With the Ryan Nugent-Hopkins eight-year extension out of the way, Edmonton Oilers general manager Ken Holland took care of a major piece of business heading into the offseason. It was either find two top-six left-wingers or one, and because Holland got the Nugent-Hopkins deal done, he can breathe a little easier.
That said, Holland’s work is certainly not over and the top-six for Edmonton needs another piece. Is that piece out there? With a $5.125 million tag attached to Nugent-Hopkins’s new deal, the Oilers have left themselves a little room to go looking.
Here are a few ways the Oilers might lean when deciding how to fill that one left wing spot.
Oilers Can Shoot For a Big Free Agent
Nugent-Hopkins in at just over $5 million means the Oilers have another $4–$6 million to spend on a left-winger, should they choose to. That gives them plenty of options in a flat salary cap marketplace and some of the names that pop out immediately are Zach Hyman, Tomas Tatar, Jaden Schwartz, Mike Hoffman, and Taylor Hall.
Edmonton is one of the few teams with money to spend, so they could be an attractive option for all of these players. The risk is that the Oilers have to overpay to get someone and that’s probably not the ideal strategy, especially after the club worked so hard to get Nuge’s number to an affordable AAV.
It might not matter. There is already talk that many of the above-mentioned names are interested in staying with their respective teams.
Oilers Can Look for a Bargain Player
Instead of trying to find a big-ticket left-winger, the Oilers could do what they did last offseason which was add a couple of players at low-cost deals and hope that they find a diamond in the rough. The idea here is to sign someone that simply needs a change on environment to break out. Among the list of targets: Anthony Duclair, Ryan Dzingel, Mattias Janmark, Alex Galchenyuk.
The nice thing about this strategy is that the Oilers save money for other needs and don’t need to commit to a player long-term. This could allow them to spend more on a left-shot defenseman or improve their goaltending. The downside is that there’s no real history to show these players will produce and you don’t want to take up a roster spot or plug someone in that can’t do the job.
Oilers Could Make a Trade
There are a lot of teams that are stuck. They either have players who are interested in a fresh start elsewhere, or hockey clubs are forced to clear cap space. The Oilers could make a trade to take advantage of these team’s uncomfortable position. Who knows, they might even be able to shed a poor contract in the process.
Among the names that stand out here, Vladimir Tarasenko just informed the Blues he’d be open to moving to a few teams (he is a RW though, so not ideal). The Tampa Bay Lighting will have no choice but to move money and a player like Yanni Gourde or Andrej Palat could be scooped up if they are willing to waive their no-trade clauses. Jake DeBrusk of the Boston Bruins is always in the rumor mill and the Arizona Coyotes might be open to moving Conor Garland.
The Most Likely Scenario for the Oilers
My prediction is that Edmonton keys in on a couple of free agent options and sets a line in the sand. They make a pitch, hope they get one at their comfortable offer and focus on other parts of the lineup if successful. If that doesn’t pan out, look to teams who are stuck on contracts and make a trade. In fact, the Oilers might be able to do both.
If the deals are there and the money situation is right, there’s no reason Edmonton can’t still target a couple of left-wingers and take both deals if they are too good to pass up. After that, play with your lineup as you need to and move out a piece or two to give you the depth you want. At the same time, leave the window open a crack for a player like Dylan Holloway to prove he should get a long look and a shot to make next season’s roster.
I like the idea of offering $5.5 million by five years for Hyman (a little higher AAV than Nugent-Hopkins because of the shorter term). If Hyman doesn’t bite, he doesn’t bite. Plan B would be to go after Jake DeBrusk and have him compete with Holloway for a third-line or second-line spot.