Free Agent Centres: Western Conference

Jonathan Willis
June 17 2013 10:50AM

With the likely departures of Shawn Horcoff, Eric Belanger and Jerred Smithson this summer, the Edmonton Oilers are in a position where they need to rebuild their depth chart at centre. Aside from Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (who underwent surgery this summer) and Sam Gagner (an unsigned restricted free agent), the Oilers simply don’t have reliable NHL options.

Could some of the answers be found in this summer’s class of unrestricted free agents?

We’ll look at the Eastern Conference options later on; for now let’s look at the West.

The Western Conference Class

This isn’t a strong group, and it gets weaker once seen through the prism of the Oilers’ needs. The names that stand out to me are as follow (in alphabetical order).

Steve Begin. The 35-year old enjoyed a surprisingly effective campaign in Calgary after getting released by Vancouver last year and spending the season before that in the minors. He’s a smallish (6’, 192 pounds) agitator who hits, fights and kills penalties; there is no questioning his effort but there are better players on this list.

Kyle Chipchura. Chipchura really found a home in Phoenix the last couple of seasons after bouncing around the league over the last few years, but despite improved offensive totals he’s in the same range as most of the fourth-line guys on this list; he has yet to crack the 20-point mark in the majors and was never particularly prolific in the minors either. He has decent size (6’2”, 203 pounds) and fights more than most of the guys on this list but he’s not a regular penalty-killer and his on-ice totals aren’t particularly good.

Matt Cullen. He’s definitely a little on the old side (he turns 37 in November) but he’s coming off a very strong season and has been a reliable secondary offensive option for his entire career. Like Filppula, he plays centre and wing, both special teams and wins faceoffs (54.7 percent last year); at 6’1”, 200 pounds he’s also slightly bigger.

Valtteri Filppula. The Finn with the impossible to spell name is coming off a disappointing 2013 campaign, one where he picked up just 17 points over 41 games. On the plus side, he has a history of offensive production (generally in the 35-40 point range, though he recorded 66 in 2011-12), he can play both centre and left wing, he’s a strong faceoff man (winning 55.4 percent of his draws last year) and he just turned 29 in March so he’s in the prime of his career. He’s played on both special teams in Detroit, though primarily on the power play. As far as negatives go, there aren’t many; the most glaring one is that he hopes to cash in this year (reportedly seeking more than $5 million per season). He’s also a little on the small side (listed at 6’, 195 pounds).

Boyd Gordon. Bruce McCurdy wrote a nicely detailed piece on Gordon as an Oilers option a few days back; he’s a defensive specialist and a very good one. Like both Cullen and Filppula he’s a mid-size forward (6’, 200 pounds) and not overly physical; unlike those two he is a dedicated checking centre who has never topped 30 points in an NHL season. Ownership uncertainty in Phoenix means he may very well find himself looking for a new home this summer, but he’s a guy who likely tops out as a third-line centre.

Maxim Lapierre. Every time I say his name I feel the urge to duck; the Canucks agitator is roundly disliked in Edmonton but that doesn’t mean he would be a bad fit for the team. Like Gordon, he’s a defensive specialist who wins faceoffs, kills penalties and sits in the prime of his career; unlike Gordon he is significantly bigger (6’2”, 207 pounds) and extremely physical. Vancouver has been slow to talk to him, so he’s likely heading elsewhere this summer. His offensive numbers also have some possibility of improvement – like Gordon, he’s never cracked the 30 point barrier but he has been a ~20 point scorer in situations where he started almost exclusively in his own end. In a more balanced role, he might deliver more.

Manny Malhotra. One of the best third-line centres in the league between 2005 and 2011, Malhotra’s career is in some jeopardy after suffering a major eye injury near the end of the 2010-11 season. No player in the Behind the Net era has played more defensive minutes; given how close Malhotra came to zero offensive zone usage under Alain Vigneault it’s possible no player in NHL history has started a higher portion of his shifts in the defensive zone. The question is whether the 6’2”, 220 pound centre – who still kills penalties and excels in faceoffs – has lost his game to that eye injury, or whether he’d rebound if given less Sisyphean minutes.

Brad Richardson. Richardson has a Stanley Cup ring, but far more importantly once upon a time he fought Teemu Selanne:

He’s been an effective utility guy with the Kings, but unlike many of the other options here he isn’t a penalty killer and despite playing a chippy game he isn’t all that big. On the other hand, he’s had some pretty good offensive seasons for a fourth-liner – he was a point-per-game guy in the minors and despite poor totals the last few seasons has occasionally challenged the 30 point mark in limited minutes.

Jerred Smithson. Oilers fans have had an opportunity to see Smithson firsthand, and he isn’t especially exciting. What he might be is useful as the team’s fifth centre – the guy who sits in the press-box much of the time and fills in as needed. He kills penalties, wins faceoffs, makes safe simple plays and adds a bit of size (6’3”, 209 pounds) and a willingness to hit. If he comes cheaply enough, the Oilers could do worse in a reserve role.

David Steckel. The Oilers could do a lot worse than David Steckel in a fourth-line role. The 31-year old stands 6’6”, kills penalties, wins faceoffs (he’s one of the best in the league in that role) and has an above average physical game. He’s also a guy who does a consistently good job of limiting shots and chances against in a highly defensive role – over the last four years he’s generally been on the ice for three defensive zone draws for every two in the attacking zone. He doesn’t add a lot offensively – he’s in the 15-20 point range most years – but given role and minutes played that’s not bad.

Recently around the Nation Network

It's very possible that we could be witnessing the final days of the Phoenix Coyotes - after years of staving off relocation, it appears the club is in serious jeopardy of moving to Seattle:

Quoting a statement by Seattle's mayor, Mike McGinn, Hansen introduced a pair of potential investors to Seattle city council. McGinn said to KING TV, "As recent news reports indicate, it appears the NHL is taking the new ownership proposal seriously."

Click the link above to read the whole piece, or feel free check out some of my other pieces here:

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Jonathan Willis is Managing Editor of the Nation Network. He also currently writes for the Edmonton Journal's Cult of Hockey, Grantland, and Hockey Prospectus. His work has appeared at theScore, ESPN and Puck Daddy. He was previously founder and managing editor of Copper & Blue. Contact him at jonathan (dot) willis (at) live (dot) ca.
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#1 djc
June 17 2013, 09:16PM
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I wonder what DSF did with his evenings before he decided to spend them all responding to articles about a team he doesn't even like?

Wow, since 11:00am DSF has posted on this article 30+ times. Seriously old man, find something else in your life besides this website. Of course I should find something better to do than count all your comments ... maybe I'll go watch all the Grandlund highlights on YouTube.

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So much junk...

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#4 djc
June 17 2013, 10:38PM
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DSF wrote:

Brodie Brazil ‏@brodiebrazilCSN 57m

Breaking News: Logan Couture has just agreed to a contract extension with #sjsharks

Good thing the Oilers drafted Gagner.

Dodged a bullet there.

And yet your hero Lombardi drafted Thomas Hickey 4th in the same draft. What bullet was he dodging?

C'mon old man you can do better.

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#5 Time Travelling Sean
June 17 2013, 10:38PM
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@DSF

You can use all the advanced stats you want to say Dubinsky is better than Gagner, but box score stats aren't useless and meaningless either.

Gagner was on pace for 65 points this season. Dubinsky was on pace for 57 points, but only 6 goals, not to mention Gags is younger, still growing, and still has enough balls to show he cares.

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#6 Quicksilver ballet
June 17 2013, 11:51AM
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Don't understand all the desire for a shut down 3rd line centerman. I mean, with Barkov, Yandle, Clarkson and Shea Weber here, it'll be all horn, followed by a puck drop at center ice in store for these troops.

Just say no to a Gordon type.

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#7 Coco crisp
June 17 2013, 12:14PM
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I'd love to see VF on this team. He is unbelievably underrated. I'm not convinced he's worth 5 stacks a year.. But he would still flourish here in edm.

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#8 RyanCoke
June 17 2013, 12:16PM
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lol at smithson kills faceoffs and wins penalties. does that sum up his game lmao

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#9 DSF
June 17 2013, 06:19PM
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MKE wrote:

Yes he was. But we can thank him for being a horrrible gm, that led to our high end talent and move on.

Let's be honest here kids.

Kevin Lowe has been the pilot of the Good Ship Lollipop for well over a decade.

He steered the ship into an iceberg.

HE hired Steve Tambellini who had been passed over in Vancouver THREE times.

He signed off on hiring Ralph Krueger.

He then signed off on hiring MacT as GM without doing a proper search for the best candidate available (see Nill, Jim for reference).

The guy he hired then publicly supported Krueger mere days before firing him and hiring another coach with no NHL track record when other much more qualified candidates were on the market.

When you want to know why the Oilers are a dreadful hockey team, put Yakkity Sax on the turntable and stare at pictures of Kevin Lowe.

Could MacT be better than Tambellini... maybe.

Will Eakins be better than Krueger...maybe.

Please note that the assistant coaches and pro scouting staffs who assisted in the Drive to the Ditch ® are still gainfully employed by the worst franchise in the National Hockey League.

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#10 Eddie Shore
June 17 2013, 09:09PM
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DSF wrote:

No, he's incompetent until proven competent.

He has zero track record in signing players or trading for assets.

Does that give you a warm, fuzzy feeling?

If you have a different opinion, please show your work.

False. He scooped up the hottest up-and-coming coach, according to the centre of the universe. Or does that not count?

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#11 Walter Sobchak
June 17 2013, 09:30PM
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I will say this, and I'm not agreeing or disagreeing with DSF but he has some valid points.

On Mac-T....If we over value him now, then we are not holding the organization accountable for the last ten years.

He has done very little to warrant any type of congratulatory praise.

Signing a rookie coach after firing a rookie coach also, does not warrant praise.

After Mac-T left the Oilers how many teams hired him as even an assistant?

He finally had to go to the AHL to coach again.

As for Dubinsky vs Gagner, what Gagner has in offense he gives up defensively.

Take the -6 points offensive differential and go with Dubinsky everyday!

Mac-T has done nothing yet, until he does, by July 5th nobody should be praising this guy.

He has 12 positions to fill, I'll hold my judgment until July 6th.

Until then, it's the same organization for the last 10 years.

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#12 15w40
June 17 2013, 09:32PM
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And another comment section of a thread being polluted to the point of unreadable.......

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#13 MKE
June 17 2013, 10:36PM
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Taylor Gang wrote:

Uhm.... How many points did Gagner get last year? Oh yeah more than 3 times than what Johansen got. And if you say Boone Jenner is better, then your argument for Dallas Eakins being a bad coach is invalid.

Jenner has magic fairy dust which he puts on his skates before every game. There for he is better...

*smacks head into wall*

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#14 BArmstrong
June 17 2013, 11:17PM
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@Quicksilver ballet

"Clint Eastwood Type"... David Backes!

NMC, value contract, STL has no cap issue - No chance. But a guy like that.

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#15 StHenriOilBomb
June 18 2013, 01:38AM
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Quicksilver ballet wrote:

Lol, a Clint Eastwood type.....he'd kill all those sons a biotches over on that other bench.

Ridding the team of Horc,Belanger and Smithson would be enough for this year, Sell the farm for Barkov, and slot Ganye in that 2nd lc role.

RNH,Ganye,Barkov and Steve Ott. Sammy goes to the highest bidder at the deadline.

are you intentionally trying to sound like that Oilers h-buzz guy?

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#16 cableguy - 2nd Tier Fan
June 18 2013, 06:23AM
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DSF wrote:

You realize the Jackets also have Ryan Johanssen and Boone Jenner, right?

the Jackets have a guy who tossed up 1A and was -8 in 5 games before being healthy scratched in the AHL playoffs?

"Kekalainen was asked if Johansen's need for a frequent prodding raises a red flag about his career trajectory. His response, essentially, was "we'll see."

if the Oilers had him and he put up the same performance for OKC in the playoffs you would be the first one on here ripping the Oilers for such a wasted pick blah blah blah. But, since he is a non-oiler prospect, he is therefore better.

you are on an Oilers based fansite, yet you constantly seem surprised that people around here like the Oilers. I would suggest you go give hfboards a try to expand your Oiler horizons, but you already got your ass banned from there.

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#19 Quicksilver ballet
June 17 2013, 11:22AM
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That's a lot of bodies available at less than what Hemsky and Horcoff will demand. In addition to that, there's all the compliance buyout players up for grabs as well. With all this human trafficking this summer. Could be 70/30, that 10 and 83 are back here in the fall again.

Mentioning you want to clean house, and then actually getting this accomplished, can be difficult. Good luck Craig.

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#20 Ducey
June 17 2013, 11:27AM
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Sign Lapierre and Steckel for the 3rd and 4th line C's respectively.

Lapierre may be a pr*ck but when he plays for your team its ok. See Esa Tikkanen, Ken Linsmen, Raffi Torres, Marty McSorely.

Bring in those two and you not only improve defensively but the team suddenly has some physicality. Add in some beef at a second line winger spot, the third line wing spot and on the 4th line and now the Oilers would have semblance of a physical team.

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#21 DSF
June 17 2013, 12:13PM
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In other news...lots of discussion over at Lowetide that the Oilers are in the running to sign 22 year old Corban Knight.

He was a 5th round pick in 2009 of the Florida Panthers but he and Florida could not come to a contract agreement because the Panthers are so deep at centre (despite what you may read here).

He's a 6'2" 220 right shooting centre who put up 49P in 41GP in his final season at UND.

Could be a potential 3rd line centre right there.

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#22 Sanaa Montana
June 17 2013, 12:25PM
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Supernova wrote:

Jon,

can you not use that survey tool like you used for the draft picks.

My guess on a Lapierre Contract would be in that 1.5 million range on a 2 year deal, I would sign him to that and have him slotted to play 4th line and see if he can push up the charts for 3rd line.

Oil need guys who piss off the other team. Lapierre cetainly does that.

Oilers need to piss off the other team by being better than them. Lapierre is a goof.

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#23 madjam
June 17 2013, 12:59PM
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WILLIS : Can you run a Western and Eastern Buyout column with the UFA group ? The buyout sector is far more appealing than thethin UFA market this year . That's where all the competition and meat lies this year .

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#24 Spydyr
June 17 2013, 02:04PM
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From the looks of that FA list. It seems a trade is the way to go. Perhaps a few more players will pop up with the compliance buy outs.

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#25 Tikkanese
June 17 2013, 02:43PM
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@JW

You have a unique skillset for Smithson "He kills faceoffs, wins penalties". haha :)

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#26 Eddie Shore
June 17 2013, 08:05PM
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@DSF

Back to your old tricks again eh. You must get sick of always being right.

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#27 Gaz
June 17 2013, 09:17PM
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@DSF

So, in response to my query: you cannot.

You've also assumed that I am of the belief that MacT was the best man for the job. Wrong again.

Poor work on your last statement as well. You've fouled the argument and Locke is spinning. The correct quote is:

"absence of evidence is not evidence of absence"

Which, actually, works against you here.

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#28 Gaz
June 17 2013, 09:25PM
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DSF wrote:

Oh. good grief.

There were far better coaches with a winning track record to choose from.

Eakins might well work out fine but there is significant evidence that AHL head coaches fail at the the NHL level.

Would you like a list?

I would like a list.

Prior to a list, we should agree on what defines failure.

Then, for the sake a balance, please provide a complimentary list of coaches who did not "fail" at the NHL level. We can add a "neutral" category to that categories as well, if you like. Let's just make sure we're above board before embarking here.

I would also appreciate it if you made this list inclusive of all head coaches since creation of the league.

Excel format is fine. Colour-coding always helps too.

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#29 Johe
June 17 2013, 09:29PM
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DSF wrote:

Oh. good grief.

There were far better coaches with a winning track record to choose from.

Eakins might well work out fine but there is significant evidence that AHL head coaches fail at the the NHL level.

Would you like a list?

Does the list include Dan Bylsma? ; )

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#30 MKE
June 17 2013, 09:30PM
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DSF fact is neither of us are right...yet. Wins and losses are all thay matters. And MacT and Eakins havent had a chance to win or lose in these positions.

I like the moves that have been made. And thats enough for me. I dont have to justify that to you. Because unlike you i dont need my spelling and grammer to be perfect or be right all the time because my self worth is not tied to the comment section of this website.

I will pray for restoration and healing for you. I know what its like to be that angry. Its no way to live.

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#31 Taylor Gang
June 17 2013, 09:30PM
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DSF wrote:

Oh. good grief.

There were far better coaches with a winning track record to choose from.

Eakins might well work out fine but there is significant evidence that AHL head coaches fail at the the NHL level.

Would you like a list?

When hiring a coach, you also need to keep in mind their coaching style and how it fits with your team.

With Eakins, he has a history of coaching young, developing players and he has a winning record doing so. Tortorella coached a team that is built much differently than the Oilers are. At least Mactavish is trying to make a competitive club already; I'll take a proactive GM that fails over one that does nothing and fails (looking at you Tambellini)

Also, I don't think that because he coached in the AHL that makes him a lesser coach. Patrick Roy was hired as a coach in Colorado and I haven't heard you criticizing that move. He has no NHL coaching experience. They look more and more like an old boys club each day...

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#32 DSF
June 17 2013, 10:19PM
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Brodie Brazil ‏@brodiebrazilCSN 57m

Breaking News: Logan Couture has just agreed to a contract extension with #sjsharks

Good thing the Oilers drafted Gagner.

Dodged a bullet there.

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#33 MKE
June 17 2013, 10:24PM
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@DSF

Ya becauee every team except the Oilers has always had a perfect record in the draft....

Not everyone can be perfect.

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#34 Taylor Gang
June 17 2013, 10:32PM
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DSF wrote:

It isn't.

Not next year.

Not ever.

Uhm.... How many points did Gagner get last year? Oh yeah more than 3 times than what Johansen got. And if you say Boone Jenner is better, then your argument for Dallas Eakins being a bad coach is invalid.

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#35 Quicksilver ballet
June 17 2013, 11:15PM
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MKE wrote:

Short of Malikin though who else would you want as a second line center?

Lol, a Clint Eastwood type.....he'd kill all those sons a biotches over on that other bench.

Ridding the team of Horc,Belanger and Smithson would be enough for this year, Sell the farm for Barkov, and slot Ganye in that 2nd lc role.

RNH,Ganye,Barkov and Steve Ott. Sammy goes to the highest bidder at the deadline.

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#36 MKE
June 17 2013, 11:41PM
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Oiler Al wrote:

Jonathan, you are an astute hockey guy, with great topics and insights to game. I look forward reading the stuff on here, but honestly, its getting to the point that this sight is becoming un-hockey, and who wants to scroll through pages and pages of babble and nonsense , which are unrelated and is only verbal diarrhea. between the likes of DSF and MKE.

Dont mind a bit of ,off -side stuff, but this is getting out of hand, as well as being boring as heck.

Just saying.

Ill just ignor him in the future. Its not a big deal.

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#37 Walter Sobchak
June 18 2013, 02:35AM
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6 ring circus wrote:

Tyler Seguin would've looked good right about now as our first line center.He's on his way to his second cup and probably thanks his lucky star's everyday that the Oiler's took Hall instead of him.

I think Seguin is secretly thanking Burke! The Oilers took the right guy.

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#38 Spydyr
June 18 2013, 08:07AM
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185 Comments. Imagine if there was an actual hockey trade to talk about. Instead of mere speculation.

There are some very passionate Oilers fans and Oiler haters here (DSF).

Can't wait till the Cup is awarded to Boston and the fun times can begin.

Hope Mac-T walks half as good as he talks.

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#39 In the Grease
June 17 2013, 11:08AM
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I like the idea of Steckel as 4 line C ... in fact I liked that idea last season after it was brought up as a possibility several times, and found it vexing Anaheim got him for a prospect(Ryan Lasch, who I admittedly know little about) and a 7th rounder...

Instead we had Tambo paying a 4th for Smithson.

If we were going to audition a pending UFA... I know, I need to turn the page and move forward, it's MacT time.

How's Steckel's footspeed though? I doubt this admin will want the 4th line skating in quicksand.

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#40 Supernova
June 17 2013, 11:10AM
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Sign Lapierre, he is that guy like Andrew Shaw, Brad Marchand, not as talented but he is a pain to play against and you despise him when he is on the oppositions line up.

He is also a good cap hit gamble as well.

how much do you think he would cost for 2 or 3 year term?

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#41 DSF
June 17 2013, 11:10AM
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A couple more JW.

M.Handzus

Derek Roy

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#42 Rogue
June 17 2013, 11:11AM
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What is RNH's progress?

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#43 In the Grease
June 17 2013, 11:14AM
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I would go for Lapierre as well - one of those guys you absolutely hate on other teams, but love on yours, no? - this is a team looking for physicality. It absolutely has to be a high priority with whomever they are vetting for a bottom 6 role.

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#45 popejordon
June 17 2013, 11:19AM
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I didn't know Malholtra had syphilis.

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#46 Supernova
June 17 2013, 11:21AM
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Jon,

can you not use that survey tool like you used for the draft picks.

My guess on a Lapierre Contract would be in that 1.5 million range on a 2 year deal, I would sign him to that and have him slotted to play 4th line and see if he can push up the charts for 3rd line.

Oil need guys who piss off the other team. Lapierre cetainly does that.

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#47 fifthcartel
June 17 2013, 11:23AM
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I read somewhere Vancouver is definitely letting Lapierre walk, and yeah everyone hates him, but I wouldn't hate him on my team.

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#48 Supernova
June 17 2013, 11:29AM
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@DSF

DSF,

as a canucks fan whats your view on Lapierre?

Handzus has looked really good in Chicago, he would be well suited to stay on a team that is deep at center that can play him in specialist roles with skilled wingers that have speed, he would be dead in the water in edmonton as he would have way to high of demand on him to "drive the river"

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#49 richard
June 17 2013, 11:30AM
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My question is, why are the wings letting V.F. go?

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#50 DSF
June 17 2013, 11:43AM
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Supernova wrote:

DSF,

as a canucks fan whats your view on Lapierre?

Handzus has looked really good in Chicago, he would be well suited to stay on a team that is deep at center that can play him in specialist roles with skilled wingers that have speed, he would be dead in the water in edmonton as he would have way to high of demand on him to "drive the river"

Well, I'm not a Canucks fan but living on the coast I've seen him play a lot.

He definitely is an agitator but he has been prone to taking bad penalties in the past.

You have to ask yourself why Gillis isn't all that interested in re-signing him and I think the answer to that is his lack of production.

While 10 points in 48 games isn't all that bad, the Canucks are looking to get more scoring from their bottom 6, exactly what MacT said he wants too.

It appears the Canucks are going to give their younger guys (Brendan Gaunce and Jordan Shroeder) more of a chance than AV was willing to give them so, for that reason, Lapierre may be deemed expendable.

Of course, the Canucks also signed NCAA free agent Kellen Lain (6'6" 220) who may have a shot at #4C on the team.

As for the Oilers signing him, I can't see much downside unless he wants a lot of money or term.

$1.5M on a two year deal sounds about right.

But the Oilers really need to address their #2C position more urgently IMO.

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