Every inch of the Edmonton Oilers operation is standing in line right now, behind the extending of Connor McDavid’s contract and the subsequent announcement of a new deal for Leon Draisaitl. Nothing gets ahead of that, and because those numbers may not be completely known quantities for GM Peter Chiarelli, it sets the Oilers up for a fairly quiet July 1.
No $6-million players coming in this Canada Day, like Milan Lucic a year ago. With Kris Russell having already signed a four-year, $16-million free agent deal, Eric Gryba could be the big catch on July 1.
SALARY CAP BREAKDOWN
Forwards: $27.93 million
Defence: $19.62 million
Goaltenders: $5.84 million
Total: $56.99 million ($18 million cap space)
AREAS OF NEED
Third-line centre: In fact, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins slots in as a No. 3 centre in Edmonton, but the problem is, he’s a career 43.3 per cent faceoff man. The Oilers finished 30th in team percentage last season. They need an Antoine Vermette/Manny Malhotra type who can help Mark Letestu in the circle.
Top-four defenceman: With Andrej Sekera (torn ACL) out through Christmas, a second-pairing defenceman would be handy in Edmonton. They’ve got three of their top four back, and the third pairing of Darnell Nurse and Matthew Benning can probably take on a few more minutes. At worst, the Oilers need UFA Gryba back. At best, a genuine top-four guy.
Scoring winger: There is room on the left wing for a veteran who might be left looking for a contract in August, the way Edmonton brought in Kris Versteeg last season before he bolted for Calgary. Someone who might score 12 goals off the second or third line, in Jordan Eberle’s absence.
Brian Boyle: Highly unlikely, but Oilers GM Chiarelli loves a big centreman, and Boyle is a career 50 per cent guy in the circle. The Oilers simply have to find a way to win some draws, and waiting for McDavid to learn the craft may not be an option. The experienced Boyle would look good in Oilers togs, and may be enticed to join a team with a big upside.
Brandon Pirri: Pirri can play all the forward positions, and would slot in as a right-winger in Edmonton. The Oilers will lose some goal production in the Ryan Strome-for-Eberle swap, and could use a shooter on the right side to take the pressure to produce off of Anton Slepyshev, Zack Kassian and Strome. Pirri isn’t a well-rounded player but has been known to score goals. Could be a handy signing for less than $1.5 million.
Eric Gryba: If Gryba is your seventh defenceman, playing the same 40 games he played this past season in Edmonton, you’re in good shape. The problem? He’ll likely want to get paid like a third-pairing guy, which means a raise from the $950,000 he made in 2016-17. Could Calgary get involved, driving up the price? The Flames need a legit third-pairing guy, so we’d expect Gryba to stay in Edmonton, unless the funds are too tight and he gets a better offer elsewhere.
RECENT FREE AGENT ACQUISITIONS
Zack Kassian, $5.85 million, three years in 2017: Chiarelli reclaimed Kassian out of rehab, gave him one last chance, and Kassian took full advantage last season. He’s a good third- or fourth-line right-winger and penalty killer, and he’s paid like it. Value player.
Kris Russell, $16 million, four years in 2017: The Oilers wanted their man back after he rode a top-four role through a successful 2016-17. Analytics dudes hate him, but the Oilers love Russell.
Milan Lucic, $42 million, seven years in 2016: The jury is still out on this signing. Lucic was huge in guiding McDavid through the captain’s role, and changing the culture in Edmonton. His 23 goals (50 points) in the regular season was OK, but his just two goals in 13 playoff games lacked. The game is getting faster. Lucic has to get quicker.