NHL Free Agency 2012: Edmonton Oilers sign RFA Sam Gagner
The Oilers have signed RFA Sam Gagner to a one year extension worth $3.2mm, narrowly avoiding an arbitration hearing. This is a good deal for both sides as the Oilers get one more season to see if Gagner fits in the grand scheme of things, while Gagner gets a chance to improve his point totals before cashing in on a long term deal.
With Theo Peckham signing earlier this week and Gagner re-upping today, the roster is full, with the only real changes being Barker out and Yakupov and Murray in. Those are great adds (by subtraction in the case of Barker), but likely still not enough to make this a playoff team. Of course Steve Tambellini has publically stated he intends to make a deal for a top 4 d-man, but you have to give value to get value.
Assuming no trade of merit comes along, what will the Oilers lineup look like on opening night? There have been a few hints along the way of the offseason that can guide us.
The trio best suited to take on quality competition and its share of d-zone starts would be Gagner, Taylor Hall and Ales Hemsky. The line did some good things together last season and can be counted on again. Look for Hall to continue to dominate possession, a breakout year for Gagner, and a return to form for Hemsky.
Teemu Hartikainen will likely get a push in an attempt to bring some size to the top six. Perhaps flanking Ryan Nugent-Hopkins along with Jordan Eberle can give the young stars room to work their magic. Hartikainen can do the dirty work for these finesse players and hopefully provide an element of protection while they are on the ice. This line will get a lot of offensive zone starts to produce some goals.
It was made very clear where Ryan Smyth sits, in the organizations eyes at least, as when he signed his new deal it was made very publically clear that it would be in a new role….3rd line checker. Coach Ralph Kreuger has stated he hopes to help Eric Belanger return to form this season in a more defined role, which could fit in nicely with Smyth’s new lot in life. Rounding out the 3rd line, Ryan Jones seems like the best option for next season.
The “4th line” would then be left to Captain Shawn Horcoff who could return to his mentor role and provide some defensive coverage for first overall pick, sniper Nail Yakupov. On the left side I’d like to see Magnus Paajarvi return to the show after a half season in the minors caused by a run of bad luck in the shooting% department. Playing with a dynamo like Yakupov could certainly change Paajarvi’s luck.
This leaves Darcy Hordichuk, Ben Eager and Lennart Petrell battling it out for the 13th/14th forward positions. Eager seems to have lost favor with the Oilers brass after sitting idly by too many times last season while liberties were taken with the young stars so is likely to be offloaded in training camp, before the season starts (barring injuries). That isn’t the best move unfortunately as Eager can play a regular shift slightly better than tough guy Hordichuk and PK specialist Petrell.
On the back end the obvious top pair is Ladislav Smid and Jeff Petry who played great together down the stretch. If the Oilers have any hope of improving their standing this season, these two will have to be up to the task with minimal hiccups along the way.
Ryan Whitney’s play improved late in the season after being paired with trade deadline addition Nick Schultz. After a long off season to rehab his injuries it is hoped Whitney can return to his top d-man form of 2010-11, but it should not be banked on.
The final pairing will see highly touted Justin Schultz play sheltered minutes with veteran Andy Sutton. Schultz will get plenty of opportunity to produce offense on the PP. Peckham and Corey Potter will be in a battle over the 7th d-man position with each bringing different pluses and minuses.
Devan Dubnyk will be the starter in net and hopefully given every opportunity to keep his slot. You never want someone to get injured but in an ideal, and if history shows likely, world Nikolai Khabibulin’s season will be short. This would be good for the Oilers playoff hopes as Yann Danis would likely prove a more serviceable backup than the aging Khabibulin.
That is the outlook for now. Clearly injuries, trades, free agent signings, or surprise training camp performances can change things but for the time being all Oilers fans can hope for is continued improvement of the young core, making a difference.