With the NHL Awards, the Entry Draft and the Hall of Fame inductions over with, it's time to focus on the last interesting thing that will happen in hockey for the next several months: the free agency period. As we all know, the Silly Season begins on July 1 and this year's crop is unspectacular to say the least; especially considering the number of pending free agents that are being re-signed by their teams. Steve Tambellini has said and said again that the Oilers won't be major players in free agent singings, but that doesn't mean that there won't be some holes that can be plugged (at least temporarily) by players who need new contracts. Below is a list of some possible targets and the likelihood that they will sign in Edmonton.
Kindly ignore the exclusion of Brad Richards on this list. The Oilers won't be in the market for a top line center, having just drafted a potential in Nugent-Hopkins. Look for the Oilers to try to fill bottom-six roles (and the fourth line in particular), as well as adding some defensemen for a potential playoff push next season.
Konopka is certainly a major upgrade over a player like Steve Macintyre, and if the Oilers can sign him then they should probably try. He's 30 years old, so he could still fit into the long term plans, but otherwise he makes an excellent stop-gap.
Eric Belanger: The 33 year old made only $750, 000 in 2010-11, but he managed to contribute 13-27-40 and a 55.3% faceoff success rate to the Phoenix Coyotes. The Oilers would probably like to have a player of his ilk in the fold, but if his recent comments about Winnipeg are any indication, Edmonton won't be his first choice. Belanger is a little bit like Manny Malhotra, in that he'll probably attempt to sell his skills to the best team that will have him in the hope of winning a cup before reitrement becomes a reality. There's very little chance that this player will be an Oiler next year.
Jarkko Ruutu: There will still be some competition at right wing among Oilers forwards this coming season, and Ruutu could be an excellent fit. Over the last twenty years or so, many fans have come to believe that the Edmonton Oilers are above the type of incendiary play that Ruutu provides; but the fact is that when the team was winning Stanley Cups they were doing it with the likes of Esa Tikkanen. Tiki-Talk was a particularly effective way of distracting and needling opponents, and Ruutu brings something similar to the table. Both are Finnish (for what that's worth), which may explain some of the similarities. Ruutu is a very good pest who can chip in a few points here and there - he's got 142 in his 652 NHL games. He made $1.3 million this year and he could be had for that amount again. He's 35 years old and that's a lot to pay, but his age shouldn't prevent him from doing what he does best: getting the oppostion off their games.
Adam Hall (No Relation): Another decent fourth line option, Hall the Second contributed 7-11-18 in all 82 games of 2010-11 and also won 55% of his faceoffs, officially as a right winger. He only made $600, 000 this year and won't require much more for a signing. Then again, this town might only be big enough for one NHL played named Hall.
Barker put up pretty solid offensive numbers in Junior, but mostly failed to translate them beyond the AHL level. His best season was in 2008-09, when he had 6 goals and 34 assists in 68 games for Chicago. In all, Barker has 92 points in 271 games for a 0.34 points per game average. Meanwhile, Tom Gilbert has scored 0.42 points per game over 337 games. Gilbert is minus-25 and Barker is minus-26 over their two careers. As of now there isn't much reason for the Oilers to sign a Gilbert clone or inferior, even if it's for a massively discounted amount of money.
Zach Bogosian: Tambellini is unlikely to take the offer sheet route with a restricted free agent, but if he did it would be alright in the case of Zach Bogosian. The Winnipeg Jets would probably match the offer anyway, but Bogosian is the stud and potential number one D-man that the Oilers lack. Signing him would likely take at least $5 million per season, which would require the Oilers to give up first, second and third round picks next year as compensation. However, Bogosian is a fantastic prospect with plenty of NHL experience and his development is more advanced than any pick from next year's draft. An interesting option, but highly unlikely to happen.
Jim Vandermeer: All Oilers fans know what Vandermeer brings when he's on top of his game, as he was in the latter half of the 2010-11 season. Though he's 31, Vandermeer is a very good transitional type of player that could take some pressure off of players like Theo Peckham and also show them the way to be successful at the NHL level. He's likely to get a pay cut from the $2.3 million he made this year no matter who he signs with, so it's not out of the question that he could be back in an Oilers uniform for the coming season at a very reasonable price.
Hejda's perception around the league of being one of the better available defensive defensemen might price the Oilers out of the market, since they arent likely to make a strong push for a guy that's 33 years of age. He'll likely need a raise over the $2 million he made this year; especially since many of the other big name free agent D-men are being locked up by their teams. Still, he could be a solid addition to this Oilers club; if only to help to shelter some of their younger players and allow them to stay in OKC until they are needed and not make them eat up huge minutes as call ups.
The players listed here are very different from the types that the Oilers have attempted (and failed) to sign in the past few off-seasons. Gone are the days when Edmonton was attempting to lure the Hossa's of the world. But far from being discouraged, Oilers fans should be heartened by the fact that their team doesn't need to overpay during the Silly Season of free agency just to get top-tier offensive talent. The team and the fans have paid their dues to have their elite scorers, and now the complimentary players must be added. It's a recipe for success that has worked for many of the better teams in the league - including many recent champions.
The Oilers and their fans are hoping to duplicate that success.