As another disappointing season comes to an end, the Edmonton Oilers will begin the process of self evaluation, trying to figure out exactly what went wrong.
More importantly, once the problems are identified, the club will have to work hard in order to remedy them, having possibly painted themselves into a corner with player personnel.
Heading into this off season, the Oilers have 10 pending free agents on their current roster, seven of which are restricted.
It seems the club has already made a decision on Linus Omark, who has been a healthy scratch for the past four games.
If the Oilers don’t see fit to play Omark in meaningless encounters down the stretch this season, it’s hard to believe he’s in the plans for next year.
Unfortunately for Omark and the Oklahoma City Barons, who will be in the post-season, the Oilers would probably have been better served to leave the Swedish product in the AHL where he could have helped in a playoff drive.
Now the Oilers risk losing Omark if they try to send him down to the minors as he has to clear waivers even after the NHL regular season comes to an end.
“He’s in a bit of a logjam with people in front of him, which makes it difficult for him to get in and do what I think he’s capable of,” said Oilers head coach Tom Renney, late last week. “That being said, it’s a bit of a numbers things right now quite honestly.”
As a restricted free agent this summer, it’s likely the Oilers will qualify Omark before trying to deal him away. The Oilers obviously feel there is a market for the winger or else they would just send him back to Oklahoma City.
But not having been on the roster for most of this season, Omark is the least of the Oilers’ concerns moving forward.
They still have Eric Belanger locked in for another two years after this season. The veteran centre was supposed to provide leaderships, stability in the face-off circle and secondary scoring this season.
He has been good in the face-off circle, but has struggled offensively and has seen his role and ice time diminish as the season has gone along.
If the Oilers select Mikhail Grigorenko in the upcoming NHL draft and bring Anton Lander back into the mix, it’s likely they’ll have to find a trading partner for Belanger, who’s in line to make $2 million next season.
Apart from Belanger, the Oilers need to make a decision on Darcy Hordichuk, who saw limited ice time this season but did serve a purpose as a deterrent for those looking to take runs at the Oilers’ young talent. And as is the case with most deterrents, their true value can only be measured when they are no longer around.
From there, the Oilers will most likely have a similar look up front next season as they did this year.
Whether Ryan Smyth comes back remains a question. But as someone who wanted to return to Edmonton due to family reasons, his options are limited when it comes to negotiating a new deal. The Oilers can simply tell the veteran to take it or leave it, knowing his role and contribution is expected to decrease in coming seasons.
Outside of Smyth, the Oilers have made a commitment to Ben Eager and Ryan Jones, whose value has increased in the last month, proving he can play a top-six role.
On the back end, the Oilers have four spots accounted for with Ladislav Smid, Jeff Petry, Ryan Whitney and Nick Schultz. They also extended Andy Sutton and Corey Potter, pretty much leaving the fate of Cam Barker and Theo Peckham in doubt.
Nikolai Khabibulin has another year left on his deal, which will likely be used mentoring Devan Dubnyk, who the Oilers have to re-sign as a restricted free agent.
All in all, doesn’t leave a lot of wiggle room for a club that once again finished last in their division standings, and will take part in the NHL draft lottery for a third consecutive season.
The upshot is, if the Oilers want to improve their standing next year, they’re going to have to do it with essentially the same group that was unable to get the job done this season.