The Edmonton Oilers are primed for a busy offseason with many big decisions to be made regarding key pieces. That being said, they also have some decisions to make regarding their depth heading into their offseason after losing two unrestricted free agent forwards to long term-deals in Europe. The Oilers will see both Joakim Nygard and Gaetaan Haas move on from their NHL careers, which leaves holes to fill in the team’s bottom-six and depth forward group.
Swiss forward Gaetan Haas signed with his hometown team the EHC Bel-Bienne in his native Switzerland. The contract is a reported five-year deal and will end the 29-year-old’s two-year stint in the NHL. Haas suited up for a total of 92 games with the Oilers throughout his career, posting an underwhelming 7 goals and 13 points in that span.
While those numbers don’t jump off the page, Haas was able to provide the Oilers with consistency and reliability in those games. He was often used in a bottom-six center role and his ability to be an effective penalty killer is what helped give him a spot in the lineup. Losing someone like Haas may not seem like a big loss, but the Oilers will need to find someone to take his place on the penalty kill either in-house or in free agency.
Joakim Nygard is another one of the Oilers depth players set to hit free agency this season that has decided to return to Europe to continue his career. The 28-year-old Swede’s attempt to be a regular in the NHL did not go well, considering he played a total of 42 games, scoring only three goals and registering nine points. This is far from the level that Nygard produced at in his previous years in the SHL, and a hand injury in his first year also limited his playing time.
Nygard inked a six-year contract with his former team in Sweden with Farjestads BK Karlstad, where he has had plenty of success in past seasons. While losing him does not create as big of a hole to fill as losing Haas because of his limited role with the Oilers over the last two seasons, they will still have to find a suitable replacement to fill this roster spot.
The Oilers have options internally to add to their depth and already made a move to replace the loss of these two players by signing forward Devin Shore to a two-year extension with an AAV of $850,000. Shore gives the team versatility with the ability to play all three forward positions and helps replace Haas as a reliable penalty killer at a reasonable cost.
The Oilers will also be more inclined to replace some of their other UFA forwards like Alex Chiasson and Tyler Ennis – if the price is right – to serve as replacements for Nygaard. The Oilers will also take a look at some of their youth to fill in as depth forwards after their AHL affiliate, the Bakersfield Condors, had such a successful season. Ryan McLeod will certainly be in the mix for more minutes in the bottom half of the lineup.
The 21-year-old McLeod finished his minor league season with a point-per-game pace, and saw 14 games with the Oilers towards the end of the season and the start of playoffs. Both Tyler Benson and Cooper Marody come to mind as options that will look to push for a roster spot out of training camp after they tied for third in AHL scoring. With them also emerges Dylan Holloway as a potential underdog to make the team out of camp, but he has the skillset and first-round pedigree to warrant an NHL role.
Open Market Replacements
If the Oilers deem that their in-house replacements will not suffice, there are always plenty of options to visit on the open market to bring in some help in the lower half of their lineup. Players like Derick Brassard and Barclay Goodrow could both be viable targets to fill depth roles on the roster on low-risk, high-reward contracts that will offer leadership and character.
Brassard is a player who offers position versatility and scoring upside with over 100 games of playoff experience, while Goodrow could provide physicality and grit with Stanley Cup-winning pedigree and be forced to move out of Tampa Bay because of their tight cap situation. There are many players like these two on the open market that should be able to provide competent value, depending on the type of role management is looking to fill.
There is no doubt that spots will be open and up for grabs come training camp in the upcoming season. Whether free agents are brought in, the younger minor leaguers will also be doing whatever they can to carve their way onto the NHL roster and contribute to the team in any way possible. While losing Haas and Nygaard are minor moves, it will leave lots of opportunity for players to make the most of heading into the 2021-22 season.