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

  • RexLibris

    The current level of the cap should help the Oilers retain their core through the next five to six years.

    Increases, on the other hand, will be needed to help flesh out enough complementary talent to make the team successful.

      • DSF

        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.

  • toprightcorner

    I believe that the owners will really try to put a limit on second contracts or contracts to RFA eligible years. It would not only make sense for the owners to enable them to build a team that has the ability to keep it together longer, but it would also make sense to a majority of the players which are currently past RFA status. With the young players getting a majority of the cap space money, it greatly reduces the income potential of the more veteran players. If the veteran majority players, as a whole, we’re smart, they would try to get an agreement that allows them to earn more money and limiting second contracts or the first 6 years of contracts for players would accomplish that.

    If they could limit those contracts to a maximum increase to50% of the maximum salary for their draft year, it would be a fair deal for all.

    An example would be that Hall and Eberle could be signed to a maximum contract of about $5.6 million. Still a good income for them, but not too crazy that they can’t afford to pay other quality players. If a team had 4 star young players, the savings compared to a $6.5 million contract would be enough to cover the salary of another quality player.

    Considering even the best rookies never come close to triggering all of their bonuses, they would still have an increase in actual paid salary of over $3 million.

    Now my numbers are simply examples, but I believe the idea would benefit all players in the league but also the owners and especially the fans that don’t have to fear the dismantling of a quality rebuild because of salary cap issues. It also takes stupid offer sheets from being offered.

  • toprightcorner

    Your assumptions are based on the current CBA. My thoughts are somewhat different than yours regarding the amount of money and term players who entering thier 2cd contracts will be allowed to be signed for. I believe that the NHLPA and the NHL wish to put a cap on those contracts. Perhaps a new formula will apply come next yesterday. Which should/could benefit not only the Oilers but all 30 franchises. I believe the owners will give up one year of FA in exchange for certainty in the area of ELC’s and 2cd term contracts.

    Another wildcard is that the NHL has certainly reworked the model for an NHL franchise which will feed its coffers more than ever has been imagined. The Pheonix saga will die this summer. Fold? No. But KC and Saskatoon eagerly await.QC and Hamilton await news of expansion. What better way to tell the world,the media,the sponsors and the fans that game is healthy and growing. And to remove the memory of Pheonix?

    Labour certainty.Growth.

  • toprightcorner

    Cap goes up each year and thus past on to players . Most of those long term contracts are a bargain over long term if player remains elite – gamble no doubt . New and future long term contracts should be bigger than the ones now in effect . Our youth may, and probably should exceed those amounts in a couple of years if headed toward elite status . Two years down the road maybe $10M /season might become the norm for elite talent (market value) . Don’t laugh -the KHL is already paying that for elite and semi elite players , and their not as healthy overall as the NHL .

    YES,WE DO NEED TO WORRY ABOUT ELITE SUCCESS !

  • toprightcorner

    @T_Bone

    Of course the team cap limits affects the market price of individual players. Remember the pre-cap days when Yashin & some others got ridiculous contracts. The more money GMs have available to spend, the more they will spend.

  • nuge2drai

    Oiler Domination To Follow

    Daniel Sedin – 6.1 Million(85 points/63 games) Henrik Sedin – 6.1 Million (112 Points/+35) Burrows – 2 Million (35 G/32 A/+34)
    Keslar – 5 Million (25G/50A/Selke Nom)

    Unless im missing something here Eberle(76 Points) and Hall(53 points) is no where close to the Twins but they deserve MORE MONEY?

    I understand inflation and the cap rising 12 million since thier contracts were signed but we are talking about a 36 point gap and a +- gap of 30.

    Has inflation effected NHL Salaries that much -not to mention the Twins would have offers from 30+ teams and Hall and Eberle will have offers from one.

    Henrik had more points in his contract year than both our guys have in their entire Careers. 6.0/Mil a year for one RFA who has 95 Points/Two seasons the other 119 Points/Two Seasons seems legitimate considering what these players have accomplished so far.

    It will be argued that our guys have more potential, they are younger, the cap is rising, they can get more money elsewhere… and some of those points are true – but Henrik adn Daniel could have taken 7Mil each to play in Toronto, they took a discount to keep a competitive team together, im hoping our CORE does something similar and takes a cap hit in the same range as the stars over on the West Coast.

    • 16konst

      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” 🙂

  • O.C.

    The only way the Edmonton Oilers can keep all their upcoming offensive talent is if Hall, Eberle and them are willing to take a little paycut in order to preserve having one of the best teams in the NHL in the future.

  • KleptoKlown

    @nuge2nail

    You answered your own question in that post. Hall and Eberle are not worth more than the Sedin’s(not right now anyway…couple years time might be different) but the Sedin’s took that home team discount everyone hopes there favorite players will take to stay.

    Burrows did the same(he actually got fleeced on that contract in retrospect) Kesler took a discount too, all be it not to the same degree as the Sedin’s

    Hamhius, Bieska and Garrison all left money on the table too.

    It is the only reason why the Canucks have been able to remain competitive, and look to be competitive for at least a few more years.

    The Oilers are going to have to have the same dedication from its players, or else this is going to be a short ride. That’s why the Hall and Eberle contracts are so important next year. They are going to set the standard for future Oiler contracts. If Hall and Eberle sign for say 6 million per season, no one else on the Oilers should expect to make more than that(Unless that player is Shea Weber)

  • nuge2drai

    Oiler Domination to Follow

    @kleptoklown
    “Hall and Eberle are not worth more than the Sedin’s(not right now anyway…couple years time might be different)”

    I hope in a couple years Hall and Eberle put up 110+ points, while putting up +35’s and are worth more than the Twins. Sadly today that is not the case and most likely it will not be next year.

    You make a great point that Halls contract will establish the value for everyone else on the team. If Hall takes a paycut to stay on the team – I can see everyone following. If Hall takes Max dollar – I can see everyone following. Heres hoping they want to stay together.

  • O.C.

    If there’s a lockout…

    …the whole thing is a mess.

    Be nice if the four key players had their agents sit in and negotiate together.

    What’s better? A million more a year on a crap team or being on a great team?

    Answer… You get more endorsements and lifetime opportunities when you play on a legendary team. No one sponsors a loser.

  • Cowbell_Feva

    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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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…..

  • 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