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Freeing Up Cap Space And Signing Free Agents

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The unrestricted free agency period begins tomorrow. What would a great week in free agency look like for the Edmonton Oilers?

Carolina Hurricanes v Boston Bruins - Game Two
Getting their hands on a reliable 1A goaltender should be a top priority for the Oilers this offseason.
Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

The NHL is technically making moves for the 2019-20 season at this point, but the first day of free agency always feels like the last official day of the NHL season to me. Teams will be splashing cash tomorrow in the hopes of giving their lineup a big boost heading into next season. We’ll continue to hear about free agent signings for the next couple of days, but things tend to get quiet for the next couple of months after the first week in July.

It’s no big secret that the Oilers have some pretty significant cap issues on their roster. They’ll be able to sign a player or two on July 1st, but they’ll be heavily restricted unless they can free up some cap by ridding themselves of a contract or two. For the next hour or so, I’m going to put on a pair of cheap sunglasses and dream that Holland just knocks it out of the park in the next couple of days. If you’re keeping score, I’m not going to suggest that Holland is able to free up a bunch of cap space and toss it at Artemi Panarin for seven years, though it will be close.

What does an extremely good week look like for Ken Holland?

  • Find a taker for Milan Lucic. Even better? Do it without retaining a dime

You want to free up six million dollar in cap space? You want to do it next year? How about the year after that? And the year after that? Finding a suitor for Milan Lucic and the four years remaining on his contract (and finding a place that Lucic likes enough to waive his NMC to go to) should be the top priority this offseason. Lucic is coming off a 20 point season, and there’s little reason to think that he’s about to turn it around. Lucic got ample time on the power play, playing five times more than Jesse Puljujarvi with the Oilers on the power play. I think there’s a chance a deal could happen in Vancouver. The Senators are about to talk themselves into Nikita Zaitsev from the Maple Leafs, though I’m not sure how Lucic feels about playing in Ottawa. It’s probably going to hit the Oilers in terms of a first round pick and an asset to offload Lucic’s mammoth deal, but the Oilers have to at least look at the cost. Ridding themselves of Lucic’s contract will almost double their available cap space.

  • Find a taker for Kris Russell

This one might actually happen. Please recall the grand summer of 2017 when the Oilers were high on life. They had just finished a season that saw them in the playoffs for the first time in 67 years. and it was pretty clear that they were feelin’ it. Displeased with the results of Jordan Eberle’s maiden voyage in the playoffs, the Oilers shipped him to the Islanders for centre/wing Ryan Strome. The Oilers saved three million dollars in cap space for two years on the deal, which they promptly handed to defenceman Kris Russell on a four year deal at four million a year. Kris Russell blocks shots like a madman, and that just might be enough for a team to take a chance on him. He’s got two more years on his deal at 4MM each, but he’s got a modified NTC which could cloud things on the trade front.

  • Find a taker for Sam Gagner

I like Sam Gagner, I think he can provide a bit of offence in the barren wasteland known as Edmonton’s bottom six. Ten points in 25 games with the Oilers projects out to about 30-ish points in a season, and at 3.15MM is a bit expensive, and the Oilers could probably find 30 points for less money in free agency. Gagner’s deal isn’t remotely as terrible as Milan Lucic’s, but three million in cap space on a team that’s got less than 9MM going into free agency is a lotta dough.

In our dream sequence, the Oilers have found just over 13 million dollars in cap space going forward. Even if the Oilers could offload one of these deals, it would be a significant savings for the upcoming season. Now what do you do with all of that cap space? Start plugging holes in the roster.

  • Sign Petr Mrazek (or another 1A goaltender)

Mikko Koskinen got a three year deal at 4.5MM a year on the night before Peter Chiarelli was fired. He finished last season with a .906 SV% (.913 SV% at 5v5). To say that the Koskinen deal is a huge risk is probably an understatement, and the Oilers ought to beef up between the pipes. Mrazek is coming off a season where he finished at .914 on the year (.929 5v5), and would be a good bet for the Oilers Mike Smith is also an option for a year, though his 2018-19 season was not a rosy one. At age 37, a deal with Mike Smith would carry a fair bit of risk with it. There are a few backup names on the free agent list, though the Oilers ought to look for a name that can run with the ball for a week or two if the wheels come off with Koskinen.

  • Sign Joonas Donskoi (or Brett Connolly)

If you stare out over yonder, you’ll see the cupboards for NHL wingers in Edmonton. They’re pretty bare. Joonas Donskoi is a right winger who is coming off his fourth NHL season in San Jose. Donskoi put up 37 points in 80 games, these numbers don’t blow the doors off anywhere until you see that Donskoi averaged less than 13 minutes a game and about 30 seconds of power play time a game. What does it all mean? Wind him up and let him go, there’s room for these numbers to go up. I tossed in Brett Connolly’s name here. Connolly is coming off a 46 point season with the Capitals, a year that saw him score 22 goals.

You can make a comparison to Alex Chiasson here, though I’d be careful doing so. Chiasson is coming off a season where he eclipsed the 20 goal mark for the first time in his career. He also shot nearly 18%, which is pretty neat. Be wary of the high shooting percentage.

Tossing darts here, if the Oilers are able to secure a goaltender and one of Donskoi or Connolly, they’re probably on the hook for six or seven million. If the Oilers could free up even one of those three contracts above, it would do a world of good going forward. The Oilers would address two badly needed issues on their roster; and that’s a right winger who can score and a capable 1A goaltender. Hold your breath for that PP QB.

Now let’s all sit back and watch the good times roll in tomorrow.

That’s how this works, right?