The draft board pages include every player who was left unprotected in the 1998 Expansion Draft. The overwhelming majority of players who do not carry over are either old, unproductive, injured, primarily used for fighting, marginal players, minor league veterans, or unsigned European prospects. The majority of pending UFAs (Group III, Group V, and Group VI) will not carry over. Exceptions to these rules are provided if the incumbent team left almost nothing of value available to choose from, in which case everyone gets at least a closer look.
As we are capped by league restrictions to selecting no more than six pending free agents, we must be judicious with our choices.
The Oilers finished as the #7 seed in the West, two games under .500, yet beat Colorado in the first round before being dismissed in the second round.
Goalies: Bob Essensa(Gr.III – UFA), Curtis Joseph(Gr.III – UFA), J-F Labbe, Steve Passmore
Defensemen: Adam Bennett, Ladislav Benysek(Gr.II – RFA), Jason Bowen, Kevin Lowe(Gr.III – UFA), Frantisek Musil(Gr.III – UFA), Sami Nuutinen(UE), Alexander Zhurik(Gr.II – RFA)
Forwards: Dennis Bonvie(Gr.II – RFA), Jozef Cierny, Zdeno Ciger, Doug Friedman, Bill Huard, Ralph Intranuovo, Andrei Kovalenko, Barrie Moore(Gr.II – RFA), Kevin Paden(Gr.II – RFA), Martin Reichel(UE), Keijo Sailynoja(UE), Jussi Tarvainen(UE)
The Oilers 23 unprotected players only nets three that we’re going to consider: goalie Curtis Joseph and forwards Zdeno Ciger and Andrei Kovalenko.
G Curtis Joseph – 31-year-old goalie, originally undrafted
The case for taking Joseph – We stand roughly a 0% chance of signing Joseph, who’s arguably the NHL’s top pending UFA overall (let alone top goalie). This is simple asset management: we will get a very high compensatory draft pick if we take Joseph and let him walk, most likely a mid-2nd-rounder. Frankly, our other two options on the draft board are less compelling.
The case against taking Joseph – Even considering that he’s the top UFA goalie, the battle then becomes whether he prize one of Andrei Kovalenko or Zdeno Ciger from Edmonton over Bill Berg from the Rangers (who we’d lose if we take Mike Richter) or several players from the Panthers (if we take John Vanbiesbrouck). Berg is one of several bottom-six forwards, Kovalenko and Ciger are both 30-goal scorers. That’s not even getting into what Florida has.
F Zdeno Ciger – 28-year-old forward, originally a 3rd-round pick of New Jersey (1988)
The case for taking Ciger – In his last NHL season of 1995-96, he led the Oilers with 31 goals and was second with 70 points. He returned to Slovakia and has been among the top overall players in each of the past two seasons.
Another important consideration is that if we can’t sign Ciger, we still hold his rights indefinitely. We won’t owe a single dollar to him unless he signs, and it’s possible that he’ll want to come back to the NHL at some point; if it’s elsewhere, he’s a trade asset.
The case against taking Ciger – He scored 31 goals while playing on a line with Doug Weight, whose assist total alone that year exceeded Ciger’s career high in points. After heading back overseas (a red flag in itself), Ryan Smyth took Ciger’s spot on Weight’s wing and scored 39 goals. Ciger was made by Weight, not the other way around.
I’ll also point out the foolishness of taking someone who went to Slovakia after a career year, based on some pipe dream of him coming back in the future.
F Andrei Kovalenko – 28-year-old forward, originally an 8th-round pick of Quebec (1990)
The case for taking Kovalenko – Three times a 25-goal scorer and three times a 50-point player, Kovalenko possesses tons of offensive skill and the ability to produce. He’s been cycled up and down through the lines and has always been able to find someone that he can work with. He can create offense, he can finish, he can bring an element that can’t be find elsewhere in this expansion draft.
The case against taking Kovalenko – Every time it looks like he’s finally broken through and gotten it, his play becomes lazy and uninspired. This usually takes place when it’s not a contract year. He had 28 goals in 1995-96 and 32 in 1996-97, then signed a contract extension and produced a whopping 6 goals this past season in 59 games. That’s not the first time that this has happened either.
If we take Kovalenko, we’re conceding that it’ll be necessary to keep him on one- or two-year contracts just to be able to get anything out of him. He’ll be surrounded by a lot of players on either their last shot or only shot at the NHL, and to constantly have to look the other way on uninspired play because of Kovalenko’s offensive skill would cause considerable friction.