Even though we are deep into the summer, the quiet time of the NHL’s yearly schedule, there remains a rhythm of rumours and happenings around the NHL. There are a number of items remaining on the to do list, though dwindling, as teams begin to solidify their outlook on the season ahead. We are now at the point where we can start to feel comfortable setting the scene for training camps, or even projecting opening night lineups, and where most of the unexpected drama and player movement of the off season is taken care of.
At the very least, for many teams we can see a clear picture on their paths to training camp, an itemised list of a few last finishing touches on their offseason makeovers. With that said let’s over some of the major landmarks for the remainder of the Edmonton Oilers offseason and how we should expect those situations to be navigated.
A Bouchard signing
Notably, for the Oilers, are the ongoing RFA negotiations with Evan Bouchard. As a crucial piece of the Oilers blueline, signing Bouchard is an extremely important, but very probable eventuality. Although nothing is guaranteed, now that fellow RFA Ryan McLeod has signed, the Oilers have a clear and finite amount of cap space with which to work with on a Bouchard contract.
This hypothetical Bouchard deal is most likely to be of the short term variety, either a one- or two-year deal to help the Oilers best navigate the salary cap in the short term. While Bouchard does seem a player worthy of long term commitment, thanks to a long and consistent track record of strong performance, the Oilers simply can’t afford to buy any UFA seasons at this point in time.
While there may be some merit to bemoaning various aspects of the Oilers current cap situation, being aggressive in spending does have its merits for the Oilers. With Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl approaching their next deals, as well as their late 20s, the Oilers should be in the mindset of trading future value for current value.
The added value of signing Bouchard to an eight-year deal comes in years three to eight, where Bouchard might command a cap hit somewhere in the $7M range. Bouchard seems poised to continue producing, especially as the top power play option on the blueline, a fact when taken into consideration alongside the NHL’s salary cap finally resuming an upward trajectory, are conducive to Bouchard’s market rising in the future. Bouchard should command even more after two more seasons, but this would be a good problem for the Oilers to have.
In any case, for as long as McDavid and Draisaitl are on the roster, we should expect to see the Oilers continue their being aggressive in maximising the present, or at least attempting to do so. While this does involve trading some (not all) draft picks and prospects, this manifests in other nuances of the team’s dealings, such as with this prospective Bouchard contract.
After the first days of free agency, Oilers GM Ken Holland stated outright that the plan would be to explore adding another forward, preferably a centre, to the mix. After signing McLeod and Bouchard there will be very little room for the Oilers to work with. While certain intricacies of the league’s cap rules, as well as the inevitability of injury will impact the equation that the Oilers will be looking to add a player for something close to league minimum.
While a number of veteran options remain on the market, the Oilers are most likely to bring in a number of these veterans on PTOs in training camp. Getting to spend some time with a player in camp will minimise the guesswork on how these players age or fit with the team, just as the nature of a tryout indicates very little leverage for the player to command much salary.
Ideally, the Oilers will be looking for more of a defensive presence, if not a player who can contribute on the penalty kill, faceoffs, and the occasional late game defensive situation. Brandon Sutter was recently signed to a PTO, and is a good representation of all these qualities. Sutter hasn’t played in two seasons due to illness, and at 34 years old, might be coming to the end of his career either way, but is a worthwhile, risk free gamble for the Oilers.
We could see another player or two fitting this mould brought into camp on PTOs as well. There might be some flashier names still on the market, but with the likes of Jonathan Toews and Paul Stastny widely expected to be retiring, this list isn’t long. Many of this top tier might have other options available to them, and might provide more offence, which may not fit the Oilers vision.
Of course, there might be a winger available that the Oilers have graded highest, in which case Sutter, among other forwards vying to make the team, would have some competition. If we do see a winger signed to a PTO it might indicate a potential player too good for the Oilers to pass up on.
While a number of unsigned free agents are coming off of season ending injuries, they might remain unsigned until their health is cleared and camp draws nearer. This group includes some former Oilers like Jesse Puljujarvi, Ethan Bear, and Derrick Brassard. While Oiler fans might dream of a contract of some sorts for some of these players, they will likely be eyeing more stable employment than the Oilers can offer.
Other teams around the league will be auditioning players on PTOs as well. This will dwindle the Oilers options, but perhaps not to the point where they are completely extinguished. Although unlikely, if not rare, the Oilers might see something they like out of another team’s PTO. With the Oilers roster fairly set we should not expect too much drama, we should, however, expect that the Oilers bring in a player or two to compete for this final forward spot.
Photo by Curtis Comeau/Icon Sportswire