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.

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The Candidates


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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.

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The Options


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).


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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.

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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.


    • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • Chris.

    There’s also the option of burying one/both in Bakersfield, if the plan is to bring in a Franson/Ehrhoff type.

    I’m still puzzled by the plan Oilers have in place for d. I’m one of the people that didn’t like the Reinhart trade not only a result of the expense, but also because the make up of the d is unbalanced.

    The core group of the d for the future for now is: Sekera, Klefbom, Nurse, Reinhart, and Fayne. That’s 4 LHD and 1RHD. Of course, Reinhart or Sekera could move over and play the off side, but teams traditionally try to avoid that. If there was a case to try it, Petry and Fayne should have experimented with that idea in a lost season last year.

    So now we have four core pieces for the Oilers that all shoot left. In order of where you see these four d men fit into your lineup, Reinhart seems to be at the bottom of the list. These factors are the main concerns with the trade.

    If the Oilers were able to move the picks for a equivalent prospect on the right side or a an established RHD, then the pieces work. A Hamilton/Byufligen type would have been ideal. Given that it wasn’t available, the oilers were better off using the picks on the best player available and signing Franson and Sekera in the offseason. Or signing one, and waiting for an opportunity to trade those prospects chosen at those spots for a d that may become available – Seabrook type.

    • db7db7db7

      Under the new CBA you don’t lose the cap hit by putting them in the minors, so there’s not much advantage to doing that unless it’s simply to make room for another player.

  • BDH

    Insightful discussion of the Oilers situation on defence. Thanks for this. It sure beats the “we should sign Franson and Erhoff and Hejda and Nurse should make the team” discussion. I dont always agree with you but you’re far and away the most intelligent guy here.

  • 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!

  • RCN

    Oilers don’t want a D-man with term unless he is part of the future. Cap issues are coming.

    Would be nice if Oilers could trade Ference or Nikitin, however seems unlikely.

    I think the answer maybe Jan Hejda if he has not lost too much foot speed, he could be an excellent shut down D-man giving Sekara and Fayne some rest, and helping out the younger D-men by playing tough zone starts. If he would take a 1 yr contract I think he would be just what Oilers need at the moment.

  • bazmagoo

    But the flipside of that is what are you sacrificing later to add a guy like Franson now? If you assume that it’s going to take a similar deal to what Sekera got to bring in Franson, and maybe something with less term but the same dollars per year for Ehrhoff, is that something you really want to do anyway?

    I think you’re limiting the scope of your trade scenarios too much. If your goal is to add a credible top four defenseman free agency iisn’t the only option. Thinking back to the “teams in cap hell” series from the summer, why not see if Tampa Bay would take two years of Ference at $3.5 for three years of Matt Carle at $5.5? They let Brendan Morrow walk and Yzerman does like to have one or two grizzled veterans around. I hesitate to mention the name “Bickell, bbut Chicago has some decent defense prospects like TVR and Ville Pokka that are close. If you ate some of Nikitin’s salary Detroit has at least one or two contracts they’d like to clear out, like Jakub Kindl.

  • HardBoiledOil 1.0

    you can’t help but think sometimes, when Chia doesn’t do the right thing and not qualify Schultz….i don’t care if they had let him walk….seriously! or bite the bullet and buyout Nikitin, that he didn’t want to hurt MacT’s feelings by sending these two pylons packing. this is what can happen when you don’t actually fire MacT. ( i believe Lowe and MacT were two people Katz didn’t want gone and insisted that Chia train MacT on how to be a good GM as part of the deal to get the Oilers GM job.)

  • Pretty sure $25k of Joensuu’s $950k was still on the books when he went to Europe, no? This would mean $3.55M would still be on the books if Nikitin went to Europe (same as if he went to AHL). Perhaps I’m mistaken?

  • Raider Jesse

    Speeds and I where talking the other day JW, and he thinks we may have been mistaken on the requiring 2 case for the second buyout.

    The clauses about that seem to be speaking to Section 12.3 (A) situation, where as the 12.3 (B) situation is the club elected style.


  • D

    I’ve watched every episode of the show “Behind the B” online. A good production that gives everyone insight into Peter Chiarelli’s work when he was GM of the Bruins. Parting with Ference a second time would not be easy for him, even with Ference’s decline in play.

  • Raider Jesse

    RCN is right, We were on the hook for part of Joensuu’s hit I believe, he was loaned to Europe, not a defector who had his contract voided. No unconditional waivers occured.

  • RCN

    Another thought:

    Sign Schultz to a 1 yr deal at the same $ he was making last yr, and then retain 50% ($1.8375M) in a trade. He should be full value at the price, and its only a 1 yr write-off.

  • 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

    • 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.

    • 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.

    • 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.

  • Old Soldier

    Sorry to double post, old man fingers….

    but to add one thing that not many people are discussing or even thinking about. There is no guarantee anymore that the cap will continue rising. Never mind the $5 or $6 mil jumps, I am talking the $1 jumps..People cant ignore the future.

    the Canadian dollar may never reach where it was a few years back, and there are limited new revenue streams and no expansion does not affect the cap, it is not HRR and goes straight to the owners….

    so my long winded point is….the Oilers are in a great situation….loads of young talent, decent contracts (in general) and a couple of those coming off in the next year or two. But they will also have extensions for Nurse, Draisatl and McDavid and given what the idiotic market is doing for salaries (O’Reilly at $7.5???) saving and keeping cap space may be just as important as drafting in the near future….look at the restraint in Free Agency.

  • Quicksilver ballet

    We should call that Keenu Reeves fellow. There’s a guy who just gets things done.

    Watch the magic unfold after he makes a “reservation” for two.

  • Dave Semenko

    What about signing Franson (as an example) and assigning Nikitin to Bakersfield? The Oil successfully buried Souray in the minors and ate his salary a few years back and while in the AHL, his contract was within the 50 limit but it did not count against the cap. My guess is that with any player of his status (several years in the bigs), his pride would not appreciate the slight and this might compell him to seek employment in the KHL or elsewhere in Europe.

    • Raider Jesse

      You haven’t been able to hid money in the minors since the last CBA.

      You can only get relief of 950K.

      So he would be a 4.6M cap hit still in the minors. It’s the Redden/Finger rule.

      EDIT Changed 900k to 950K (amount you can bury under this cap level)

  • 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?

  • WTF2

    Players have to file for arb by July 5th, and the teams window to file for arb is the 24 hours after that. So, if something is going to happen there, it will happen soon.

    • JackB


      (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.

    • 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.

  • Mac07

    Franson couldn’t make the Nashville roster . Yet people want to tie up Oilers hands with this guy who wants big money and term, he is a slow skater and is a 3rd pairing D-man.

    He is that shiny toy you look at and once you go deeper you find out he is a empty suit.

  • Jaxon

    I think Washington would be one of the only destinations that would work for Schultz. They just lost Green to free agency and Schultz is a similar style player. They will want to replace Green’s powerplay acumen. They want to make a push to be a contender now. Many people still believe Schultz can be an impact player, but was not used properly or trained properly in Edmonton. Washington has cap space and they have a good young prospect that could come the other way that fits in with Edmonton’s future. Justin Schultz and one of Mitch Moroz, David Musil or Tyler Pitlick for Madison Bowey. I’d love to try to pry Riley Barber from them too but I don’t think they would let both go in the same trade. Bowey played with Draisaitl in Kelowna (their top scoring D) and with McDavid and Nurse on the World Junior Gold team (their top scoring D). He’s 6’2″, 207lbs, right handed and the same age as Nurse. He’ll probably spend the year in the AHL, but in 2 years he will join an amazing D cluster. I think Washington is looking for more in the here and now, which is why it might be attractive to them, especially with one of our #31,#32 overall picks going with him.

  • radicator

    I’m here at the practice waiting for the zamboni and PC is sitting across the ice from me. I’d love to go pick his brain and humbly advise him which D to still add and which to get rid of. I think I could outrun the ushers…