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Contract Conundrums: Part 1 – The Unmoveables

With the season all but lost and all eyes refocused to 2018-19, the responsibility of reshaping this Oilers team into a playoff contender rests in the hands of the much-maligned general manager Peter Chiarelli. Good ol’ Chia (for however many days he has left at the helm) is going to have his hands full in navigating a few tough contracts that he himself doled out.

One of those heavy deals is that of Connor McDavid, who’s obviously worth every penny — and probably a lot more than that. It’s not the longterm marriage to their captain that will prevent the Oilers from building a strong supporting cast around arguably the best player in the world, but rather a few fumbled contractual decisions that will prove quite difficult to work around.

(Screen grab via NHL Numbers)

Leon Draisaitl and Milan Lucic own two of those anchor-contracts, eating up a combined 14.5-million of cap space through 2021-22. One of these deals is much, much worse than the other, but both are equally inescapable.

Six-million-dollar man Lucic boasts the most hindering contract on the club, currently gobbling up nearly ten percent of the Oilers’ projected $66-million-plus cap hit. After taking a dive into the roster structure and cap situations of the NHL’s other 30 clubs, it’s apparent that the number of teams who would be in the market for a slow-footed, soon to be a 30-year-old mediocre possession guy who rakes in six mil per year is hovering right around, well, zero. A literal miracle would have to occur to shed this contract, so pencil Lucic in as at least a top-nine winger for the next half decade (barring a buyout, of course.)

Draisaitl’s deal is a bit of a different story, but equally as hand-tying as that of Lucic. To knock this out right off the top, let’s make it clear: Draisaitl’s deal is not a bad one, at all. The eight-year commitment with an $8.5-million cap hit is steep, sure, but young, versatile (can play wing or centre fairly productively), big-bodied forwards with the kind of skills Draisaitl possesses are not easy to find, and the Oilers had no choice but to extend him when they did. There’s no reason to think Edmonton would have any desire to trade Draisaitl, but flexibility and space is key in a situation such as the Oilers’. The fact that a still-unproven guy, who may not crack 20 goals in his third NHL season, is owed another $60-million over the next seven years will certainly be a hindrance, and moving Draisaitl to fill other needs is going to be a very tough sell.

Aside from the nearly $15-million in cap space devoured by two big-bodied forwards, the team’s blue line also boasts a couple contracts that will be nearly impossible to get out from under, with one, in particular, looking especially bad.

The three letters every Oilers fan should dread seeing when cruising through the team’s salary numbers are ‘NMC’. That’s exactly what you find beside the names of Kris Russel and Andrej Sekera, who each have partial no-movement clauses and combine to occupy a $9.5-million cap hit right through 2021.

(Screen grab via NHL Numbers)

Sekera is skilled, but just returned a month ago from an ACL tear, and is currently toiling on the club’s third D-pairing with fellow cap-muncher Kris Russell. That’s right, the team’s current No. 5 and No. 6 blueliners are raking in a cool $9.5-million between them (while Darnell Nurse is expected to get p-a-i-d as an RFA this summer, too). Sekera has posted 30-plus points in each of his last two campaigns, but has just one point and is a minus-10 in his first 11 games this season. Despite some rumours surfacing of possible outside interest in Sekera, Moving a 31-year-old defenceman with a partial no-trade clause who is a career minus-four and a mediocre possession player will require some voodoo, Jedi-mind shit on the part of Chiarelli.

And finally, we have Russell, another career-minus player with a negative Corsi and limited offensive upside. The 30-year-old blocks a ton of shots has a quality physical game and is an unquantifiable ‘Glue Guy,’ but in today’s game that simply isn’t worth $4-million per year. Of the four contracts covered in this piece, Russell’s sits right alongside Lucic’s as the toughest to make disappear.

The bad news for the Oilers is that five players — McDavid, Lucic, Draisaitl, Russel and Sekera — suck up $36.5-million (almost 50%) of the estimated $80ish-million cap ceiling for next season, leaving the team with only around $44 million to spend on its 18 remaining roster spots.

The good news? One of those players is named McDavid.

Next week we’ll take a look at several contracts the club could move at the deadline, and what they can (or should) expect as a return.

  • camdog

    I do find it ironic that the haters with the pitch forks out on Russell are calling out his supporters at the pitchfork type. The millenniums are always the victim. For what it’s worth I was pro Gilbert, Petry and Schultz. Odd that I’m now the “pitch fork” guy for defending these guys…

  • Jaxon

    Russell gets bought out this summer for a cap savings of $3.4M next year when the Oilers need it most. This will allow them to keep Nugent-Hopkins and sign Nurse long term. both of which are way more important than keeping Russell. Lucic’s contract is un-moveable and buyout proof. Sekera, if his injury is behind him, has real value once he’s back up to full speed.