Ken Holland and the Oilers are making moves.
Are they the right moves? Probably not. But they are certainly making moves.
Their offseason reshuffling continued on Wednesday, the opening day of free agency, with a couple of major signings and a significant trade involving one of their best defenders from a year ago.
The moves in question:
- Signing forward Zach Hyman to a seven-year, $38.7 million contract.
- Signing veteran defenseman Cody Ceci to a four-year, $12 million contract.
- Re-signing defenseman Tyson Barrie to a three-year, $13.5 million contract
- Trading defenseman Ethan Bear to the Hurricanes in exchange for forward Warren Foegele.
[Related: Every free agent signing by all 32 NHL teams]
All of those moves came after the Oilers already made a couple of other significant moves this offseason by trading Caleb Jones to the Blackhawks for Duncan Keith, losing Adam Larsson to Seattle, buying out the remainder of James Neal‘s contract, and re-signing veteran goalie Mike Smith to a multi-year deal.
There is a lot to unpack here.
It is a lot of bold moves for a franchise that was hesitant to make any bold moves at the trade deadline this past year (Holland said you have to pick and chose what seasons you go all in on), but has to be feeling immense pressure to finally build something around its two MVPs, Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl. Despite having two players that have combined to win three of the past five Hart Trophies, the Oilers have qualified for the playoffs just two times during that stretch, winning just a single playoff round in the process. They are coming off a brutal playoff showing this past season where they did not even win a single game against the Jets.
They responded by doing all of this.
All of these moves carry a pretty significant level of risk.
Hyman is a very good player. He will score 20-25 goals this year and is a very good all-around player. There is nothing wrong with adding him to your roster. But signing a 29-year-old, non-superstar player, to a seven-year contract with a no-movement clause for the first five years and a modified no-trade clause after that is a game of free agency roulette you do not want to be playing. That is the kind of move that ends in a buyout or a salary retained trade in three or four years.
Keith is a Hall of Famer and was probably the best of the 2010s Blackhawks. But he is 38 years old and a fraction of what he used to be and he is not going to get back to that level.
Ceci was very solid in Pittsburgh last season, but part of what made him so useful was that he cost almost nothing against the salary cap, had a contract that carried no risk, and was playing in a third-pairing role. The Oilers are either going to pay him $3 million year per year to be a third-pairing defender, or play him more than they should.
Barrie can rack up on points on the power play, but he is not going to do much for you defensively.
The Oilers are prepared to go into this season with a defense led by Darnell Nurse and a bunch of significant question marks after him, while they hope a 39-year-old Smith can repeat his 2020-21 performance in net. It was a performance that was his best in years. You should not be counting on that, especially behind this defense.
Is this really the best you can do for your two MVPs? It just seems like there is not much of a plan in place except to haphazardly move pieces in and out and hoping for the best.