Whether the Colorado Avalanche win the Stanly Cup or not, there are going to be a number of players wanting paydays like what happens every season. It appears as though the Avalanche will do so and there are a number of unrestricted free agents who will garner interest around the league. We are focusing on the interest the Edmonton Oilers should have from the team as they have a few players who would fit their needs perfectly this offseason.
The first and most obvious of the free-agent targets is starting goaltender Darcy Keumper. There aren’t very many options out there this offseason that are going to make a huge impact for the Oilers, but the Avalanche’s goalie is one of them.
He has been a very good goaltender since first entering the league in 2012-13, and is in his prime right now. The big issue is continuous health issues that cause him to miss time each season. That’s not what the Oilers need as they’ve experienced enough of that with Mike Smith the past two seasons. The difference is Kuemper is much younger, which proves year after year he can put up very strong numbers no matter the team in front of him, and injuries don’t affect his play once he returns.
He has a career .918 save percentage (SV%) and 2.48 goals-against average (GAA) but since leaving the Minnesota Wild, he’s averaged no less than a .920 SV% with the Los Angeles Kings, Arizona Coyotes, and the Avalanche. With a combination of Jay Woodcroft and Dave Manson’s approach to team defence and consistent play from the goaltender, it could be the fix the Oilers need for multiple years to come to get over the hump.
Valeri Nichushkin is the exact player the Oilers are hoping Jesse Puljujarvi will turn into and was at the same crossroads as Puljujarvi was at age 24 with the Dallas Stars. The Stars opted to move on from him and a few years later at age 27, the Avalanche have themselves a 25-goal scorer and very good big defensive forward.
Ken Holland said “I’ve got to sort out Jesse” and see if he’s part of the solution with the Oilers. There is uncertainty there, and rightfully so, but for as cheap of a price the Oilers can realistically sign him at short-term, it is worth the little risk. If things happen to go the other way and Puljujarvi doesn’t stay with the Oilers or even the team can’t/don’t bring back Evander Kane, there is a need for a big presence who can do a combination of what Puljujarvi/Kane bring to the table.
Nichushkin finished 20th in Selke Trophy voting this season, 19th last season, and eighth in his first season with the Avalanche. That doesn’t mean he is regressing defensively, the field is just getting tougher. He has also made huge strides offensively from where he was at in his final season with the Star, failing to score a goal in 57 games in 2018-19. You can count on him to score 20-plus every season now, and not just because he did so for the first time with the high-powered offence of the Avalanche.
Nichushkin will be paid as he will be looking for his first long-term contract. If the Oilers can afford to pay him if one of their impactful free agents don’t return, he is well worth the investment as he has now proven himself. This is also taking into account if he even makes it to free agency since the Avalanche will be pushing hard to re-sign him. With a number of big players set to hit the open market and more set for contract renewals in the next couple seasons, it won’t be smooth sailing for Joe Sakic and the Avalanche.
The third and less flashy free agent that the Oilers should have eyes on is Darren Helm. With the expected departures of at least one to two depth forwards on the Oilers who are a bit costly, they could fill a spot with a great veteran and glue guy who will cost bare minimum to provide solid and consistent play.
Helm is a fourth-line player at best and won’t be expected to or expect to play every game. When he is in the lineup he is generally a very clean player despite making tons of hits and playing the game hard. He can be counted on to be effective in the limited ice time he gets per game and provide the team with 15-20 points while adding yet another possibility to play shorthanded situations.
He has 100 games of playoff experience in his career and has come up clutch in these playoffs for the Avalanche, scoring one of the most memorable goals when he ended the St. Louis Blues’ season with six seconds left in regulation. With two goals and five points in 18 playoff games this season, he has been more impactful than a handful of Oilers and would definitely be a solid replacement as the Oilers plan on heading back to the playoffs next season.
Which of the players above do you think is the most likely candidate the Oilers will pursue this offseason and how long will they lock them down for? Let me know in the comments below.
Rob Couch is a THW freelance writer covering mainly the Edmonton Oilers and Philadelphia Flyers. He covers everything you need to know about fantasy hockey. He will also keep you up to date with NHL Stats News, trade talks, and daily betting guides.
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