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.)

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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.

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(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.

  • Dan 1919

    $2-3 million projected increase next year. Who knows after that. $4mil for Russell will not sink the Oilers. In fact, I bet they could move him at a deadline if need be. $6mil for Lucic will not seem all that terrible either if he can play at a relatively consistent level for most of his contract, especially by the end of it, $6mil will be entry level top 6 wingers. I’m not saying Chiarelli is doing a good job, I’m just saying your doomsday cap article quivering about a small Russell contract is an equivalent quality to the Oilers season this year.

    • BringitbacklikeSlats

      Oh yeah of course it’s all Russell’s fault. Him and his useless shot blocks, negative Corsi, second in points… on his off handed side.
      Why if it weren’t for him we could have someone awesome like Demers and surely we’d be in contention then. Oh wait…
      Cue up the never ending refrain from every geek in town living in Moms basement who’s never laced up a pair of skates and believe that body checking is unnecessary. The Nerd Herd that is Oiler Nation

      • The Ghost of Alex Plante

        Cue up the never ending guys who played Junior-B and now they know absolutely everything there is to know about hockey and if someone presents an alternative opinion they automatically live in moms basement.

        I think the assessment on Russel in this article was pretty fair. What did the author say that was incorrect? He acknowledged his physical play, he acknowledged his ‘glue guy’ status, he acknowledged his shot-blocking. These are all admiral traits that make Russel a useful player and important one to have on your team at that. But the author is also right in that Russel is not worth 4 million a year. You can find all these attributes in players making half of what Russel does, even less. Which is kinda the point of this article. If they are paying McDavid and Drai all this money, they have to have value contracts elsewhere in the lineup. Love him or hate him, Russel isn’t a value contract.

  • Gary

    Mcdavid at $12.5 million is the best player in the world, well there are 13 players ahead of him in scoring that would say not, only way its justified is if you say that 4 1st overall picks cant support him. Taylor was the best Oiler. Ever. period.
    Draisaitil at $8.5 million, oh that hurts. Its a god damn dumpster fire in Oil country. We are a true welfare team looking for more NHL handouts, then again Edmonton is the red city of Alberta afterall. I’m now embarrassed to support this team, sweaters going on the ice tomorrow, please ban me.