It's becoming obvious that Oilers management are losing their patience with the Dany Heatley situation, as they have began signing their RFA's.
While Edmonton made the qualifying offers they needed to, the bigger names are still yet to be signed. The only significant cap hit to sign is Denis Grebeshkov, and he has filed for arbitration. My guess is that the Oilers and Grebs will settle before the court date. Look for a contract in the 3 year/$9mil range for the crafty defenseman. In respect to Vlady Smid, look for a two year deal coming in at $1.5mil per season.
Should Grebeshkov and Smid be signed for the above suggested amounts, the Oilers will be left with $1.5mil cap space. Or worded another way, they will be handcuffed in terms of signing unrestricted free agents or making offers to other team's RFA's.
So where do the Oilers go from here? If it isn't obvious to everyone already, Dany Heatley is not coming to Edmonton. Perhaps he could, if Edmonton was the only alternative to Ottawa, and if Sens players can't talk him into staying. I get the feeling that will be the case, and perhaps that would be the best outcome for all participants including the Oilers. Adding damaged goods at a time when the team is going through major renovations is not the way to improve the franchise.
Provided Heatley does not come to Edmonton, the conundrum the Oilers face is as follows: Has management done enough to get this team into the playoffs in 2010? The answer sadly is no. The good news is, everyone seems to be aware of it, and more changes are coming (salary cap permitting). But how do you immediately improve this team, with no UFA's worth adding, and with player trades being near impossible in the age of the salary cap and no-movement clauses?
There will be trades. The one thing Edmonton does have is too many players under contract. The Heatley trade was a noble idea: Moving three players of skill for one superstar. It doesn't look like any other players of Dany's quality are likely to be moved. But there are three potential players the Oilers could have on their radar, and be able to acquire by moving multiple assets.
The name being thrown around that would add most to the team is Phil Kessel from Boston. But just how do you land a Kessel? Boston could use a puck moving defenseman, and the Oilers have four of them to choose from. A move for Kessel could involve Souray or Gilbert, Schremp, and perhaps a first or second round pick. Kessel would give the Oilers a first-line offensive Center, something they have been craving for years.
Another name that has been floating around is Zherdev from the Rangers. Zherdev would fit in well with Nilsson and Penner, in respect to being a potential star player who just hasn't found his true potential. Nik has been called lazy and disinterested, but what he does bring to the table is some serious offensive skill. In Zherdev, Hemsky would finally have an equal to play with. The price to acquire Zherdev would be lower than Kessel, but the Oilers would have to move a salary to make it work. Perhaps Gilbert and Schremp for Zherdev. Gilbert is a puck mover with a very reasonable contract, and Schremp is from New York, and would find ice time on the Rangers.
The third name being mentioned is Simon Gagne from Philly. The idea of having a Gagne-Gagner line has appeal for comedy reasons, but would the move make sense for Edmonton? The Flyers would be looking at the move as a way of moving a salary, which is what makes this trade possibility a diffficult one. It would have to be Gagne for two highly regarded prospects and a first round pick, which is a price Edmonton may not be willing to pay. Perhaps Cogliano, Petry and a pick? I wouldn't be doing it if I was Edmonton.
What seems clear from all of this is the Oilers are going to have to make a choice. They have a fine group of young players that could be the core of a winning team if they are allowed to stick together. Should the Oilers abandon the 2009/2010 season to focus on a complete rebuild, the obvious thing they should be doing is trying to move assets such as Penner, Horcoff, Staios, Souray and Visnovsky to add youth and potential.
However, Oilers ownership is rumored to be keen on making the playoffs this season, regardless of the price. The signings of Pat Quinn and Tom Renney clearly indicate a dedication to winning, so look for the Oilers to part with some of their youth to add proven players, provided they can move some salary to make room under the cap. It all sounds a bit complicated, if not impossible.