NHL Free Agency: The Edmonton Oilers Needs and Targets on July 1st

Karl ParkinsonContributor IIJune 30, 2011

NHL Free Agency: The Edmonton Oilers Needs and Targets on July 1st

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    According to capgeek the Edmonton Oilers have $19,875,000 in cap space this summer.

    As I wrote before, it is time for the Edmonton Oilers to get very active in the free agent market this year. The young core is in place, and with some shrewd signings the 2011-2012 Oilers team has the opportunity to be surprisingly competitive.

    That being said, enticing free agents to sign in Edmonton has always been a challenge—and that isn't going to change this year. Fortunately, this year the Oilers aren't in the market for big money free agents. They should instead focus on adding complimentary depth players.

    These types of players have signed in Edmonton in the past and will be willing to do so again for the right price. It may take a bit of an overpay in some instances, but as long as the term is kept short, any salary they add now should not affect the teams cap space when it comes time to re-sign the organizations' many young stars.

    Coming up I'll pick apart the Oilers depth chart and explain who they should target to fill the voids.

The Depth Chart

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    First up, here is the Oilers roster the way I see it:

    Smyth-Gagner-Hemsky

    Hall-Horcoff-Eberle

    Paajarvi- X -Omark

    Jones- X -X

    Others: Cogliano, Brule, Nugent-Hopkins

    ------------

    X-Gilbert

    Whitney-Smid

    Peckham-X

    Others: Foster, Petry, Vandermeer

    -------------

    Dubnyk

    X

Center

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    Gagner

    Horcoff

    X

    X

    Others: Cogliano, VandeVelde, Lander

    --------------------

    In my opinion, center is the hardest and most important position in hockey. When the Oilers came within a game of winning it all back in 2006 the center position was an area of strength.

    That team ran Horcoff, Peca and Stoll down the middle, and were able to outplay the likes of Datsyuk and Zetterberg in Detroit and Thornton in San Jose. Peca left as a free agent, Stoll was dealt a year later for Lubomir Visnovsky and the Oilers have never been the same since.

    With the addition of Ryan Nugent-Hopkins via the NHL entry draft, us Oiler fans can finally look forward to having a true #1C—the likes of which haven't been seen since Doug Weight was traded in 2001.

    I'm of the opinion that Hopkins should spend another year in junior. My arguments for this are first for contractual purposes, and second, he needs to bulk up before playing in the NHL.

    Of the centers on the Oilers, only Gagner and Horcoff should be written into the lineup with a permanent marker.

    Sam Gagner is capable of playing first line minutes as long as he has veteran wingers with him, such as Ryan Smyth and Ales Hemsky. That line should be able to go head with head with first lines from other teams and be capable of at least playing them to a draw on most nights.

    Shawn Horcoff is wildly overpaid, but he is still a very effective player. He was the Oilers most consistent forward through the first three months, and when looking at the Oilers scoring chance numbers by line combination it's clear that he has some chemistry with Hall and Eberle.

    Andrew Cogliano is expendable in my mind. Tambellini has tried to trade him in the past and I believe he should attempt to do so again this summer.

    The Oilers need a 3C who can win faceoffs and play on the PK, and a 4C who can win faceoffs, be physical, and play on the PK in a pinch. There are some candidates from within in Anton Lander and Chris VandeVelde, but I believe they should spend most of the season in the AHL for now.

    Targets: Vern Fiddler, Eric Belanger, Michael Handzus, Marty Reasoner, Scott Nichol, Jeff Halpern, Chris Drury

Wing

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    Smyth-Hemsky

    Hall-Eberle

    Paajarvi-Omark

    Jones-X

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     Wing is actually a position of relative strength for this squad.

    Ryan Smyth and Ales Hemsky are two veteran wingers who are capable of playing in all situations effectively while also providing some offense. Smyth should greatly help out on the PK. This should be the Oilers first line pairing, and should be able to handle the tough minutes effectively.

    If Smyth and Hemsky are chewing up the tough minutes effectively, this should leave Hall and Eberle to run amok while facing lesser competition. Hall and Eberle were the Oilers first line wingers last season, and were able to come out on top most nights.

    This is reflected in their Rel Corsi* numbers of 10.3 and 8.5, respectively. Outstanding numbers for rookies who were essentially first line wingers.

    I think that a year of playing against second tier toughs should allow their offense to flourish and will ultimately help in their development.

    Possession metrics also like Paajarvi and Omark, who posted Rel Corsi's* of 3.2 and 8.2 respectively. I see no reason to split them up.

    *For those unfamiliar with the stat, it is a measurement of all shots directed at the net. Including shots, misses, blocks, posts and goals. Essentially, it acts as a proxy for puck possession time. For more on it read this.

    I would not have re-signed Ryan Jones if I were in charge. He posted a negative Rel Corsi of -11.1 and had a shooting percentage on par with guys like Iginla, Nash and Kesler.

    Basically, what I'm saying is that I'm unconvinced Ryan Jones is actually a good hockey player. I'm more inclined to believe his 18 goals were a product of luck rather than skill.

    That being said, Jones signed a new contract recently, so he's not going anywhere. He can play on the fourth line and occasionally PK—but maybe I'm wrong about him.

    The Oilers need another fourth line winger who can hit, cause havoc and actually play a regular shift. Steve MacIntyre is not that guy.

    Targets: Ben Eager, Raffi Torres, Mike Grier,

Defence

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    X-Gilbert

    Whitney-Smid

    Peckham-X

    Others: Foster, Petry, Vandermeer

    -------------------------------------

    This is the teams greatest area of need, and where Steve Tambellini should focus most of his efforts on July 1.

    The Oilers need one or more top four defencemen. They need a guy who can play first pairing minutes against tough competition while starting primarily in the defensive zone, and also able to play on the PK. Having one of these guys to pair with Gilbert will allow Ryan Whitney to play on the second pairing and focus on scoring at both even strength and on the PP.

    The problem is that these players don't exactly grow on trees, and the teams that have them aren't super keen on letting them get away.

    The guy that could have filled this void, Kevin Bieksa, is staying in Vancouver, so options are limited. A trade rather than a signing is a definite option here.

    Tambellini could overpay for Ed Jovanovski (that guy's always overpaid) or Tomas Kaberle, or maybe gamble that Roman Hamrlik has one more good season left in him. I'd prefer to see them go less pricey routes, however.

    Jan Hejda is a guy the Oilers never should have let get away.

    Over the past few seasons in Columbus his OZone% (percentage of shifts starting in the offensive zone) has averaged 44.3 percent. This means that he has been playing primarily in the defensive zone and he has been doing it against tough competition. He is a shutdown defenceman and at 33 is young enough that he should have at least one more good year left in him.

    James Wisniewski is another guy the Oilers should be targeting. He has faced tough competition in the past and provides more offense than Hejda. He can also play on the PP.

    A trade target is Nick Schultz. He is a better, younger version of Jan Hejda. 

    A depth defenceman to play with Peckham on the third pairing is also needed.

    Kurtis Foster should be used as trade bait, and Jim Vandermeer should be an absolute last resort if Tambo strikes out on the FA and trade market.

    Jeff Petry is a wildcard. He was a very good player in his stint with the team, and I want to see him get icetime to help his development. But I also want the Oilers to win more games.

    If Tambellini is only able to get one top four guy, then Petry could slide in alongside Whitney and push Smid down to the third pairing with Peckham. However,  Smid and Peckham were terrible together last season, so I actually don't like that idea at all.

    If Tambellini signs two or more capable NHL defencemen who push Petry out of the lineup and force him to start the year in the AHL, well then so be it.

    Targets: Nick Schultz (trade), Jan Hejda, James Wisniewski, Ed Jovanovski, Brent Sopel, Craig Rivet, Steve Montador

Goalie

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    Dubnyk

    X

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    Buy out Nikolai Khabibulin. Please. I'm begging you. He had a SV% of .890 last year. He is not a good goalie.

    The best part is, according to capgeek, that if the team buys him out the cap hit will be gone after two years, which it would be anyways. But this way he'll no longer be on the team not saving the puck for the next two seasons.

    I believe that Devan Dubnyk is ready to be a 1A starter. That is, he should be capable of handling 40-45 starts this year. So the team needs to sign a veteran keeper who can handle the remaining half of the starts—and not suck while doing so.

    There are plenty of goalies available on the market. The home run would be Tomas Vokoun.

    He's good enough that he could actually be the teams starter and probably play 60 games, but I doubt he has any interest in signing with a rebuilding team for his final years.

    The best part about the goalie market is that there's always so many of them, and Tambellini should be able to get a capable goaltender for under $2.5 Million.

    Targets: Tomas Vokoun, Chris Osgood, Josh Harding, Mathieu Garon, Jose Theodore, re-sign Martin Gerber

My Ideal Free Agency Week

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    June 30th: Steve Tambellini announces that he has bought out the contract of Nikolai Khabibulin.

    July 1st: My phone vibrates. It's a text from TSN. It reads "The Edmonton Oilers have signed C Vern Fiddler to a 2 year $7 million dollar contract."

    July 1st: Another text. This one reads "The Edmonton Oilers have signed F Marty Reasoner to a one year $1.2 Million contract and F Mike Grier to a two year $2 Million contract."

    July 1st: TSN again. "The Edmonton Oilers have signed D James Wisniewski to a 2 year $8.5 Million contract and G Jose Theodore to a one year $900 000 contract."

    July 4th: The Edmonton Oilers announce that they have traded Andrew Cogliano, Kurtis Foster and a 4th round pick in the 2013 NHL entry draft to the Minnesota Wild for Nick Shultz.

    July 6th: Steve Tambellini re-signs Ales Hemsky to a 3 year $14 Million contract extension.

    2011-2012 Roster:

    Smyth-Gagner-Hemsky

    Hall-Horcoff-Eberle

    Paajarvi-Fiddler-Omark

    Jones-Reasoner-Hall

     

    Shultz-Gilbert

    Whitney-Wisniewski

    Smid-Petry

     

    Dubnyk

    Theodore

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    Not a playoff team, but not too far away either.