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.
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?