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.
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
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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