Thanks in large part to the dramatic fall of the Canadian dollar, next year’s NHL salary cap is not expected to leave high-payroll teams with a lot of breathing room. The expectation is that this summer will see numerous teams – most notably the Chicago Blackhawks – unload salary to allow compliance with a restrictive cap.
Which means that for teams with cap space and assets, this summer and fall is likely to afford an opportunity to do the kind of thing the New York Islanders did so effectively last fall: Extract good NHL players for futures plus the cost of their contracts.
Cap space and futures
At the Journal last month I suggested the Oilers could have roughly $17 million in cap space for next season. It has since been strongly indicated that Nikita Nikitin will not be bought out in the summer, which knocks that number down by $3.0 million (I’d budgeted for a buyout) but still leaves the Oilers with some significant breathing room to bring in some players. Assuming the possibility of some salary going back the other way, Edmonton could plausibly bring aboard two-to-three significant contracts.
The Oilers also have some significant futures to contribute. They have the Penguins’ 2015 first round pick, whatever return they get in what seems like an inevitable Petry deal (likely a 2015 second round selection) and of the prospects we should probably highlight Martin Marincin – cheap, reasonably effective and NHL-ready, as well as seemingly on the outs with the people doing assessment for Edmonton.
Wants and needs
The roster above is obviously a projection based on no new additions and is intended as a starting point so that we can see where it needs to be upgraded. Goaltending isn’t included but just as obviously the Oilers will need to add a new netminder, probably in the No. 1 role.
I see three absolutely critical needs:
- A new goaltender
- A second-line centre
- A top-pairing defenceman
There are two critical notes worth making here. First, goalies don’t generally come available via salary dump; teams with solid starters tend to keep them. My guess would be that the Oilers turn to free agency to address that problem, or if they do go through with a trade add someone without a massive salary. Additionally, the second item on that list may come through the draft lottery; if the Oilers end up in the first or second spot they’ll have a chance at a high-end talent virtually guaranteed to be on the roster next season (though I’d be sorely tempted to add a top-six forward anyway).
What would a trade look like? Let’s go back to what the Islanders did in the fall:
- NYI acquires Johnny Boychuk from BOS in exchange for a 2015 second round pick, a 2016 second round pick and a conditional 2015 third round pick (if the Islanders package Boychuk to another Eastern Conference team).
- NYI acquires Nick Leddy and prospect Kent Simpson from CHI in exchange for prospects Ville Pokka and Anders Nilsson as well as minor-league defenceman T.J. Brennan.
In all, the Islanders moved a top prospect, a fringe prospect and two second round picks in exchange for two top-four defencemen, players who have emerged as the team’s No. 1 and No. 3 options on a rebuilt blue line. New York was fortunate in that Boychuk and Leddy took advantage of the opportunity and evolved to fill roles they had never played in the past, but even if they had not the team stabilized its blue line at a pretty reasonable cost.
Craig MacTavish has (rightly) taken some flak for suggesting in recent weeks that the Oilers’ foundation for next season is complete. It’s impossible for an outsider to know exactly what he means by that, but if his plan is to bolster the current roster at key positions with impact additions, it’s really not such a bad idea.