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Photo Credit: John Hefti-USA TODAY Sports

WWYDW: Which pricey Oiler would you sacrifice for cap space?

The Edmonton Oilers have already started making salary cap sacrifices, and while they’re in good shape for this season it’s likely that they’ll have to make another move next year. In this week’s edition of What Would You Do Wednesday, we ask you which player should be first on the chopping block when the time comes to clear space.

The Situation Now and Next Season

The deal this summer which saw Jordan Eberle shipped to the Islanders in exchange for Ryan Strome—a deal which freed up $3.5 million in cap space—is the kind of trade we’re likely to see the Oilers make again (and again and again) if they succeed in becoming perennial contenders.

It’s worth asking whether Edmonton had to move so quickly on that Eberle deal, actually. NHL Numbers has the team at a $64.5 million cap hit, a number which includes a) Andrej Sekera at full price and b) every entry-level player on the team collecting all his bonuses. The Oilers have a bunch of wiggle room, even assuming that they pay the sun, moon and stars to Leon Draisaitl.

That cap space is going to disappear next summer, though. Connor McDavid’s big new contract kicks in, Patrick Maroon and Mark Letestu are headed for unrestricted free agency, and a host of young players (including Strome, who is a candidate for RW on the McDavid line) are restricted free agents. At that point, it’s a very good bet the Oilers will be wanting to shed some money from the payroll.

The Candidates

Photo Credit: Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports

Milan Lucic ($6.0 million cap hit, NMC). Lucic is coming off a weird year, his first in Edmonton. He’s signed forever on a buyout-proof contract and will be with the Oilers for as long as he wants. He’s a unique player, basically the only one of his kind in the NHL, and Peter Chiarelli is obviously a big fan.

Ryan Nugent-Hopkins ($6.0 million cap hit). The only player on this list without any no-move protection, Nugent-Hopkins is frequently mentioned as a probable trade candidate. That can change in a hurry, though – it’s basically been two years since consensus wisdom had him as the most valuable player on the team. Todd McLellan clearly loves him, and if he lands on McDavid’s line he could have a phenomenal offensive season.

Kris Russell ($4.0 million cap hit, NMC). The polarizing Russell would be vying with Nugent-Hopkins as the most plausible candidate if not for his no-move clause. From a positional perspective, there’s a clear case – Edmonton has three other established defenders and Darnell Nurse and Matt Benning just behind Russell on the depth chart. Where Russell slots in vs. those other five defencemen over the next four years is very much up in the air at the moment.

Andrej Sekera ($5.5 million cap hit, NMC). The same positional factors that apply to Russell also apply to Sekera, as does the no-move caveat. One interesting wrinkle is that the Oilers are going to get a chance early next season to see exactly how good they are on the back end without their veteran stabilizer as Sekera recovers from offseason surgery.

Someone else. McDavid would obviously be an insane choice. Leon Draisaitl is a little more plausible, particularly if contract negotiations go poorly, but seems unlikely. Adam Larsson and Oscar Klefbom both make a hair more than Russell but given that both are under age 25 they seem like long-term pieces on the blue line.

What Would You Do?

I know this is going to get me in trouble with Russell’s fans—and they are legion—but it never made sense to me to lock him up for four years and give him a no-move clause when one season down the line he might be supplanted by Nurse or Benning. My expectation is that a year from now it’s going to make a lot of sense to move a defenceman to save cap space and Russell is the logical guy, particularly since there’s a good chance that Sekera is going to have a tough time in 2017-18.

As things stand now, which player do you think will end up being the first cap casualty in the summer of 2018?

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  • camdog

    I like the Rangers strategy aka talk player into retirement and then in 4-5 years offer them a front office job aka the Klein scenario. I imagine in 2 years Sekera could retire, go home to Europe and then in 5 years the Oilers could offer him a “scouting” job in the organisation.

  • Jaxon

    Unfortunately, it will be Nugent-Hopkins for one of the following players: Radko Gudas, Brendan Gallagher, Charlie Coyle, Boone Jenner, Nick Jensen, David Savard, Trevor Van Riesmdyk, Erik Gudbranson.

    • Jaxon

      Unfortunately, Detroit is in even worse cap hell than Edmonton, so Nick Jensen won’t be possible. Philadelphia is also doubtful as they are pretty deep at C with Giroux, Couturier, Lehtera, Filpulla, and Nolan Patrick on the way, so Nuge won’t have much appeal for them, so Gudas is probably a no-go. Gudbranson is likely a deadline rental, so Nuge is a huge overpay (unless they let Edmonton negotiate a new contract prior to trade). Gallagher (from Edmonton) in MTL is a good fit, they need a #1,#2C and they have cap space to take on Nuge’s contract. CBJ is a good fit, they have the cap space and Nuge would be their #1,#2 so Savard and Jenner could be good options (Savard doesn’t save a lot of cap at 4.25M but he’d fell an important role). Jenner only has 1 year left but he is an RFA so still under control. MIN would be a good fit as they have cap space and Nuge could end up as their 1st or 2nd line C. Coyle as w C/RW would be a great fit in Edmonton. He’s a Chiarelli-type and from Massachusetts so Chiarelli should be familiar with him. Koivu only has 1 year left and E Staal has 2, so Nuge could become their replacements and compete for a 1C job right off the bat (it should be a close competition). CAR has numerous options in a trade for Nuge: Faulk, Rask, Van Riemsdyk and Pesce all fill needs for Edmonton. CAR has the cap space and Nuge would fit in on one of the top 2 lines competing with J Staal and/or Rask. I also considered Nuge for Hagelin in PIT, they have the cap space but they need wingers not C, I don’t think they want to pay Nuge 6M as their 3rd C either, but Hagelin’s speed with McDavid could be pretty special. Same goes for Silfverberg in ANA, not really a fit for them. Another Islanders trade: Nuge for Anders Lee? There may be some merit to that for both teams. Seems very unlikely, though.

  • HardBoiledOil 1.0

    this is new territory for Oiler fans now that we know how to win so let’s say for the sake of argument that Maroon pots another 25 this year. he likely won’t re-sign here for any less than maybe $3.5/per and he’d likely want 3 or 4 years minimum. like Chicago when they were winning cups then trading or not re-signing expensive players, the Oilers would likely be saying adios to Maroon. Letestu is in the same boat, he’ll likely want a good raise and some term so likely he’d be gone as well. and i can’t help but think that Nuge is still available too. Nuge is too expensive to potentially play on the 3rd line. Maroon, Letestu, Nuge….all too expensive in the cap era with Connor and Leon signed long term to expensive contracts. new Oilers era!

  • ColoradOIL

    I am a huge Nuge fan and it kills me to say it but I think he will be the next to go. I just hope we get someone worthy enough to replace the Nuge in our Orange and blue hearts.

  • Ryan68

    Nuge will be gone. Do you think Strome is an accident? He’s a 3rd line centre. Maroon too, if some GM is stupid enough to think he’s worth $5M/yr. Those are the contracts that sink franchises. It’s not the guys making $10M/yr. They give you your money’s worth. It’s not the guys making $2.5/yr either. It’s those guys I’d call “star players”. Not good enough to carry a team, but real contributers. Easily overpaid (I’m looking at you Jordan) and hard to move if their game goes askew.