Day one of the ‘free agent frenzy’ has come and gone. There wasn’t a ton of quantity for the Oilers, but the quality of the additions was big. The club signed four players on Wednesday and completed one trade that changed the complexion of their NHL roster.
GM Ken Holland started things off by re-signing veteran defenseman Tyson Barrie. Then, with Barrie back in the fold, he added veteran shutdown defenseman Cody Ceci on a four-year deal. With Barrie and Ceci added to Evan Bouchard on the right side of the defense, Holland turned around and flipped D Ethan Bear to the Carolina Hurricanes for F Warren Foegele.
Zach Hyman signed his highly anticipated seven-year deal, while Holland closed the day with a two-year contract for Derek Ryan.
When the dust settled, the Oilers were a very different team. They’ve accomplished quite a bit on Holland’s summer shopping list, but still have some items unchecked.
As we head into day two of the frenzy, here’s an updated look at the GM’s list.
1. Decide on Ryan Nugent-Hopkins: The Oilers ended up coming to terms on an eight-year deal with Nugent-Hopkins. The deal will count $5,125,000 against the cap for its duration. The deal keeps Nugent-Hopkins in Edmonton for the long haul, and secures a top-six forward for the club.
It was honestly a good bit of business for Holland.
2. Figure out what to do with James Neal and Mikko Koskinen: The Oilers waived James Neal on Tuesday, and executed a buyout on Wednesday. Koskinen is still with the Oilers, but his future isn’t certain. Holland continues to shop the netminder, and has had conversations with both the Buffalo Sabres and Arizona Coyotes.
The Oilers missed out on free agent netminder Linus Ullmark, and came in second in trade talks for Coyotes workhorse Darcy Kuemper. It’s possible that the music has stopped, and the Oilers are left without a chair in this game of goalie musical chairs.
If that’s the case, it’s possible that Koskinen returns for the final year of his contract.
3. Add a top-six winger, maybe two: Holland got his man, inking Hyman to a seven-year deal with a cap hit of $5,500,000. Hyman got overpaid with term, but he’s a heart-and-soul player who will be in the top-six on merit. He’s also tough to play against, and should make the Oilers a better team.
With Hyman added and Nugent-Hopkins retained, Edmonton’s top-six is now complete.
4. Add a bottom-six center: As late as Wednesday afternoon, the Oilers were in the running for Ryan Getzlaf. In the end, Getzlaf elected not to leave Southern California, and re-signed with the Ducks on a one-year deal.
Holland checked down to Derek Ryan, who signed a two-year deal with a $1,250,000 cap hit. Ryan is a strong defensive forward and has done good work at five-on-five throughout his career. He’s a good bet to settle things down in the bottom-six, and will help on the penalty kill. He’s certainly an upgrade on Jujhar Khaira, who departed for Chicago.
5. Add a bottom-six winger: There were lots of free agent rumblings, but Foegele was the pick. An RFA, Holland will need to sign Foegele before camp, but this is a good bet, acquisition price aside. Foegele is a good two-way player with size and physicality who also has the ability to score.
Foegele is a real upgrade on Edmonton’s bottom-six winger group, and should help the third line to real improvement in 2021-22.
6. Determine who plays with Mike Smith: Holland came up short here, and may have to check down to a third straight season of Smith and Koskinen. Smith has two years on his new contract, while Koskinen is entering the final year of his current deal.
The Oilers tried on Ullmark and Kuemper, and now must look to see what other options are on the table. Columbus’ Joonas Korpisalo and Alexandar Georgiev of the New York Rangers could still be moved this off-season.
Edmonton has had previous interest in Korpisalo.
7. Figure out the second-pairing left defenseman: Duncan Keith was the target, and Holland paid dearly to bring him in. Now, we’ll see if the bet pays off.
8. Add a second-pairing right defenseman: There was some interest in both David Savard and Travis Hamonic, but at the end of the day Holland elected to go with Ceci. Savard was given a fourth year on his new contract with the Montreal Canadiens, while Hamonic elected to stay in Vancouver.
Ceci is likely to start his Oilers career with Duncan Keith on the second pairing, and will be expected to play more of a shutdown role. Ceci is also likely to play on the penalty kill, effectively replacing the departed Adam Larsson.