The offseason is officially underway for the Edmonton Oilers. While fans can take some solace in the fact that the Vegas Golden Knights, the team that knocked the Oilers out of the playoffs, are currently dominating the Dallas Stars en route to the Stanley Cup Final. Parity is real, and the Oilers shouldn’t be ashamed of losing to an equally good team.
Nevertheless, Oilers management, specifically General Manager Ken Holland, has work to do. July 1 is rapidly approaching and while all eyes are on the draft, the Oilers have a significant number of expiring contracts they need to deal with. Whether that means signing extensions, orchestrating trades, or saying goodbye, the deadline to make these decisions is only weeks away.
Here’s what Holland has to deal with on the contracts side.
Expiring Unrestricted Free Agents (UFAs)
At the NHL level, the Oilers have seven expiring UFAs:
Fortunately, most of these are fairly easy to deal with. Oscar Klefbom will likely retire as he has been unable to play due to injury for years now, and Mike Smith will likely retire due to age. Since these two were both eligible for LTIR last season, their contracts coming off the books doesn’t provide any help to the Oilers’ cap situation. It does open up contract spots though (teams are only permitted to have 50 active contracts on the books at any given time).
The rest of the list are fringe NHLers who played depth roles for the team this season. For Mattias Janmark and Devin Shore, the team will likely say goodbye, but may retain their services for cheap if they want. Depth is never a bad thing.
Nick Bjugstad and Derek Ryan are the two that will be the most interesting to watch. Both played fairly well for the Oilers in the playoffs and as defensive centres who can kill penalties and play in the bottom six, they offer a skillset that the Oilers need. That being said, at 36, Ryan’s job might be better suited for Ryan McLeod or even Raphael Lavoie next season, so keeping that roster spot open could be a better option. At a younger age, Bjugstad might be a better option to hold onto, though he will definitely want a raise from his league minimum contract last season considering he had a good year and had suitors at the trade deadline.
At the AHL level, the Oilers have four players who are expiring UFAs, one of whom is a pending Group 6 UFA.
|Tyler Benson||LW/RW||25||$750,000||UFA G6|
Justin Bailey and Slater Koekkoek are coin flips to return. Both are AHL level players at this point of their careers, but if any team is willing to up their AHL salary, sign them to a one-way deal, or give them an opportunity in the NHL, they will opt to sign there instead.
The Bakersfield Condors were a decent team this season so returning there isn’t the worst option either. Jason Demers is a retirement candidate after a solid NHL career.
Tyler Benson is the interesting one out of this group. The Edmonton native would no doubt want a shot to wear an Oilers sweater, but there might not be room for him in the NHL. He’s 25 now, definitely in the “is what he is” category, so how much upside is there left with Benson, really? He played two games in the NHL this season and only had 23 points in 43 AHL games. Personally, I’d cut bait.
Expiring Restricted Free Agents (RFAs) with arbitration
Arbitration always throws a wrench in the plans of management, but the majority of players with arbitration rights never actually get to the arbitrator’s chambers. This year, Holland has four players who are expiring restricted free agents that have earned arbitration rights.
|Klim Kostin||LW/RW||24||$750,000||RFA w/ arb|
|Ryan McLeod||C||23||$798,000||RFA w/ arb|
|Noah Philp||C||24||$842,000||RFA w/ arb|
|Philip Kemp||RD||24||$786,667||RFA w/ arb|
The last two players on this list should be fairly easy. At 24 years old, both Noah Philp and Philip Kemp are likely to return. Philp had a decent rookie year in the AHL putting up 37 points in 70 games, and offers organizational depth that they Oilers do need. Kemp just played his second full AHL season and did fairly well, and as a right-shot defender, his services are always good to have on the farm. Neither will command big raises from their current deals so it would be surprising if either went to arbitration.
The other two players are much more interesting. Both are a lock to come back, in my opinion. Ryan McLeod suited up for 57 games in the NHL this season putting up 11 goals and 23 points. He’s a valuable depth centre and still has tons of room to improve at just 23 years old. He will command a raise from his 2022–23 salary, but it should be easy for the Oilers to absorb.
Klim Kostin fit in so well this year and is such a versatile player. He scored 11 goals and 21 points in 57 games, but also scored three goals in the playoffs. He shouldn’t command a big raise either, and should be easy enough to keep. No doubter in my eyes.
Because the Oilers own the rights to all of these players, it would be very surprising for any of the four to not be back with the team next season.
Expiring Restricted Free Agents (RFAs) without arbitration
The easier type of RFA, those without arbitration, include the biggest contract the Oilers need to deal with this offseason. In total, there are three players in this category.
Olivier Rodrigue had a good year in the AHL, his third in the league. He does have NHL potential and the Oilers will surely keep him around. He’s just 22 and has lots of room to grow. This one is easy.
Raphael Lavoie was a standout for the Condors and should push for an NHL job as early as training camp 2023. He project more as a winger than a centre in the NHL, which is perfect considering the openings on the Oilers’ roster, and could be a great fit with one of 97 or 29. He scored 25 goals in the AHL this past season, tied for 23rd most in the league. He’s just 22, too.
The big one is Evan Bouchard. After the Tyson Barrie trade, the Oilers arguably got even better with Bouchard running the power play and getting the ice time to flourish offensively. He is going to be a top offensive defenceman in the NHL for years to come, and this is a massive year for him and the Oilers.
Projections for his next contract go up to $8M per year and higher with how he played at the end of the season and in the playoffs; he currently leads the NHL in playoff assists despite not even playing in the third round. He is going to get a huge raise. It’s not out of the question that he could be the Oilers’ highest paid defenceman, earning the same $9.25M as Darnell Nurse. Is that a little high? Probably, but he might come in close.
Lots of work to do
The work starts now for Holland, Bouchard is clearly the number one priority, but he can’t let the other guys slip though the cracks. Deadlines are coming, and Holland is no doubt already grinding away at these contracts.
Photo by Curtis Comeau/Icon Sportswire