Can the Edmonton Oilers keep their young core together?

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

  • Jonathan,

    Do you really think Hall and Eberle will sign for that much? Tavares signed for 5.5 no? If Hall is excited to be the leader of this team as much as this whole convincing J.Schultz scenerio seemed, you’d think there would be some sort of “keep the core together discounts” perhaps?

    • Sorry, the hyperlink to my reasoning on the Hall/Eberle deals didn’t work first-time around; I’ve fixed that now.

      For the purposes of this projection, I’ve also defaulted to being pessimistic on the whole just to see if the team is still affordable.

  • Quicksilver ballet

    Taveras is a fine parallel. All involved have potential but yet play on a perennial bottom feeder.

    Now that the Oilers have 4 such players, hopefully they’re good enough to get themselves out of this mess they’re in. Anything north of 6 per on their second contract is just poor management. If Jordan could finish top 10 in scoring then i can see a case be made for him, but the others haven’t reached anywhere near their potential yet.

  • Quicksilver ballet

    @ Jonathan Willis.

    The Bossys,Messiers,Coffeys of the world weren’t paid based on hopeful future performance. They were paid accordingly till they showed they could do it on a consistant basis. A time when the game reached it peak as far as entertainment value goes.

    To pay now for potential future performance would have atleast 2/3rds of the teams in the NHL losing money every year…..oh wait, they are! We’d be doomed and probably end up with a league full of Rick Nash’s.

  • Also, for 13/14, as long as bonus overages are still part of the new CBA, EDM will have more flexibility than you’ve indicated since they’ll have a ton of bonuses which would allow them to go over the cap by a couple of million bucks, with little risk. They would have 6 mil in Schedule B bonuses between RNH, Schultz and Yakupov, pretty unlikely that all 3 would trigger those bonuses.

  • It’s my only hope that by playing these young kids together for as long as possible before they’re due their raises that it builds a sense of team to the point where all of the big 4 take a little less money than they could otherwise to keep the team competitive.

    Hall and Eberle arent stupid…Eberle isnt stupid, he knows that if he was the only star on the team he could be making Rick Nash money. Hopefully they are smart enough to recognize that nobody can make Rick Nash money without being on a Rick Nash-style team.

    • I like Horcoff as a player way more than most, so I’m not looking to get rid of him as much as it seems like the average poster might be.

      That said, if EDM is looking to move him, his NMC expires after this season. Next summer he’ll have two seasons left at 4 mil and 3 mil, still at his 5.5 cap hit, but that cap hit won’t be a problem for a number of teams more likely to be concerned with the actual cash.

      It will be interesting to see how EDM handles Horcoff’s ice time, linemates, PP time, etc this season. It’s possible they think that putting him in a situation more conducive to producing offense would help improve his tradeability next summer, although if that were the plan they’d be unlikely to disclose it and I’m sure a number of fans would be unhappy unless he started producing. Ironically, in that case, a number of those fans may not want to see him traded.

  • I think we totally undervalue Smid in this Market. I havent looked it up extensively but around 4.5 mil for him isnt totally off the charts.

    A guy who is sound defensively, likes and is loyal to the city, for all I can tell is a good guy in the dressing room, and actually is somewhat difficult to play against? I wouldnt trade Smid for anything if it was at all avoidable.

  • geoilersgist

    If there ends up being an amnesty clause in the new CBA the Oilers could deal with Horcoffs salary problem. They could probably free up at least 3mil from his contract and that could be added to RNH salary when his deal expires. I don’t see how they will have too many problems keeping the kids together.

  • KleptoKlown

    The contracts Hall and Eberle sign at the end of the year will shine a better light on the Oilers chances to keep this core together. I doubt any of these core guys will have significantly different contracts.

    One screwball could be the ever dreaded predatory offer sheet.

    Say team X offers Eberle a 3 year deal at 8.4 million per season(2 1st rounders, a 2nd and a 3rd as compensation) The Oilers would have to match, as there is no way they could let Eberle walk.

    Now the rest of the core sees that 8.4 million and says “me too”

    The best way to fight a dynasty is to prevent it from ever taking shape. If I am a competing GM, I know this.

  • High end talent seems to cancel one another out on most teams . It is the mid to lower acquisitions that seem/tend to have most influence on success – much like a hockey draft .

    A perceiveable imbalance with high end talent appearing mainly on wing and offence ? The most important unknown is how our elite talents will transition and fit into a premier team mentality over an individual one .

    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 ?

  • It’s a good analysis Willis.

    If the new CBA puts term limits on contracts, teams will no longer be able to artificially lower cap values. Another consideration is that the team salary caps might be frozen or reduced if the 57% of revenues to is reduced.

    According to Capgeek, Ryan Whitney’s salary this year is $5.5M vs a cap of $4M so your estimate of $4.5 is actually a reduction in pay to him rather than an increase.

    Tavares will be paid $6M per year in 2014-15 through 2017-18 and I think it was considered to be a good contract for the Islanders, so your estimates for Hall and Eberle are not out of line IMO.

    I very much hope the Oilers are prudent in the short term. They should stay away from dreams of trading/signing Weber or Boumeester until they know the upside of their defensive prospects.

  • striatic

    once Horcoff’s NMC expires he will be traded or buried or bought out or amnesty claused or whatever best option is available.

    he’s still a fine player but his cap hit will start hurting the team in a way it hasn’t for the past three seasons and something has to give.