The Edmonton Oilers have a few key pieces that are slated to hit the unrestricted free agent market on July 28th. While they will have some difficult, and potentially costly, decisions to make on the UFA front, their RFA decisions should be much simpler and cost efficient.
The club only has a handful of restricted free agents to deal with this off-season, and only one who played a feature role consistently in 2020-21.
Should the Oilers re-sign their pending RFA’s, or should the club look to move on via either trade or the lack of a qualifying offer over the next handful of weeks?
F Kailer Yamamoto
The only player to see a feature role consistently in 2020-21, Yamamoto is virtually a lock to be re-signed for at least the 2021-22 season. His final boxcars were underwhelming, however, and Yamamoto may be forced to take a bridge deal at an annual average value much lower than many thought a year ago.
After scoring 26 points (11 g, 15 a) in just 27 games after getting recalled in late December of 2019, Yamamoto was expected to play a key role for Edmonton this past season. While Yamamoto started off hot, and did do things like forecheck and force turnovers, the offense fell off.
Yamamoto struggled mightily in the second half of the season, and scored just 21 points (8 g, 13 a) in 52 games. He had a single assist, the first of his career, in four Stanley Cup Playoff games last month against the Winnipeg Jets,
The club absolutely should bring Yamamoto back, and should have him penciled in for either the second or third line. They’ll re-sign him, too, because there is no internal solution to supplant Yamamoto in a top-nine role.
A two-year deal between $1,500,000 and $2,000,000 is probably where this ends up. Remember, Yamamoto does NOT have arbitration rights.
F Jujhar Khaira
After a dismal 2019-20 season, Khaira cleared waivers at the start of the 2020-21 season and barely found himself in the lineup for the first few weeks of the season. He had a strong February, however, and was a mainstay in Edmonton’s bottom-six the rest of the way.
An elite penalty killer, Khaira scored eleven points (3 g, 8 a) in 40 games after scoring just ten in 64 games in 2019-20.
At five-on-five, Khaira was -2 (13-15) in goals this season, which was one of the better numbers on the team among bottom-six forwards.
Still, he used a hot month (February) to skew what was otherwise another mediocre season. Khaira can play in the NHL, but has a very defined role. He’s a penalty killer that can play a physical brand, drop the gloves and add some depth down the middle.
There really isn’t much offensively here, however, and the Oilers shouldn’t be expecting anything more than fourth line production from this player.
He is what he is at this point, a solid role player in the NHL.
I’d expect Edmonton to re-sign Khaira to another short-term deal, perhaps one-year at a similar cap hit to his $1,200,000.
F Dominik Kahun
Like pending UFA F Tyler Ennis, head coach Dave Tippett didn’t do Kahun many favors this season. Kahun played a majority of the season with youth teammate, fellow German and childhood friend Leon Draisaitl, but the two lacked real chemistry at the NHL level. When with Connor McDavid, however, Kahun was actually solid.
Of course, Tippett panicked in the playoffs and split the top-line up after one game to go back to his blanket of McDavid and Draisaitl together. Kahun, who spent time in the second half as a healthy scratch, was left in the cold as a result.
Kahun ended his first season with the Oilers with 15 points (9 g, 6 a) in 48 games played. It wasn’t the production hoped for, but it was better than other options that played higher in the lineup.
Kahun is unlikely to get a qualifying offer from the Oilers, and is likely to hit unrestricted free agency next month as a result. If GM Ken Holland was smart, he’d re-sign Kahun to another one-year deal worth around $1,000,000 and pencil him into the bottom-six.
It’s clear Kahun isn’t the top-six forward that many hoped he would be, but he’s a smart player with goal scoring ability. A third liner that can chip in 15-20 goals a season? The Oilers need more of that, not less.
F Devin Shore
Shore came to training camp on a tryout in December, and earned a contract with the club. He finished the season, inexplicably, on the second line in Game 4 against the Jets. Tippett adores this player, and Holland has publicly admitted that he wants to re-sign him. Everything you need to know here is already in the public eye.
I do admire Shore’s penalty killing ability, willingness to engage physically, and his work ethic. However, at the end of the day, we are talking about a replacement level player that shouldn’t be on the team’s priority list.
If adding scoring depth really is on Edmonton’s list of things to do this summer, it’s hard to imagine where Shore fits in moving forward.
Shore finished the season with nine points (5 g, 4 a) in 38 games played. Four of his goals came at even strength, while one of them came shorthanded. Two of Shore’s four goals at even strength, by the way, came with the net empty.
On top of that, the Oilers were largely dominated with Shore on the ice in 2020-21. In just over 362 minutes of five-on-five time, with Shore on the ice, the Oilers had a putrid Corsi For of 38.35%, a slightly better 39.49% Fenwick For, just 38.56% of the shots on goal, and just 40.49% (9-17) of the goals.
The Oilers, with Shore on the ice, were completely dominated.
The club will likely re-sign him to a one-year deal around $1,000,000, but that’s likely a mistake when looking at all the evidence.
The Condors Group
There is a group of RFA’s at the AHL level that will also need decisions to be made in the coming weeks. Some of them could have an impact on the NHL roster in 2021-22, while others could have an impact in 2022-23.
F Tyler Benson: Benson had his second dynamic offensive season in the AHL in three years, scoring 36 points (10 g, 26 a) in 36 games. He’s clearly got the offensive skills to make the NHL, but there are concerns about his speed. Benson added penalty killing to his skillset this past season, and sources indicate the club plans on giving him a real chance in 2021-22.
Benson should be re-signed and should be in the lineup opening night. That seems to be the most likely outcome from here.
F Cooper Marody: The Oilers are starving for goals, and Marody just led the entire AHL with 21 of them in 39 games. Marody doesn’t play much special teams, however, and there are real questions about him as a center at the NHL level.
Regardless, the Oilers should sign him and give him a real chance to make the NHL roster. He’s been outstanding in the AHL in both of his healthy professional seasons. The most likely outcome, however, is a lack of a qualifying offer.
D Theodor Lennstrom: Lennstrom did not play NHL games in 2020-21, but did get recalled when injury hit and was signed by Holland. The smart money is on another one-year deal that gives Lennstrom a real chance to compete in training camp.
G Stuart Skinner: After a rocky first two professional seasons, Skinner won his NHL debut in January and then returned to AHL Bakersfield and dominated. Skinner went 20-9-1 with a .914 save percentage and a 2.38 GAA while helping the Condors win the Pacific Division. The organization values him, and he’s earned at least another season after his outstanding AHL campaign. He’ll get another contract, and won’t need waivers in the fall.
G Dylan Wells: With Skinner earning another deal, Ilya Konovalov coming over on his entry-level deal, and Olivier Rodrigue in the fold, the writing is on the wall. There is almost no chance Wells gets a second contract from the Oilers. He was 0-4-1 with the Condors this season and had a save percentage of .878.