Thoughts After Day 1 of Free Agency
July 28th was a whirlwind day for Oilers fans. There were a flurry of transactions and after talking for weeks about how much cap space the Oilers had this off-season to make their moves, the team once again finds itself essentially right up against the cap, factoring in the RFA's that still need to be signed. Did they spend it well? Not exactly.
I do really like this move for the Edmonton Oilers. Hyman checks a bunch of boxes for what the Oilers need in their top six; a strong complimentary player who can score goals and provide a different element that will force other teams to play against McDavid and Draisaitl in a different way. I know some are worried that Hyman is going to be Lucic 2.0 for the team and fall off a cliff offensively almost immediately after being signed. I don't see it. While Hyman can be a physical player he doesn't throw his weight around the same as the wear and tear Lucic had. In addition, footspeed was a concern about Lucic before the deal was signed while Hyman remains a good (not great) skater. For at least the next four seasons, Zack Hyman should be a productive and skilled player for the Edmonton Oilers.
The latter part of the contract may be a concern but that remains an issue for essentially any long term free agent contract. Hyman helps the Oilers now and they are a better team because of it and the cap will start to go up again which will lessen the burden as well. I'm usually one of the first people to preach cap responsibility and planning for the future but Edmonton needs to be a competitive team now and Hyman helps with that. This was probably the best signing of the day for the Edmonton Oilers.
WARREN FOEGELE ACQUIRED. ETHAN BEAR DEPARTS.
A day later I am still unsure of how I feel about this trade. Foegele is a great add for the Edmonton Oilers. He played the fifth most minutes for forwards last season at even strength against elite competition and did favourably in those minutes, posting a 52.40CF%. He played the bulk of his minutes against middle level competition and posted an even better 53.70CF%. Regardless of the competition, when Foegele is on the ice his team outscores the opposition which is something the Oilers bottom six has lacked for years. At 25 he is still young enough that he could continue to grow into a capable top six option.
What I dislike is the pattern we have seen with how the Oilers view their young defensemen. Bear had a rougher season but he was still one of their more effective passers on the team and outperformed Barrie in terms of his defensive game. But he made mistakes as all young defensemen do and some were glaring. Instead of backing off his minutes next season or finding another right option to help shelter him, the organization decided to cut and run.
You can teach a young defenseman to not make certain kinds of mistakes, you can't teach a Kris Russell to suddenly become a brilliant passer or have that kind of hockey sense. I wish Bear luck in his future with Carolina and I can't wait to hear someone say "he wasn't ever going to be that here" when Bear becomes a legitimate top four threat.
CODY CECI AND TYSON BARRIE
I'm not sure my heart can take watching this Oilers blueline this season. Tyson Barrie puts up points and he is elite in that aspect. That is about the only area that he is elite in. Barrie struggled last season against elite competition which he received a healthy dose of playing big minutes alongside Darnell Nurse. I don't expect that to be any different this season so expect some chaos in the Oilers end with that pairing again. I would much rather have Barrie on a second pairing taking less minutes and Bear with Nurse... wait....nevermind.
Next you have Cody Ceci. Ceci as a top pairing option in Ottawa was an absolute disaster. Ceci as a third pairing with some top four minutes in Toronto and Pittsburgh was much more favorable and I didn't mind the idea of a short term deal for Ceci, similar to the one year deal that Carolina gave Ian Cole. Instead Holland gave him the Larsson contract with a four year deal worth 3.25 million a season. It's an overpay for a third pairing player. My biggest concern is that Holland views Ceci not as a third pairing option, but a replacement for Adam Larsson.
Last season Adam Larsson played 304 minutes against elite competition and posted a positive 50.10CF% and heavily limited shots against when he was on the ice. Larsson is not a positive offensive player and when he was on the ice the Oilers produced 7 goals and allowed 10.
Ceci meanwhile played much fewer minutes against elites at 238, postive a negative 47.40CF%, and was also on the ice for 7GF and 11GA despite playing fewer minutes. Ceci has more offensive upside than Larsson but defensively Larsson is by far the superior player.
Right now here is how I would set up the defense:
The Oilers defense this season has three big question marks; what can Duncan Keith bring, how effective will Ceci be, and how good can Evan Bouchard be out of the gates? That third question regarding Evan Bouchard might be the most important one. If Bouchard can come out confident and be a legitimate top four threat early than that takes minutes away from Ceci and Barrie and allows Tippett to spread the minutes out more evenly. If Bouchard struggles and Ceci and Barrie need to take on more responsibility that could get ugly fast.
Another solid move for the forward group was bringing in defensive veteran right shot centreman Derek Ryan. Ryan is a great faceoff player and defensive specialist but actually does bring some offensive instincts as well. Riley Sheahan was a defensive specialist who spent all his time in his own end trying to reactively suppress shots. Ryan plays a defensive game but is able to actually transition to the offensive end and while he doesn't have much finish he is a decent passer and with some good linemates can produce. I see him starting the season on the third line with Warren Foegele.
The Oilers are far better up front and have four lines that should be able to produce on any given night and that will help keep the puck out of their own end. The issue is the team is weaker on the backend without Adam Larsson and Bouchard is a complete wildcard. To make matters worse as of right now the Edmonton Oilers have the same goaltending tandem.
Mike Smith remains a concern for me. I look at his past three years and see a backup netminder who had one good (and shortened) season. Relying on Smith to do what he did last season over an 82 game schedule is a massive risk. In addition we know what Koskinen is; a backup netminder who can go on hot streaks for a time but ultimately fails to make the big saves and even worse allows some real bad shots (glove side).
Ken Holland is trying to win now but the roster he is setting up for this season remains incomplete. The contracts that have been signed are also going to leave Edmonton with very little wiggle room to make adds.
There is some reason to be hopeful. Reports suggest that the Oilers were in on Kuemper heavy until the Avs swooped in with a bigger offer. It's still my belief that Holland will find a way to make a trade to move Koskinen out and bring in a legitimate netminder.