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.


  • 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.

  • 15w40

    Restraint should be the order of the day. The defence is far from ideal at this point but don’t make any knee jerk signings now that they are starting to pull out of this 9 year nose dive.

    If you can send away Nikitin to a cap floor team then fine but don’t mortgage the next 5 or 6 years on another questionable contract to get rid of 1 or 2 years of a putrid one.

    I say open camp this fall and let’s see what happens. Maybe Jultz is the odd man out and instead of Nurse or Reinhart going to the minors its him.

    25 games in Bakersfield might get his head screwed on straight or they might find out once and for all that he just isn’t going to develop into what they had hoped and MacT and friends come out with egg on their face again.

    Realistically either Jultz develops into a useful player this year or he is off the books next year no matter what. If its the same soft Jultz then walk away.

    Nikitin is gone, Purcell is gone and Ference will potentially be gone as early as this trade deadline.

    Unless you can do a trade with NJD for something like Jultz plus Yak for Adam Larsson

  • Jaxon

    I think Purcell is more moveable than Nikitin or Ference. Then Chiarelli and McClellan can figure out how things shake loose on D before the trade deadline. Possible fits for Purcell include BUF, CAR, FLO, NJD, TOR, ANA & SJS. All these teams have very little NHL depth on the RW. Send Purcell and one of Musil, Moroz or Pitlick for a RW prospect or RD prospect. For example: Alex Petrovic in FLO. One of Mark Pysyk, Nicolas Baptiste, Justin Bailey or Hudson Fasching in BUF. One of Severson, Santini or Jacobs in NJD. Nemisz, Carrick, Pesce or McKeown in CAR. Hyman or Percy in TOR.

  • Look it up.

    If you think Nikitin was bad ( and he was) then your not paying attention to the All the avalible stats out there because Ference by ever number imaginable is bloody awful….

    Ference dragged down everyone he played with by a country mile, it’s not even close.

    Ference on the new defense shouldn’t even make the team and would be in the bottom pairing in the AHL.

    That’s how bad he actually is. Full Stop.

    Ference has to go.

    • camdog

      Agree with what your wrote. You don’t really need to look at the stats to see that the Ference was awful, but there were things that he brought to the team that nobody else would do and it needed to be done.

  • 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.)

  • 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)

  • 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.

  • Butters

    I think PC wanted to address the D to the point where our defensemen do not have to play over their heads as much this year as they had to last year. They still will to a point however.

    The GR trade was too rich for my blood and I have a bad feeling about it. I hope I am wrong.

    I think the other half of the Rogers TV money kicked in this year and helped boost the cap. I am not sure the cap is going up next year. The Oilers will have to keep that in mind.

  • Jaxon

    I don’t know how you get rid of Ference with his NMC except to convince him to retire and give him a coaching, training or management position. I’m pretty sure he wants to finish his career in his hometown.

  • Quicksilver ballet

    Gryba sure looks like a wasted addition now. In all likelyhood Nurse could come to camp and be the best blueliner and there won’t even be any room for him.

    This will be the camp Darnell shows he could’ve stayed last year. Then there’d be one less rookie breaking in this season. It’s up to the raw rookie now to step in and play cop if someone targets some of the players who need others to fight their battles.

    • It’s refreshing the Oilers seem done with plugging young players into key positions, or at least too many young players in the same year. Darnell will play for the Oilers next year, but maybe he doesn’t need to start there. He hasn’t played for a long stretch in any pro league, so why not let him dominate that first before resting expectations he’ll come here and dominate?

  • 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.

  • bradleypi

    I’m pretty sure Ferrance has a no move clause in his contract. It’s too bad we didn’t buy out Nikitin when we had the chance, but as it’s a contract year for him, we can only hope that he gets his act together. I feel Ferrance will retire at the end of next season, unless his waives his NTC and gets traded. Nonetheless, both he and Nikitin will be watching a lot of games from the press box this season, or possibly face the embarrassment of being placed on waivers.

  • Jaxon

    Offer Nikitin a 1M bonus on top of his regular salary due to go to KHL . Offer Ference a similar package to retire with bonus and a job on top of salary owed . Be innovative with Purcell and offer him a significant signing bonus for signing a 1- 2 year extention at minimum salary .

  • 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.


  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • Jaxon

    Nikitin would be the most difficult trade. He’s never shown that well, and last season was awful. He’s not really a specialist in any aspect that would be marketable to another team. His salary is the only thing that might make him attractive to one or two teams that need to get to the cap floor. Are there still any teams left in danger of not reaching the floor? I think they’d have to send a good young prospect with him for anyone to bite on that. Nikitin and one of Musil Moroz or Pitlick to Colorado for Stefan Elliott?

    • Edsez

      “Are there still any teams left in danger of not reaching the floor?” … none

      The Devils, Coyotes & Preds are all within $1.5 million with several RFAs to be signed

  • knee deep in it

    The only plausible solution I see is to dump Shultz for a pick and then package that pick with ference for future considerations.

    Anaheim is looking to add a veteran dman and they build through the draft. They might consider ference and a 2nd for future considerations.

    Nikitin is a lost cause. IMO, the best would be to keep him as a 7 th damn while starting nurse in the ahl. we start praying for lots of injuries to dman around the league and hopefully find someone to take NN.

    The alternative is to put NN in the ahl and get the 900k cap savings. I do not want a buyout because it carries into next year.

  • 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.

  • Spoils

    Nikitin should be bought out

    Hard to forget Schultz’ AHL work during the lockout. I think he could rise under the glory of McDavid. We need the puck movement, and with better coaching and usage his trade value could rise.

    I think Ference could be convinced to do the Captainly thing and waive his no trade – he’d be included in the trade below…

    YES, we need to make one heck of a trade – a blockbuster – to get a true #1D. It will seem painful at the time. If we get a real quarterback coming back, it will be more than worth it.

  • 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.)






    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.)

  • 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!