If the Oilers make a big roster move in the coming days or weeks, it will involve a trade. The simple fact of the matter is that the Oilers don’t have the cap space to acquire a marquee player without sending at least one big ticket out.
Thanks to the decision to employ the 5% inflator built into the CBA, the salary cap will not drop next year, but rather rise to 56.8 million. That represents a 100,000$ increase from this season. Next season, the outlook is bleaker; the cap figure is as of yet unknown but it is certain to decline, perhaps steeply.
For the Edmonton Oilers, this represents two problems. The first is that with multiple restricted free agents (Denis Grebeshkov, Ladislav Smid, Liam Reddox, Gilbert Brule) left to sign, no starting goaltender, and a desire to add a top line player, Steve Tambellini has only 10-million dollars or so to work with (source: nhlscap.com). This is, however, a small problem compared to what Tambellini will need to deal with next summer.
With the cap in decline, Tambellini will see several players reach restricted free agency – with the critical two being Sam Gagner and Andrew Cogliano. Should those two players progress over the next year, they will certainly command large raises and both could be targets for an offer sheet. Only Fernando Pisani’s 2.5 million dollar contract comes off the books in that time. In other words, if Tambellini spends to the cap this summer, he is going to have no room to sign Ganger and Cogliano.
What is the solution? Despite suggestions from fans, I can’t see Daryl Katz spending millions to send a player like Dustin Penner to the minors. Ditto for Shawn Horcoff, the sole veteran centre on the team and a vital player, regardless of whether he’s worth his 5.5MM annual cap hit or not. Fernando Pisani isn’t the problem either; his contract comes off the books after this season, at which point he can be re-signed for less money or allowed to depart. Let’s take a look at the Oilers roster, ranked by position and annual cap hit, and see if there isn’t a solution to the problem. I’ve bolded players of interest.
- Shawn Horcoff – 5.5MM – A vital player for this team; moving him creates more problems than it solves.
- Dustin Penner – 4.25 MM – He won’t be waived, but if the Oilers can trade him and bring in a different LW I think they will.
- Ales Hemsky – 4.1MM – A bargain at this salary.
- Patrick O’Sullivan – 2.925 MM – O’Sullivan may be dealt, but he really isn’t overpaid relative to his production.
- Fernando Pisani – 2.5MM – Since Pisani’s contract comes off the books next season, moving him doesn’t help the long-term picture.
- Ethan Moreau – 2.0MM – I’m generally critical of Moreau, but he brings necessary ingredients to this team and isn’t overpaid by much.
- Robert Nilsson – 2.0MM – The Oilers gambled on Nilsson’s potential, and haven’t done well to this point. He would be a bargain if he could get back to scoring, but they may not be able to wait that long.
- Sam Ganger – 1.625MM – A key player for this franchise for at least the next five years.
- Andrew Cogliano – 1.133MM – The Oilers seem committed to keeping him; has goal-scoring potential.
- Marc Pouliot – 825K – Cheap and versatile.
- Zack Stortini – 700K – Not a problem salary-wise.
- J-F Jacques – 525K – Ideally priced; jury is still out on his NHL effectiveness.
- Lubomir Visnovsky – 5.6MM – High-priced defenseman is worth the money, possesses a NMC.
- Sheldon Souray – 5.4MM – High-priced defenseman is worth the money, possesses a NMC.
- Tom Gilbert – 4.0MM – Reasonably priced for his offensive contributions, Gilbert may still be moved because the Oilers probably need to take money off the back end.
- Steve Staios – 2.7MM – Overpaid relative to his actual contribution, Staios is an obvious candidate to be moved – if anyone will take him.
- Theo Peckham – 600K – Affordable, but as with Jacques the jury is still out on how effective he can be.
- Jeff Deslauriers – 625K – For all that the Oilers talk about their belief in JDD, I sometimes wonder if they aren’t just thankful to have a cheap backup option.
Armchair GM: My Solution
Assuming that a big package for Heatley is out (ideally consisting of Penner plus either O’Sullivan or Gilbert), there are a few other things worth considering:
Get a cheap goaltender. Tambellini and Co. seem committed to getting someone in the 3MM range to tandem with Deslauriers. I’m a little leery of some of the options (please not Clemmensen) but this is one of the few areas where money can be saved – either with Roloson or someone like Craig Anderson coming in on a cheap contract.
Move Souray to California. Rumours persist that Sheldon Souray would like to be closer to his children. His market value has never been higher, and if that is indeed his desire than a team like Los Angeles would seem to be an ideal fit. If the Oilers could bring back a player like Frolov, so much the better.
Clear out the deadwood. Staios and Nilsson both have some things working for them as players, and there may very well be interest from different teams in one or both. If not, Nilsson’s 2MM contract isn’t quite as much money to burn in the minors. Both could be easily replaced with bargain-bin free agents.
If all else fails. Assuming that Souray doesn’t want to be moved and Staios and Nilsson don’t attract any interest at all, there are precious few options left. One or more of Gilbert, O’Sullivan, Grebeshkov or Penner would need to be moved – and moving any of those would likely involve taking on salary in return.