Oilers’ Day 1 of Free Agency Couldn’t Have Gone Much Better

The Edmonton Oilers weren’t looking for cap space or room to sign their players when free agency opened, but then they got a stroke of luck when Duncan Keith decided to retire, Mike Smith (likely) landed on LTIR (long-term injured reserve) for his final season, and after trading Zack Kassian. With these moves, they cleared some much-needed cap space but also created holes they needed to address in free agency. The three biggest needs were filled right away and done seamlessly by general manager Ken Holland, making the Oilers one of the biggest winners of Day 1.

Oilers Got Their Number 1 Goaltender

After three seasons of Smith and Mikko Koskinen, Holland and the Oilers finally got their goaltender. They signed Jack Campbell to a five-year, $25 million contract that should cover the team’s Stanley Cup window.

Campbell is a big upgrade on Smith and Koskinen despite his lack of experience. He is a medium-risk, high-reward goaltender that must start well in Edmonton to give the team confidence in him right away rather than having doubts that he will perform like the others before him. There is less pressure from the media but a little more from the players to play well, which should help.

Jack Campbell Toronto Maple Leafs
Jack Campbell, Toronto Maple Leafs (Photo by Kevin Sousa/NHLI via Getty Images)

The Oilers haven’t had a number one goaltender at the right age since Cam Talbot, and they gave up on him pretty quickly when he struggled. The same won’t happen with Campbell considering he is signed for five years and has proven he can bounce back after a poor outing. Campbell was very good before the All-Star break, going 21-6-3 with a .925 save percentage (SV%) and four shutouts. Post-All-Star break, he went 10-3-3 but had a .894 SV%.

Campbell has only played one season as a starter, but sometimes teams have to take a chance, giving a goaltender the reins and an opportunity. He has a career .916 SV% and 2.53 goals-against average (GAA). Next season, he will have a better backup in Stuart Skinner, who has shown in his little time with the Oilers that he can step up and perform well playing a little more. It’s unlikely Campbell goes on a stretch of two-plus months (17 games) playing as bad as he did last season, given the way Jay Woodcroft and Dave Manson run their team, and Campbell is already very excited to be around one of his favourite people, Zach Hyman.

Oilers Bring Back Key Unrestricted Free Agents

We never had any doubt the Oilers would bring back their two most important unrestricted free agents acquired mid-season, right? It was a rollercoaster, but Evander Kane signed just before he hit the open market, and Brett Kulak tested the waters before re-signing with Edmonton. Kane signed for four years at $20.5 million ($5.125 million AAV), which is a steal compared to other free agents of similar talent, and the organization filled the hole left by Keith on the left side by bringing Kulak back at $2.75 million.

Connor McDavid Evander Kane Edmonton Oilers
Connor McDavid and Evander Kane of the Edmonton Oilers celebrate a goal (Photo by Andy Devlin/NHLI via Getty Images)

Kane scored 35 goals and 56 points in 58 games in the regular season and playoffs last season with the Oilers. He was on a 42-goal pace that could increase over a full season playing beside Connor McDavid and a different linemate on the top line who can finish better than Jesse Puljujarvi. As of now, he is the go-to physical force at forward and has the speed and skill to keep up with McDavid and finish plays. He fits right into the middle-tier of important players paid around $5 million on the Oilers, and he did and should outperform his contract for most, if not all, of the term. Regardless of how the Oilers’ young players turn out and, the team locked down a consistent valuable scorer for a great price.

Kulak is a legitimate shutdown defender who is very good on his skates. He has offensive upside, but with Darnell Nurse, Evan Bouchard, Tyson Barrie, Philip Borberg, and even Cody Ceci already available, Kulak won’t be needed to play that role. Keith was a big help in Bouchard’s development, but Kulak should be able to help him even more with the responsible and strong game he plays. Though he would have seen top-four minutes with the Montreal Canadiens (and rumours suggested he was interested in returning to the Habs), the Oilers can provide him with top-four minutes for the first season as Broberg adjusts to the NHL.

Kulak was very solid during the regular season and especially in the playoffs, and did wonders for Barrie in his own end and at five-on-five. Though the Oilers paid less than $1 million for his services last season, $2.75 million is a great deal considering the important minutes he plays and will continue to play moving forward. Even when he is surpassed by Broberg, I would take that cap hit any day, considering what similar players were paid in free agency.

Brett Kulak Edmonton Oilers
Brett Kulak, Edmonton Oilers (Photo by Andy Devlin/NHLI via Getty Images)

The only thing left for the Oilers to do is to add a bit of experienced depth at forward, which should include a physical player, a seventh defenceman, and a veteran goalie as a backup if Campbell or Skinner goes down. None of these players should cost the organization more than $1.5-$2 million, which could include, among forwards, Rem Pitlick, Sam Steel, Zach Aston-Reese, Phil Kessel, and Dylan Strome. While Jordie Benn, Michael Del Zotto, and Robert Hagg could do well in the seventh spot for the Oilers, having played higher in the lineup in their career. Finally, a third goaltender like Aaron Dell, Hari Sateri, or Andrew Hammond wouldn’t be the worst additions for cheap from the crop that’s still available.

Related: Oilers Have 7 Good Non-Qualified Free Agents They Should Consider

If the Oilers can add a few depth pieces along with getting deals done for Kailer Yamamoto, Puljujarvi, and Ryan McLeod, then it will have been one of the most successful offseasons by Oilers management in recent memory.

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