In a word, the NHL’s 2011 UFA Day will undoubtedly be about “depth” for the Edmonton Oilers, specifically the potential for locking up a solid third or fourth line special teams’ player with a strong face-off record, as well as a punishing blueliner.
On the heels of selecting Red Deer Rebels’ centre, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins with the first overall pick at the NHL draft for the second consecutive year, Edmonton GM Steve Tambellini addressed the issue of injecting leadership into a young locker room, by finalizing a trade with the L.A. Kings to bring back fan favourite, Ryan Smyth, to the copper and blue family.
Needless to say, jerseys with the #94 have been flying off the shelves at sports stores across the Heartland of Hockey the past few days. In delivering the 35-year-old Edmonton prodigal son back to Oilers Nation, Tambellini provides the likes of budding stars Taylor Hall and Jordan Eberle with an example of the work ethic this franchise was once known for, a player who leaves everything on the ice, including his Chicklet’s, for the logo on his jersey.
In the last year of a deal that will cost the Oil $4.5M and a $6.5M salary cap hit, Edmonton still has close to $18M of room remaining under the 2011-12 cap.
This morning, Tambellini locked up free agent blueliner Ladislav Smid to a two-year deal at $2.25M per, arguably an overpayment for a solid 3-5 D-man, with no offensive upside. That said, Smid is the type of player the Oil want throughout their line-up, a player who bleeds copper and blue, a similar pedigree to Smitty.
Tambellini also took care of some important financial housekeeping this morning with UFA Day less than 24 hours away. The team again placed banished defenceman, Sheldon Souray, on unconditional waivers with the intention of buying out his $5.4M contract. Undoubtedly, a “healthy” Souray will become an attractive risk for another club seeking a veteran presence with a big shot on the backend.
He also passed on resigning “Huggie Bear” Zack Stortini, whose value dropped dramatically after the departure of former head coach Craig MacTavish. Stortini spent much of the 2010-11 season playing on the farm. He was overpaid at $850,000. It remains to be seen whether the club will recommit to tough guy, Steve MacIntyre, or veteran blueliner Jason Strudwick, both UFAs.
With the above-mentioned player moves put to bed, Tambellini will likely focus his attention on plugging a few glaring holes on the team; the Oilers sadly lack strength in the face-off circle and on special teams, and size on the blue line.
A few of the following UFAs could find themselves in Oiler silks by Friday afternoon:
Vern Fiddler, Nashville
John Madden, Minnesota
Jason Arnott, Washington
* Fiddler fits the bill. He is tenacious on the PK and solid in the face-off circle, earned just over $1M last year. Born and raised in Edmonton, Fiddler exemplifies the level of work ethic the Oilers’ front office is attempting to inject into their line-up. At the right price, Arnott’s size and veteran leadership might also be worth pursuing for a year. He’s maintained his pride in being drafted and playing in Edmonton, during the early years of his career.
Jonathon Ericsson, Detroit
Cam Barker, Minnesota (released)
Tomas Kaberle, Boston
Derek Meech, Detroit
* Barker, who the Wild passed on resigning, may be a risk the Oilers might want to take. A player who two franchises have now given up on (Chicago, Minnesota), and a western Canadian boy (Sicamous, B.C.), Barker may be one of those players looking to re-establish himself as an everyday NHL D-man. Realizing Edmonton may be his final shot, a healthy Cam Barker may bring that intangible toughness and steady D at the second or third pairing, that Edmonton has been missing. Current Oilers’ UFA blueliner, Jim Vandermeer, if healthy, is also a possibility, at the right price. Vandermeer ($2.25M last season) was MIA through the first half of the team’s 2010-11 campaign, but finished off strong.
Tambellini could also be in the market for a starting netminder for the club’s AHL franchise in Oklahoma City, after last year’s standout, Martin Gerber, signed in Europe.
In the meantime Oiler fans, keep your chins up, sticks down.
About the Author
Written by Scott Pattison
Scott is an award-winning sports writer whose career spans more than 20 years. He's proudly covered the Oilers since moving to the Alberta capital in 2000.