Oilers 2021 Free Agency Preview: Needs, targets, issues

Justin Bourne discusses what all seven Canadian teams need to do once NHL free agency opens.

EDMONTON — For the first time in Ken Holland’s tenure as the Edmonton Oilers general manager, he rolls into free agency simply dripping with cap space.

After buying out James Neal on Tuesday, Holland has $14.8 million in cap space, with 18 signed roster players. (This assumes Kyle Turris will be buried in the minors, per PuckPedia.) And, he can exceed the cap by just over $4 million, with Oscar Klefbom’s $4.17 million cap hit destined for Long Term Injury Reserve.

So, he’s got plenty of cash to fill his shopping list of a left winger for Connor McDavid, a third-line centre to help with the maturation of young Ryan McLeod, a right side defenceman to replace the departed Adam Larsson, a third-pairing left defenceman, and a couple of depth forwards.

Oh, and a goalie, which he’ll pay for by buying out Mikko Koskinen in the second buy-out window next month.

Sure, it’s a long list. And the problem is, the list of free agents who are willing to choose Edmonton as their destination is far shorter than most Oilers fans would like to believe.

Ryan Getzlaf? Ya, no.

Dougie Hamilton? Not a chance he comes back into a Canadian market.

This is the time for Holland to get after it. His stars are right in their prime, and his team has followed two good regular seasons with a pair of playoff disappointments.

They’ve paid their dues here in Edmonton, and are ready to take the next step as a threat to make the Final Four next spring. But not without the right additions.

It was a lack of depth at forward that really hurt Edmonton in their sweep by the Jets, and as such Holland did not tender Qualifying Offers to either Jujhar Khaira or Dominik Kahun. Now, he needs to replace them with better players.

The Larsson defection really hurts. They need to replace his abrasive style in a market that’s pretty lean for righties who play the way Larsson does. But Ethan Bear as a top pairing D-man is not optimal. Holland will at least need a solid second pairing righty who can play more when Edmonton is protecting a lead, and a little less than Bear when they need a goal.

With Hyman expected to be announced on July 28, Holland needs to find a couple more forwards who have experienced the kind of success his team is hoping to have. Here’s a look at how things shake out in Edmonton, heading into Free Agent Wednesday.

Salary cap space: $14,829,565 (With Turris buried)
Roster size: 18/23
Salary committed to forwards: $33,684,167
Salary committed to defence: $20,143,796
Salary committed to goalies: $7,485,000

Potential UFA targets

Zach Hyman, LW
The former Maple Leaf is and always was Edmonton’s primary focus, because furnishing McDavid with a veteran left-winger who is genuine Top 6 secures Ryan Nugent-Hopkins on Leon Draisaitl’s flank, balancing Edmonton’s top two lines nicely.

Expect a seven-year, $38.5 million deal to drop on Wednesday, as Holland takes his team from regular season improvement to the next level: taking a serious run at playoff success. Hyman, Keith and a couple more veteran signings are signs that after a couple of seasons of stabilizing a flighty organization Holland is all-in on turning the corner and contending.

Nick Bonino, C
He represents the pinnacle in Edmonton’s search for a third-line centre, a veteran 3C who can give the Oilers everything required from that position: faceoff work, penalty killing, checking top opposition and a modicum of offence. Would he come to Edmonton after one tumultuous season in Vancouver that ended in trade back in 2014-15?

Well, Bonino played at Boston University, where he met his future wife — B.U. women’s team player and St. Albert, Alberta native Lauren Cherewyk — and the two have a two-year-old daughter together. Could Bonino be open to coming to Northern Alberta, where he’d be the perfect 3C behind McDavid and Draisaitl? Holland will be asking.

Travis Hamonic/Cody Ceci, D
In the wake of Adam Larsson’s departure, Edmonton needs the right kind of replacement — and preferably on the right side. Sure, Tyson Barrie is a sexy points producer, but they need someone whom did what Larsson did: kill penalties, stop the cycle, and hold down a late lead.

Unfortunately, the market isn’t dripping with those guys.

Our picks for that UFA are Travis Hamonic or Cody Ceci. Neither will sell tickets, but neither will break the bank either. They’ll want a better version of that player one day, but Holland might be able to find that player today on a shorter termed deal.

Nick Foligno, LW
Here’s a long shot, but Holland needs depth forwards and he’s tired of a Bottom 6 with too little experience. Foligno flamed out in Toronto last year, costing the Leafs a first-round draft pick the getting into just seven games (four more in the playoffs) due to back troubles. He’s a dangerous signing, at 33 years old with a bad back. But the Oilers have interest. We’ll see.

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