EDMONTON — The Edmonton Oilers got bigger, faster and more experienced Tuesday by signing three free agents who general manager Craig MacTavish, say will significantly address a serious shortcoming in the team’s on-ice performance.
The Oilers jumped into the free agent market early by signing defencemen Keith Aulie (six-foot-six, 228 pounds) and Mark Fayne (6-3, 210 pounds) and left-winger Benoit Pouliot (6-3, 197-pounds).
Two days earlier MacTavish traded lightweight forward Sam Gagner to Tampa Bay for 6-3, 203-pound right winger Ted Purcell. They also re-signed 6-3, 240-pound left winger Luke Gazdic, who had 15 fighting majors last season, to a two-year contract.
“They all have size,” stressed MacTavish. “We added a lot of size in the last two days. We haven’t touched the core group of guys we ended the season with and we’ve added what we think is a much more well rounded complement to those players with size and speed and puck pursuit.
“All these moves are going to go a long ways to addressing a serious shortcoming in our on-ice performance and I think we can expect to be much better next year.”
MacTavish said he went into the day with two targets: Fayne and Pouliot. After a strong sales pitch he signed Pouliot to a five-year contract worth $20 million, got Fayne’s name on a four-year, $14.5-million deal and inked Aulie for $800,000 for one year.
“We made a case for our situation here in Edmonton,” he said. “It was a compelling story for them, as it was for me to tell. The situation is improving here, in spite of the fact that the results have lagged, but it was a compelling enough situation that at the end of the day we were able to quickly react to these players.”
Pouliot, 27, has played for five different NHL teams, including the New York Rangers last season when he collected 15 goals and 36 points in 80 games and 10 points in their run to the Stanley Cup final.
“Pouliot was our most important addition because we needed someone with speed,” MacTavish said, explaining why he agreed to the $20-million deal for the player who made $1.5 million last year in New York. “We talked about size, we talked about increasing our competitiveness and he’s a guy who tracks the puck very well and pressures the puck very well. He’s a great skater and we really felt we needed to add that element.”
Both he and Fayne said they were eager to get to Edmonton because of the direction the team appears headed in and the young talent on the roster.
“I think with everything that Edmonton has gone through and everything that is now going for them, I think it’s a good opportunity with the young guys and everything,” Pouliot told the Oilers’ website. “It’s going to be a good fit for me.”
MacTavish said Fayne brings them a guy who makes simple plays with the puck, but makes them highly effectively and is a very good defender. He thinks Aulie is one of the players with the opportunity to enhance his value on a one-year contract.
The one area the Oilers didn’t address is centre ice where they lack size and aggressiveness. Their No. 1 centre is Ryan Nugent-Hopkins at 6-1 but only 180 pounds.