus goalie. This will be interesting to watch unfold.
The other interesting bit of news to come out of today is the Oilers’ interest in Tyson Barrie. Holland is planning for life without Oscar Klefbom this coming season, so he is likely trying to find a powerplay quarterback on the cheap. Barrie had an unimpressive year in Toronto, so he could be cheaper than he might’ve been had Colorado not traded him. The issue with Barrie aside from his cap hit is that he is a righty. The right side is where the open roster slot is, but the ideal scenario would see one of Russell or Jones slide over to the 3RD spot to make room for a puck moving lefty to play with Adam Larsson. Slater Koekkoek and Erik Gustafsson are potential lefties to fill that role.
This was just day 1 of the free agency period. There is still a ton of time for Holland to make additional moves here. It’s kind of nice that we as fans have to wait a little bit for the last couple of key questions about this roster to get answered because it will make the wait until the puck drops feel a little bit shorter.