A couple of weeks ago, Edmonton Oilers' general manager Craig MacTavish was talking generally about NHL free agency and the fact that in the end, anybody who wades into the market, tends to overpay.
"The UFA market is a fickle market," allowed MacTavish. "Statistically, 80 per cent of the transactions in the UFA market are poor transactions, but it's a good way to augment your lineup if you can add the right piece. We're in a position of looking for secondary pieces. We're comfortable with our primary pieces up front. We're looking to add support to our primary pieces, currently in place."
Minutes after the free-agent window opened, MacTavish did that – adding support players to their primary pieces (and crossing his fingers that neither deal falls into the 80 per cent of free-agent transactions that backfires on a team.) As he predicted, MacTavish didn't land the biggest names out there, but he did get a couple of NHL regulars under contract, adding forward Benoit Pouliot from the New York Rangers on a five-year term for $20-million and defenceman Mark Fayne from the New Jersey Devils on a four-year contract, worth $3.5-million per season.
Fayne played 72 games and about 18 minutes per night for the defensively sound Devils, while Pouliot was part of an effective third line in New York that played so well as the Rangers went to the Stanley Cup final and produced a career-high 36 points in 80 games. The Oilers previously landed winger Teddy Purcell from the Tampa Bay Lightning in exchange for centre Sam Gagner, adding a 42-point player to help fill in the gaps around Edmonton's young nucleus.
The Oilers are so interesting right now – David Perron came in last year from the St. Louis Blues and was a pretty good player for them. Adding him for Magnus Paajarvi, even though it was a salary dump by the St. Louis Blues, was smart horse trading by MacTavish, now starting his second full season as the Oilers' GM.
The expectation is that the winning needs to start soon. The Oilers made all sorts of whimsical promises back in September – they were ready to make that next step forward – and it didn't happen.
Goaltending was partly to blame; a difficulty adjusting to yet another new coach and another new system, the fourth in five years was a factor too. But with every passing year, as their experience mounts, that young nucleus gets a little more mature.
At times last year, the Oilers showed flashes of the team they might eventually be; and at other times, they looked hopelessly lost. MacTavish stuck with coach Dallas Eakins and gave him a new goaltending tandem – Ben Scrivens and Viktor Fasth – is an upgrade on what they started with a year ago.
The Oilers also agreed to terms with defenceman Keith Aulie on a one-year contract. The 25-year-old Aulie appeared in 15 games for the Tampa Bay Lightning last season, registering one assist and nine penalty minutes. He also appeared in one playoff game with a plus one rating in the 2013-14 Stanley Cup playoffs.
The six-foot-six, 228-pound defenceman previously spent time with the Toronto Maple Leafs and Tampa Bay Lightning. Aulie has accumulated 13 points (4G, 9A) and 130 penalty minutes in 136 career NHL games. Aulie was selected by Calgary 116th overall in the 2007 NHL draft.