The wonderfully crazy free agency period begins again this summer. Every year it seems that general managers have learned that it's a bad idea to spend oodles of money on less-than-elite talent and then every year you have a guy like Jeff Finger sign for four years and $3.5M per year. Who are this year's terrible mistakes going to be? That's half the fun! I just hope it's not the Oilers (again).
Here at the Copper and Blue we'll be using this space for general discussion and I'll update the page with any new signings. Any Oiler news will get it's own article for discussion and I'll provide a link here. And what about those Oilers? Derek has already spelled out his general plans, his plan for the forwards and his plan for the defense over the last few days. After the jump, I'll talk a bit about what I'd like to see from the Oilers this off-season.
Update: Edmonton Oilers sign Kurtis Foster.I'm of the mind that this year is about moving on from what was an awful season a year ago. The goal for 2010-11 isn't to tank, but to be competitive and hope that individual players and the team as a whole improves. Last year was awful for so many reasons but one of them for fans was hoping for the team to fail. This year, I'm hopeful that they put that attitude behind them and the moves that have been made so far seem to suggest that this is the case. It's a year for learning about what we have. Can Ladislav Smid be an effective shut-down defender? He best prove it now. Is Andrew Cogliano going to be good on the wing? If he's not moved, this is a question that needs to be answered. How ready are the kids to help?
If we get to the end of 2010-11 and the answer to that last question is, "They're ready to help," then the goal for 2011-12 should be to take a run at the Stanley Cup without sacrificing too much of the future. I know that seems early in the cycle, but as we've seen with every Stanley Cup winner since the lockout, it takes value contracts to win. In 2011-12, the Oilers could have a tonne of them. Dustin Penner and Ales Hemsky should both provide surplus value relative to their paychecks and a rookie group of Magnus Paajarvi-Svensson, Jordan Eberle and Taylor Hall could easily provide good support on a winning team. It's time to go for it.
With that as backdrop, here's what I would try to get done over the next weeks and months at each position:
The Edmonton Oilers have bad goaltending. Very bad goaltending. It's a problem that shouldn't be completely ignored and the Oilers need to go into 2010-11 with something a bit better than the junk they had on this team last season. Nikolai Khabibulin is the likely starter on this club and Devan Dubnyk seems to be penciled in as the backup. His selection over Jeff Deslauriers to Team Canada at the World Championships would seem to confirm that. I tend to agree that Dubnyk is superior to Deslauriers but I'm pretty unconvinced that Dubnyk is a capable NHL goaltender. That's one of the things we hope to discover this season. The thing is, Khabibulin is made of glass, so if he gets injured and Dubnyk can't handle the load, the Oilers should really have a capable netminder in the AHL who can come up in an emergency. That means signing a guy like Yann Danis to the league minimum and putting him in the minors so that if Khabibulin gets injured, there's a reasonable back-up waiting in the wings.
Looking forward to 2011-12, the Oilers have two defensemen they can count on to play top four minutes effectively in Tom Gilbert and Ryan Whitney. They'll need (at least) two more. Since 2010-11 is a year of discovery, I think they only need to sign one more top four guy for a shut-down role to play alongside Ladislav Smid. This search for one solid shut-down defender ought to be "the whale-hunt of the summer." I'd be pretty comfortable spending up to $4.5M over some term if the right player is available through either free agency or trade. Both Zbynek Michalek and Dan Hamhuis have youth on their side and both have played tough minutes in the Western Conference but $4.5M seems a bit rich for a couple of players who generate good but not great results. Further, $4.5M may not be enough to even win their services! My focus would therefore be on trade. A few players who are particularly intriguing to me via trade are Marc Staal of the Rangers, Brent Burns of the Wild, and Nicklas Grossman of the Stars. We'll see if the Oilers can make it happen. The Oilers also need a couple more defenders for the bottom of the roster in addition to Jim Vandermeer but two veterans on one year deals shouldn't be too hard to achieve when the dust clears after the first week.
Up front, I don’t think the Oilers don't need to chase a big fish. What they do need are guys who can play reasonably tough minutes at reasonably low cost on mid-term deals. I'd like to see them go for three more players capable of playing in the top-nine on deals no shorter than two years and no longer than three for an average cost of $2M each. The beauty is that they don't need to get them all now as players will likely come available throughout the season and into next off-season. Still, a guy like Alex Tanguay or Colby Armstrong on a three-year deal would be perfect if they can get it done in the $2.5M range. If it turns out they only get two or one or even none, then it's time to move toward veteran stop-gaps. The Oilers have nine NHL forwards under control plus the three star rookies. If they don't get any really good forwards, bringing in Andy Hilbert, Adam Hall and Richard Park to push the kids to earn their jobs while commanding a salary that approaches the league minimum seems like a very good option.