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

    • RCN

      Totally agree. Todd M may be able to turn Schultz around but impossible with Nikitin and Ference. Given our cap situation we may be stuck 1 top 4 D short. Too much poor performing D and not enough top 4 quality D. Last piece of the puzzle to be competitive. We had at or near the worst D in the league last year. Changes made make it better but not substantially with the loss of Petry. Better coaching will help as will Talbot but it doesn’t matter how many goals you score if you can’t keep the puck out of the net. It is better to prevent the shot rather than hope your goalie can stop it.

  • Old Soldier

    What’s the rush?

    As usual the amazing excitement of the last month now has people pushing for more, no matter what….

    We literally just got McDavid, added some good players, made some good deals, and we have a roster that now forces players to earn their spot…..so why the absolute need to push even harder.

    Simply waiting a year gets rid of Nikitin, and has Ferrence and Fayne (I think) on one year left….easy enough to buy out or move at that point. You have Schultz showing under a new coach whether he belongs or needs a fresh start somewhere.

    How much pressure do we need to put on a first year potential superstar, and a core group who have never had expectations like they do now, and some on the cusp budding stars (Nurse, Draisaitl, Klefbom) who may be up and down getting their feet planted, and A new goalie who is finding out himself if he is a No.1 or not.

    In my opinion there is no need to make any more moves …..in fact right at this stage would be a good time to say enough for now….lets let the dust settle and see what we have…..and then next year, while still having some cap room, and perhaps a year of the league seeing what playing for the Oilers might be like, then look at adding for serious playoff runs.

    Seriously, is overpaying now for Franson going to be better for the Oil than waiting to see how the lineup adjusts this season and then start patching holes

    • Señor Frijoles

      This is the best logic I’ve heard on here in a long time – I couldn’t agree more. This coming season will be a step forward but we all know the chances of a deep playoff run are slim. Next offseason things will be different – make some moves then, allow contracts to drop away naturally. No reason to spend to the cap now and end up stuck with bad contracts like Phaneuf, etc.

      • CMG30

        We’re already spending to the cap if you consider possible bonuses. That’s why we need to eliminate one of the bad contracts on D if we wish to add that final piece which (on paper) makes this team competitive enough to push for a playoff spot.

        Spending to the cap is not a bad thing so long as the players you have signed are at dollar figures and term that are reasonable for their talent level. If you can do that then it’s not difficult to move someone if the need arises. The problem comes when you have players signed to deals that far exceed their value. They aren’t doing you any good and worse they block you from getting the players who can help you.

    • Raider Jesse

      The Rush is that in 3 years, McDavid is going to likely cost 10M or so. Make hay (DAMMIT LOWETIDE) asap.

      Our best hope at a cup is literally year 3 of the ELC. So the onus is to get as good as possible as quick as possible. This team can make the playoffs if they add another Sekera level defender and things break the right way.

      What are the odds the team makes the playoffs and wins the cup first year in? Horribly unlikely, so that is why we should strive for 1-2 years in the playoffs of “learning” to play playoff hockey. Cliche I know, but there is some truth to it.

      That’s my viewpoint on it at least.

    • tileguy

      props x 1000. I couldn’t of said it any more eloquently. Sometime you just have to let the scabs fall off the skin naturally, and next year we will be the big dog at free agency. One more year oilers nation, sit back watch the teams come together.

  • oilerjed

    Pheonix is trying to get to the floor and Niki could do that if nothing else. Ship him of with a draft pick or maybe a B grade forward prospect. Their owner doesn’t look overly interested in putting anything competitive on the ice. Hell they traded sam gagner for Pronger’s contract!

  • Señor Frijoles

    For the love of God, stop suggesting Phaneuf as a possibility for the Oilers. Don’t even think it. Getting rid of Phaneuf and adding Nikitin and Ference would be good for Toronto – so how could the inverse possibly be true for the Oilers?

    • OilCanFan1

      Ya, I don’t know how either of them survived this long. Once the draft was over or the same time as the scouts were let go, they should have gone as well.

    • JackB

      YES !! . . . BEYOND ALL COMPREHENSION !!

      (When I saw Lowe at the draft table on TV, I almost puked . . . WHAT THE HELL WAS HE DOING THERE ??)

      If Katz is pulling the strings on his new play toy (“A HOCKEY TEAM . . . YEAH … YEAH . . . I OWN A HOCKEY TEAM . . .”)

      Then shame on him.

  • Craig1981

    I know this won’t be a popular belief, but I would ride it out with Reinhart and Nurse in the AHL for the first 20-40 games.

    Fayne-Sekera

    Kelbom-Gryba

    •Andrew Ference
    •Nikita Nikitin
    •Justin Schultz

    Now that’s not a playoff roster, but remember injuries will happen and if you trade 1 or 2 away that means you might be calling up Hunt in Nov.

    Come Dec-Jan if Nikitin is playing OK he might be worth a pick if you retain 1/2 salary. Schultz might have a recovery with a new coach and have value, and Ference will only have 1+ years left. Gryba will defiantly have value if he is just a short team guy.

    End the season with:

    Fayne-Sekera

    Kelbom-Nurse

    Reinhart-Gryba

    …..but no need to rush it…..No need to call up Hunt

    • Edsez

      That’s the fact, Jack

      Nikitin only has value as a late season depth pickup by a playoff bound team, Ference can’t be moved because of his NMC and Schultz warrants a another look … like it or lump it, we’re going to be starting the season with all 3 in the lineup

      I, also, see it as a positive to have Nurse and Reinhart playing 20+ minutes a night in Bakersfield to start the season

    • Trevor457

      I more or less agree, but would go with

      Fayne – Sekara, play the other teams top lines all zones.

      Klefbom – Gryba, defensive starts against non top competition.

      Schultz and Reinhart/Ference/Nurse, o zone starts against non top competition.

      If deployed like this only fayne and Gryba would be a little out of their depth, but not so much so that it would be a disaster. It would allow nurse and Reinhart to develop and hopefully take over top 4 roles in 1-2 years, at which point the oil would have a very solid defence.taking on a contract like phaneuf would be a big mistake, especially if they had to move out a core player in a few years because of it.

    • OilCanFan1

      Maybe Hunt has worked on his foot speed, he has the offense. One of his biggest problems was who he was playing with. He should not have been playing with Schultz, aren’t they the same type of player, all offense, no defense?

      • camdog

        Hunt’s turning 27 this summer. I imagine he’s been working on his foot speed for 5-6 years and this is where he got to. More likely that he loses a gear in the next couple of years rather than gain.

  • Stack Pad Save

    If I see improvement than I am okay with not dumping guys like Ference and Nikitin. In a perfect world I would love to see those 2 dumped and better defensemen put in their place. However, I don’t see Erhoff or Franson being such pivotal pieces that you have to trade Ference and picks and retain his salary.

    The Oilers are not close enough to the playoffs to be doing things to win now. Teams that retain salary do that in desperation because their window for winning a cup is expiring. The Oilers window hasn’t even been opened yet.

    • db7db7db7

      They window’s been open for a couple years already, but they’ve failed to take advantage. It’s time to make hay! Enough with the rebuild. Time to swing for the fences!

      • Stack Pad Save

        Don’t get me wrong. I want the rebuild done as much as the next guy. But swinging for the fences with your eyes closed like Casey at Bat isn’t what I want.

        I think the rebuild officially ended with the trade of picks for Griffen Reinhart. Chi showed us that he is no longer moving out pieces for future hopefuls.

        But you can’t be stupid and give away all your money to someone who won’t help you win a cup. I think throwing away 6 million a year of cap space on Franson or Erhoff is a waste of money. Save it for next years free agency and sign someone who can earn that much money helping the Oil get a cup. The end game isn’t making the playoffs its winning the cup. I don’t want the Oilers to be San Jose 2.0.

  • vetinari

    Let’s say a bloody miracle happens this year and the Oilers somehow
    Manage to improve to the tune of a 20 PT year-over-year increase in the standings, of which only two teams were able to do last year (Nashville & Calgary)…that at best still leaves the Oilers as the 5th or 6th best team in the Pacific division and out of the playoffs.

    Gonna be another long year Oiler fans, so be humble

      • Craig1981

        And where did Colorado go the following year? Right back out of the playoff picture.

        That season they had was an anomaly, not the norm or any level of a benchmark that should be used as a comparison

    • Señor Frijoles

      Not necessarily that low in division, if the Oilers improve by 20 points, that means they will be taking those points from other teams, ie the teams in the division, thus increasing their standing within the division

    • Kevwan

      Hardly a miracle.

      If the Oilers won at the same rate under Eakins as they did under Nelson they would have 7 more points. That is without the services of Perron and Petry for a good chunk of Nelson’s tenure. The improvements they have made in every aspect of the team has to mean an additional 13 points. Adding a 60 +/- pt player like McDavid alone should do that.

      20 points should be the floor on the Oilers improvement next year. I expect closer to 30. I doubt they are a playoff team and hope they don’t make any rash moves. There’s something to be said for being humble but this team is going to be fun to follow.