With the news that players like Anthony Duclair and Tobias Rieder are heading toward UFA status, I've figured now would be as good a time as any to layout my idea of a reasonable offseason plan for the Oilers to (not) follow.
The primary focuses for the Oilers should be as follows:
1.) Secure significant RFAs (Nurse, Strome and Benning)
2.) Pursue cheap skill
3.) Prioritize speed in all role players
4.) Target Dmen that play McLellan's brand of defense
5.) Free up some cap space (Lucic, Sekera or Kassian)
With Benning being signed last week and the other two being qualified, it's fair to assume management is well on its way to crossing #1 off the list. As was mentioned earlier, news of players like Duclair and Rieder inching towards the open market opens a door for Chiarelli and Co. to fulfill both #2 and #3 on the list at the same time. Duclair brings a skilled possession game to a team short on talented wingers while Rieder would do well in a more defined role.
Another name worth noting- and one that I've mentioned in my previous write-ups- is Austin Czarnik. He's an elite scoring RW at the AHL level with great wheels and seems a prime candidate to breakout ala Marchessault and Gourde in recent years. However, considering the interest he's attracting (https://www.stanleycupofc...hl-free-agency-ahl-hockey
), this one might be tough.
I've gone into this at length in the past so I'll keep it brief this time- I think the Oilers should pursue a certain few defensive defenders this offseason. While I'm very much in support of high-skilled Dmen patrolling my team's blueline, I think McLellan likes to keep his defensive systems simple and secure. It's my belief that almost all the biggest issues with the Oilers last year stem from McLellan's D system (and his not having the players to execute said system). Put simply, he likes a simple and strong box-protection system and players that can and will execute on this. He had this two years ago but wasn't able to do so this past season (why he started the year running a man-on-man D system).
In order to rectify this, I believe a signing and a trade are in order. First up is the signing of Greg Pateryn. Like Michal Kempny in Washington, Pateryn played the role of under-the-radar, 2nd pairing defensive stud to a tee. Signing him would likely represent excellent value and serve to secure the 2/3 RD hole admirably while we wait for Bouchard to develop.
Second step to this is a trade that'll supply the team with the cap space necessary to make all these signings; Sekera for Gunnarsson(+). Most Oilers fans won't like this as Sekera is just a year removed from excellent play, but in making this trade we're mitigating the risk that Sekera won't bounce back- and thus having to endure the final 3 years of his deal- while securing our bottom pairing with a guy who consistently produces positive team-relative goal ratio results despite playing a decent chunk against top opposition.
While this is far from perfect, fulfilling my checklist succeeds in both improving on the roster's areas of weakness (speed and skill on the wings, steady defenders) while also freeing up long-term cap space to allow the team to have an easier transition into their next wave of propsects (Bouchard, Yamamoto, Bear, Jones, Maksimov, Benson, McLeod).
With 10mil in current cap space and the trade of Sekera's 5.5mil, the team would be left with around 15.5mil to fit Nurse, Strome, Gunnarsson, Pateryn, one of Duclair or Rieder and Czarnik under the cap. While they're selling Sekera, they can explore options to send Kassian to team that wants toughness- Carolina, maybe? The roster would likely look something like this:
RNH- McDavid- Puljujarvi
Lucic- Draisaitl- Czarnik (1.3mil)
Khaira- Strome (2.7mil)- Duclair/Rieder (1.75mil)
Caggiula- Wagner (800k)- Kassian
Nurse (4.6mil)- Pateryn (2mil)
Gunnarsson (2.9mil)- Benning
This is a much faster, more skilled team than was iced last year while not costing substantially more. We'd be losing some puck-moving ability but be re-establishing a simple, box protection D system that would play to Larsson, Pateryn, Gunnarsson and Russell's strengths while simultaneously simplifying the game for Klefbom, Nurse and Benning. Every forward line has enough speed to play a strong forecheck and enough skill to convert on chances.