Can the Edmonton Oilers keep their young core together?

Jonathan Willis
July 12 2012 09:19AM

What will the Oilers look like once the entry-level deals Taylor Hall and Jordan Eberle are on expire? What about when Ryan Nugent-Hopkins’ contract ends? Is the team going to remain affordable?

To try and answer those questions, I decided to embark on an exercise this morning, projecting the Oilers’ roster and contracts into the future. Naturally, any such exercise involves a series of assumptions and gets less and less accurate the further ahead we project, but it’s still useful for planning purposes. As a result, the details on depth players aren’t that important – as long as the big pieces are in the ball park.

2012-13

The first year is the easiest to project, because we’re making relatively few assumptions. My projected lineup is as follows (with players ordered by cap hit):

The total cap space remaining on this group is $7.7 million.

I’ve made a few assumptions here. I’ve assumed that Nail Yakupov will sign for the rookie maximum, and that Theo Peckham (if he returns) will be on a deal identical to his qualifying offer. I’ve also penciled in Gagner on a longish-term, $3.5 million/season deal. That’s based largely on this group of comparables; it seems reasonable to me that if the Oilers keep him he’s in that ballpark.

I’ve also assumed – based on Hartikainen getting a push in camp and Yakupov making the team – that Magnus Paajarvi and Anton Lander will start the year in Oklahoma City.

2013-14

This is where things start getting interesting. First, my projected lineup:

The total cap space remaining on this group is $0.08 million, assuming the cap doesn’t rise. We’re also (for the sake of argument) assuming the current CBA continues, or that a new CBA featuring rollbacks and a reduced cap will work with more or less the same numbers (i.e. Horcoff may make X dollars less, but his cap hit against a reduced cap should be comparable to $5.5 million against a $70.2 million cap).

Hall and Eberle’s deals are based in large part on my work here. I can see their deals potentially falling anywhere from $6 - $7.5 million per season, and I’ve projected to the midpoint of that range.

I’ve also assumed that Paajarvi and Hartikainen won’t get huge raises; naturally it’s possible that either breaks out. Smid’s deal is based on the one just signed by Marc-Edouard Vlasic in San Jose, while I’ve assumed a slight raise for Whitney if he gets back on track. That player doesn’t have to be Whitney, of course, but if he struggles with injury again this season it seems logical that the Oilers will need to find another defender who will command significant dollars.

2014-15

I haven’t projected totals for 2014-15, just highlighted expiring contracts in red. Here’s the lineup:

The logical assumption is that Hemsky is gone, and that his money helps to pay for Nugent-Hopkins’ new contract. Paajarvi may fit the bill as a cheap scoring line option, which would give the Oilers a complete top-six once Nugent-Hopkins deal is taken into account (in our extremely hypothetical scenario).

On the back-end, contracts to Dubnyk, Petry and the Schultzes will have expired at this point. That frees up a little over $12.5 million, but it also means the team is looking for a new starting goaltender and possibly two top-four defensemen. This is the year that the development of Klefbom and Marincin (and the rest of the young defenders) may start paying off if they’re capable of handling top minutes.

Still, everything looks pretty manageable – especially if the salary cap keeps going up. There’s not a lot of room to add extra parts without also shipping out equal salaries, but there’s no reason the team shouldn’t be able to survive the transition to paying the young stars, particularly if the current stable of defensive prospects produce one or two pieces capable of playing 2-3 years from now.

That’s the primary point, really. Personnel changes will happen – we don’t know what shape they’ll take, but we know trades and free agency will alter the face of the team. A hypothetical exercise like this will always be hopelessly outdated one year down the line. But what it shows us is that as long as the Oilers make prudent contract decisions from here on out, it seems entirely plausible that they will be able to keep the core of the team intact.

THIS WEEK BY JONATHAN WILLIS

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Jonathan Willis is a freelance writer. He currently works for Oilers Nation, Sportsnet, the Edmonton Journal and Bleacher Report. He's co-written three books and worked for myriad websites, including Grantland, ESPN, The Score, and Hockey Prospectus. He was previously the founder and managing editor of Copper & Blue.
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#101 DSF
July 13 2012, 12:04AM
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Jonathan Willis wrote:

Smid will be an unrestricted free agent. Looking at the contracts Wideman, Garrison and Carle received, what do you think he would get?

A lot more than $3.36 million, in my opinion.

Jon, as you note, the market price for 4-6 defensmen has been rising rapidly.

Another elephant in the room is Dubnyk.

Way too early to say if he's a legit #1 and, if he isnt the oilers are going to have to pay one.

I'd bank on $4-6 million.

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#102 16konst
July 13 2012, 01:56AM
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@nuge2nail

The twins were signed in 2009, which was the summer *before* their breakout season. Going into their contact, they had been consistent point a game players, not the one and a third you suggest.

That said, I do agree they chose to sign for significantly less than they would have received on the open market. IMO it had a lot to do with the fact they love living in Vancouver. What will be the reason for the kids?

The optimist in me says "hockey reasons" :)

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#103 Cowbell_Feva
July 13 2012, 09:03AM
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All the number crunching is fine and dandy, however there are a number of huge holes in this organization. As mentioned the Horcoff mess is a nightmare. The man whole pulled that off is still the Prez. That scares me.

We better hope Tyler Bunz becomes a bona fida NHL starter, because I'm still not convinced Dubnyk is one. I don't think he deserved $3.5/year either. I digress.

Our defense is pretty bad. In my mind still 2 top 4 Defensemen from being a playoff team, let alone contender.

No big bodies up the middle. I was a big advocate of drafting Galchenyuk this year. Big centerman with skill-exactly what we need. Instead we took another talented winger. I get it, he was supposedly the BPA, but from an organizational stand-point, we didn't need another winger. Oh, and I'm not big on Russians either. The stupid celebrations by Yakupov in the rookie camp simply further my thoughts on the Ruskies.

If you look at any teams that has had success they have strength down the middle. After RNH we are very weak and light. Faceoffs are important and we are terrible as a team on the dot. Keeping the 4 is one thing. Fixing obvious holes is another.

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#104 bdiddy18
July 13 2012, 09:12AM
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So the cap room is there - the expiring contracts are there and the cycle of new contracts is timed correctly. All things internally are great...

so a trade for a top pairing defencemen would unravel it all ! therefore bite the bullet stay patient and HOPE that within the system lies the answer: Klefbom, Marincin, Petry, J.Shutlz as your top 4 in three years would give Stu McGregor a statue in the new arena.

Also - some of your projections are a stretch - Laddy Smid at 4.5 Million - ugh - I'd strongly hope yet another prospect can take over for a cheaper option Fedun, Teubert, Gernat, Musil

not a knock on Smid but if you are considering casualties for the sake of keeping the core together - Smid is on that list.

Several other casualties by 2014-15 - Ryan Whitney, Shawn Horcoff, Eric Belanger, Sam Gagner - trade or buyouts

Also, I'm hoping your giving Hall and Eberle 10 year deals if your going as high as 6.75 M.

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#105 Old Retired Guy
July 13 2012, 11:17AM
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Really good analysis here. It helps to see it visually.

Two things that I think are critical to future success in managing your cap are

1) Keeping young players in OKC as long as is possible so to control thier salaries through time

2) Rotating really good players out of the Oilers roster while they still have value, and in return continuosly restocking the cupboard with with middle to top prospects and future draft picks.

I get that it's a difficult balancing act in that a) you don't want to stifle a players development by keeping in OKC too long and b) It's really REALLY hard to trade good players who are still in their prime, but the reality seems to be, that you either do it this way or, you work the cycle of boom and bust...build, win, rebuild.....

Today their are not a lot of examples on the Oilers because we are such a young team ...there are a few players like Hemsky, Jones, Petrel, etc. who have some trade value and are/will be expenadable. In the future their should be proportionately more players as the roster ages.

The tough part really comes with having the guts/courage to trade a Hall or Eberle or Yakupov when they 28 or 29.....

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#106 Wax Man Riley
July 14 2012, 12:17AM
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jake wrote:

Madjam: "There probably will be some more additions/upgrades in the mid to lower range that probably will also drive up costs . Maybe our elite talents are too much in one basket ?

Perceive our mid to low talent level has to improve markedly if we are to contend for a playoff spot . That we might basically have internally with Kreuger and emerging propects . Then again maybe we do not , and require outside acquisitions . Which way to go ?"

Good point but if these younglings consistently produce some magic in the comming seasons, some of the mid-lower range players may take reasonable discounts to play with them.

nvm

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#107 Wax Man Riley
July 14 2012, 12:20AM
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madjam wrote:

Jake: How many players will take a discount like Smyth(you got to love him for it ) ? As we become a better team prices will inflate - natural coarse/progression each year , and every thing remains relatative at this point to the cap . That inevitably will change, as it does every year .

Previous mistake made last time we were extra competitive , was to award some players with exhorbitant contracts like Horcoff and Pisani . Hopefully we don't do that again next time we go that far .

If we succeed, say this year, can we avoid the problems of losing players that plagued Pitts. , Chicago , etc.? It appears even tougher nowadays to have much in the way of sustainability after one run to the finals - moreso than we lost Gretzky .

nvm

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#108 AbsolutelyNot
July 14 2012, 09:22AM
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u oiler fans truly disgusts me. has it ever crossed your minds that it takes more than just skill to succeed in the NHL? u want to get rid of the expendable pieces and just keep the young talent? its a good thing you people arent running a team because it would be a laughing stock. these players actually WANT to play in edmonton! you oiler fans are so quick to exile our players & not give them a chance. and then you whine about kevin low about the horcoff signing when you yourselves are stuck in that "stuck up" boys on the bus era where you think no player is good enough for the oilers. give me a break! this team have been so pathetic that you have no right to be thinking this way and should actually be glad that guys like smid, gagner, who are good team mates by the way, actually Want to stay and play here.

this is why i hate oiler fans. i love the pation. but its ridiculous how you people treat these players. WAKE UP

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