The Oilers were quite active on the eve of free agency as well as the opening hours, making a flurry of signings that are impactful as much as they were expected based on the rumours that had been circulating in the past weeks. Let’s take a look at the moves and the potential implications that might have on the rest of the Oilers offseason.
Evander Kane: 4 years at $5.125 million
Despite the several controversies that surround Kane, his retention represents what is likely the best case scenario for both he and the Oilers. Despite a complicated history the winger put forth a very convincing half-season audition, delivering all that one might hope for on ice while garnering the public support of his teammates. Perhaps the new lease on life, as well as the chance to be on by far his most competitive NHL team, is enough stability for Kane to thrive.
For the Oilers the signing gives them an impactful winger at a slightly reduced cap hit, shaving more than $2 million off of Kane’s cap hit in San Jose. Oilers fans are already familiar with Kane’s unique on ice contributions. He brings a rare physicality and degree of nastiness that is appreciated, but for the Oilers adding a third, legitimate, 30+ goal scorer behind McDavid and Draisaitl rounds out their roster quite nicely. Although other forwards, Nugent-Hopkins, Hyman, Puljujarvi, Yamamoto, and even McLeod, are strong players, as a group they do leave a bit to be desired in the goal scoring department.
In the parity of the modern NHL there is a fine line between good and great, and we were all privy to how the Oilers forward group took that leap once Kane came into the fold. Provided the interpersonal relationships between Kane, his teammates, and the organization retain their integrity the 4 year deal should be one that helps the Oilers reach their goals.
Brett Kulak: 4 years at $2.75 million
Another in-season addition that saw immediate results was that of Brett Kulak. Although Kulak has some puck moving utility, mostly as support for a defence partner who excels offensively and in transition, his greater contributions come defensively, as he brings some size and mobility to the Oilers left side.
Kulak showed fantastic chemistry with Barrie, and theoretically should be able to replicate that success with Bouchard if given the opportunity. With Nurse, and potentially Broberg, also inhabiting spots on the Oilers blueline as high skilled players, having Kulak join the likes of Ceci provide complimentary balance at reasonable costs.
Jack Campbell: 5 years at $5 million
With Koskinen’s departure and Smith injury designation, the Oilers had little choice but to acquire a starter in net. With Stuart Skinner ascending, likely taking a full-time backup role, Campbell will assume the starter’s role, a role he occupied for the Toronto Maple Leafs over the past 2 seasons.
During his successful stint with the Leafs, an underrated team defensively, Campbell also performed quite well in the postseason. There are some injury concerns, which underscores the importance of Skinner’s role, as Campbell has battled his share of ailments over that time.
A former 1st round draft pick, Campbell does have the pedigree to support his limited track record as a starter. The 5 year deal is longer than Campbell’s time as a starter, and does represent a share of risk, but as one of the top available Free Agents on the market it also represents a share of hope that the Oilers have secured a strong goalie tandem.
Greg McKegg: 2 years at $750,000
A depth signing at league minimum, McKegg is a depth signing who should by no means be a regular for the Oilers. Perhaps his ability to play centre has some value, but at most he should be a low cost 4th line player if the Oilers run into injuries up front.
Calvin Pickard: 1 year at $750,000
Another AHL/depth signing, Pickard joins the Oilers organization on a minimum deal. With Skinner and Campbell safely above him on the depth chart, Pickard will only appear for the Oilers in injury circumstances, sparing younger players like Olivier Rodrigue from having to appear in NHL action before they are prepared.
According to CapFriendly the Oilers have but $1,318,667 in cap space, and have yet to sign a trio of important RFAs in Puljujarvi, Yamamoto, and McLeod. The Oilers will need to get those important pieces signed for as little as possible, but clearly need to free up more cap space still. There could be long, drawn out negotiations on all 3 as we progress through the offseason.
Perhaps Tyson Barrie can be moved, his $4.5 million cap hit would certainly afford the Oilers some breathing room, although his departure would likely leave the Oilers with another regular spot open on the blueline. Perhaps Warren Foegele and his $2.75 million cap hit can be freed up as well, given all 3 of the RFAs are more significant contributors to the Oilers.
Given the complex, if not convoluted, nature of the salary cap it might be an oversimplification to say that Mike Smith and Oscar Klefbom can be put on LTIR, essentially clearing $6,367,000 in cap space, which combined with the Oilers current space of $1,318,667 could be just enough room to sign the RFAs and fill out the remaining roster spots with depth.
For the Puljujarvi supporters, news that the Oilers weren’t able to find value for him on the trade market will represent a positive development. At 24 years old, Puljujarvi is already a solid contributor for the Oilers, and the next 6 years or so of his career should be his most productive. All 3 of Puljujarvi, Yamamoto, and McLeod are integral in solidifying the Oilers strength up front.
Of course, the possibility for more trades is always possible, but given how the past few weeks have unfolded GM Holland and the Oilers seem to have positioned themselves well to build off of their success from last season.
Purely speculative, but let’s take a gander at what a projected lineup might look like at this point in time.
Of course, the lines could very well be re-arranged, but it’s clear to see the Oilers sport one of, if not the best top 9 forward group in the league. Foegele and Ryan may be a tad expensive for 4th liners, but are no doubt strong contributors, and would be a very capable unit with Woodcroft’s favourite Brad Malone.
Broberg and Bouchard give the blueline a lot of upside potential, as given their talent it is not out of the question that the duo might even form the Oilers top defensive pair by season’s end. They both have a long way to grow yet before we reach that point, but their presence is a huge reason for optimism for the future of the Oilers.
Campbell is coming off of his best seasons as a pro, and could have a hard time continuing to post career best numbers for the duration of this 5 year contract. That said, a strong Oilers team in front of him will give ample support for said venture. A much beloved teammate, he should be a positive addition to the locker room while also providing Stuart Skinner with the support he needs, both on and off the ice, that Skinner will need to continue his ascension to becoming an NHL starter.
As much as a lot of Oilers fans have been critical of GM Holland’s moves over the past seasons, much of which is sound and valid criticism in my opinion, it is hard not to say that this is the strongest the Oilers have looked on paper in decades. After a trip to the Western Conference Finals the on ice results have followed suit.
Of course, having two MVPs in their primes makes Holland’s job much easier, this organization was missing the playoffs entirely with both McDavid and Draisaitl on the roster before Holland’s arrival.
Although I appreciate where some of the pessimism regarding some of Holland’s moves have come from, I believe that it’s both important and fair to take into consideration the bigger picture.