With less than a month to go before the start of free agency, there are many highly sought after players out there that have not been resigned by their respective clubs. Big ticket names such as Ryan Suter and Zach Parise head the list, but they are by no means the only names that teams will be furiously trying to sign.
After the 29th place finish of the Edmonton Oilers in 2011-12 there were plenty of holes in their roster that were exposed. Some will be naturally improved upon with experience and maturity of some of the young stars on the roster, and some issues will look to be addressed through the draft, trade or the hiring of a new head coach.
Some of these questions will be answered at the draft and the decision(s) made there, specifically whether they draft Nail Yakupov or instead flip the #1 pick for help in other areas. That decision will likely shape the direction they take in free agency and/or trade depending on the assets they come away with on draft day.
The Oilers will have some cap space, and more depending on the fate of the Ryan Smyth negotiations prior to July 1st, to look to bolster some areas. While there seems to be some who believe they need more physicality or sandpaper from their back-end, or what they truly need is a puck moving defenceman, the biggest area of concern and need of improvement is their defence. The strength is clearly the dynamic young forwards up front, but they still lack a prototypical big body power forward to drive to the net. Goaltending was inconsistent and still raises some question marks, specifically around whether Devan Dubnyk is the man or not.
Traditionally a market that is among the hardest to attract players to come to (Chris Pronger, Dany Heatley, Sheldon Souray etc.), the young talent assembled and the exciting future of the team may be enough to persuade some prospective free agents to sign in Oil Country.
With these questions in mind, here are some potential free agents (in alphabetical order) the Oilers may target and who would be a good fit with the team.
*numbers courtesy capgeek.com
Matt Carle, D, 27
2011-12 salary: $3,437,500
The biggest question with Carle, is whether or not he will even be a free agent come July 1st. While he is headed that way at the moment, many reports indicate that he will very likely resign with the Philadelphia Flyers. Carle is a player the Oilers (and many other teams) would love to add, he’s in his prime, skates well and moves the puck efficiently. He is also very solid defensively and has the ability to play big minutes. He would be a great fit in Edmonton to play alongside Jeff Petry and be a top pairing defenceman.
Jason Garrison, D, 27
2011-12 salary: $675,000
Due a nice pay raise from his previous salary after a season which saw him score 16 goals from the backend, a number which only Shea Weber and Erik Karlsson topped this season. Flying somewhat under the radar with some of the bigger name defencemen to hit free agency July 1st, Garrison would be a nice signing for the Oilers as he has the ability to play big minutes, plays in all situations, and has a cannon of a shot from the point. He could also provided some much needed offence to the Oilers defence corps. A classic late bloomer, option 1 for Garrison would be likely be to try and resign with the Panthers, but he has stated that he would love to play for his hometown Vancouver Canucks if that isn’t an option. It will be interesting to see if Edmonton can jump up and make him an offer he can’t refuse.
Josh Harding, G, 27
2011-12 salary: $750,000
The free agent goaltending market appears to be a little thin, with most teams looking at the trade route to upgrade their goaltending situations. Currently the Oilers have Nikolai Khabibulin and Devan Dubnyk scheduled back between the pipes for next season. With a year left on his contract, Khabibulin will not be part of the Oilers long term plans and Steve Tambellini will no doubt entertain any offers for his services throughout the summer. With Dubnyk occupying one of the top two depth chart positions, there is some uncertainty whether he is the man going forward or not. At the very least a young, competent running mate would be something the Oilers would love to add. Outside of trade, of all the available options, Josh Harding fits the bill. The biggest concern with Harding is not his talent or ability, of that he has plenty, but rather his inability to stay healthy. At a reasonable rate he would be worth taking a chance on.
Barrett Jackman, D, 31
2011-12 salary: $3,500,000
Some may question whether the Oilers would want to pay $3.5M (or more), for a defensive defenseman in his 30’s when everyone seems to be calling for offensive puck moving defencemen, but Jackman would bring a lot to the table for the Oilers. He plays with a physical edge, and is another big defenseman that can shut down the opposition’s top line, something no team has too many of. He also brings important leadership qualities that the Oilers could really use. He possesses some of the intangibles and characteristics that Edmonton lacks in their lineup and dressing room. The question is, how much do they want to pay for it?
David Jones, F, 27
2011-12 salary: $2,500,000
While the strength of the Oilers is clearly the young exciting talent they have up front, one thing that group is missing is a big bodied power forward. With Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Jordan Eberle, Taylor Hall, Sam Gagner, and we’ll add Nail Yakupov for argument’s sake, none of which are anywhere close to a prototypical power forward. Only Hall of the group could even be considered in that mold, and with his recent injury history he may be encouraged to lessen that part of his game. At 6’2″ 210lbs, Jones is certainly a goal scorer with size. He has posted back to back seasons of 20 and 27 goals and would be a great fit in a top six role with the Oilers, especially if Ryan Smyth is not re-signed.
Justin Schultz, D, 21
2011-12 salary: n/a
Perhaps the most intriguing of all the names on the list, and possibly the best fit, Schultz comes in with a little different situation than the other candidates. Having not played a single NHL game yet, he is still potentially one of the more sought after defencemen in this year’s free agent class. The widely publicized case that is Justin Schultz, it has been well documented the position he and the Anaheim Ducks are currently in. As it stands the Ducks have 30 days from the time Schultz leaves the University of Wisconsin to come to terms on a deal with him. That date is currently June 24. While the Ducks are going to do everything in their power to sign him, there is a growing belief that Anaheim is not where Schultz wants to be and will end up on the open market July 1st. At just 21 years old he has an impressive skill set. He can skate, shoot, move the puck and do everything offensively you’d want a young defence prospect to be able to do and then some. With the Oilers having the amount of exciting young talent up front that they do, Edmonton might be an enticing spot for Schultz who would potentially jump right into a top four role, and definitely major powerplay time in his first season. There are of course many rumours about different destinations floating about for Schultz, but right now everyone is waiting until June 24 to see if he’s even available.
Ryan Suter, D, 27
2011-12 salary: $3,500,000
Why not Ryan Suter? Sure there are about 29 other teams that would also like him, and will pay handsomely for it, but with the Oilers young dynamic core up front, Suter would be a phenomenal building block to anchor the backend for years to come. Suter would be the type of defenceman to take the Oilers defence group from the bottom of the league to one of consequence with just the signing of his name. While he is a long shot to sign in Oil Country, with rumours of Detroit and massive amounts of cap space in the post-Lidstrom era, there is always a chance going into July 1st.
Dennis Wideman, D, 29
2011-12 salary: $3,937,500
At almost 4M per and possibly more on the open market after a 2011-12 season where he was named to the all-star game and registered 46 points playing 23:54 a night for the Capitals, he also may be a long shot for the Oilers, although likely more of an option than Suter. While he certainly has some defensive deficiencies, he is a good skating, puck moving defenceman who has put up proven numbers over his career, which is something the Oilers can’t say for most of their blue line. While his offence is his calling card, his defensive game is still good enough to be a top pair defenceman in Edmonton.