There have been a ton of names mentioned, and this is just speculation on my part as well. But unlike some of the other lists of potential signings, I’m not going to waste time with anyone other than players that the team would be interested in and has a legitimate shot at signing. And given general manager, Steve Tambellini’s insistence on not being overly active or making any big signings, this is probably the best way to go. I have addressed their biggest needs with my potential targets: a face-off specialist, bottom-six center; an enforcer; defensive defenseman/ general defensive depth. So let’s get into it, and we’ll shortly see how close (or far off) I really was.
Zenon Konopka: Konopka fills all of the biggest holes in one package. He is a veteran face-off specialist, who isn’t scared to drop the mitts. Konopka won a whopping 57.7% of his face-offs last season after winning them at a 62.3% clip in ’09, while getting in 25 fights and racking up 307 penalty minutes. He’d fill a huge void as a bottom-six enforcer, who would provide some veteran leadership, and could easily lead the team in face-off winning percentage (Shawn Horcoff led the team in that category last season with a 48.3% mark). Konopka should be the Oilers number one target, and I would be shocked to see the Oilers let him get away.
Scott Nichol: Think of Nichol as kind of a consolation prize if the Oilers miss out on Konopka. Nichol brings a lot more leadership and veteran experience to this young Oilers team, and is a force in the playoff circle, winning around 58% of his face-offs and never finishing below 53% over his career. And although he can’t provide the same type of enforcer role as Konopka, Nichol is a bottom-six banger, averaging just over 2.5 hits per game over the last two seasons. The only thing that may hold up a deal is the state of Nichol’s shoulder, after he suffered a torn labrum last year.
Chris Drury: Drury was a lot more of an attractive option before Ryan Smyth came to town, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t a role for him to fill. Although he would be the third center on my list that I’d like to see Edmonton sign given his lacking in the enforcer category, he’s still a career 55% face-off winner who the Oilers desperately need. And what he lacks in size and strength, he more than makes up in experience and leadership. He would be a great leader both on and off the ice, and would come at a one-year, incentive laden deal.
Cam Barker: After opting to go with Ryan Nugent-Hopkins over Adam Larsson, the Oilers still have a big void atop the defensive depth chart. Ryan Whitney is the clear number one, but Ladislav Smid and Tom Gilbert are more fit for second or third pairing roles. In steps Cam Barker, a former third overall draft pick. Although Barker has yet to see a great level of success at the NHL level, he could definitely experience a resurgence if finally given the responsibility to fill a number one defenseman role. He has already been given up on by Minnesota, and could be had for a relatively cheap price. I think the Oilers would be foolish to let a player with Barkers pedigree slip passed them during such a great opportunity.
Jan Hejda: I’ve stated the Oilers need for a defensive defenseman, and Hejda fits that bill. The old regime let him walk, but like Smyth, the new men in charge should have no problem bringing him back. He could score a solid pay day from the Oilers to fill the role of the steady defensive defenseman role, and he should be a reliable option as a stop-gap until the Oilers defensive prospects develop and are ready to take the reins.
Jim Vandermeer: It would not shock me at all to find that Vandermeer was let walk only to sign a new deal at reduced rate for Edmonton. He definitely fits the reliable, leadership role amongst the Oilers defensemen, and could definitely be brought back for a few more years to ease the transition for Edmonton’s young blueline.