Thursday, July 2, 2015

Free Agency isn't free

- Oilers nab two with room for more. #Oilers

Are we there yet?  Are we there yet?  Are we there yet?

Almost. There's still some work to be done.  GM Peter Chiarelli made some smart moves in the last few days, but we are now all waiting for one or two more, hopefully two to make the Oilers a complete team that can make a run for the playoffs.

I'll be honest, I only heard of one of these guys before--Letestu.  Was I hoping for a Mike Green or Cody Franson signing?  Damn straight.  Green is now in Detroit, so am I still hoping for a Franson signing?  Frigg yeah, man.

Free agency is anything but free for teams who tend to over-pay to fill veteran roster gaps.  With the cap set at about $71m, managing that cap is everything and Chiarelli appears to know what he's doing slotting the right salaries on the right lines and looking for more well-rounded players than pure role players.

But let me say this (actually I don't need your permission, this is my bloody blog, right?), what a difference there has been already having Chiarelli here over the Lowe/Tambo/MacT/Howson clown show.  So many signings and trades they made that made no sense and we swallowed it.  And one or two that still haunt us. More on that later.

Ok, three moves:

1. Gordon for Korpikoski

Stalwart "Wagon Line" centreman faceoff specialist Boyd Gordon was traded back to the Coyotes at straight up for left winger Lauri Korpikoski on a 2 year $5m deal who will fill in on the 3rd line after the Oil decided to not resign Matt Fraser.  Korp, a Finn drafted in 2004 #19 overall by the Rangers, is 6'1" and 205lbs, who has had relatively consistent 3rd line numbers.

Pros:  Gordon was a 4th liner making 3rd line money and a role player on the dot and PK.  Oilers need to free some cap space and Gordon had one more year left so this was a good value trade.

Cons:  Korp is only $500k less and not a centreman, so that left us hoping Chia had one lined up in free agency the next day.

Rating:  B-

So where's that centreman?  Oh, here he is.

2. Mark Letestu signed for 3 years at $5.4m ($1.8m AAV)

Pros: A steady centreman with >50% on the dot from the Blue Jackets was just the right guy to be Gordon's replacement at 60% of the cost. More versatile, Letestu can jump up to other lines and to the right wing 5v5. Also, being right-handed, he can have some passing chemistry with left-winger Matt Hendricks.  He's also an Alberta boy,

Cons: He's 5'10" and 199lbs, so just under that size needed, but hopefully he's stronger than he appears on paper.

Rating:  B+

3.  Andrej Sekera signed for 6 years at $33m ($5.5m AAV)

The 9-year veteran defenseman is touted as a top four defensemen, which means he's the top defenseman on the Oilers--for now.  Wow, look at that. He was drafted in the 3rd round and is a top four defensemen. What have the Oilers done lately with their post 1st round drafted defensemen?  Petry?  Gone. Marincin?  Gone.  So it's fitting that Chiarelli finds a guy.

Pros:  He's known as a consummate professional, hard hitting, and decent size at 6'0" 200lbs. So much so that L.A. traded for him at the deadline.

Cons:  Had a knee injury that sideline him.  Hopefully it doesn't occur again.  Left shooting on a team full of them.

Rating:  A

Remaining moves:

The Oilers have about $10.5m left in cap space. Signing Schultz to say $3.5m will bring that to $7m, which they could nab Cody Franson for a couple years and have a much better blue line than last year.  But that's tight and with McDavid's big dollar future, Oilers need to shed.

1.  Trade Nikita Nikitin for picks and pucks.  They didn't buy him out, so eat half his $4.5m salary and get some value.  If Chiarelli pulls this off, he's a genius. An utter genius.  When Nikitin was signed for that amount, I lost my own senses that I think I ran into a wall. I don't remember, because I lost my senses, remember?  I don't. See!  That had Howson and Lowe all over it.  Never again, will the Oilers make a signing like that.  Right?

2.  Sign Cody Franson for $5.5-6.0m.  After dumping Nikitin, Franson is a much better option and fills the blue line better on the right side with some offensive firepower and size. Two things Lowe and Howson thought Nikitin has but doesn't.

3.  Trade Teddy Purcell for a much tougher top 9 winger.  Purcell's soft for $4m/year.  Yeah, yeah, good possession numbers, but his plus/minus sucky sucks, and so we need mean guys now to clear the way for McDavid.  I'm hoping Pitlick can step up this year and take that 2nd or 3rd line right wing spot and hit and pop pucks out, but it's either Yakupov, Pitlick, or Purcell that will get traded.

4.  Trade Nail Yakupov in a package for a d-man if he doesn't pan out by November.  Todd McLellan will have a chance to assess him.  Honestly, if Yak can't succeed with McDavid and adapt to a much better coaching system like McLellan's, then he's officially a bust.  Send him to a team struggling on the PP and let's get some more veteran D.

If the Oilers want to really turn the corner and become a consistent team, they need to start top prospects Leon Draisaitl, Darnell Nurse, and Brandon Davidson in Bakersfield and appropriately call them up on injuries (which will happen).  I absolutely can't wait to see Darnell Nurse hit the ground running and explode, but a good stint will give him the minutes and room.  Drats needs the minutes too.  Both will slide into the lineup next year very nicely sending Lander and Ference away in trades for prospects and draft picks.

So here's the lineup the Oilers will go with and I'm sort of hoping they into the season with:

Pouliot - Nugent-Hopkins - Eberle
Hall - McDavid - Yakupov
Korpisocki - Lander - Pitlick
Hendricks - Letestu - Klinkhammer/Gazdic

Sekera - Franson*
Klefbom - Schultz
Ference - Gryba

Oh, speaking of Gazdic, I'm glad he's still around. We need that enforcer to protect McDavid. Klink and Hendy can get'er done too, but admit it, one thing not many people are talking about is how nasty teams like Anaheim will go after The Anointed One to intentionally injure him and sacrifice.  I would have Gazdic out there more than Klinkhammer this season for a measly 5 minutes a game to strike fear into jerks like Corey Perry.

O Captain My Captain
Taylor Hall.  I'm hearing rumours that Ference will hand the "C" over.  Taylor Hall is the natural choice and he's ready for it and I think coach McLellan is ready for him to take it on.

Thanks for reading.  Even if it's free.

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