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Shane Sander The Hockey Writers

Published on Thursday, May 25, 2017

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Oilers’ Summer UFA & RFA List

With the offseason underway for the Edmonton Oilers, it’s back to the drawing board for general manager Peter Chiarelli. It’s going to be a busy summer for Chiarelli as the Oilers have 24 free agents (10 unrestricted, 14 restricted) to make decisions on.

Chiarelli has already indicated that he intends to open talks with Kris Russell, Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl. McDavid will enter the final year of his entry-level contract (ELC) for 2017-18 and will need an extension before next summer. The priority will be on getting him and Draisaitl signed as soon as possible so Chiarelli can figure out how much cap space he has to work with long-term in Edmonton.

Edmonton’s AHL affiliate, the Bakersfield Condors, were one of the lowest-scoring teams in the minors. If that’s any indication of what’s coming down the pipe, the Oilers will be in a tough spot to follow those contending models set by the Chicago Blackhawks and Pittsburgh Penguins. Both teams were able to continue their success by signing college free agents, drafting well in later rounds and eventually having those players provide cheap scoring depth around their stars.

Regardless, here’s the Oilers full UFA and RFA list for this summer broken down by position.

List of Oilers UFA/RFA Goaltenders

There’s a possibility neither of these goaltenders is back with the organization next season. Gustavsson, 32, was brought in to provide cheap backup depth behind Cam Talbot but faltered early in the season before being demoted to the AHL Condors. Before his demotion, he started just five games for the Oilers and held a 1-3-1 record with a 3.10 goals-against average (GAA) and a .878 save percentage (SV%).

Jonas Gustavsson struggled this year and is headed towards free agency. (Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports)

Gustavsson allowed four or more goals in three of those five starts. After eight seasons in North America, he signed with Linkoping HC (SHL) for 2017-18 and will likely split starting duties with Jacob Johansson next season.

OILERS UFA/RFA GOALIES
POS NAME FA AGE CAP HIT LEAGUE GP W GAA SV%
G J. Gustavsson UFA 32 $900K AHL 20 8-9 2.42 0.917
G E. Laurikainen RFA 25 $640 ECHL 11 1-7 3.77 0.881

A free agent signing in May 2015, Laurikainen, 24, has struggled through two seasons in North America and fizzled out in the ECHL this season with a 3.77 GAA and a 0.881 SV% through 11 games. With Nick Ellis leapfrogging him on the depth chart and the addition of Shane Starrett, Laurikainen’s future in Edmonton looks murky at best.

He was loaned to HPK (Liiga) in his native Finland during 2015-16 and didn’t play a single game in the AHL in 2016-17.

List of Oilers UFA/RFA Defensemen

There’s arguably no other UFA on the Oilers list more controversial than Russell. He’s earned a split audience over his season in Edmonton, and he does some defensive things well for some fans, he does them horribly for those of the analytics community.

Kris Russell highlights the Oilers list of free agents this summer. (Neville E. Guard-USA TODAY Sports)

Chiarelli has already expressed an interest in bringing Russell back, and the preference should be for a short-term deal, with a cap hit between $3.5-4 million. There’s also some interest to bring back Gryba as a serviceable seventh-defenseman next season, on a one-year deal.

OILERS UFA/RFA DEFENSEMEN
POS NAME FA AGE CAP HIT LEAGUE GP G A PTS
RD K. Russell UFA 30 $3.10M NHL 68 1 12 13
RD E. Gryba UFA 29 $950K NHL 40 2 4 6
LD J. Oesterle UFA 24 $585K AHL 44 7 25 32
LD M. Fraser UFA 30 $575K AHL 65 3 3 6
LD G. Reinhart RFA 23 $863K AHL 54 7 14 21
LD D. Musil RFA 24 $600K AHL 60 4 14 18
LD D. Simpson RFA 24 $836K AHL 53 3 8 11

Fraser is likely headed for free agency, and Oesterle may be as well depending on where he sees his best opportunity to make the NHL next season. The 24-year-old has 157 AHL games under his belt but has played just 25 games with the Oilers over the last three seasons.

If Reinhart is unclaimed in the expansion draft, it’s likely the Oilers tender qualifying offers to all three RFA defensemen.

List of Oilers UFA/RFA Forwards

Draisaitl is the biggest name for the Oilers that’s up for a new contract this summer. He could cost as much as $7 million, and if Connor McDavid gets a $9 million plus contract, things are going to be tight in Edmonton.The Oilers will have to be creative with their financial structure from here on out.

2018 Olympics

Leon Draisaitl headlines the Oilers forwards heading towards free agency. (Amy Irvin / THW)

The Oilers will get $5.35 million off the cap when David Desharnais and Matt Hendricks hit the market. Regardless of being a heart-and-soul teammate, several players have passed Hendricks, 35, on the depth chart, and he’s likely played his last game as an Oiler.

Desharnais was virtually a fourth-line player after being acquired at the trade deadline, and his offensive game peaked five years ago. He’s been on a steady decline since and may be facing the reality of a professional tryout being his best bet at sticking around the NHL next season.

Justin Fontaine, 29, provided plenty of scoring for the Condors, but the UFA will likely want his best chance at NHL minutes next year, something that isn’t available due to the depth in Edmonton. Zack Kassian had a great year in Edmonton and seemingly has his career back on track and could be heading towards a raise approaching $2 million.

OILERS UFA/RFA FORWARDS
POS NAME FA AGE CAP HIT LEAGUE GP G A PTS
C David Desharnais UFA 30 $3.50M NHL 49 6 8 14
LW Matt Hendricks UFA 35 $1.85M NHL 42 4 3 7
RW Tyler Pitlick UFA 25 $725K NHL 31 8 3 11
RW Justin Fontaine UFA 29 $600K AHL 65 11 30 41
C Leon Draisaitl RFA 21 $925K NHL 82 29 48 77
RW Zack Kassian RFA 26 $1.50M NHL 79 7 17 24
RW Iiro Pakarinen RFA 25 $725K NHL 14 2 2 4
C Anton Lander RFA 26 $987K AHL 42 25 30 55
LW Joey LaLeggia RFA 24 $883K AHL 67 20 18 38
LW Jujhar Khaira RFA 22 $875K AHL 27 8 12 20
LW Jere Sallinen RFA 26 $792K AHL 53 4 6 10
RW Henrik Samuelsson RFA 23 $894K AHL 25 2 1 3
LW Zach Pochiro RFA 23 $663K ECHL 42 3 24 27

Iiro Pakarinen recently signed a one-year $725,000 deal with Edmonton after an injury-plagued year that limited him to just 14 games. Todd McLellan’s been a fan of Pakarinen’s two-way abilities and with good health will battle for a fourth-line job next season. Anton Lander and Jere Sallinen are headed to Europe next season. Lander signed a deal with AK Bars (KHL), and after one season in North America, Sallinen signed with Orebro HK (Liiga).

Henrik Samuelsson was acquired midway through the 2016-17 season from the Arizona Coyotes, and the former 27th overall pick in 2012 has seen his stock fall drastically. The Oilers acquired him for the maligned Mitch Moroz, and after posting 40 points in 68 AHL games in 2014-15, Samuelsson posted just three points in 25 games in 2016-17. Originally projected to be a top-six power forward, Samuelsson may not project to being an NHL forward at all. Time is of the essence.

Zach Pochiro was acquired at the beginning of the year in the deal that sent Nail Yakupov to the St. Louis Blues, and after a slow start to the season, Pochiro finished with 27 points in 42 games. He did play four games with the Condors scoring two points, and the lanky project forward could be an AHL regular in 2017-18.


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