Welcome to Last Word on Hockey’s 2022 summer series, exploring the best and worst free agent signings for each NHL team of the post-lockout, salary cap era. With this past offseason seeing some big splashes (and potential gambles) like Johnny Gaudreau, Claude Giroux, John Klingberg, and others, it’s time to take a look at how teams have boosted and stunted their progress in recent history. Today, we take a look at the Edmonton Oilers free agent signings history.
Edmonton Oilers Free Agent Hits and Misses
The Edmonton Oilers management has always been smart with their money, even before the salary cap era. This has been the case since the late 90s. They would sign names like Ryan Smyth, Todd Marchant, and Curtis Joseph to reasonable contracts to help the team to be perennial playoff contenders. While the team would make the playoffs, they were never true cup contenders. Still, the Oilers management has shown to be successful when dipping into the free agent waters.
Best Signing: Evander Kane
Evander Kane has reached a verbal agreement to sign with the Edmonton Oilers for the rest of the NHL season.
The agreement comes as the NHL cleared the veteran winger of potential violations of COVID-19 protocols on Thursday. https://t.co/u4MX0JnfYZ
— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) January 28, 2022
Evander Kane is the best of the Edmonton Oilers free agent signings since the salary cap era began some 17 years ago. Kane is a remarkably skilled athlete. He displays power, speed, and finish to find himself amongst the NHL scoring leaders year-over-year. The Oilers deal was a one-year, $1.375 million offer in January of this year. Needless to say, Kane did not disappoint. First of all, he put up 39 points, in 43 regular season games. He added a more than respectable CF % Relative of 7.4. This shows that he came to the team in sufficient game shape. Next, his post-season performance supplanted him as being on top of his craft. Playing the wing with Connor McDavid, Kane tallied a tie, with Nathan MacKinnon, for the playoff lead in goals in 13. MacKinnon achieved this total in five more contests than did Kane, with 20 games played compared to 15.
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For many in NHL circles, the Evander Kane signing with quite a controversial one. He has had a number of off-ice distractions. However, with the Oilers promising him north of $20 million over the next four years, this is his chance to clean up his image, on and off the ice. If he can focus on hockey, and prioritize his family responsibilities his ability to contribute to philanthropy will help align his personal legacy. He might be on the right track. This was exemplified by the tumultuous 2021-22 campaign for himself his five games in the AHL showed he is motivated. One final note on why he was the best free agent signing for the Oilers since 2005-06, was that he was able to turn a meagre $1.375 million paycheque into a $20 million bode of confidence from the ingenious Ken Holland.
Best Signing Honourable Mentions
As a runner-up for best signings, Ken Holland’s work once again is on display. Zach Hyman was a gritty presence up front for the Leafs however they were unable to retain his services. Therefore, Holland saw the opportunity and jumped at it. He presented Hyman with stability for seven years, at the tune of $38.5 million. Hyman has done nothing but impresses his new club. He put up career highs in goals, assists, and points, with 27 goals, and 27 assists for 54 points. He added 16 points in 16 playoff games. In addition, his CF % Relative of 2.7 was the best of his career. So far so good for Hyman and the Oilers, as the club looks to build upon the 2022 playoff run.
Worst Signing: Nikolai Khabibulin
2009: Nikolai Khabibulin signed as free agent with Edmonton Oilers. https://t.co/CbuZStZTaD pic.twitter.com/pFG75lrUYq
— Doug Norris (@GoalieHistory) July 2, 2021
In terms of the worst Edmonton Oilers free agent signings in the salary cap era, this designation belongs to the one and only, Nikolai Khabibulin. Sticking with the theme of smart signings for the Oilers, it was not a horrible deal big picture. The “Bulin Wall” inked a 4-year $15 million contract, playing with the Oilers from 2009 until 2013. What makes his signing the worst, is the fact he compiled a lacklustre 33-67-14 over his tenure. However, the Oilers did not have high expectations during this time, finishing 30th and 29th overall, respectively in 2010-11 and 2011-12. These poor seasons did allow for two first-overall picks, 2011 was Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and 2012 Nail Yakupov. These picks may reflect on Khabibulin’s poor record, as neither turned out to be bonafide superstars, as was the expectation.
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Worst Signing Honourable Mentions
It is evident Edmonton had strong management, by the lack of disappointing signings. Two other notable poor choices were the Andrej Sekera, and Dustin Penner signings. Sekera was one of Peter Chiarelli’s worst signings, a six-year $33 million deal. In his first two seasons for Edmonton, he managed 80 games each, and played decent, including helping in the 2017 playoff run. However, he never really approached his potential ceiling. He would fail to play another full season with Edmonton before being bought out in 2019.
Another signing where the player did not meet expectations was Kevin Lowe’s 2007 offer sheet to a then 24-year-old Dustin Penner. After the 2006-07 campaign on a strong cup-winning Ducks team, Penner’s 29-goal output, made people believe he could develop into a regular 35+ goal man. That was Lowe’s thought process with the five-year $21+ million contract. Unfortunately, Penner seemed to fall out of favour after his second full season with the Oil, where he contributed only 37 points. He did bounce back the following year, registering 32 goals and 63 points in 2009-10. Despite that resurgence, he was unable to win back the fan’s loyalty. He was shipped off to the Los Angeles Kings in 2011.
Salary Cap Era Free Agent Signings Summary
Since the salary cap era began, the Edmonton Oilers have continuously spent their money wisely. They are not always able to attract the league’s top talent to sign, but when they do dip into the free agent pool, they generally do not overcommit. Of their major landings since the 2005-06 cap era, the biggest acquisition was made this year. If Kane can perform to his abilities, his signing will only pay dividends. Moreover, their current roster does not have much in terms of poor signings. In fact, we had to go back 13 years to find their worst during the span. Given their current string of draft luck, if they continue to only spend when it makes sense, McDavid might just reach the ultimate goal, of a Stanley Cup title, sooner rather than later.