After spate of signings, Edmonton Oilers' extended roster continues to take shape

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A lot of transactions have gone down in the fortnight since Jeff Jackson officially/unofficially took the reins of the Edmonton Oilers. While one of Jackson’s primary objectives, the hiring of a General Manager to formally fill the shoes of the departed Ken Holland, has yet to occur, Jackson himself has been a busy fellow in the role of “interim GM”.

How busy? How about 16 contract signings, one buyout, and a pair of significant trades?

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The buyout of Jack Campbell created $3.9 million in badly-needed cap space for the coming season, even as it saddled the club with some $10.5 million in dead cap to be spread out over the next six years.

The trades brought a pair of important young players that instantly project as the top two prospects in the system, or at least they will in my personal vote for the Cult of Hockey‘s annual summer prospects rankings (coming next month). Sam O’Reilly was selected in what amounted to an exchange of first round picks, next year for this. Meanwhile, hotshot Matthew Savoie came in a bolt-from-the-blue deal that sent two contracted players the other way in speedy Ryan McLeod and prospect Ty Tullio.

Savoie is already under contract and goes directly on to the 50-man list, while O’Reilly will surely be signed in due course but hasn’t been yet. With or without a contract, he’s destined to go back to junior.

Jackson has been too busy inking players destined to play for the Oilers or in their system next season. This list was snagged from CapFriendly just before that terrific site went dark on Tuesday night:

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Oilers signings Jun 28-Jul 08

One thing is immediately apparent: Jackson takes care of business in much smaller chunks than did his predecessors. He inherited no fewer than 10 contracts whose full value was in the eight figures, nine of them at least four years in term.

That’s not Jackson’s style, at least not to this early point. Of the 16 newly-signed players, the longest term was just three years; the greatest total value $8 million; the greatest cap hit $4 million. The cluster includes seven two-way contracts.

In a sense his hand has been forced by what was already in place. The cornerstones were long since embedded, with all four members of the leadership group on maximum eight-year terms for a combined commitment of $283 million. What the squad needed was some mortar between the bricks.

It’s still a work in progress, but progress is indeed being made. In this piece we’ll paint the big picture with broad brush strokes, leaving some of the fine details for future posts. We are, after all, three months away from the start of the regular season.

In all the Oilers have 44 players under contract and two more key young players who have been tendered qualifying offers. Those 46 hockeyists are split almost equally between NHLers and minor leaguers, with the former defined here as having played at least 20 NHL games (including playoffs) in 2023-24. Using this rationale, we have designated James Hamblin (31 GP last season) as our extra centre among a strong cast of signed pivots in the system.

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That group of 24 defaults to being the projected roster for at least the start of the season to come.

Oilers projected roster as of Jul 09

Remaining term is colour coded, with pacts with three or more years to run in orange, two years pale orange, one year pale blue, and restricted free agents in white. The lines and pairings are projected only loosely at this point, with the two restricted free agents, Dylan Holloway and Philip Broberg, languishing at the bottom of the roster for the moment. Both are expected to have more significant roles than shown here, but first they need to be signed. As we have seen in past years, most notably with McLeod in 2022, RFAs without arbitration rights don’t have a lot of negotiating power and might be offered one-year “make it fit” contracts at the last minute. In the current two cases, I for one hope that Jackson prioritizes these deals be worked out relatively soon.

How much budget he might have for them is an open question. For discussion purposes I am hypothesizing Evander Kane will start the season on Long Term Injured Reserve which would provide some $5 million in cap relief for as long as he is so designated. For sure something has to give: including some $3 million in dead cap space and $3.5 million in unpaid bonuses, the Oilers are currently some $350,000 over the cap, and that’s without including Broberg or Holloway.

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Eight defencemen are shown, four lefties and four righties, though it’s reasonable to guess that Josh Brown and Troy Stecher might be competing for a single job, especially if the cap is crunched. It’s quite possible that situation might be eased by the departure of veteran d-men Cody Ceci and/or Brett Kulak, both tradeable commodities with cap hits in the $3 million range. Trick will be how to replace them at a lower cap hit, with Broberg one possible top-four solution.

Leaving these 22 signed players “in the system”:

Oilers extended roster as of Jul 09 rev

These are NHL-class contracts only, and do not include players such as Seth Griffith and Cameron Wright who are signed to minor-league deals. Thus the above does not represent a projected roster for Bakersfield Condors, and includes several players likely bound for the ECHL once things settle out after training camp.

The good news is that the farm system is pretty well stocked down the middle. Lane Pederson and Jayden Grubbe had solid AHL seasons a year ago, while Noah Philp was very promising in 2022-23 before stepping away from the game for a year. The one rookie pro will be Savoie who stacks up as the top prospect in the organization, but can nonetheless be sheltered as appropriate. Then there’s Hamblin who figures into the mix in either Edmonton or Bakersfield, and at either centre or wing.

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Collectively this group is weaker on the flanks, especially right wing, though this is where guys like Griffith and Wright will help.

The six defencemen are also AHL-proven, with only Connor Carrick being added to a returning quintet. The seventh listed D, prospect Beau Akey, is signed but will surely return to major junior for his final year of eligibility at that level.

In net, Olivier Rodrigue projects as the #1, though with his waiver exemption expiring this year he might be expected to get a long look at main camp. College free-agent signing Connor Ungar is a near-certainty to start his pro career getting plenty of reps with Edmonton’s ECHL affiliate, the Fort Wayne Komets. Hey, it worked for Devan Dubnyk, Laurent Brossoit and Stu Skinner, to name three former Oilers netminding prospects who eventually emerged as full-blown NHL stoppers.

The entire group as listed combined to play just 9 NHL games last season (Raphael Lavoie 7, Savoie 1, Philip Kemp 1) without a single scoring point, though there are several players with a decent amount of NHL experience a little longer ago. Among them, Pederson is likely closest to helping at the big club in 2024-25. Otherwise, the future lies with trainees like Lavoie, Savoie, Philp, Rodrigue and Max Wanner.

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There’s still construction work to be completed in the summer of 2024, but much of the heavy lifting has been done already. Now it’s just a matter of filling in a few gaps and solving a couple of specific challenges, cap-compliance foremost among them.

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