Should I Stay Or Should I Go? The RFA’s & UFA’s

Photo courtesy of Rob Ferguson. All rights reserved.

There are nine UFA/RFA players in the Oilers pipeline that played the majority of the 2011-12 season in Oklahoma City that are up for contract negotiations this summer. The group is nothing short of interesting. From former prospects to minor league dynamos to semi-interesting trade pieces — there’s a story that goes with each one. And although some have more infamous stories than others, the narrative will either continue on with the Oilers or begin afresh elsewhere.

Picking up contracts for players destined for your farm team is sticky business, obviously necessary, but sticky nonetheless. Over the last two seasons, the Oilers have manipulated a pretty solid farm team into a winner. While nurturing prospects, they’ve also managed to add some back-end stability with less prospecty, more AHL dominate, and slightly more seasoned players. Alex Giroux, Martin Gerber, Ryan Keller, Josh Green, and Yann Danis were brought in to make the Oilers minor league affiliate better — and it worked. Two seasons and two playoff berths later, will the Oilers/Barons continue this trend?

Here are the RFA and UFA status’ of players with minor league ties. I’ve excluded Linus Omark because his move is inevitable. I’ve excluded Jeff Petry because he seems to be a full time Oiler at this point.

RFA following 2011-2012 season (with cap hit):

Chris Vande Velde – $850,000

Milan Kytnar – $563,333

Hunter Tremblay – $565,000

Alex Plante – $1,075,000

Of this group, the two with the most chatter will be defenseman Alex Plante and centerman Chris Vande Velde. Both will likely demand a similar price tag somewhere because a) they are coming of really good seasons b) have NHL call up potential, and c) can be of immense value to many hockey clubs.

I think Plante is done as an Oiler. Not only will he relieve a bit of the waste in spending, but he’ll likely be replaced in the near future by a younger prospect. His value has risen from where it was two years ago, and he’ll likely be a part of some pre-draft movement rumors. His downfall is in consistency. If he can put together another year in the minors like the one he just had, he might continue to up his value. But with younger players likely doing the same things Plante does, but on the cheap, he’ll probably get the short end of the stick.

Vande Velde is in the same boat as Plante. At 25 he’s clearly a player that was groomed for the 4th line NHL unit, but he just can’t get over the hump. He did score his first NHL goal during this season, and proved he was a solid leader in the AHL postseason, but I think the Oilers have waited him out long enough. What is interesting to consider is who are the Oilers nurturing in that deep line centerman role? Ryan Martindale? Tyler Pitlick is now a winger. You dumped Ryan O’Marra for a offensive-defender in Bryan Rodney. Who carries the torch if CVV is gone? Likely no one except for Anton Lander, who desperately needs a quick turn around. I can’t envision the Oilers giving Chris another contract, even a short one.

Milan Kytnar got the Stockton treatment this season (despite an emergency NHL callup) and thus likely gone for good, so that leaves Hunter Tremblay on this RFA list. A later bloomer indeed, Tremblay has been impressive in many roles over the arc of the 2011-12 season in Oklahoma City. Five years of OHL hockey, four years of Atlantic University hockey — he’s always been an entertaining, undrafted prospect. What he does right are things that the Oilers do so wrong, mainly in the penalty kill department. He’s very aggressive defending the power play. He’s also surprisingly speedy and fantastic with the lumber. He’s in the same vein as Magnus Paajarvi but less naturally gifted. Do you sign Tremblay for his many skill sets alone? He will likely not garnish much attention from suitors given his age and circumstance, but he could be of some value on a big boy contract. The struggle for Tremblay is that he is a jack of all trades, but a master of none. He plays so well in terms of a broad, swiss-army style, but doesn’t have one overbearing strength to find a niche. Still I’d likely gamble on him, but I’m not sure the Oilers can stomach it.

UFA following 2011-2012 season (with cap hit)

Taylor Chorney – $735,000

Bryan Rodney – $525,000

Ryan Keller – $625,000

Josh Green – $575,000

Yann Danis – $650,000

This is an interesting group mainly because it features three of the “hired guns” of this season. I’m referring mainly to Keller, Green and Danis. But it’s also worth noting that that Keller and Green make top 50 AHL salary money. Throw in Bryan Rodney, a mid-season acquisition, and that’s three Barons/Oilers with expiring contracts that make good minor league money. Rodney at $250,000, Keller at $225,000 and Green at $200,000. They were worth the investment in the short term, but will likely exercise options elsewhere. I would. Mainly because all three could earn similar money in another one year contract situation within other organizations (or longer durations across the pond).

But yet Danis is the interesting player here. An incredible season has earned a raised eyebrow from the Oilers. If they were to keep Tyler Bunz in Stockton, position Olivier Roy in Oklahoma City, that gives the Oilers room to add a solid vet to protect both prospects. If Danis is game, and his price tag hasn’t gone up (it likely has a bit), then he’ll make a solid minutes-splitter with Roy while simultaneously covering the 3rd Oilers goaltender spot. I like that. The real question is whether Danis can buy into this. I have a nagging suspicion that he might get a backup role within another NHL squad.

That leaves us to wonder about Taylor Chorney. For the Oilers it seems that they’ve been there, done that, waivered it around, picked it up, and…scene. Again, he gets nudged out by incoming prospects that need the ice time as well as the exposure.

The days leading up to the draft are always interesting, even in from a minor league perspective. As the Oilers search for the defenseman that can get help quickly, there might be some lower league players that fall into trade brews. Hang on, it’s the offseason, but it will be worth watching.