The Free Agent Pickings Are Slim, But Trade Opportunities Remain

Rick Stewart

A sharp GM will strengthen his team in September

This morning I answered a mailbag question about trading for Martin Havlat, a question brought on by the alarming lack of forward depth in Edmonton and the extremely shallow pool of free agents still available. While that's generally true, there are a couple of solid players left in the pool: Mason Raymond could play on the left side with Hemsky, Simon Gagne on a cheap deal would be interesting, Kyle Wellwood would be a nice 4th option at centre and David Steckel could function as a defensive specialist, if that's what is needed, though I don't think it is.

I've also talked previously about other cap-locked and budget-locked teams, and how the Oilers could wait one of them out to snag the right player. Those situations have changed somewhat, but there will still be players available from these teams come September. Even though Craig MacTavish has expressed confidence in the roster as it's currently made up, he will have an opportunity to improve, hopefully on the cheap as training camp wraps.

Where might he find players? The Capitals need another defender, and with Ron Hainsey, Ian White and Tom Gilbert, available, they can add one quite easily. But they still need to sign Marcus Johansson and only have $2.6 million left to sign both. The price is steep at $3.6 million and there are three years left on the deal, but would Washington move Troy Brouwer to get Hainsey and Johansson on the roster this season? If the Caps took back Ryan Jones with a high draft choice would it work?

Washington isn't the only team in need of defense. The Tampa Bay Lightning are going to need to replace Mattias Ohlund, and again, if the Lightning can't get one of the three aforementioned defensemen, would Nick Schultz be an option?

Toronto is also in a bind. The Maple Leafs have to sign Nazem Kadri, Leo Komorov, and Cody Franson and have just $4.9 million to do it. They also have Nikolai Kulemin, a picture perfect player for the Oilers to play along with Boyd Gordon and Ales Hemsky. Kulemin's $2.8 million cap leaving town solves the Leafs' cap issue immediately.

MacTavish could look internally and sign Linus Omark as a stopgap approach, burying the Tambellini hatchet and strengthening the Oilers forwards corps.

There are players to be signed and opportunities to be had in the market in September, but Craig MacTavish is going to have to be much more aggressive in solving the forward depth issue and go well beyond pointing at a group of players who are overmatched and calling them "ready".

Postscript: I'd like to thank Craig MacTavish for making this article obsolete before it was published.

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