Oilers’ Chiarelli checks off lots of boxes on tight budget

Peter Chiarelli added some solid pieces to his Edmonton Oilers while on a tight budget. (Jason Franson/CP)

EDMONTON — Peter Chiarelli created his cap issues with some questionable signings, and a few overpays. That much is undeniable.

But if you’re itching to blame the Edmonton Oilers general manager with those deals, then it’s only fair to credit him with some pretty fancy footwork on July 1, where he landed three players — two of whom check off a lot of boxes for the Oilers — on a very tight budget.

“I thought it was a pretty productive day,” Chiarelli said in his July 1 press conference. “Having less cap space, you had to be more direct in your strategy. (The players acquired) fit some needs that we had.”

Chiarelli added veteran fourth-line centre Kyle Brodziak on a two-year, $2.3 million deal. Brodziak led all St. Louis forwards in shorthanded ice time last season and went 52.1 per cent in the faceoff circle. A right-handed shot, Edmonton now has two left-handed centres (Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl), and two righties (RFA Ryan Strome and Brodziak).

The Oilers penalty kill was a dismal 25th last season. Brodziak will surely help there, both by winning some draws and effectively filling a penalty-killing role he has fulfilled through most of his 847 regular season and 57 playoff games.

So will the speedy Tobias Rieder, signed on a one-year, $2 million deal. He adds some forward speed the Oilers lacked, some penalty-kill prowess, and on a one-year deal with an aim to impress, Rieder could possibly be that value contract that every cap-hindered team seeks.

“We didn’t want to lock him up,” said Rieder’s agent Darren Ferris, who surprised many in the hockey world by negotiating a one-year UFA deal. “We felt he was undervalued by teams because of the down year he had last season. This will give him an opportunity to establish his value, once he could get a stable environment to play in.”

“He wasn’t qualified (by Los Angeles). He’s a motivated individual,” agreed Chiarelli. “He’s a fast, quick player … who can kill penalties.”

Rieder can play all forward positions, and it will now fall between he, Kailer Yamamoto and Jesse Puljujarvi to shore up the Oilers’ right side, where it appears Ty Rattie will play with McDavid, and the rest is up for grabs.

Edmonton also added depth defenceman Kevin Gravel, with the former Los Angeles King earning a two-way deal.

Chiarelli noted that he is no longer trying to make a trade for a power-play quarterback, a deal that has eluded him since the 2018 trade deadline. Although the Oilers promise they will not rush their No. 10 overall draft pick Evan Bouchard into the NHL lineup, having the talented offensive defenceman in the system — and likely close to being an NHL player — takes the pressure off dealing for that player, Chiarelli feels.

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As for the Milan Lucic trade rumours, you can put those to bed. Chiarelli was unable to deal Lucic during the pre-draft window, and although he may try to entice the New York Islanders to spend some of their ample cap space on Lucic, it is far more likely that Lucic will be at training camp in Edmonton come September.

History tells us that the roster you see on July 2 is the roster that will arrive for training camp in September, give or take a pro tryout or two. If so, the Oilers GM is generally pleased with his depth chart, especially after shoring up the bottom end of his forward ranks on Canada Day.

“I’m comfortable going in with the mix of forwards that we have, now that we’ve shored our depth and our speed a little bit,” said Chiarelli, who thinks his team will look more like the 103-point club the Oilers iced two seasons ago than the one that missed the playoffs last season. “We’ve improved our team, improved our goaltending, improved our team speed. I think we’re headed in the right direction here.

“I don’t know if we’re going to be as good as we were two years ago. But we’re going to be better,” he said. “We’re heading in the right direction.”

The thing about these July 1 pick-ups? The Oilers fortunes in the coming season will hinge far more greatly on veterans like Lucic, Oscar Klefbom, Adam Larsson, Andrej Sekera and Zack Kassian returning to form.

Without those improvements, these additions will mean little.

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