NHL Off-season Primer: Edmonton Oilers

Andrew Ference, Jordan Eberle, Benoit Pouliot and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. (Jeff McIntosh/CP)

In the third instalment of our Canadian team-by-team Off-Season Primers, we take deep look at the key decisions–and salary cap considerations–facing the Edmonton Oilers this summer.

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Head Coach — Todd McLellan
GM — Peter Chiarelli

Salary cap space: $18,442,084 (assuming a $71.5 million upper limit, according to salary data found at generalfanager.com).

Front office outlook:

Whatever the front office outlook may have been at the end of another dreary, bottom-feeding season in 2014-15, it all changed when the Oilers — under new CEO Bob Nicholson — moved out general manager Craig MacTavish after a little more than two seasons in charge. In came Peter Chiarelli, fresh off of nine seasons at the helm of the Boston Bruins, and he quickly hired veteran head coach Todd McLellan, who had spent the past seven seasons behind the San Jose Sharks’ bench.

So, after nine seasons out of the playoffs — complete with some poor drafting, substandard pro scouting and suspect development — Chiarelli walks in the door with no allegiances to anyone inside this organization. First off, he chose McLellan over the popular interim head coach Todd Nelson, and he told his scouts that they would work until the draft at least, and perhaps beyond that. No promises, however.

The time for change is long overdue in Edmonton. Expectations are that, as Chiarelli gets comfortable in his new chair, this organization won’t look the same in September as it did when it played its last game in April.

Players under contract for 2015-16 (annual average value and duration):

Jordan Eberle, RW: $6M AAV through 2018-19
Taylor Hall, LW: $6M AAV through 2019-20
Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, C: $6M AAV through 2020-21
Teddy Purcell, RW: $4.5M AAV through 2015-16
Nikita Nikitin, D: $4.5 AAV through 2015-16
Benoit Pouliot, LW: $4M AAV through 2018-19
Mark Fayne, D: $3.625M AAV through 2017-18
Andrew Ference, D: $3.25M AAV through 2016-17
Boyd Gordon, C: $3M AAV through 2015-16
Nail Yakupov, RW: $2.5M AAV through 2016-17
Ben Scrivens, G: $2.3M AAV through 2015-16
Matt Hendricks, LW: $1.85M AAV through 2016-17
Anton Lander, C: $987,500 AAV through 2016-17
Leon Draisaitl, C: $925,000 AAV through 2016-17
Oscar Klefbom, D: $894,166 AAV through 2015-16
Darnell Nurse, D: $863,333 AAV through 2017-18
Iiro Pakarinen, RW: $817,500 AAV through 2015-16
Luke Gazdic, LW: $800,000 AAV through 2015-16
Rob Klinkhammer, LW: $725,000 AAV through 2015-16

We’ve included Leon Draisaitl and Darnell Nurse here, though the debate in Edmonton has already begun as to whether the pair should start the season in the American Hockey League. And you’ll notice, there is only one goalie signed here. That’s an issue. Apart from a goaltender, the blue-line is Edmonton’s biggest issue. Chiarelli does not currently have a top pairing defenceman. He needs two of those.

Restricted free agents (2014-15 salary):

Justin Schultz, D: $3.675M
Keith Aulie, D: $800,000
Martin Marincin, D: $810,000
Tyler Pitlick, RW: $725,000
Matt Fraser, RW: $625,000

LW Curtis Hamilton, G Tyler Bunz, D Brandon Davidson.

The most intriguing name on this list of RFAs, by far, is defenceman Justin Schultz. Since he refused to sign with Anaheim and became a highly sought after unrestricted free agent coming out of the NCAA, Schultz has disappointed. He was lights-out in the AHL during the NHL lockout, but has thus far not developed into a powerplay quarterback in the NHL. His compete level, defensive awareness and physicality are all lacking, and are not compensated for by offensive talents to balance out his game.

Edmonton will surely re-sign Schultz, simply because of the scarcity of NHL defencemen on Chiarelli’s defensive corps.

The other question mark is Martin Marincin, a 6-foot-4, 23-year-old Slovak who has all the tools. He may be trade bait in a goalie play, however — particularly if Rangers backup Cam Talbot is the target.

Edmonton has two first round picks (No. 1 and 16), two seconds and two thirds. With a new GM, a decent cache of young talent on hand, and a long string of playoff misses, everything after the Connor McDavid pick could very well be in play.

“I certainly would look at moving any of those picks for… something that would help us right now,” Chiarelli recently told 630 CHED. “Discussions are picking up, they’ll continue to be ongoing until the draft, they might subside a little bit, and then pick up again around the free agency date.”

Unrestricted free agents (2014-15 AAV):

Viktor Fasth, G: $2.9M AAV
Derek Roy, C: $1M AAV
Richard Bachman, G: $615,000 AAV
Jesse Joensuu, LW: $950,000 AAV

Of these, only Bachman could be re-signed as a No. 3 in the organization to play alongside Laurent Brossoit in AHL Bakersfield. Chiarelli’s work is not in maintaining talent in Edmonton. It is about bringing more talent into the fold.

Possible off-season targets:

Cam Talbot or Martin Jones
Of the goalies out there who have not been a No. 1 for an extended period but may be franchise goalies one day, Talbot (Rangers) edges out Jones (Kings) in experience. What the Oilers really need is a legit starter between the pipes, but the UFA market is slim and signing soon-to-be 32-year-old Antti Niemi to a UFA deal is likely unwise.

The Oilers’ problem is that they’ve tried to go with unproven goalies for two straight seasons and the plan failed miserably. Talbot could likely be had for a draft pick and a prospect. Is he ready? Well, he might be the best option out there.

Craig Anderson
Anderson is injury-plagued, but he is a known commodity who could give Edmonton the consistent NHL goaltending they’ve lacked when healthy. Scrivens has shown he can play for stretches, so with few legitimate options out there, helping Ottawa out of its goaltending glut could be the way to go for Edmonton.

Adam Mcquaid or Andrej Sekera
There may not be a legit top-pairing defenceman on the UFA market. So, short of pulling off a very unlikely deal for a Brent Seabrook, Edmonton may choose to up its physical, penalty-killing presence with UFA McQuaid. Or, improve its mobility and ability to get the puck up to the forwards quickly and accurately by going after UFA Sekera.

Any Ducks defenceman
Anaheim has the richest deposit of sub-23-year-old, NHL-ready defencemen in the entire NHL. Hampus Lindholm is untouchable, but for the right trade, any of Simon Despres, Cam Fowler, Sami Vatanen or perhaps even Josh Manson would be an upgrade for Edmonton.

Biggest off-season need:

A goalie and two defencemen.

While most rebuilds start from the goal line out, Edmonton’s was inexplicably built from the wings in. Today they are fine up front with Top 6 players, have a good fourth line with Gordon, Hendricks and Klinkhammer/Gazdic, and can work on a third line centred by oncoming Anton Lander. None of it matters, however, if you can’t keep the puck out of your own net.

Of course, top-pairing defencemen and No. 1 goalies are the most difficult acquisition in hockey. If Chiarelli can find one defenceman and give his team an acceptable level of goaltending next season, we might be able to see if a maturing group of forwards can carry this team.

Biggest-off-season question:

Will Chiarelli be able to turn Edmonton around without trading away a young potential star?

Of that group, we mean Hall, Eberle and Nugent-Hopkins. The great thing about a new GM is he’s not married to any of the prior draft picks — even if he inherits a group that includes the aforementioned, plus Draisaitl and Nurse.

We sense Nail Yakupov will be further developed by McLellan, and then a call will be made: either he will be dealt, or if McLellan works magic with Yakupov, Eberle could be expendable. If they deal a centre with Connor McDavid on the way, will it be Nugent-Hopkins, or the younger Draisaitl?

This team dearly needs a powerplay quarterback than can make the forwards group better, and that will likely come by trade. How deep into the roster will Chiarelli have to go?

Read more off-season primers:
Vancouver Canucks
Montreal Canadiens

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