As of June 25, all NHL teams could begin having conversations with pending free agents and attempt to lure them to their franchises. Teams won’t be able to officially sign any players until free agency opens at noon on July 1. During this time, the Edmonton Oilers likely won’t be pursuing any of the bigger names on the market, but they do have some needs to address.
Last year during this period, the Oilers courted forward Milan Lucic and defenseman Jason Demers. Lucic was coming off his third 20-goal season in four years while Demers was playing a career-high in ice time. The Oilers were successful in signing Lucic to a $42 million, seven-year deal but unsuccessful in their courtship of Demers. The defenseman who would sign a $22.5 million, five-year contract with the Florida Panthers instead.
The Oilers would get a defenseman eventually, signing Kris Russell before the start of the 2016-17 season.
This summer the needs aren’t so dire, but the injury to Andrej Sekera complicates matters. Up front, the Oilers were the worst faceoff team in the NHL in 2016-17. Edmonton will need to add another depth center to shore things up.
Oilers Need a No. 4/5 Defenseman
The team is bringing back each one of its top seven defensemen in 2016-17, with Sekera starting the year on long-term injured reserve (LTIR). Edmonton will need to find a way to weather the storm on defense for the first half of next season. The Oilers might be better off targeting veteran defensemen that can play in the four-five spot.
The Oilers could try to take the 21:28 Sekera averaged in ice time last season and disperse it between a free agent veteran, Matt Benning and Darnell Nurse. Both Nurse and Benning could be viable options to alternate in the top four, so perhaps Oilers general manager Peter Chiarelli will look for cheaper veteran options.
Regardless, below are some viable options for an Oilers team looking for a veteran to cushion the loss of Sekera. Remember, a lot of these blueliners are unlikely to get long-term deals in free agency.
Trevor Daley, 33, plays a two-way game and scored five goals and 19 points in 68 games. He’s coming off a six-year deal worth $3.3 million per season.
Michael Del Zotto, 27, scored six goals and 18 points in 51 games last season while averaging 19:50 in ice-time.
Cody Franson, 29, is a name that always comes up when it comes to vacancies on the Oilers’defense. Franson scored 19 points in 68 games and is that elusive right-shot, right-side defenseman teams are looking for.
Ron Hainsey, 36, averaged 22:19 in ice time and scored four goals and 17 points in 72 games.
Andrei Markov, 38, can still contribute offensively and help the Oilers’ power play. Markov scored six goals and 36 points in 60 games while averaging 21:50 in ice time. He’s looking for a short-term deal, and his time in Montreal has likely come to an end.
Oilers Need A No. 4 Center
At forward is where things get tricky. There’s the potential $106 million, eight-year extension that Connor McDavid will be getting, and possible $9.8 million offer sheet for Leon Draisaitl. So if the Oilers are going to go for some help on forward to address their third- or fourth-line center spot, they can’t go long-term or sign an expensive deal.
Mark Letestu proved versatile as a depth center for the Oilers and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins bounced between the second and third lines last season. If Edmonton is going to keep Draisaitl on the first line, it makes sense to add another depth center, specifically one that will improve the Oilers’ faceoff strength.
Unfortunately, there’s not a whole lot that you can get on the cheap because there are more desperate teams than talented faceoff aces available. In short, the guys on the higher end are going to be well out of the Oilers’ price range. The remaining options are limited, but here are some names that could help if the price is right.
Brian Boyle, 32. The Oilers were interested at the trade deadline but the asking price was too steep. He had 13 goals and 25 points in 75 games and has a career 50.4 faceoff percentage. Still, he might be too expensive for Edmonton.
Dominic Moore, 36, has missed just two games in the last three years and scored 25 points in 82 games last year. Moore has a career 53.3 percentage on faceoffs and was 54.6 percent on draws last year.
Brandon Pirri, 26, is a versatile forward and can play all three positions up front. He had 18 points in 60 games and was an impressive 57.6 percent on the dot last season.