The Edmonton Oilers have 11 pending unrestricted free agents on their current roster. While general manager Ken Holland is already speaking with some of the players on the team, it’s clear, not everyone will stay. In an attempt to predict what Holland might be prioritizing as he puts his stamp on the roster next season and with some serious cap space to make significant changes, I’ll be ranking all 11 UFAs, while predicting whether or not they’ll be sticking around.
We’ll start at No. 11 and work our way down to the most important.
** Note: This is not a representation of who I’d like the Oilers to hang onto. My personal opinion on each player has not been factored into where I’d rank them.
#11: Joakim Nygard
As much as the Oilers were hoping Nygard would come in and improve on his 2019-20 NHL season, he’s not taken the necessary step to get another look next year. Holland will likely move on. He’s played in eight games and has no points.
This is not all on Nygard. Injuries and a strange pandemic season that kept a lot of depth on the roster which meant more bodies to compete for playing time with. A combination of factors meant he just didn’t get the opportunity to show he’d brought his game to another level.
#10: Tyler Ennis
Ennis has surprisingly strong underlying numbers. Still, he’s not getting a good look on the Oilers roster this season and that’s telling. He was brought back during this past offseason on a team-friendly $1 million deal that’s turned out to be not as team-friendly as it was last season in the short stint he had with the team. He’s spent much of 2021 on the taxi squad.
That doesn’t mean the Oilers won’t sign him at a league minimum salary during the 2021 offseason, but it will probably come at the end after the Oilers have gone through the market and made other decisions. Another team might see an opportunity to add him, but he’d passed through waivers multiple times. The Oilers have the freedom to play it slowly here.
#9: Patrick Russell
The Oilers seem to like Russell, but he’s probably the odd man out with the depth coming up the Oilers pipeline at forward and with other players who will be available at league minimum and as part of a flat cap free agent market. Specifically, if Tyler Benson survives the NHL Expansion Draft, he gets a look for Russell does.
Russell has played seven games this season and has two assists. He’s still get to score an NHL goal in his career and through 58 games.
#8: Alex Chiasson
Unless Chiasson comes to the Oilers during the offseason and says, ‘Hey, I like it here a lot and I’ll take a sizeable discount to stay’, I don’t see a situation where Chiasson is an Oiler again next season. That’s not to say he doesn’t offer some value with experience and a presence on one of the NHL’s best power plays, but the Oilers won’t want to invest heavily in him with other things higher on their priority list.
He’s making $2.15 million this season and has eight goals and 12 points in 35 games. There are certainly worse deals out there, but he’ll be worth about half of that salary on a one-year deal if he’s sticking around. A strong playoffs could move him up the list.
#7: Dmitry Kulikov
Here’s a player that will have very little history with the Oilers when it comes time to make a decision on him, but he could show well enough in 20-25 games that he gets an extension. He’s had a strong season in New Jersey, his first game out with Edmonton was quietly effective and the Oilers seem to like the idea of a low-cost, worry-free defenseman who can be extended on a short-term deal and help usher in the young players.
He’s only making $1.15 million this season so it should cost Holland a lot to try him out. If Edmonton can keep a shutdown pair on their roster, they’ll try.
#6: Gaetan Haas
I think there’s a future for Haas with the Oilers and he’s one of the few short-term, non-regular roster players that looks to be on his path to being a regular. He’s fast, he’s picking up the game and he’s versatile. There’s a lot to like with Haas and the team should be able to get another similar contract done with him ($995K).
His numbers aren’t strong, but this is a player that has a lot more going for him than his offense suggests. The Oilers will likely give him another look next season to see if he can’t cement himself an identifiable role on this team.
#5: Slater Koekkoek
Koekkoek suffered an unfortunate injury, but the Oilers really liked his game before he went down. So much so, I think it’s a lock he’s offered another short-term deal this summer. He’s the right age, he’s capable and steady and he’s not expensive, all good things for the Oilers.
#4: Tyson Barrie
Some people will wonder why I have Barrie in the four spot. If the price is right, I think the Oilers will look to extend him and I believe preliminary talks have already started on an extension. That said, Barrie came to Edmonton for one reason, and that was to put himself in a position to produce big numbers on the league’s top power play, then hit a home run in free agency.
He’s not likely to hit that home run with the Oilers because the team has big plans for Evan Bouchard and the two are similar players. It was one thing to stunt Bouchard’s growth in a strange pandemic season, but a similar scenario can’t occur in 2021-22.
That said, if Barrie really likes his environment and wants to stay where he’s comfortable, there’s a future in Edmonton, especially if Oscar Klefbom is still a question mark come July. The Oilers know that Barrie may choose to test the market. It’s fair to suggest they’ll wait to see what he’s offered before making a firm offer of their own.
#3: Ryan Nugent-Hopkins
Nugent-Hopkins has not had a good season. There’s no denying that he’s underperformed in a contract year and as much as the Oilers like him, there’s a limit to how high they’ll go on an extension. Both sides want to get this deal done, but there’s a sense the Oilers and Nugent-Hopkins’ team are still a ways apart.
When it comes to this player, Holland will have to make a tough decision. Do the Oilers heavily invest in a winger who hasn’t played well 5-v-5 with the best player in the world? It’s a huge commitment that can hand-string this team if the Oilers overpay. But, there’s also the value that comes with his leadership, personality and special teams play.
#2: Adam Larsson
A few months ago, Larsson ranking this high on the Oilers free agency chart would have been a reach. That said, he’s played some incredibly effective hockey this season and he’s absolutely earned himself another deal. He’s the veteran right-shot on this team who can play in all situations.
He should be extended for around the same value (maybe a bit less) than he’s currently at ($4.16 million) and if the Oilers can get him done at three years and $3.5 million, it’s a no brainer. It will be intriguing to see how many other teams have noticed how good Larsson has been. He could be a player teams like in free agency.
#1: Mike Smith
How can you have watched the season goaltender Mike Smith is having and not suggest the Oilers look to bring him back? Smith is putting up numbers that should put him in the Vezina Trophy conversation and, despite his age, he’s not a player the Oilers should underestimate. Holland won’t because he went back to Smith when few people thought he should.
Smith’s story in 2020-21 has been remarkable and considering he was an afterthought by almost everyone, he won’t be this summer. There will be a question about how much he’s worth on an extension and what other teams come calling. If the price isn’t too high, Holland may make him a top priority internally.
If Edmonton didn’t have Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl and Darnell Nurse on this team, Smith would be the MVP of the season for the Oilers.
Jim Parsons is a senior THW freelance writer, part-time journalist and audio/video host who lives, eats, sleeps and breathes NHL news and rumors, while also writing features on the Edmonton Oilers. He’s been a trusted source for five-plus years at The Hockey Writers, but more than that, he’s on a mission to keep readers up to date with the latest NHL rumors and trade talk. Jim is a daily must for readers who want to be “in the know.”