Although the NHL’s salary cap had but a marginal increase from the 2022–23 season, and the 2023 free agent class was largely characterised as lacking top tier talent, the opening hours of July 2023 still saw a lot of player movement from signings and trades alike.
As one of the most cap strapped teams league wide, the Edmonton Oilers had very little cap space to work with. Still, the Oilers were able to make some moves on July 1. To update the transactions, as well as what might still lie ahead before next season, Oilers GM Ken Holland met with the media to answer some questions. Let’s recap the moves that happened so far, the moves we might still expect, as well as what Holland had to say about it.
While he never did hit the open market, it should be noted that the Oilers did re-sign Mattias Janmark to a one-year, $1M dollar deal. While not the most impactful forward, in the lineup, Janmark was a key member of the Oilers penalty kill last season, and brings a fairly rugged and well rounded style of play to the ice.
The biggest news of the day came in the form of Connor Brown. The right shot winger signed a bonus heavy deal that might help defer some of the cap costs to next season. It is an aggressive strategy, as we should expect the Oilers to remain uncomfortably tight to the cap for years to come, but the time is now for the Oilers as they try to win a championship.
Holland was quick to point out how much Brown stood above the rest of the free agent class in terms of importance, even going as far as to refer to Brown as a “top six forward.” Holland characterised Brown as being a player who brought “determination” and “pride” to the ice, on top of being a strong penalty killer, an area the Oilers will be looking to improve next season.
Holland also confirmed that Connor McDavid was key in materialising the deal, citing that McDavid spoke to him about Brown’s character and abilities, as the two share an agent and played together as members of the OHL’s Erie Otters.
Coming off of a season lost to injury, Holland acknowledged that it might take some time for Brown to get back to full form. This means, despite the framing as a “top six forward”, that the Oilers may opt to bring Brown along slowly, perhaps on third line minutes until later in the season. Especially later in the year we might expect to see a promotion to more of a true top six role, though Coach Jay Woodcroft’s signature line juggling is sure to see Brown take some shifts on McDavid’s wing.
Brown’s tenacious work ethic is sure to endear him to fans. It might be overly optimistic to expect anything other than 15-20 goals and 35-45 points for Brown next season, though he undoubtedly upgrades the forward group on paper.
Holland referred to Drake Caggiula and Lane Pedersen as minor league signings, though did concede the former and current Oiler Caggiula might find his way into a depth role in some games for the Oilers next season. In the NHL, Caggiula is an undersized forward with some speed and a reputation for defensive play. He could help chip in on the penalty kill.
Pederson was referred to by Holland as an “AHL first line centre.” With the surprising retirement of Noah Philp, Pederson might serve as a way to improve the Bakersfield Condors more than anything. Building an ideal AHL team might not be the most attention grabbing priority, but with an influx of draft picks and prospects on the Condors roster, harbouring a positive winning environment in an important piece of the developmental puzzle.
Although this signing was announced after Holland’s media availability, we might infer it is more of a minor league matter as well. At 24 years of age Hoefenmayer’s NHL likelihood is in doubt, but he does bring a well rounded game with some offensive elements to it. Like Pederson, Hoefenmayer improves the Condors roster, where he might even make an ideal defence partner for the incoming prospect Max Wanner.
A year older than Hofenmayer, there might be even less chance that Gleason finds his way into an NHL game for the Oilers, Again, this is an AHL signing and should be a boost to the Condors as Gleason has had some strong AHL seasons with the Texas Stars.
The most impactful orders of business remaining for the Oilers is the re-signing of their RFAs, Evan Bouchard and Ryan McLeod. Holland stated the obvious that both were due for a pay raise. Holland conceded that the Oilers needed to bridge Bouchard to a short term deal, keeping his current cap hit as low as possible despite Bouchard’s quality being worthy of a long term extension in a vacuum.
We should expect that the Oilers will find a way to extend both under their current cap constraints, while the players will look to maximise their leverage for the next contract.
Raphael Lavoie was qualified, and is expected to re-sign at a cap hit less than $1M. Lavoie should be pushing for a spot out of training camp this coming season after a strong performance in the AHL last season. He brings an element of offensive upside, though he will have to earn his spot in the NHL still.
Olivier Rodrigue was qualified as well. Rodrigue had a nice year in the AHL, and looks to be in contention for the Condors starting job outright next season.
Meanwhile, Philp was qualified but is not expected to sign a contract.
Former players still available
There are several former Oilers still on the market, standing out with Kailer Yamamoto being brought up during Holland’s availability. It is possible for the Oilers to sign Yamamoto, and Holland shared that he had already given his camp a number that the Oilers would sign him to.
Essentially, we will wait to see if the market for the winger is big enough to outbid the Oilers. If he does re-sign, it would be to a number the Oilers can afford. While such may suggest the market wasn’t better elsewhere for Yamamoto, it might also be the case that it wasn’t better enough.
Given that Cagguila returned, the depressed market could mean more players choosing locations for reasons other than money, perhaps past teams, hometowns, or the chance to win might lead players to Edmonton.
It makes sense that some other former Oilers might return, with the following notable examples layers still unsigned:
- Kailer Yamamoto
- Jesse Puljujarvi
- Ethan Bear
- Caleb Jones
- Dmitri Samorukov
- Devin Shore
- Derick Brassard
- Sam Gagner
- Alex Chiasson
- Ryan Murray
Former players off the market
Nick Bjugstad signed with the Arizona Coyotes. The Oilers were unlikely able to afford the $2.1M cap hit he will earn the next two seasons, but Bjugstad had a strong run with the Coyotes prior to being traded to the Oilers last season.
Laurent Broissoit signed a one-year, $1.75M to the Winnipeg Jets, his second stint with the club.
Dmitri Kulikov, who played in but 10 games for the Oilers, re-signed with his original team, the Florida Panthers.
Oilers 2014 draft pick William Lagesson signed a one-year deal with the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Goaltender Cam Talbot signed a one-year, $1M deal with the Los Angeles Kings, perhaps with a chance to be their starter for next season.
Klim Kostin signed a two-year, $2M deal with the Detroit Red Wings.
Holland did note that the team might still be looking to add a fourth line centre. While Shore is still available, the hope is likely that an upgrade will be available at a similarly small cap cost. The ideal scenario, and a completely speculative one at that, might be Jonathan Toews. Time will tell if the Oilers are able to get something done here. Perhaps recent signee Pederson can surprise and earn a spot out of camp, but it would be unlikely.
The dream: 13–7–2
Holland noted that the Oilers were hoping to be able to carry a 22-man roster, with 13 forwards, seven defencemen, and two goalies when at full health. While signing another player, for example a fourth line centre or the return of Yamamoto, is possible, it will have to be balanced against the cost of re-signing McLeod and Bouchard.
Under those parameters let’s take a glimpse at what an opening night roster might look like next season.
Giving Brown time to get up to speed allows the Oilers to give either or both of Dylan Holloway and Lavoie an opportunity in more of a scoring role. Both would add some needed shooting talent to a line with Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Zach Hyman, while being afforded strong linemates conducive to success. Brown might be a great fit alongside a McLeod/Warren Foegele duo that posted outstanding defensive results last season.
Rasmus Asplund is a smaller player who brings a lot of defensive ability to the ice. Although perhaps not the ideal fourth line centre, Asplund seems to fit the mood of Derek Ryan and Devin Shore as cerebral and responsible depth forwards. He is still on the market, and shouldn’t cost too much.
The blueline returns from last season, although the Oilers owe it to themselves to put Philip Broberg in a position to succeed, especially early into next season. In the unfortunate and inevitable case of injury, Broberg would be the best hope to fill in on either the left or the right side. The defence pair were jumbled up here to show what an optimal pairing for Broberg might look like, while also giving the Oilers three strong pairings. Perhaps Brett Kulak and Vincent Desharnais can make an effective tandem on Darnell Nurse’s right side.
We should hope that Stuart Skinner continues to surpass expectations once again in 2023–24, but we should still expect Jack Campbell to start at least roughly 35 games for the Oilers. If anything, having both should help the Oilers feel comfortable riding the hot hand more often, or prioritising long term rest.
With a run to a Stanley Cup lasting up to 28 games, the Oilers should be wary of starting any goalie more than 41 games over the regular season, or half the schedule. The ideal scenario would see both goalies performing at near or beyond their career best behind a strong defensive Oilers team. With cap issues sure to follow the Oilers for years to come, a rehabilitated Campbell with one less year on his deal and a raised cap might be moveable and expendable if Skinner is able to author another strong season as an NHL starter.
Photo by Curtis Comeau/Icon Sportswire