Edmonton Oilers: Recapping the start of free agency

Edmonton Oilers (Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images)
Edmonton Oilers (Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images) /

Here’s a breakdown of what the Edmonton Oilers have been doing so far in NHL Free Agency

The Edmonton Oilers did very well in free agency so far.  The verdict amongst journalists for the most part has been very positive.  Let’s see if that’s true.

1.  Jesse Puljujarvi v 2.0, 2 years $2.35 million, $1.175 million per

The prodigal son returns.  After being drafted 4th overall in 2016, Poolparty spent the 1st 3 seasons of his NHL career going back and forth between Bakersfield and here, never putting up more than 12 goals and 20 points in a season. Both the player and the organization deserve blame for the early part of JP’s career.

The organization rushed him to the NHL for sure, but Puljujarvi had a bit of an entitled attitude as well.  There were rumours of him blowing off English lessons provided to him by the club, bristling at coaching his play without the puck, and a public feud between his agent and then GM Peter Chiarelli and head coach Todd Mclellan over his playing time.  He hadn’t earned time in the top 6, but his agent kept insisting he be played there because he “would do better there.”

Agents should never encourage that type of entitlement, but I digress.  Eventually, JP demanded a trade, but by then the Oilers had a new GM in Ken Holland and a new head coach in Dave Tippett.  Holland did not grant said trade request unless teams met a high ask, which was never provided.  JP went back to Sweden for all of last season after his ELC expired, and the time away appears to have improved his game on the ice as well as his attitude off of it.

Fast forward to now, and credit to Holland who convinced JP to come back to the team.  He, Tippett, Holland, and his agent have all had multiple Zoom meetings in which JP was forced to eat some crow, and the organization provided JP with an opportunity to hit the reset button on his NHL career.

He did well in Sweden last year, but of course, the Swedish pro hockey league is not the NHL, so nothing is certain.  But, at this point, JP appears to be a new man with a new attitude.  The time away from the organization was necessary and time well spent.  JP will likely start the season on the 3rd line, and whether he goes up to the top 6 all depends on him and Tippett.

With the feud in the rearview mirror, will things go better?  Only time will tell.  If not, at least the price and term are right.

Do I approve?  Yes.  Good contract.

2.  Kyle Turris, 2 years $3.3 million, $1.65 million per

Kyle Turris comes to the Oilers as our new 3rd line center after a couple of down years in Nashville, where he didn’t do well as a top 6 forward but put up solid numbers for a bottom 6 forward.  Now here his paycheck will match where he plays.

There won’t be any pressure to be an everyday top 6 forward like he had in Nashville, just a guy who gets a great opportunity here to get his career back on track.  He has finished at -6 and -9 the last 2 seasons but regularly playing softer competition here should help out with that – not to mention his numbers will get a slight boost if the prediction of dailyfaceoff.com comes true and Turris gets put on the 2nd unit PP.

Turris brings the Oilers something they haven’t had in quite a long time – a legitimate 3rd line center.  Holland remade the bottom 6 last season but they didn’t produce enough points for his liking, which in particular is why Riley Sheahan isn’t back again.

With Turris in the fold, I’m guessing that the numbers of Jesse Puljujarvi and Tyler Ennis/James Neal – his most likely wingers – will also get a slight uptick.  With a great center with solid hands feeding you the puck, chances are better that you’ll score more as his wingers too.  Although Turris did poorly on faceoffs last season, at 40.5%, he has cracked the 50% mark 7 times in his career, and at the age of 31 is not exactly done as a hockey player.

I’m betting another function of Turris will be to take some of the heat of faceoffs off of Leon Draisaitl and Nuge.  Riley Sheahan finished just short of the 50% mark last season at 49%, and again I’m betting with the spotlight off of Turris he can get back to the 50% mark in faceoffs.

Do I approve?  Yes.  Great contract.

3.  Alan Quine, 1 year, $750K

Quine was definitely one of the more minor signings of free agency so far. As far as I can see, he’s an AHL bubble player who Holland brought in to compete for the 4th line center spot that I’m guessing either Juhjar Khaira or Gaetan Haas are the incumbents for right now.  He might possibly be an extra forward, depending on how training camp goes.

Quine hasn’t been a full-time NHLer since 2016-17, though, so I’m not exactly holding my breath he’ll work his way onto the roster here, but stranger things have happened. The one thing I can’t figure out is why this contract is only a one-way contract.  Now if Holland wants to send him down to Bakersfield, he has to put him on waivers for 24 hours.

Although it’s unlikely he’ll be claimed, I have to wonder why he wasn’t signed to a two-way contract, where he doesn’t have to go through waivers to be sent down.  Maybe he can only be signed to a one-way contract. Quine’s career numbers are 10-18-28 in 106 NHL games, so at the age of 27 it’s unlikely he’ll be anything other than an AHL bubble player, but sometimes you just never know.

Do I approve?  For the most part yes.

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4.  Anton Forsberg, 1 year, $700K

Not much to say about Forsberg.  With the vacuum of NHL ready goalies in Bakersfield – Stuart Skinner’s position in the organization is precarious at best, Dylan Wells is a bust who will never make it close to an NHL roster, and OIivier Rodrigue is a raw rookie so he’s not ready – something had to be done.

Enter Anton Forsberg.  He’ll be the 3rd goalie in the organization as insurance in case of injury.  He’s not much of a goalie, but he’s still a better option for #3 than Stuart Skinner.

To show you how generic of an AHL bubble player he is, his career stats in the NHL is a 3.22 GAA and a .901 sv% in 48 games over 5 seasons.  Last season he actually finished below both those marks in 3 games with Carolina.

Also a one-way contract, hopefully, Holland did this because he couldn’t sign him to a two-way contract.

Do I approve?  Sure, all things being relative.

5.  Seth Griffith, 2 years, 2-way contract at $1.45 million, $725K per

Griffith appears to be nothing more than depth for Bakersfield.  He’s one of those players who can score in the AHL but not in the NHL.  He isn’t the 1st and he won’t be the last. We have a bit of a vacuum of NHL top 6 forwards in Bakersfield, so we need to fill out the roster somehow.  Why not with Griffith?

Do I approve?  Sure, why not?

6.  Tyler Ennis, 1 year, $1 million contract

Another solid signing by Holland.  He traded for Ennis at the deadline last season, and Ennis delivered 2-2-4 with a -1 in 9 regular-season games before the pause of the season and 1-1-2 and even in 3 playoff games.  He even played part of the season on the port side of Connor Mcdavid and didn’t look out of place.

I was hoping Holland would bring back Ennis in my end of the season player report cards here, and thankfully he did.

Solid player, solid signing.

Do I approve?  Absolutely.  Decent contract, the standard for a bottom 6 forward.

7.  Tyson Barrie, 1 year, $3.75 million

This is the other big-name signing Holland made after signing Turris.  Barrie will fill a huge need, mainly on the PP, but also as a replacement on the 3rd pairing at even strength. Barrie turned down much bigger offers elsewhere because he could see the potential quarterbacking the 1st unit PP with the McDrai duo.

He had a down year last year in Toronto by his standards – only 5 goals and 39 points and no offence in 5 playoff games.  On the Oilers that would’ve topped production from all blueliners in the regular season.  Barrie’s got the best opportunity to get back to 50 points here, and then next offseason he can make his money elsewhere.

The only downside to getting Barrie is his +/- has only been on the good side of the ledger twice in 7 seasons, but I get the impression that the Maple Leafs expected him to be more than he was. Here at even strength on the 3rd pairing, he’ll be playing the softest possible competition, which hopefully should help to mitigate his defensive issues.

Barrie is definitely a good replacement for Klefbom on the PP, but the rest of the game is another story.  I guess Klef’s remaining minutes will have to be spread out amongst the other defenders in the top 4.

Depending on how Holland sees Kris Russell fitting on the team next year, he might use him to bat cleanup for Barrie’s mistakes at EV.  Or if he can trade him before next season, he may bring in an outside hire or use Caleb Jones in that spot.

Do I approve?  Overall, yes.  Barrie will definitely be a good sub for Klef on the PP, but elsewhere in the game is a different story.

8.  Mike Smith, 1 year, $1.5 million with potential for $500K bonus money

I was quite surprised that Holland brought Mike Smith back to the Oilers, considering he was no better than subpar as an NHL goalie and a complete trainwreck in his one playoff start last season. After all, Smith will be 39 after next season starts.  It may be for a short term contract, but it’s still loaded with risk.

Last year he managed to keep his head above water for most of the season, but he’s got a lot of miles on his body due to past seasons as a starter in Tampa Bay, Phoenix/Arizona, and Calgary.  It’s likely this is the season his body falls apart. There’s no doubt in my mind goalie will be our weak spot next season.  If you play Koskinen too much, he craters, and Smith is too old to shoulder the load.  After him, you have Anton Forsberg… ouch.

I was actually quite surprised Holland didn’t try to sign Jimmy Howard out of Detroit – he’s familiar with the player, Howard is two years younger than Smith, and he could’ve been signed for the NHL minimum at $700K.  He struggled last season in Detroit, but who wouldn’t struggle when you’re playing on the worst team in the league?

We have a better team all-around than the Red Wings do, there’s no question in my mind Howard would’ve rebounded playing for the Oilers.  Maybe Holland knows something about him that I don’t, it’s absolutely possible.

Even a younger version of Smith has more upside than Smith himself.  With all the options out there this year, I have to wonder why we went back to Smith.  Yes, we lost out on Markstrom, but that’s no reason to go back to a subpar goalie next season.

Do I approve?  No, I don’t.  There are younger and cheaper options out there, this was the time to jettison Smith and bring in someone younger to tandem with Koskinen.  The fact that Holland went back to Smith disappoints me.