This is a 30 part series analyzing the short and long term cap situations of each team in the NHL as we head into the 2015-16 season. The stats and information that I use in these articles is courtesy of Hockey Reference, War on Ice, and NHLNumbers.
Here the Oilers were, strolling along leisurely with their endless rebuild that was going A-OK according to their braintrust, when they were blessed with the golden ticket. Much to the dismay of the entire league, the Oilers were gifted with their fourth first overall pick in six years at the best time imaginable. Connor McDavid is now an Oiler, and in a few short months, the franchise has completely flipped around for the better. They brought in a new coach and general manager, both of whom actually have experience and a history of success at the NHL level, they signed arguably the best defenceman on the free agency market, and they traded for a goalie that should certainly be an upgrade over what they had last year.
With all of that comes a brand new expectation for success. After drafting a generational talent like McDavid, the clock has started ticking, and the Oilers need to take a step forward. There’s a price to pay for having a player as good as McDavid, and as time goes along the puzzle is going to get more and more complex. That being said, with some smart and shrewd cap management, the Oilers can keep everybody on board for the long haul.
- Traded Pittsburgh’s 2015 first round pick and a 2015 second round pick to the Islanders for Griffin Reinhart.
- Traded Montreal’s 2015 second round pick, a 2015 third round pick, a seventh round pick to the Rangers for Cam Talbot and a 2015 seventh round pick.
- Traded Martin Marincin to the Maple Leafs for Brad Ross and a 2015 fourth round pick, then flipped the pick and Travis Ewanyk to the Senators for Eric Gryba.
- Traded Boyd Gordon to the Coyotes for Lauri Korpikoski.
- Traded Liam Coughlin to the Blackhawks for Anders Nilsson.
- Signed Mark Letestu to a three year contract with a $1.8 million cap hit.
- Signed Andrej Sekera to a six year contract with a $5.5 million cap hit.
- Signed Nail Yakupov to a two year contract with a $2.5 million cap hit.
- Signed Justin Schultz to a one year, $3.9 million contract.
- IN: Connor McDavid, Lauri Korpikoski, Mark Letestu, Andrej Sekera, Eric Gryba, Griffin Reinhart, Cam Talbot, Anders Nilsson.
- OUT: Viktor Fasth, Martin Marincin, Derek Roy.
It would be a bit of a stretch to say that the Oilers have a small window to succeed, especially considering how young their core of players are, but it would obviously be ideal if the could have some success while Connor McDavid is on his entry level contract. After he’s played three seasons and his contract comes to an end, things are going to get quite a bit tighter for the Oilers, as McDavid, more than likely, is going to command a pretty massive salary. Let’s compare him to some other superstar talents over the past few years to get an idea of what the Oilers might be looking at when his deal comes to an end in 2018.
After his entry level deal was finished, Sidney Crosby signed a five year deal with a $8.7 million cap hit, eating up two unrestricted free agency years. That deal gave Crosby the second highest cap hit in the league at the time behind Jaromir Jagr and another elite young talent in Alexander Ovechkin. Ovechkin’s contract history was slightly different than Crosby’s, as he and the Capitals agreed to a 13 year deal with a $9.5 million cap hit, which obviously took him well into his unrestricted free agent years. That seems to be the exception, as along with Crosby, Steven Stamkos and John Tavares signed five and six year deals respectively to follow up their entry level contracts, giving them the leverage to either seek a pay increase in the future when the salary cap ceiling is higher, or explore the free agent market at a prime age if they chose to. It’s pretty tough to guess what McDavid is going to want to do when his entry deal comes to an end, but it should be pretty obvious from the Oilers’ standpoint that the longer they can lock him up for, the better.
In three years, the Oilers will have to deal with a new contract for McDavid, unless of course they can agree to an extension before that. The summer after that, Jordan Eberle is set to become a free agent, then Taylor Hall the year after, and then finally Ryan Nugent-Hopkins’ deal ends in 2021. That was really nicely planned out. Obviously the McDavid thing was a stroke of luck, but the Oilers won’t have to deal with giving more than one of their core forwards a new contract at a time. When they do, I imagine each of them will be looking for upgrades on their current $6 million cap hits, so it would be ideal if the Oilers could make something happen before that becomes an issue. Also, Benoit Pouliot’s deal comes to an end at the same time as Eberle’s, and Andrej Sekera becomes a free agent in the same year as Nugent-Hopkins does.
That being said, even though it will get tricky trying to squeeze Connor McDavid, Hall, Eberle, and Nugent-Hopkins within the cap together, the Oilers don’t really have any horrible contracts getting in the way of doing so. So as long as they can avoid handing out long term deals to players who don’t deserve them, they should be able to keep this group together even when each of them become free agents in simultaneous years.
Outside of Hall, Nugent-Hopkins, Pouliot, and Eberle, the Oilers only have two other players signed for more than three years. One of them was the team’s biggest splash in free agency this summer, and one of them is a defencemen who, while loaded with potential, has only played 77 games in the NHL.
The Oilers signed Andrej Sekera to a six year deal with a $5.5 million cap hit this summer, immediately making their defence a lot better in the process. Sekera broke out a couple of years ago playing alongside Justin Faulk in Carolina. Of course, there’s some amount of skepticism that Sekera’s success was the result of him playing with a really good player, but Sekera actually had better underlying numbers when he wasn’t with Faulk than he did when the two of them were together. In over 1800 minutes with Faulk over the past two seasons, Sekera had a 52.4 Corsi For percentage at even strength, and in 680 minutes when he played with another defensive partner, his Corsi For percentage went up to 54.8. When he went to the Kings his underlying numbers also spiked, which could be because the Kings are a great possession team, but his most common partner was Brayden McNabb, so I’m not going to tell myself that was being carried.
The other big signing the Oilers made this summer was internal, as they inked Oscar Klefbom to a seven year extension with a cap hit of $4.167 million. This deal could end up being really good, or absolutely terrible. As I said before, Klefbom has only played 77 games in the league, but to be fair, he’s already established himself as one of the Oilers’ best defencemen in that time. If Klefbom pans out and becomes the top-pairing defenceman that the Oilers brass hopes he will, this deal will be an amazing bargain for the team. Obviously that’s a big if, and as a result, this contract is a big risk. That being said, signing Klefbom to a bridge deal would have been a risk in itself, because if he had broken out and become a star defender on, let’s say a two year deal, he would have commanded a much higher cap hit on a long term deal.
Outside of those two, the Oilers don’t have much money invested in their defence beyond this year. They have Mark Fayne and Andrew Ference for two and one more years respectively after this season, and Nikita Nikitin and Eric Gryba set to his free agency next summer. When Darnell Nurse’s entry level deal comes to an end in 2019, Fayne’s deal is done, and when Griffin Reinhart needs a new contract in 2018, Ference comes off the shelf. So even though they have a couple of risky deals on the blue line, they also have a fair amount of flexibility moving forward.
There isn’t much to talk about when it comes to Edmonton’s goaltending. They let Viktor Fasth walk this summer, and traded for Cam Talbot of the New York Rangers. Talbot has been a damn good backup goalie for the Rangers over the past two seasons, and last year, when he had to be their No. 1 guy, he was fantastic. In fact, he was good enough to finish seventh in Vezina Trophy voting. His 0.926 save percentage and 2.21 goals against average could be the product of a strong defensive environment, as the Rangers were a really good possession team, but his 11.60 goals saved above average suggests he actually has some merit. It’s difficult to say whether Talbot will end up being the No. 1 goalie the Oilers need, but it’s safe to say he’s at least a reasonable upgrade on Scrivens, especially if the team can limit the amount of high danger shots against him per game.
All three of the Oilers’ goalies will need new deals at the end of the season, as Scrivens and Talbot both become free agents, and Nilsson needs a new RFA deal. It won’t be hard for the Oilers to find the money to keep Talbot around, the question is how much they’ll be willing to dedicate to him with such a short track record of success at the NHL level.
There’s really no more excuses for the Oilers at this point. They have a real coach, a real general manager, a generation talent that gets to ease his way into the league behind a bunch of other first overall picks, and a boat load of talent up and down their roster. That being said, they aren’t going to jump from the league’s basement all the way to the Stanley Cup Finals in a year, but another season in which the team is mathematically eliminated from the playoffs in November isn’t acceptable. It’s time to start making strides because McDavid is going to have a massive price tag attached to him three years from now, and Eberle, Hall, and Nugent-Hopkins’ deals aren’t going to go on forever.
Let’s break down the contract status of the Oilers for the next few years. At the end of this season, a combined $9 million in Nikitin and Teddy Purcell comes off the shelf, along with a handful of other depth players, but Justin Schultz will need another RFA deal, and all three of their goalies will need new contracts. In 2017, Yakupov, Lander, Reinhart, and Draisaitl need new RFA deals, but Ference, Korpikoski, and Hendricks’ combined $7.6 million cap hit comes to an end. In 2018, McDavid and Nurse’s entry level deals expire, while the $5.42 million owed to Fayne and Mark Letestu comes off the shelf. After that, things get pretty interesting. In 2019, Eberle and Pouliot become free agents, in 2020, Hall becomes a free agent, in 2021, Nugent-Hopkins and Sekera’s deals come to an end, and finally, Klefbom’s deal ends in 2023. And of course, contracts that haven’t been signed yet will be sprinkled in there too, this is just based on who the team has signed as of right now. For all we know the Oilers could make a huge splash at the trade deadline this year and have another contract to worry about in this puzzle of bookkeeping.
So where does McDavid fit into all of that? Like I said, his entry deal is up in 2018, along with Nurse’s rookie contract. If he signs the shortest possible extension to take him to unrestricted free agency, eating up only RFA years, the Oilers would have him for four more years, meaning he would be a free agent in 2022, the same year as Nugent-Hopkins. Of course, difficult decisions will have to be made, but as long as the Oilers play their cards right, don’t hand out long term deals in free agency like Halloween candy, and plan ahead, they won’t have an issue keeping McDavid and a good chunk of their core around for a long time.