Whether it be via free agency, a trade or locking up some of the talent already on the roster, there will undoubtedly be a long shopping list for General Manager Peter Chiarelli this off-season.
The Oilers are projected to have roughly $13.7 million in cap space heading into the 2018 off-season.
The two biggest names with RFA statuses are Darnell Nurse and Matt Benning. Both have been bright spots for the Oilers this past season.
Nurse has been especially outstanding this year, and with Oscar Klefbom signed for $4 million a year over seven, Nurse could demand a heftier deal. Klefbom has struggled to stay healthy since signing his contract in September 2015 playing in only 178 games. W
With Nurse looking like he will be in the top pairing with Adam Larsson next year it would be no shock for him to ask for a number north of $4 million. I could see the young blue-liner force Chiarelli’s hand into a contract worth roughly $4.75-$5.25 a year. And rightfully so.
Of all the RFA’s for the Oilers Darnell Nurse is the only not to be arbitration eligible.
Matt Benning has had a few hiccups this year, but he seems to be growing into a solid young defenseman. It would be a shame to see the Oilers not try and lock him up even on the short term.
Perhaps a deal for Benning would look something like three years at $1.25-$2 million a year.
Other RFA’s for the Oilers include Ryan Strome, Drake Caggiula, Anton Slepyshev, and Iiro Pakarinen.
With Ryan Nugent-Hopkins playing his way onto Connor McDavid’s wing, Ryan Strome has filled in nicely as the third line centre. Strome has had a reasonable season, stats-wise notching 33 points (13G-20A).
I think it would be worth signing Strome but at what cost? He was making $2.5 million this year. Would it be reasonable to expect him to sign for less than that?
Andreas Athanasiou of the Detroit Red Wings signed a one-year contract just north of $1 million as an RFA last year. Anthanasiou finished a 32-point season before signing that deal. $1-1.5 million seems like a reasonable price to compare to Strome’s production.
Drake Caggiula and Anton Slepyshev have respectively had similar seasons this year with Caggiula putting up 19 points (13G-6A) through 64 games and Slepyshev only hitting 12 points (6G-6A) but through 47 games.
Both made $925,000 in 2017-18, and neither has outplayed themselves stats wise from past years in limited NHL time. I don’t think it would be a stretch to expect either to sign for $1 million or slightly less.
I, however, don’t see both Caggiula and Slepyshev signing, and with Caggiula occasionally showing a more aggressive side to his game I would give him the edge to return next year, leaving Slepyshev and Pakarinen free.
The only Unrestricted Free Agents currently on the Oilers roster are Ty Rattie, Mike Cammalleri, and Yohann Auvitu.
With Cammalleri turning 36 years old before the start of next season I would not expect Peter Chiarelli to be in any rush to re-sign the veteran. However, retaining a savvy veteran presence in the locker room could be useful at the right cost.
Ty Rattie is the most interesting of all the free agents. After signing a one-year deal for $700,000, it took Rattie until mid-March to be recalled. Rattie has put up seven points (4G-3A) through 11 games and seems to have found some chemistry on the first line with Connor McDavid and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins.
While the urge is there to lock up Rattie, Chiarelli needs to be careful not to get too carried away and overpay based on limited success.
Outside of a cap dump, I don’t see any real trades that could be made to bring in legitimate pieces, without giving up something significant in return.
One trade option I could see is moving Oscar Klefbom. With his injury problems and the recent up-play of some youngsters like Ethan Bear, I think Klefbom and his $4 million contract could be expendable, and a viable option to free up some cap space.
What is the return for Oscar Klefbom? I’m not sure you would get a lot back in terms of quality to dollars ratio. Potentially draft picks or a low-end player.
So, let’s look at who Peter Chiarelli can try and bring in for next year, with limited cap space.
Michael Grabner was mentioned as a potential deadline acquisition for the Oilers. He was ultimately dealt to the Devils in February.
At 31 years of age going into next season, Grabner could be the perfect type of player for Chiarelli to sign. His speed is something that would be a great compliment to Connor McDavid or Leon Draisaitl.
Grabner has piled up 36 points this season (27G-9A) through 76 games with both the Rangers and Devils. Pairing him with a young talented centre like McDavid or Draisaitl could see a spike in those numbers.
Grabner currently has a salary of $1.6 million. He has averaged around 28 points a season through his career before a spike in 2016-17 where he hit 36 points.
Those numbers could push him to look for a raise, so it’s hard to say what kind of value you could get with him. I think between $2-$2.25 million a year at most is fair.
Riley Nash has had a 2017-18 season like no other in his career racking up 41 points (15G-26A). The 28-year-old winger has found success this year and at $900,000 a season has been a massive value for Boston.
Now the Oilers would certainly have to free up some cap space via trade to make this kind of deal, as Nash is going to be looking for a big pay-day. Not to mention that Peter Chiarelli would have to tread lightly with Nash’s break-out year being the only in his career where he’s surpassed 25 points.
Is Nash worth a five or six-year deal for $5-6 million a year? Is that a move the Oilers can make? It would take one of if not the only real move they could make in what would be a very dry off-season. Would it be a gamble worth taking on one player’s potential? It would be hard for me to pull the trigger on a deal like that but it would be awfully tempting.
Lastly, and a little outside of the box would be to look at a backup goaltender. Cam Talbot has had his fair share of struggles in 2017-18 and bringing in some competition would be a good move.
Carter Hutton has spent the last two years battling Jake Allen in St. Louis while putting up competitive numbers. So far this year through 31GP Hutton has a 2.13GAA and a .930 SV%.
Hutton is under contract for $1.1 million this year and has had success despite some injury issues. At 32 years old the Oilers could potentially land him for around $2 million as a viable back-up and solid competition to push Cam Talbot next year.
Whatever moves Peter Chiarelli decides to make this off-season one thing is for certain. It won’t be easy; he won’t be able to keep everyone in Oil Country happy.
It will be interesting to see what moves can and will be made, but I for one am excited to see what can be added to this roster to make a rebound and push for next year.