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Stanley Cup contention proves to be considerable Oilers free-agent lure

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The carrot of potentially playing on a Stanley Cup-contending team played a major factor in attracting a pair of sought-after forwards to the Edmonton Oilers on Monday.

Both Adam Henrique and Jeff Skinner put the draw of championship contention as the primary reason why the unrestricted free agents chose to sign contracts with the club that came within two goals of claiming the National Hockey League title just a week ago.

The NHL opened its free agency period on Monday, and by the time the sun set on July 1, the Oilers had signed 13 players — eight of them returnees and five who joined the club from elsewhere, including Skinner, winger Viktor Arvidsson and defenceman Josh Brown.

Henrique, 34, told media on Tuesday he enjoyed the experience in Edmonton after being acquired two days before the NHL trade deadline in early March and playing a key role on the roster that made it to Game 7 of the Cup final.

The forward who played several roles on the top three Oilers lines throughout the playoffs found much-needed, effective chemistry centring a third line with Connor Brown and Mattias Janmark in the Cup final against the Florida Panthers, who won a nail-biting Game 7 2-1 to become the latest NHL champion.

Florida Panthers defenceman Dmitry Kulikov elbows Edmonton Oilers forward Adam Henrique in front of goalie Sergei Bobrovsky during Game 3 of the NHL Stanley Cup Final on June 13, 2024. (Jeff McIntosh/The Canadian Press)"What it came down to was a bit of familiarity being there since the deadline, and the run we had and the guys. That was a factor for me," Henrique, who signed a two-year deal worth $3 million a season, said on a conference call.

"Maybe you sacrifice a bit of ice time and that sort of thing, or even money at the end of the day, but to have that opportunity to win and to play in Edmonton in front of those fans was special for me."

For Skinner, too, the lure of a contender was top-of-list for the 14-year NHL veteran who has scored 357 career goals after being drafted seventh overall by the Carolina Hurricanes in 2010, scoring 30-plus goals five times and reaching the 40-goal plateau five years ago, but has never played in an NHL playoff game.

Beyond the enticement of post-season play, though, Skinner said the Oilers' consistent interest in his services helped him decide to sign a one-year, US$3-million contract with them.

"Aside from the fact they're a great hockey team, and that's kind of No. 1 on my list ... the Oilers were very consistent in their interest and really made me feel that, so I think that played a big role," said the 32-year-old, who joined Edmonton after the Buffalo Sabres bought him out of the last two years of his contract after six seasons with them.

Besides, Skinner said the prospects of lining up regularly with either Connor McDavid or Leon Draisaitl as his centre sounded "pretty good."

Buffalo Sabres winger Jeff Skinner jumps in front of New York Rangers goalie Igor Shesterkin during NHL action on Oct, 12, 2023, in Buffalo, N.Y. (Jeffrey T. Barnes/Associated Press)"I think pretty much anyone in hockey would like the sound of that," he said.

"I try to read off the centreman, and obviously those guys create a ton of space. They get a lot of attention from the other team. They make unbelievably high-end skill plays ... As a winger, you can't ask for anything more than that."

And while the Oilers lost a couple of forwards from last season's roster on Day 1 of free agency — Warren Foegele signed with the Los Angeles Kings while Sam Carrick joined the New York Rangers — Monday's additions, on paper, more than make up for them.

"I think it says a lot about a lot of players that sacrifice a little bit there in order to have that opportunity again," Henrique said.

"Certainly that's going to be the goal next year. I think it's probably exciting as the coach to have a number of options that we'll have moving forward."