Almost lost in all the talk about an expansion draft coming out of the last set of general managers’ meetings was a significant update on the status of the salary cap. According to NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly, the cap will depend on the NHLPA being willing to trigger its five percent escalator. If the union does so, the salary cap should rise to the neighborhood of $74.0 million, but if the players opt not to trigger the escalator the cap will stay flat at $71.4 million.
How does this effect the Edmonton Oilers?
NHL Numbers has all the details on Edmonton’s salary commitments for next season, but it is helpful to break the list down by current commitments and by future commitments. The following is the list of contracts, divided by position, to which the Oilers are currently committed and which we can reasonably expect will not be bought out over the summer or buried in the AHL:
- Forward (10): $36,825,000
- Defence (5): $16,430,000
- Goal (2): $4,917,000
- Total (17 players): $58,172,000
To the list above we need to add restricted free agents. In Edmonton’s case the key ones are probably Zack Kassian and Iiro Pakarinen, and in each case I’ve used their qualifying offers as placeholders for their new deals. There’s at least a chance the Oilers don’t qualify Kassian and re-sign him at a lower pricepoint, but we won’t guess that that here. We might also consider Adam Clendening and Jordan Oesterle for full-time NHL jobs next year, but that’s far from certain in either case so I’ve omitted them here.
Both Lauri Korpikoski and Anton Lander are under contract, and the possibility of buyout or AHL demotion is worth considering in each case. Lander’s deal is low enough that he will barely cost anything to bury in the minors, and while I personally like him fine as the No. 13/14 forward it would be understandable if Edmonton wanted someone who could score even a little bit in that role. In my view, Korpikoski shouldn’t even be in the conversation for an NHL job with the Oilers next year, but he is under contract and the coach keeps using him, so I’m going to assume here that he returns.
It’s hard to envision a scenario where a healthy Andrew Ference isn’t bought out.
That adds three players to our hypothetical roster, as well as two salary cap charges:
- Original 17 players: $58,172,000
- Five new charges: $6,503,000
- Total (20 players): $64,675,000
There’s an additional worry that Edmonton will be carrying bonus overages from this past season. Twitter’s speeds wrote a good piece on this point back in February. Trades as well as injuries to Klefbom and Pouliot will have worn away at his initial estimate; my guesstimate is that something in the $1.5 – $2.0 million range is possible but that’s a total guess. It’s weird that the Oilers have kept Nikita Nikitin in the pressbox rather than Brad Hunt if they’re really staring down the barrel of this, so I’m leery that there’s something significant here we’re missing. For now I’m not factoring this time in, but it’s something to be aware of.
There remain three essential holes on the roster in need of being filled:
- A top-pair right-shooting defenceman, who would push down Mark Fayne and Brandon Davidson.
- A third-line centre, ideally a right-shooting pivot who can play on the power play.
- A No. 7 defenceman, ideally a right-shot.
To accomplish these goals and using our math above, Edmonton will have somewhere between $6.73 million (with a flat cap) and $9.33 million (with the 5 percent escalator). The team could also plausibly go a little higher thanks to the bonus cushion, but as such a strategy depends on Leon Draisaitl and Connor McDavid missing their bonuses this is inadvisable.
The No. 7 defenceman should be relatively cheap, and there are a number of internal options, including the aforementioned Clendening and Oesterle as well as pending unrestricted free agents Eric Gryba and Adam Pardy and a whole pile of external options.
The one caveat here is Griffin Reinhart: If he ends up on the opening night roster, the Oilers may be on the hook for his full $3.213 million entry-level deal (including bonuses) against the cap. The reason for this is that Edmonton is loaded with entry-level bonuses and the bonus cushion is only 7.5 percent of the salary cap, meaning anything that exceeds that cushion is as bad as real dollars from a cap perspective. Again, speeds had a nice piece on this at the time of the trade; it’s one of those weird situations where Reinhart would be a cheap addition for almost every other team in the league, but for the Oilers he’s almost prohibitively expensive. A trade or another AHL assignment should not be out of the question here.
Assuming the Oilers go cheap on their depth defenceman, they probably have enough money to address both defence and centre, particularly if they’re able to swing a trade for Travis Hamonic and his beautiful $3.857 million cap hit. It may also be possible to dump money, but it’s worth remembering that other teams are going to be in tighter salary binds than Edmonton, so moving a deal like Korpikoski’s may prove difficult.
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