Have The Edmonton Oilers Done Enough?

Jonathan Willis
July 05 2012 08:23AM

The Oilers have had a good start to the summer of 2012. Signing unrestricted free agent defenseman Justin Schultz is a move that should payoff in both the near- and long-term, and thanks to the NHL’s entry-level system it didn’t cost the team significant dollars. Bringing back forward Ryan Smyth was also a strong move by the club, particularly given the modest $2.25 million cap hit.

Is it enough?

Home Improvement

Realistically, the only significant personnel additions so far thus summer are a pair of rookies – Schultz and first overall draft pick Nail Yakupov. Both players should play in the majors, and both should be impact rookies, but there’s a limit to what can be expected of them. I tend to agree with Lowetide that Taylor Hall’s rookie season is a good benchmark for Yakupov, while the best comparison for Schultz is likely Jake Gardiner’s rookie season in Toronto (30 points, 20+ minutes per game). Schultz has posted better offensive numbers than Gardiner all down the line and is a year older, so he may well surpass Gardiner’s offense as a rookie but it’s a good starting point.

Internal growth is going to continue to be banked on for the major improvements. I could list the young players but there’s really no need – we all know who they are and in a few cases (specifically Hall, Nugent-Hopkins and Petry) there’s the potential for massive strides. As it stands, veterans such as Ales Hemsky, Ryan Whitney and Eric Belanger will also be counted on to return to form.

Trade Winds?

Listening to the various media people around the league (including Bob Stauffer, who is easily one of the most credible sources of inside information on the Oilers), one gets the sense that the market was paralyzed as the biggest players waited for a decision from Zach Parise and Ryan Suter. That may or may not be the case, but there’s been a slow bleed of free agents since July 1 and it now seems that if the Oilers are going to make a major addition it’s more likely to be via trade than it is the unrestricted market.

Certainly that’s what general manager Steve Tambellini hinted at in his July 1 press conference, recognizing that the Oilers have a surplus of bodies and that it gives them options on the trade market.

The question is what a trade would look like.

Ales Hemsky’s name is the one that seems to continue to draw attention. TSN’s Ryan Rishaug stated his belief that Hemsky was “heavily in play on the trade front” a few days ago, while the Edmonton Journal’s Jim Matheson relayed Tambellini’s denials of Hemsky discussions but noted that the Oilers depth chart at right wing seems fairly full.

Leaving out the potential for a deal involving one of the Oilers’ big-four (in order of seniority: Eberle, Hall, Nugent-Hopkins, Yakupov), there really aren’t a lot of pieces to move in a swap for defense. Sam Gagner could go, but he would leave a hole at centre. It also seems a little early to give up on Magnus Paajarvi.

Still, generally a team needs to give up something to get something. Of the forwards, Gagner’s probably the guy with the most cachet given his age, RFA status and NHL experience.

If Nothing Else Happens…

… then this will still have been a good summer for Oilers fans. The arrival of Schultz was a major coup, and rivals almost any move the Oilers could have made in free agency – they weren’t getting Schultz or Garrison, and Matt Carle’scontract ($33 million over six years) was an interesting thing to see.

On the other hand, a solid trade or two to clear out some deadwood and solidify the back end would go a long way toward helping the Oilers post more respectable totals next season. It’s to be hoped that the team still has an arrow or two left in the quiver.

This week by Jonathan Willis

Jonathan Willis is a freelance writer. He currently works for Oilers Nation, Sportsnet and Bleacher Report. He's co-written three books and worked for myriad websites, including the Edmonton Journal, Grantland, ESPN, The Score, and Hockey Prospectus. He was previously the founder and managing editor of Copper & Blue.