A name that has been thrown around and who makes a lot of sense for the Edmonton Oilers to sign in free agency is Connor Brown. If the team does intend on bringing in Connor McDavid’s former teammate with the Erie Otters for two seasons to play on his wing, there will have to be some sacrifices in the lineup.
Not only will there have to be cap space cleared, whether that be through trades, a buyout, or letting players walk in free agency, a top-six roster spot will have to be available. The need for a top-six winger who can produce consistently is definitely needed. With the salary cap rising as minimally as it is and players needing new contracts already, there is not only one forward the Oilers will have to see gone, but two if Brown is to be signed.
It has become very apparent that Kailer Yamamoto is going to be playing for a different team next season one way or another. He has the potential to be a top-six winger and a cheap one at that, but he is inconsistent and starting to remind people of Jesse Puljujarvi who followed a similar path. Yamamoto has had very good stretches of hockey with the Oilers and only has a cap hit of $3.1 million average annual value (AAV). While he’s young and there is room to grow and get better, the Oilers can’t afford and don’t want to wait as their Stanley Cup window is open right now.
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As one of the Oilers’ only options for most of the season to slot into the top six on the wing, Yamamoto just didn’t show enough to warrant holding a spot once reinforcements arrived. Evander Kane returned and others were given shots to potentially provide more offence than what was being produced by Yamamoto. By the time playoffs rolled around, Yamamoto was all the way down on the fourth line and Nick Bjugstad had assumed the spot on the wing of the second line.
Yamamoto has one year left on his deal and is a restricted free agent once it ends. The Oilers have the options of trading him or buying him out. Of course they will want the former, but will have to resort to a buyout if he can’t be moved. The thinking is that Edmonton is hoping they don’t have to attach an asset to Yamamoto to move him and they get a similar return to what Puljujarvi brought them.
Brown will require a similar AAV as Yamamoto, but while Yamamoto has put up 0.45 points-per-game over the past three seasons, Brown has played at a 0.61 points-per-game pace since 2019-20 without the help of the Oilers’ dominant offence. If Brown is interested, which I can’t think of a reason why he wouldn’t want to join a Stanley Cup contender and play with a former teammate who also happens to be the best player in the world, then the tradeoff should cost the Oilers nothing. If anything, they’ll get an asset.
The Oilers should still see Bjugstad as an option to sign, but if Brown is on their radar, they might be holding off on an extension. Bjugstad was great for the Oilers this season and the cheap forward addition they needed. He elevated the third line upon his arrival and scored goals. His play got him bumped up to the second line as I mentioned earlier and he was also solid in that role until Edmonton was eliminated.
Yamamoto’s cap hit next season is $3.1 million and will still be higher than the 30-year-old’s who seemed rejuvenated with the Arizona Coyotes and Oilers this season. He projects to sign for over $2 million AAV and will probably get 2-3 years on a deal. He could always take a discount to stay in Edmonton, but he will likely get better offers elsewhere. The reality was that it would be difficult to bring Bjugstad back next season after acquiring him because of how much better he played this season (from ‘Big centre not likely staying with Edmonton Oilers. Who will grab his crucial role?,’ Edmonton Journal, May 31, 2023). The Oilers also can’t overstock their forwards as Dylan Holloway and Raphael Lavoie will be looking for full time roles and have earned them. Both of them will cost less than Bjugstad alone and he is best as a third line player, not in a top-six role.
I would take the tradeoff of Yamamoto and Bjugstad for Brown to save money and get a consistent top-six winger any day, and it is a reality. The chips are lining up, but what we are waiting on is exactly what is going to happen with Yamamoto to get the ball rolling.