The flurry of free agent signings on July 1st and the addition of Ryan Nugent-Hopkins has left the Oilers with some interesting player decisions looking toward 2011-12. The Oilers now have too many forwards going into next year, and that's something that must be addressed in the off season. The Oilers are still lacking defensively, and they have too many defensemen with similar skill sets (Petry, Gilbert, Barker, Chorney). Naturally the thing to do would be to package up some of the spare parts and parlay them into a solid defenseman, but things may not be that easy.
Assuming that Nugent-Hopkins proves doubters wrong and makes the team, the Oilers lineup could look something like this:
Hall - Nugent-Hopkins - Eberle
Paajarvi - Gagner - Hemsky
Smyth - Horcoff - Omark
Jones - Belanger - Hordichuk/Eager
It's a solid group. The once lacking center position is now an area of strength for Edmonton, and it leaves both Andrew Cogliano and Gilbert Brule out of the mix. On defence, things look like this:
The Oilers are going to have to make a decision on Jeff Petry. Either he's shown them enough to be a full time NHLer, or they will have to send him back down to OKC and let Chorney be the 7th defenseman. Having Petry not play would be the greatest injustice to his development, so only those two options make sense.
Whitney is obviously sticking around, as he is the Oilers' number one guy. Sutton is in the plans (temporarily), and so are Barker, Peckham and Smid. As was said before, this team has too many defensemen that are similar in style, so Tom Gilbert might be on the block.
No one is likely to take Brule, so he will almost certainly be put on waivers at some point and the Oilers will go from there; unless the team keeps him for (expensive) forward depth. Right now a trade package would probably include Cogliano and Gilbert and would either be for draft picks or a defenseman. So what is that package likely to fetch?
Those players combined would represent a cap hit of aroud $5-6 million. The number is not set because Cogliano is a RFA, but he's unlikely to get more than $2 million per season. Gilbert has 3 years left on a contract that will pay him $5 million, $3.5 million and $3 million dollars with a cap hit of $4 million.
In terms of picks, Cogliano is probably worth a 3rd round pick on his own, and the same goes for Gilbert. They probably won't be packaged and traded together for picks because of the salary. Gilbert probably won't be traded unless he's part of a package to net a player, but Cogliano could be moved for a draft pick just to get his contract off the list, as teams are only allowed a total of 50 in a given year. The Oilers currently have 44, assuming that Peckham, Chorney and O'Marra are re-signed; Cogliano would make 45.
Here are some defensive targets:
Zach Bogosian is a prime example, but Winnipeg won't move him unless they have to (that is, if he doesn't want to stay). Gilbert and Cogliano won't be near enough to get him, so the Oilers would have to include picks to make the deal work. The money, at least, would match up in this case, but it's a long shot at best. If the Oilers changed Cogliano's name to Gagner the deal would be very feasible, but they probably won't want to do that. Nothing short of Cogliano, Gilbert and next year's first round pick would get it done and it might take even more.
Nashville may think about this move because Cogliano could help them and they only have nine forwards signed for next year. With Marcel Goc, J.P. Dumont, Steve Sullivan and Joel Ward all leaving town, Cogliano could be an attractive forward option for the Preds. The money doesn't match up, with Blum still on his $941,000 Entry Level deal, but Nashville does have the cap space. Also, Ryan Ellis (who had 100 points in 58 games for Windsor this past year) will be one step closer to NHL duty, and Gilbert prevents them from icing too raw of a defense. Naturally, Ellis would be an even better target for the Oilers, but it's hard to imagine the offensively challenged Predators parting with him.
The Islanders only have 10 forwards signed for next year, so they have room for Cogliano. What's more, Gilbert can help that team long term and he's an ironman who's missed just 3 games in the past 4 years. Gilbert isn't a bad building block, but his skills are too overlapped in Edmonton. Cogliano is becoming a decent bottom-six option, and the Islanders have worked hard through the draft to fill their top six forwards.
If Barker can turn his game around and make an impact, that will make Gilbert even more expendable. Cogliano will almost certainly be traded, but on his own the return would be small. If he can be packaged with a player like Gilbert, then there are teams out there who might make better offers. Having said that, these two don't carry enormous value on the trade market so what the Oilers and their fans want and what they actually receieve for Gilbert and Cogliano could be quite far apart indeed.
One thing is for sure: Oilers brass is going to have to make some decisions on their extra players and move them out of town accordingly.