The Edmonton Oilers had a bitter end to a rather promising 2019-20 NHL regular season. Heading into this off-season many questions surrounds this team. As general manager Ken Holland definitely has his hands full. Who will the Edmonton Oilers free agent targets be for next season?
Areas of improvement include; better goaltending, a more mobile defence and better center depth in the bottom-six.
As the Oilers look for ways to improve, trades and drafting is always an option. However, the free-agent market might be another option Holland explores as there might be potential targets that help Edmonton improve next year.
2020 Edmonton Oilers Free Agent Targets
The 2020 free-agent market pool isn’t particularly deep but there might be a few players that could positively impact the Oilers next season.
Obviously, big names like Alex Pietrangelo and Taylor Hall could help any hockey team, let alone the Oilers. But realistically speaking, the Oilers are tight on cap-space, so Holland might not be willing to break the bank to go after those big names.
With that said, here is a look at some potential free agent targets that might be on the Oilers’ list this off-season.
Tyler Ennis for Secondary Scoring
All in all, Ennis is a skilled veteran winger, who is a decent depth forward that could be used anywhere in the top-nine. Whether paired on the top line with McDavid or playing somewhere as a middle-six wing, Ennis is a decent complementary offensive option to consider.
Despite only making $800,000 last season, the 30-year-old managed to score 16 goals and 35 points. In that, he is likely going to get a raise so it remains to be seen how much that will be.
If the Oilers can get Ennis back at a reasonable price, perhaps somewhere below the $1.3- 1.5 million range. Ennis might be a great free-agent target for Oilers to go after.
Robin Lehner for Goaltending Depth
Goaltending is another area of improvement for the Oilers. Mike Smith did not fare well in his only appearance for the Oilers’ qualifying round, and he posted subpar numbers (2.95 goals-against-average during the regular season.
At 38-years-old, the Oilers might move on from Smith and look to get younger. Perhaps finding a younger goalie who can come in and compete with Mikko Koskinen as a 1B option.
In that, a name like Robin Lehner might be a free agent target that interests the Oilers.
Despite playing behind a bad Chicago Blackhawks team this season, Lehner put up decent numbers (.918 save percentage). On top of that, he seemed to have found another gear for the Vegas Golden Knights, as he has looked impressive during the team’s current playoff run.
It remains to be seen whether the Knights will look to re-sign Lehner, if not he will likely garner interest from teams around the league.
At 29-years-old, Lehner should still have a few years of good hockey left in him. Therefore, he should be considered an upgrade from Mike Smith.
Lehner is making $5,000,000 this season, so he will likely cost the Oilers a pretty penny. If Edmonton does decide to go after him, they might have to move out some salary to make room for him.
Sami Vatanen for Upgrade on Defence
Sami Vatanen could be an interesting name on the Oilers’ free-agent target list this off-season.
The 29-year-old spent most of this season with the New Jersey Devils before joining the Carolina Hurricanes as a rental at the trade deadline. In 47 regular-season games with the Devils, Vatanen scored five goals and 18 assists for a total of 23 points.
Heading into the off-season, Vatanen is one of the few proven offensive defencemen on the market. He is a smooth-skating right-handed D-man who is a reliable puck-mover as well. Definitely, something the Oilers could use for their blueline.
At 5’-10″ and 185 pounds, the Oilers probably won’t be using Vatanen in a shutdown role. But rather an upgrade for a blueliner that can quarterback the powerplay. As 10 of his 23 points were scored on the powerplay, Vatanen could be fit right in on the Oilers’ first powerplay unit.
Ideally, plugging Vatanen into a second pairing role would give the Oilers more skill on the backend. Additionally, it will buy players like Evan Bouchard and Ethan Bear more time to develop in sheltered minutes.
He was a $4,875,000 cap-hit last year, so it might cost the Oilers at least that much or a little more to get him signed. But having him on the team should improve the Oilers’ blue line.
With the market being thin for a proven right-handed puck mover, could the Oilers free up cap enough space to make Vatanen a legitimate target?
Dylan DeMelo for Defensive Depth
Besides Vatanen, a name like Dylan DeMelo might be a more reasonable free-agent target for the Oilers to after on defence.
We saw DeMelo net a career-high of four goals, 22 points with -1 rating in 77 games for the Senators back in 2018-19. Those are rather respectable numbers considering how Ottawa was the worst team in the NHL that year.
Perhaps one of the more underrated right-shot defencemen in the free-agent market, DeMelo could be a solid target that benefits the Oilers’ blueline significantly.
He is a decent playmaker and an above-average passer. Add that to good breakout decisions, DeMelo would help improve the Oilers transition game from the backend.
At 27, he is not that old and might have a little more time to improve. Projected to be a 4-6 defender, he could make a positive impact on the team’s second or third pairing.
Some may even argue that DeMelo is an upgrade from Matt Benning.
Statistically, DeMelo is a positive player as he was able to average a +3 rating in 49 games with the Senators last year.
DeMelo is coming off a $900,000 salary, so price-wise he should come at a cheaper price-point than Vatanen. Ideally, the Oilers would get him at around the $1 to $1.2 million mark.
Erik Haula for Center Depth
Despite only appearing in only 48 games for the Carolina Hurricanes and Florida, Haula finished the year with 12 goals, 12 assists, and 24 points.
If he played a full 82-game season, he could have finished with over 20 goals and 45 points. Those stats are rather decent for a player that is also considered a very reliable defensive centre.
He could be a decent target for the Oilers to go after to fill the 3C role. Adding Haula would give the Oilers more options down the middle.
We can’t forget that Haula finished with 29 goals and 55 points in 76 games for the Vegas Golden Knights just a couple of seasons ago. So in many ways, he is considered a high-end third-line centre around the league.
It also doesn’t hurt that Haula has a career face-off win percentage of around 51%. Making him that much more valuable. Needless to say, adding Haula would significantly improve the Oilers’ centre depth, something they have been looking to do for a long time.
Haula is coming off a contract that paid him $2.75 million. Assuming no one overpays for him, the Oilers might have a chance to get him at a reasonable price. Somewhere around the $3 to $3.5 million could do it.