Free Agency Wrap

Peter Chiarelli wasn’t kidding when he said that thee Oilers wouldn’t be in the market for any true star UFAs this summer. He signed Tobias Rieder, Kyle Brodziak, and Kevin Gravel on Sunday. They may not be stars, but these are great depth signings that address a lot of the underlying needs for the Oilers.

Rieder can absolutely fly, and he has shown that he has some offensive ability by scoring 96 points over the course of the last three seasons. He has played with Leon Draisaitl with the German national program as well as Team Europe in the 2016 World Cup of Hockey. He provides some flexibility as well since he can play both wings. Rieder has the potential to be a value contract at $2 million.

Brodziak is pretty much the ideal 4th line centre. He is a good face-off guy, he’s reliable defensively, and he can kill penalties. At 34 years of age, he will provide a needed veteran presence in a young dressing room.

This is very much a homecoming for both of these players. They were both Oilers draft picks that were given up on too soon. Rieder was a 4th round pick of the Oilers in 2011, and Brodziak was a 7th round pick in 2003. Brodziak is also from St. Paul, so I’m sure he’s excited to be coming back to Northern Alberta.

Gravel started last season in the AHL, but he spent the latter part of last season with the Kings. He proved to be a fairly reliable defender for them. I see him as a great fit as the 7th defenceman in Edmonton this year.

All in all, this free agency period was some good handy-work from Chiarelli.

Here is the updated roster for next season after the free agent signings:

Nuge ($6M) McDavid ($12.5M) Rattie ($0.8M)
Lucic ($6M) Draisaitl ($8.5M) Puljujarvi ($0.925M)
Caggiula ($1.5M) Strome (?) Rieder ($2M)
Khaira ($0.675M) Brodziak ($1.15M) Kassian ($1.95M)
Aberg ($0.65M)

Nurse (?) Larsson ($4.167M)
Klefbom ($4.167M) Russell ($4M)
Sekera ($5.5M) Benning ($1.9M)
Gravel ($0.7M) RD

Talbot ($4.16M)
Koskinen ($2.5M)

Total Cap Hit = $69.744 million
Buyouts: Pouliot – $1.33 million, Gryba- $0.3 million

Total: $71.374 million
Space with $79.5 million cap: $8.126 million

The signings of Rieder, Brodziak, and Gravel leave the Oilers with $8.126 million to spend on Darnell Nurse, Ryan Strome, and one more player to round out the 23-man roster. Prior to July 1, I had predicted that both Nurse and Strome would each get about $4 million based on their comparables from around the league.

That would leave $0.126 million for player #23… the league minimum for a contract is $0.65 million. That means that there needs to be a minimum of $0.524 million created somewhere in order to add the 23rd player to the active roster.

How can Chiarelli do it?

The obvious place to start would be with the Nurse and Strome negotiations. If the sum of their cap hits is a maximum of $7.476 million, then the Oilers can fit one more player under the cap without moving salary out. That’s an average of $3.738 million each. That figure would only allow the Oilers to add a player at the league minimum value. I would anticipate that player #23 will cost a little bit more than that, although not by much.

That is what leads me to believe that Nurse will get a bridge deal similar to what Winnipeg’s Jacob Trouba got a couple of years ago. The value of this contract could be anywhere from $3-$3.5 million over a two-year term.

If Nurse doesn’t get a bridge deal, then Chiarelli might have to move a little bit of salary out.

Chiarelli mentioned that he is close on a couple of trades during his availability on Sunday. He also made a point of saying that there’s no guarantee that the team in the fall will look the same as it does today. He phrased the same point in a couple of different ways during the press conference, so it is not unreasonable to think that a trade is on the horizon.

The defence group looks to be locked in stone. Any return in a trade involving Nurse or Klefbom that has been rumoured would leave the Oilers taking on more salary, which is the opposite of what needs to happen. Unless Sekera magically gets dealt and agrees to waive his NMC, the cap savings will not come from the defence group.

If there is a trade, who might the casualty be?

Here are the possible casualties from the forward group:

Pontus Aberg- Aberg didn’t do himself any favours last season by breaking a team rule. The team made him a healthy scratch for 2 games after his transgression. He hasn’t earned himself a permanent place on the roster just yet.

Here’s the thing though… he makes the league minimum of $650k, so trading him and signing someone else will cost the same amount or more. If the goal is to create cap space, then trading Aberg makes no sense.

He produced 8 points in 16 games with the Oilers at the end of last season, which is a 41-point pace. He’s got one year left on his contract. It’s pointless to trade Aberg unless Chiarelli truly feels that he can’t help the team next season.

Milan Lucic- $6 million would be enough cap space to get the job done, although rumours of his desire to leave Edmonton appear to have been greatly exaggerated. Ultimately, Lucic has the final say in where he plays because of his NMC, even if Chiarelli can find a trading partner. Until the trade happens, its best to assume that it will not happen.

Zack Kassian- The contract is about on par for value, but Chiarelli could find a replacement that would produce at a similar rate at a lower price point. If he were to be replaced by a player making the league minimum, it would create $1.3 million in cap space.

Once the space is created, Chiarelli will have to find a 23rd player to fill out the roster. All we know is that this player will need to be cheap.

He could add a right-handed defenceman to ensure that there will be a replacement that can play on either side. I suggested that Paul Postma would be a good option to look at prior to the free agency period starting. Cody Franson, Christian Folin, Frank Corrado, and Ryan Sproul would be other cheap right-handed options to look at.

They could also have this player in the system already. Ethan Bear was serviceable in his 18-game stint with the Oilers at the end of last season. Ideally, he will be in the AHL developing further next year, but there’s no reason that he couldn’t be called up for a spell in case of an injury on the right side.

Then there’s Evan Bouchard. I highly doubt that he will be ready for the NHL this coming season, but it seems like he’s not far off. He will likely end up back in London. Even if he is NHL ready, it wouldn’t be smart to have him sitting in the press box on most nights.

By utilizing Bear on a call-up basis, the Oilers could use the 23rd spot on the active roster for another forward. Bob Stauffer asked Chiarelli if he was planning on adding another forward or a centre for the AHL team, and Chiarelli noted that they might look to add a centre that can bounce between the AHL and the NHL. A winger would also make sense since McDavid, RNH, Draisaitl, Strome, Khaira, Caggiula, and Brodziak can all play centre if need be.

There’s still a lot of players available in free agency. Joe Colborne, Jordan Nolan, Nick Shore, Jared Boll, Emile Poirier, Scottie Upshall, Drew Stafford, Tomas Jurco, Tommy Wingels, Alex Chiasson, Daniel Winnik, Derek Grant, Bradon Bollig, Tanner Glass, Logan Shaw, Darren Archibald, Harry Zolnierczyk, Ales Hemsky, Cole Cassels, and Freddie Hamilton; just to name a few that might qualify as cheap.

This player could also be acquired via trade.

Kailer Yamamoto is the most intriguing internal option that’s available. The smart play would be to keep him in Bakersfield next season so that he can develop at the pro level; but if he’s ready, then he’s ready. Yamamoto certainly believes that he’s ready to be in the NHL, and his finish to his season in Spokane would suggest the same.

Training camp will be his opportunity to see if he’s ready. Chiarelli could opt to bring a veteran winger to camp on a PTO (Professional Tryout Offer) to challenge Yamamoto for the last spot. If Yamamoto shows that Todd McLellan can’t possibly leave him off of the roster, then Chiarelli would not be committed to the player on the PTO. If the player on the PTO works out, then he could be signed to a contract at some point during camp.

Aside from Yamamoto, Brad Malone would be the only other AHL forward in the Oilers’ system that has proven that he can come up and not look entirely out of place in the NHL. There’s hope that Tyler Benson and Cooper Marody will progress enough to get to that point this season, but it would not be wise to expect them to get that point quickly. This lack of organizational depth at the forward position is why I would opt to sign another free agent forward for the 23rd roster spot. Doing that would allow the organization to not rush Yamamoto along unnecessarily.

Now that July 1 has passed, my money would be on Nurse getting a bridge deal and Chiarelli signing one more forward, or at the very least bringing one to camp on a PTO.

I’ve been wrong in the past, and Chiarelli did say that he’s close on a trade though. Stay tuned Oilers fans!

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