Imagine being an unrestricted free agent for a minute. If you were in their shoes, what kinds of things would you consider when choosing your destination for the next several years?
Maybe it’s the money. Perhaps it’s the length of the new contract. You certainly would look at other things too like the city itself. Does the city have plenty of things to do? Would your family like it there? There is a lot to consider when deciding on a new team.
Now, which NHL teams immediately come to mind when talking about top free-agent destinations? Many of you would say the Vegas Golden Knights. It’s Vegas so of course it’s a preferred destination. It doesn’t hurt to have no state income tax to boot. And what isn’t there to do there?
Some other top destinations are the two Florida teams. The Lightning and Panthers not only have no state income tax, they have beautiful weather at most times of the year. Especially in the last few seasons, they’ve also offered the opportunity to win. Winning, more money and living in Florida is a pretty unbeatable combination.
This is why you generally don’t see teams like the Edmonton Oilers on any top destination lists. While the hockey market is electric thanks to their passionate fans, they have cold winter weather, less tax advantages and were struggling for many years to find success.
But today is a different day for the Oilers. Because when we talk about top destinations for free agents, the Oilers are quickly becoming one. What has changed for them in this regard? It’s simple. They’re winning now.
Talk to any player in the NHL. The overwhelming answer from them when it comes to free agency is that they want to join a team that is a winner. The money is decent with most every team. Most places have great things to do. But winning matters a lot.
The Oilers have struggled with this for years. Despite holding numerous top picks, they could never find playoff consistency. Even when they did make the playoffs, it was marred by early exits. That is until this past year.
Related: 3 Reasons the Oilers Won the Battle of Alberta
The Oilers defeated the Los Angeles Kings in seven games and then dispatched their rival Calgary Flames in five games before being dismantled in the Western Conference Finals by the Colorado Avalanche. Making the final four was a huge step for this team. The ramifications of their deep playoff run will go far beyond this season.
Let’s go back to our question. What do free agents consider when picking a team? Winning we said was a big one. What is the other thing that the Oilers can now offer that no one else in the NHL can offer?
If a player signs with the Oilers, they get to be teammates with both Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl, two of the best players in the world. As long as they’re around, they will always be in the conversation when it comes to annual Stanley Cup contenders. Franchise players are the ultimate selling point.
Think back to when the Oilers were playing without McDavid and Draisaitl. To say times were rough would be putting it mildly. Long winters. Limited success. It was downright miserable to be in Edmonton during those lean years. Then to get number-one picks that don’t pan out to boot and you had a less than ideal situation from an outsider’s point of view.
The only way the Oilers could attract free agents was if they were a last resort or if they overpaid them to join. Now though? That is no longer an issue. Players are glad to come to Edmonton as they’ll get a chance to win a championship.
Evander Kane saw an opportunity and joined the Oilers after his contract dispute with the San Jose Sharks. He could have picked his destination so long as there was mutual interest. He chose the Oilers and thrived playing with two franchise players. The result? 22 goals and 39 points in 43 games and a big part of their playoff push.
The other thing that comes from this for the Oilers? Players will see what happens to others who join the Oilers and have success. That could eventually lead to a bigger payday for them in the future. That’s one of the nice perks about playing with two superstars. There’s a good chance to get higher stats. That never hurts when it comes to negotiations.
Trend Is Being Noticed
If you need proof that this Oilers’ trend is being noticed, look no further than Elliotte Friedman’s last 32 Thoughts column. In it, he talked about the Oilers and some possible things to watch for this offseason. According to Friedman, this is what a player had to say about the Oilers and winning.
“One player said last week that the Leon Draisaitl/Connor McDavid playoff explosions changed the way people see the organization. Edmonton’s higher on the list of places people think you can win.”
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This is a big deal for the Oilers. To have someone admit this is a sign that the team is heading in the right direction. While they have key decisions to make this offseason, McDavid and Draisaitl will still draw players to Edmonton. Why? That’s because with that duo in the fold, there is a belief that they will eventually win and win big.
Defeating the Flames in the manner the Oilers did was huge for this franchise. The hockey world took notice. We’re going to see this trend play out not only this season but in future seasons.
Free agents looking for a place to play that will have a great chance of winning will look hard at the Oilers. They’ve come a long way from their dark recent past. This year’s playoffs is proof they’re not what they used to be.
Edmonton Oilers. Top destination. That’s worth celebrating if you’re an Oilers fan.
I am a fully credentialed writer who covers the Columbus Blue Jackets, Cleveland Monsters and Erie Otters as well as the Ontario Hockey League and NHL Draft. The 2021-22 season will mark eight seasons with the Hockey Writers. I am also the site’s Credentials Manager.