UFA Options is a continuing series that gives a brief run-down of the unrestricted free agent market this summer, team-by-team. Our next team for consideration is the Edmonton Oilers.
It could be called stability. With only four unrestricted free agents to make decisions on, Steve Tambellini has a relatively easy summer on that front; aside from goaltender Dwayne Roloson, the only players in need of contracts were either rentals (Ales Kotalik), spare parts (Jason Strudwick) or guys he didn’t want in the first place (Dany Sabourin).
It could also be called inflexibility. Between now and the Pending Demise of All Franchises Near The Salary Cap™(2010-11), only two other players in addition to those who qualify this summer will reach unrestricted free agency. That’s bad for a few reasons: the Oilers don’t have much cap space, there are some very expensive restricted free agents whose contracts are coming up in the next two years (Gagner, Cogliano and Grebeshkov, among others. But the biggest reason for concern is that the Oilers finished well back of the playoffs with a team that was scraping against the salary cap ceiling. It would be one thing if this rather expensive roster had gotten results, but unfortunately Kevin Lowe’s spending spree over the past few years hasn’t led to proportionate on-ice results.
Kotalik’s a fantastic player in a very specific role. He racks up powerplay points at a very good, if not elite, pace; he has a heavy one-timer that makes him ideal for duty on the point. He’s also one of the very best shootout talents in the entire league, and has been since the inception of the tie-breaking event.
He isn’t a complete player though; he has size that he rarely uses, he isn’t a consistent (and here I mean “consistent” in its true sense) producer, he doesn’t bring much away from the puck and to quote McKeen’s he “tends to get lazy and suffers lapses in focus and intensity”. I’m very much a fan of bringing him back in a specific role if one of the current powerplay defenseman (Souray, Visnovsky, Gilbert, Grebeshkov) is sent away and some of the logjam up front is cleared out. He isn’t a first-line player, and his role at even-strength should be limited to some degree, although he may be a fit on a more sheltered scoring line.
Jason Strudwick has been much applauded in certain places for his character in the dressing room, toughness, and versatility. I liked him at LW in a crash and bang role, but he wasn’t a capable fill-in on defense. Allowing for empty-net goals and on-ice save percentage, we see that he was near the bottom of the team in plus/minus and that’s despite playing the worst possible opposition and getting more shifts in the offensive zone than in the defensive zone.
He’ll get another job in the NHL and since he’s cheap and brings intangibles, and he’s probably a fine option for an end of the roster reserve spot since he can play either forward or defense. If not for J-F Jacques, he might even be worth bringing back as an Oiler.
Roloson had a great bounce-back season, stealing the starter’s job from Mathieu Garon and single-handedly keeping the Oilers in the game on many nights. Portions of the fanbase have inexplicably soured on him, but he performed beyond expectations this past season.
He’s getting older and his side to side movement isn’t what it used to be, leaving the Oilers with a difficult decision. Roloson apparently wants a multi-year contract, but the Oilers would prefer to only re-sign him to one season as he isn’t a long-term solution. At this point he’s a good 1A option for most any team.
Sabourin, who was unable to hold on to the Penguins starting job when Marc-Andre Fleury went down a year ago (Ty Conklin jumped past him on the depth chart) proved unable to even hold down the backup job this year. Pittsburgh sent a 4th round draft pick and some AHL depth (Ryan Stone) to Edmonton to make upgrade to Mathieu Garon (although in a brief showing Garon didn’t inspire confidence either).
Upon arriving in Edmonton Sabourin was sent to the minors and assigned to the AHL where he was just OK. If he’s lucky he’ll land a backup job somewhere; if not, he’ll end up as some team’s reserve goaltender.