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.


  • oilpower

    Barring a team needing to reach the cap floor tossing us a 7th round pick for Nikitin, I don’t think he is going anywhere and the same goes for Ference with his NMC. That said, Ference will likely have a much better year now that we have a little more depth and Nikitin could potentially also come back with a little more intensity – it’s a contract year for him and unless he wants to go back to Russia after the season he might need a good year to earn a contract somewhere.

    It would be great to add another D, Jan Hejda for 1 year would be my choice, but I think they have a serviceable D as it is.

    Sekera – Fayne

    Klefbom – Shultz

    Nikitin – Ference – Gryba

    Send the 2 top D prospects to the minors for half the year until the inevitable injuries happen. Sekera and Fayne should be lights out together. Klefbom and Shultz should flourish on a soft minutes second pair and that third pairing can hold their own against middling to low opposition. If Nurse or Reinhart starts to push for a job, let them take it and this could go better than expected.

    Now if only Shultz was spelled Petry… then we wouldn’t be having this conversation at all and we’d have drafted Matthew Barzal.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.



    •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:




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

    • 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.

    • 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.

  • 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?

  • 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.

  • Wax Man Riley

    Chiarelli meeting with Nikitin:

    “Well, because of you signing the biggest contract of your career and disappearing from on and off-ice responsibilities, I cannot acquire the pieces to improve the team…. so you BETTER improve it”

  • JackB


    You wrote “HOPEFULLY NN becomes the player MacT thought he was”

    YES !!

    Can we pray that he still has a bit of PRIDE, and spends the summer working out . . . and shows up in camp in shape . . . with the attitude “I’ll show everyone that I am a good hockey player, that I’ve loved this game since I was a little boy”

    Maybe he could show a little of that character we have seen in players like McDavid, Nuge, Hall, Eberle . . .

    Or is that tooooo much to hope for????

    • bazmagoo

      If NN wants to continue to play in the NHL he’ll bring his A game next season. If not he’s done in the league. It’s really a no lose situation for the Oilers, apart from the salary. If he comes in good form the Oilers get a pick for him at the trade deadline, if he stinks it up again then Darnell or Griffin “earn” a spot on the team.

  • camdog


    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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • I’m pretty sure both of Nikitin and Ference would show better on this year’s iteration of the Oilers than they did last, but moving one would be preferable.

    I’d actually really like to see Ference stick around as a 3rd pairing guy who can help as a vocal veteran leader in the room.

    Nikita wasn’t his best last year, but not many were under Eakins. Unfortunately he’s one of the few who didn’t seem to show much in terms of improvement when Nelson arrived.

    I’m not sure how imperative it is to move pieces out though when you factor in injuries.

    Off the top of my head, Ference, Sekera, and Nikitin all missed a fair bit of time last year to injuries. 8 NHL defensemen would have made Chicago’s journey to the cup a lot easier…

    And though we don’t save much cap by sending Nikitin to the minors, we save some, and we aren’t a cap team.

    If the team performs so well that we are looking to become one at the deadline, there will likely be a taker for Nikitin even if he’s just thrown in because we need the cap room at that point. In the last year of a deal you can dump almost ANYONE at the deadline

  • bazmagoo

    First time in years we’ve had a competitive environment on defence, and you want to dump bodies @Willis. Come on man, give your head a shake. Make Darnell and Griffin earn their spots! We can bury Nikitin in the minors if necessary, or if he plays decently we can trade him for a low round pick at the deadline. Might have to retain half his remaining salary but that’s not a big deal. Competition for spots is a good thing!

  • Chris.

    Bring everyone to camp and let the management, coaches, and the players themselves decide who will be dressed opening night. (Crazy I know…)

    It is difficult to guess who will shine/tarnish under a different system; who will emerge/plateau; who will bounce-back/regress; and most unpredictability: who will get injured. One (or both) of Schultz/Nikitin may find their form under McLellan and become a useful point man on the power play or at worst a good trade chip at the deadline. Klefbom might regress. Nurse might be undeniably NHL ready. Ference may land on the LTIR trying too hard to be a young man. Joey Laleggia might stun us all and emerge from camp as the seventh man. The point is, after all the recent upheaval in Edmonton, we just don’t know, and neither does the new Oiler brain trust.

  • The Last Big Bear

    I think a lot of people are misunderstanding how cap floor teams operate.

    Cap ceiling teams want players who outperform their cap hit, and engineer situations where players get paid more real dollars than their cap hit.

    Cap floor teams want players who outperform their real dollars, and engineer situations where players have a higher cap hit than their real dollars.

    Chris Pronger is a perfect example of a cap floor “player”, the team pays $525k in real dollars, but they get a $4.9m cap hit towards the floor.

    Nikita Nikitin costs $4.5m in real dollars, and he gives a cap hit of… $4.5m

    And he’s not worth half that. I’d rather pay Pronger $500k to work for the league than pay Nikitin $4.5m to play hockey.

    Nobody wants Nikita Nikitin, cap floor teams probably least of all.

  • 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.

  • 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!

  • tileguy

    I can’t see Chiarelli saddling himself with another 5 or 6 year deal right now. He’s going to have to sign a goaltender next season. We are three years away from paying McDavid and having to re-up Eberle. Next season we see Purcell, Nikitin and Scrivens drop off the books, and the following year Ference is gone. Patience is key right now. If we are somehow leading the division at the deadline we can look at bringing in some big guns. In the meantime, I like the idea of making Reinhart, Draisaitl and Nurse earn their spots. Having them start in the minors keeps their bonuses off the cap, and gives us options when injuries inevitably hit.

  • camdog

    In all my years of watching hockey I have never ever heard the hype for a 16th overall pick that this Brazal kid is getting on this site. Good on him I guess, maybe one day 10 years from now he’ll pass Sam Gagner on the all NHL points list….

    • Craig1981

      You know the NYI islander fans are losing it for trading Reinhart for picks..

      ….could you imagine if we traded Nurse or Drisatel for the 16th and 33rd next year?!?!? Hell even the 10th and 20th people would lose it

      • Trevor457

        To the contrary, Islander fans are planning a parade to honor Snow. They went into this draft with no 1st round picks and ended up with two when they packaged our #33 to move up. With our #16 they picked a center who was rated to go in the top ten. Reinhart was ranked somewhere around tenth on the Islanders’ defensive depth chart. Even if Reinhart fulfills his complete potential (which i hope he does) and becomes a second pairing D for us, that doesn’t make it a bad trade for the Islanders.

        Comparing Reinhart’s value to the Isles with Nurse /Draisaitl value to the Oilers is totally apples/oranges.

    • JackB

      I haven’t seen so much hype on this site for Barzal?

      (But there was a better kid in the draft.)

      WE GOT HIM !!

      I think the people on this site are probably biting their tongues . . . and hoping (maybe even praying) . . . that Griff turns out to be the horse in the NHl that he was in the WHL.

      None of us want to even THINK that Chiarelli might have blown our #16 and #33 (in a deep draft year) (We are all so happy about getting him!)

      No one wants to criticize Chiarelli (yet) . . .

      BECAUSE WE ARE JUST SO THANKFUL we finally got rid of “Dumb n’ Dumber” who were making the hockey decisions previously.

      PLEASE . . . PLEASE . . . PLEASE, Griff, really THRIVE in the City that loved you so much as an Oil King! BE THE STUD we all hope you can be!

  • 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!