Dumping a Body

The Edmonton Oilers have a pile of defencemen. They have seven established NHL players, not including Griffin Reinhart, Darnell Nurse and Brandon Davidson, and certainly not including Cody Franson or Christian Ehrhoff. They have to dump a body.

The Candidates

21-Ference-3

It won’t be a newcomer traded away, meaning that Andrej Sekera, Eric Gryba and of course Griffin Reinhart are safe. It won’t be Oscar Klefbom, arguably the best of the holdovers. It shouldn’t be Mark Fayne, either; he can play tough minutes and is probably a very good partner for Sekera. That leaves three names, listed in order of preference:

  • Andrew Ference
  • Nikita Nikitin
  • Justin Schultz

Craig MacTavish3Craig MacTavish3

These are Craig MacTavish’s mistakes. The Oilers have made a lot of errors over the years, but often those mistakes haven’t prevented them from making other moves. These ones do. Ference has two years left on a deal out of alignment with his abilities. Nikitin has one year left on an even more bloated contract. Schultz was qualified at a high price after getting overpaid last year; it was that or let him walk. (We can add Jeff Petry to the mix here, too; if the Oilers had prioritized him over Schultz down the line there would be no pressing need to add Franson or Ehrhoff to the mix because the team would already have a respectable top-four.)

But that’s the past. The question now is how to fix this problem.

The Options

19-Schultz-9

Trade. A trade is going to be difficult. The NHL’s other 29 franchises can read the names left on the free agent market as well as you or I can. Why would any general manager trade for one of those three names above when he can sign Christian Ehrhoff or Cody Franson or Jan Hejda or Matt Irwin or whoever? Schultz might be the exception because of his age, but Schultz is also overpaid and coming off a lousy season and if the Oilers had wanted to dump him for nothing they could have just passed on qualifying him.

Perhaps a deal can be made with the right combination of draft picks and retained salary, but it’ll be tough.

One possibility: Dion Phaneuf in Toronto. Here’s what James Mirtle of The Globe & Mail wrote about the possibility on Thursday:

Don’t expect captain Dion Phaneuf to be [traded]. It’s not impossible he moves, but it appears improbable. When teams have asked about his availability in the past two weeks, they haven’t been told no. Instead, the Leafs have requested a return that includes a good prospect and no salary retained on their books.

If the Oilers were willing to take Phaneuf back at his full dollar figure, they might be able to convince Toronto to take on Nikitin and Ference in the deal. Both are on short-term contracts, the dollars are about the same (Toronto has plenty of cap space) and the Leafs could look forward to being free and clear within two seasons. The risk is of course Phaneuf’s contract, and the real cost would be the far-from-insignificant futures going the other way (alternatively, the team might swap Schultz in for Nikitin as a way to reduce the number of futures sent away).

86-Nikitin-4

Buyout. The window has passed, but the team can open another one if it has two arbitration hearings. From the most recent edition of the NHL CBA:

11.18 Ordinary Course Buy-Outs Outside the Regular Period. Clubs shall have the right to exercise Ordinary Course Buy-Outs outside the regular period for Ordinary Course Buy-Outs in accordance with Paragraph 13(c)(ii) of the SPC. Each Club shall be limited to no more than three (3) such Buy-Outs outside the regular period over the term of this Agreement pursuant to Paragraph 13 of the SPC. However, in the event that a Club has only one salary arbitration hearing pursuant to Section 12.3(a) in a given League Year, such Club shall not be entitled to exercise such an Ordinary Course Buy-Out outside the regular period. Moreover, a Club shall not be entitled to exercise an Ordinary Course Buy-Out outside the regular period for: (i) any Player who was not on the Club’s Reserve List as of the most recent Trade Deadline, or (ii) any Player with an Averaged Amount less than $2,750,000. The dollar amount of $2,750,000 set forth in this Section 11.18 shall be increased on an annual basis at the same percentage rate of annual increase as the Average League Salary, with the first such increase occurring based upon a comparison of the 2014/15 Average League Salary to the 2013/14 Average League Salary.

(emphasis mine)

As I understand it, the Oilers could take Schultz to salary arbitration by virtue of his salary, but would then need a second arbitration case to get them to the two necessary to open up a second buyout window. (Additionally, because Edmonton would have initiated the arbitration in this case they would not have the option of walking away, as per paragraph 12.10 (e) of the CBA.) Tyler Pitlick and Brandon Davidson are both too cheap to take to club-elected arbitration, and neither seems a likely candidate to take the Oilers to arbitration.

Update: As Twitter’s Speeds reminds me, the Oilers can also take players who a) don’t sign their qualifying offers and b) don’t elect for arbitration to arbitration themselves, which would open the possibility of the team taking two players and thus opening the buyout window. That’s predicated on two of the three not signing their qualifying offers, however. 

Joensuu, Jesse

Europe. Remember Jesse Joensuu, who just disappeared to Switzerland part way through the year? Wouldn’t it be great if Nikita Nikitin were suddenly to sign somewhere overseas? I’m skeptical this is a real possibility, or else teams would circumvent the salary cap by doing this all the time.

Stuck

Peter Chiarelli3

The Oilers need to add one good defencemen. They need to dump at least two pricey, ineffective defencemen. Both things are going to be awfully hard to do. It would be great if Edmonton could package up a draft pick with, say, Ference and ship him off to a rebuilding team like the Leafs or a cap floor team like Arizona but it’s going to be awfully hard to make that happen.

They might just be stuck in a year where the addition of an Ehrhoff or Franson would make them a serious possibility for a playoff spot.

RECENTLY BY JONATHAN WILLIS

  • Anton CP

    Oilers D for next season:

    Sure Thing:

    Sekera (If 33m does not mean a sure thing, Katz will personally have Chiarelli be removed.)

    Fayne (One of the more reliable right shot solid D. Until Chiarelli can solidify the right side then Fayne will be playing a lot.)

    Klefbom (Baptism by fire last year, he survived tough minutes and pairing with Schultz. High hopes on him to be the future blueliner for the Oilers.)

    On the Watch:

    Schultz (Everyone will be watching him if he can finally be the true offensively gifted D man or a hyped up hack.)

    Gryba (Newly acquired solid defenseman with right shot, will have to see if he can provide some minimum offense if needed.)

    Reinhart (Chiarelli paid a premium price to get him, however it is a tough competition on left side. He will have to show some skills to finally make it to NHL.)

    Nurse (He is still young but he is ready in every aspect of the game. He will have to try very hard to make the roster because jam packed left side.)

    Ference (He is old and slow, however with NMC that he will not be playing at minor. He will likely serve as 7th D.)

    Emergency Call Ups:

    Aulie (Most likely to start the season on AHL, he will only serve as injured reserve replacement.)

    Davidson (Has some borderline skills to barely make to NHL, will not likely be seeing much of the actions next season.)

    Hunt (Only on the desperation call up. Hard to see that he will be logging on major minutes like at the beginning of last season.)

    The Minors:

    Laleggia (It will be tough for him to make the roster, he will be spending entire season with AHL.)

    Musil

    Gernat

    Oesterle

    Simpson

    Betker

    Cast Away:

    Nikitin (No team want to have anything to do with him, costly contract and playing way below expectation. He may have a very little chance to salvage whatever he has left for his NHL career. However it will be very tough for him to start the season on any team’s line up.)

  • OilCanFan1

    I know I’m in the minority, but when Nikitin wasn’t playing injured (ie back injury) I thought he played okay. I really think he played or was made to play when he wasn’t in the condition to do so. I’ve had back and shoulder injuries and can attest to the fact they slow you down big time. Nikitin is a big body which helps and he has a bomb of a shot. His camp emphatically denied MacTavish’s accusation he came to camp out of shape so who knows what to believe there but it is in the past. I believe he is going to have a comeback season just so he can hit the lottery again and make a couple more million dollars in free agency after this season. If he doesn’t have a comeback season, I can’t see ANY team wanting anything to do with him.

    People need to stop looking at what the players make (Horcoff cough cough) and look at how the players perform. They are ALL overpaid. The Oilers aren’t quite a cap team yet so who cares, other than Katz, who is overpaid. Purcell is still a useful player and I also think Schultz is a useful player, forgetting what they get paid. Who is gonna turn down more money than they are worth? I wouldn’t.

  • The idea that we need another top defenseman is silly, it’s not fantasy hockey, nobody has a perfect roster, not even the Hawks.

    Frankly the Schultz ripping is becoming a Poti-like level of our of hand. He’s only got 203 NHL games played most under poor coaching and zero accountability. If he doesn’t work out, wouldn’t it be wise to see what we have under a good staff and with urgency to play well to keel a job? If only to give him some trade value at the deadline?

    Chiarelli has been patient with not moving the I ds and it’s obvious that he wants to see how they do under McLellan.

    I suspect we’ll go with:

    Fayne – Sekera
    Klefbom – Schultz
    Reinhart – Gryba

    wirh decisions on Nikitin and Ference before training camp ends.

    It’s silly to dump Nikitin and Purcell now when as UFAs we can get something back for them at the deadline.

    Ference is tricky since he’s fairly unmovable due to the NMC. But we can press box him and use him as an injury replacement.

    So let’s ride with who we have with full confidence that Chia will solve it.

  • camdog

    JW,

    I surprised you keep advocating for Phaneuf. In 3 years Connor McDavid will be up for a contract and the Oilers would be stuck with 7 million cap devoted to an ageing d-man with foot speed problems.

  • Old Soldier

    I’m wondering if burying Nikitin or Schultz in the minors is also an option. Their cap hit would be reduced and Schultz might benefit with some development time in the AHL. And if Nikitin really has been out of shape and/or playing injured, well then the time in the AHL could be considered a “conditioning stint”. Not the best option I know, but I’d like to hear the pros/cons to it.

  • BONE 207

    I’m so nervous…my first O N post.
    With many of the younger players: Yakupov, Jultz etc. They just came out of the black hole called Eakins. Let’s pretend the past 2 years never happened. How much time would you give these guys then? Let McLellan give them some proper coaching and see where they are by mid season.

  • BONE 207

    Having watched Schultz tear it up with the Barons, I’d argue that his AHL level development was only a half season away from being a junior NHL defensemen. He still had some issues and could have used another 30 games + playoffs in the AHL.

    With that in mind, I also consider that he hasn’t been put in a position at the NHL level where he could develop.

    He hasn’t had experienced NHL coaches (Krueger, Eakins) helping in his development and heck, he hasn’t had great assistant coaches either (apart from Ramsey).

    I think an investment in developing him in a 4/5/6 role that he can handle, with some of the NHL’s best coaching staff (feels so good to be able to say that!), is worth pursuing.

    So keep him. Like Reinhart, is taking up a spot and will develop but the payoff should be great.

  • CMG30

    Hey Willis
    Forget the Phaneuf crusade. Most of us have had more than our fill of Leafs’ GA clips (thanks to our Toronto based sports networks, it is practically a full sample size!) with opponents tapping in goals while Phaneuf stands no where in particular with his thumb up his ass. No thanks!