Ken Holland stayed quiet on day one of NHL free agency while certain role players went for way more than I thought they would. I thought players like Joonas Donskoi and Brandon Tanev would have been signed for around $2 million, instead they each got more than $3.5 million.
Brett Connolly coming in at just $3.25 million surprised me, I thought he’d get closer to $4 million. I wish the Oilers would have brought him in at that price but the term likely scared them off and I really don’t blame Holland for not wanting to go longer than three years.
The Oilers did take care of the bottom part of their roster, signing Alex Chiasson, Jujhar Khaira, Markus Granlund, and Tomas Jurco. What those moves do if give the Oilers a bit of certainty with their salary cap situation.
Ken Holland currently has $5.75 million in open cap space according to PuckPedia (if we assume that the Oilers will bury Brandon Manning in the AHL before the start of next season) and has 12 forwards, six defenseman, and two goaltenders under contract for next season. Assuming that the 7th defensemen will be someone like Caleb Jones, Evan Bouchard, Ethan Bear, or someone on an entry-level deal, Holland has about $4.75 million left to spend this summer.
Now, he could go to the trade market to find the top six forward that the Oilers desperately need, but he could also look around at some unrestricted free agents who are still kicking around.
Ther one big fish still swimming in the UFA pond is Marcus Johansson. Simply put: he’s well out of Edmonton’s price range. Even if the Oilers moved out someone like Sam Gagner or Kris Russell, I don’t see them wanting to throw over $6 million at someone like Johansson. Aside from him, there are a few other good looking options available elsewhere.
Ryan Dzingel will likely come in between $5-6 million and even if it’s on the lower end of that projection, it is still out of the Oilers price range.
One name that would be a great fit in the Oiler’s top six is Michael Ferland. A few months ago, there was talk that Ferland was asking for close to $6 million a season in free agency but I think he’ll be looking at something closer to the $4 million range.
It would put the Oilers right up to the salary cap ceiling so this would really only be possible if they moved on from Russell or Gagner, which will be very tough to do. It’s also worth noting that there is a small handful of teams who have the money and need for a player like Ferland. Right now, I would say it’s very unlikely, but if his price drops in a week or so, the Oilers should be all over Ferland.
THE NEXT TIER
There is a significant drop off in talent from the four players I listed above to the next wave of free agents. However, that also means the next group of unrestricted free agents will be much cheaper.
None of the guys I’m about to go through are bonafide top six wingers, but they could increase the competition for those minutes in Edmonton.
They’re being connected to Pat Maroon once again and that makes sense for a few reasons. Maroon has proven that he can score on Connor McDavid’s wing and this past season with St. Louis, he showed that he’s a very good bottom six winger. If Maroon ends up here, I’d really hope it’s for no more than the $2.15 million the team paid Alex Chiasson. I like what ‘The Big Rig’ brings to the lineup, but the Oilers have lots of slow players in their lineup already. I wouldn’t mind a player with a little bit more speed.
The rest of the names that would likely interest Edmonton are mainly centremen. Brian Boyle is still unsigned after scoring 18 goals in 73 games last season. He’s a solid veteran player who can contribute at even strength and on the powerplay while helping out on the powerplay. He made $2 million last season I would doubt he will cost more than that this season.
Derick Brassard is coming off a rough year that saw him bounce between three different organizations. He’s 31-years-old and while I would be a little concerned that his performance will continue to decline, he’s just one year removed from a 20 goal season. He might spark the Oilers bottom six and give them some offensive production away from their big three players. It’s tough to gauge what he would cost though. He might command close to what Valtteri Filppula got and that likely puts him out of the Oilers price range.
Looking at that group, I would love to see the Oilers shave out a little bit of money and go after someone like Michael Ferland. If that doesn’t happen, and I doubt it will, I could see the Oilers going after a winger on the trade market to fill out their top six.
As much as a Pat Maroon return would be a great story, they have so many bottom six wingers that I’m not sure it would be smart to throw $2 million at someone who could end up being just another big, bottom six body. If the trade market doesn’t offer a solution and Holland feels pressed to bring in another free agent, I would prefer that it’s a player who can provide them with some help down the middle of the ice.