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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.

  • Rock11

    Oh Kyle. You’re new right? Can I respectfully request that you don whatever protective gear might be laying around. The Russell fans have their pitchforks sharpened and are lighting the torches as we speak. Have you considered witness protection?

  • morsecode89

    Connor is obviously worth every penny.

    Draisaitl’s contract looks like an overpay, but the dynamics of the game are changing.

    He’s scoring at a top 25 pace overall for even strength point production this season, playing away from Connor more and is on pace for 70 pts over 82 games. I’m not worried about that production from a 22 with that size and skill set – and neither should any fan or GM. That contract would be nice at 7-7.5 mill, but that’s not what’s handicapping this team.
    At this point, Kris Russell might be the most tradeable out the of Lucic/Sekera/Russell signings. He’s valued around the league as a glue guy for his shot blocking. He’s better offensively than he gets credit for and his D game can be above avaerage playing with a mobile player like Darnell.

    As for Sekera, he’s 11 ggames back after one fo the worst surgeeries in hockey. We’re stuck with that deal. Hopefully he rebounds.

    Lucic’s contract is on another level of bad. IF Chiarelli (or likely whoever takes over from Chiarelli) makes a splash move where the return is bad, this should be the contract we try and unload. He’s on pace for less than 20 goals, plays physical and the wheels are falling off everyday. I like the guy. I love cheering for him. But in a cap world, with that cap hit, you’ve got to try and move a mountain. Even if it seems impossible.

    • Rock11

      So valued around the league is Kris Russell that 2 off-seasons ago not one single team offered him a contract, including the team that acquired him at the trade deadline and the team that traded him away. 30 GM’s could have had him for nothing but money and said no thanks. He had to wait until camps opened to get even a one year deal. Now we are expected to believe those same GM’s are going to want to commit to 3 more years at $4m for a player that is 2 years older. Not sure I’m buying what you’re selling.

      • morsecode89

        Just saying at this point in comparison to Lucic and Sekera. You’re right, he’s going to be a tough sell. The Oilers bought high on intangibles. There’s a strong divide on him as a player. I’m on the fence. I see the block shots and I see his poor clearances. I also see a guy who skates well and can definitely stabalize or compliment a good player. Other GMs will probably see a bit of both.

        I doubt Chia will ever do it, but if you can eat 1 million of his salary and trade him for a draft pick at the deadline I’d do it. That extra money has to go to Nurse.

    • Alberta Ice

      Conner is worth more than every penny. Unfortunately, he and Draisaitl and the others mentioned above were given far too many pennies. RNH probably will be the next sacrificial lamb of this organization. So sorry about his injury as he was really getting his game on this year.

  • 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.

  • Kneedroptalbot

    Kyle, Iv’e got no problem with the Kris Russell contract, he’s a vet D-man with High Character that can play all situations if necessary. Even if 3.3M is going rate (for a similar player), a slight overpayment is not concern to me, especially when we don’t have much Veteran D depth.
    The BOAT ANCHOR contract that will hurt the team for many years is
    7yr x 6M for Milan Lucic. Biggest concern, he is such a poor skater and can’t keep up with the 1st 2 lines. Its a HUGE overpayment, when a player like Pat Maroon (can play 1st line with Mick D) will probably sign for 3-3.5M somewhere, is the same age, has similar stats, and is a better skater.
    Peter Chiarelli will be dismissed soon, unfortunately we will be stuck with this Boat Anchor contract.

  • OilersGM

    Few thoughts:
    1- How Chiarelli still has job is beyond me, shouldn’t be able to make another move.
    2- Can we remove the title that is attached to McDavid (ARGUABLY) the best player in the world now and say IS the best player in the world. Whoever wants to say otherwise is just a year slower than those who already know.
    3- Leon’s contract should be 1M less and should’ve been compared to Tarasenko, Scheifele, MacKinnon, Geadreau, Barkov, Monahan. Having said that it’s not the Leon deal that worries me as I think over the term of the contract and the cap going up it will be worthy.
    4- The 3rd point brings me to my 4th which is the Russell and Lucic contracts that are albatross on this team and when both were signed I shook my head. You just don’t pay 4M for your 5th at best defenceman especially when the left side is our strength even though he plays right side, preferred a RD in that spot. Lucic maybe has lived up to his contract to date we all know it will hunt this team going forward.
    5- lastly sign Ilya Kovalchuk to a 1 year deal in the offseason to a 4M deal now I know the word is he wants to play east but I think you can convince him to play with McDavid that will bring his numbers up and will get a good second contract elsewhere just like Radulov.
    Kovalchuk will make the PP better and fix the right side short term until Yamamoto is ready which I think he needs a year of AHL after this one. Stop rushing the prospects.

  • Gravis82

    Sekera will be fine.

    Trade Russel and Lucic for future considerations at the deadline and see if there are any takers. They are signed assets (not draft picks), who will very shortly become a contract hinderance based on the value they add, if not already. Time to cut bait now for nothing, it will be better in the long run.

    Trading them for nothing is not a loss, it just reverses and bad signing.

    I dont think you could trade either of these players for anything to be honest other than a very late round pick.

    • he shoots he scars

      Here’s my Chia vs pre Chia D contract assessment. Chia arrived and found Fayne $3.25, Ference 3.25, Nikitin 4.5, Petry 3.1, Schultz 3.67, Klefbom 1.2. Obviously, Sekera 5.5 was a much needed FA signing thus the price, Larsson and Klefbom @4.2 are signed through their peak years. The current Oil D salaries are close to comparable adjusting for rise in cap, the D are more in their prime years and better players. Petry and Shultz are now at 5.5 elsewhere.

  • puckle-head

    I’m really hoping Darnell Nurse does get a 7-8 year extension this summer. I disagree with giving him a bridge deal, because at this point in his career, you could probably get him to sign a long term extension for less than $5m per, (I’d honestly be happy going over that too). Most GMs approach contracts for younger players with the idea they have to prove themselves before they get the big contract, which leads to guys like Lucic, Seabrook, and others who are signed into their late 30s or even 40s on these monster contracts that we absolutely KNOW will be terrible before they end. These guys are getting paid for what they were, not what they will be. I’m not saying just throw money at rookies without evaluating them, but look at their body of work and if you think they are going to be a good player, then get on that while you still have leverage. I mean, what are the odds of Darnell Nurse not rounding into at LEAST a solid 2nd pairing defender? Worst case scenario, it’s much easier moving a 25 year old on a bad contract than a 33 year old. Best case scenario, we lock down a potential 1st pairing D man for 8 years of his prime on the cheap.

  • Heschultzhescores

    Just look at the $$$$’s paid for our D-men (excluding Nurse) then look at their points. What a complete waste of cash! You could get this performance from any average Minor league D-man. We spend money so foolishly, how is Chia or any person in Management who was part of these signings still in a job?

    • BringitbacklikeSlats

      That’s precisely how Kevin Lowe et al approached the position from 2007 on. AHL Level Defensemen with the odd guy who was a legit top 4.

      Didn’t work out so well… just sayin’.

  • he shoots he scars

    While not an anchor, more like a snag, you can also add the 1 1/3m for 3 more years on the Pouliot buyout. If the Chia and coaches didn’t want him, they could have exposed him to waivers at the start of the season, or left him in Bakersfield (which needs help). He underperformed last year, a similar performance this year and he would merely have blended in.

  • Spoils

    ask any Jets fan to talk about Hendrix, they will grin ear to ear to ear…

    to me death by a thousand cuts is basically tantamount to saying I have no clue.

    so poorly constructed team AND bad contracts.

    great.

    • Battman

      Agreed we need a shooting winger. I’m hoping, as are the oilers most likely, that Puljujarvi is that guy. I’d like to think that if yakupov was able to get himself to a point where he could have fit into the system here and proved himself that him and Mcdavid would be lighting it up. Sadly however, yak didn’t do himself any favors and the oilers management didn’t put him into a position to succeed. Hopefully the team and Puljujarvi can learn from that situation and come together

  • KMA

    Pistol Pete has made his one big mistake with the Lucic signing. Most fans knew this fact from the start. It is embarrassing how these so called executives get to manage a multi-million dollar international business. He is a loser and if I was the king of the world I would fire his ass out of here.

    • Battman

      Would have loved to see him sign Lucic and then trade Lucic for Larsson instead of hall. I like Larsson just fine and think he’s a good fit on our team but Lucic shouldn’t have been signed, especially at those dollars

      • Yes, but I’m saying several teams were lining up to offer him something similar when he was a UFA. Surely they all knew back then he was slow, and disengaged, but they wanted him anyway. It’s not like Chiarelli was the only guy who tried to sign him. The Oilers could retain salary.

  • nuge2drai

    Why do we always need to write articles about dumping players and cap space.

    Our team doesn’t even spend to cap, I would be shocked if we even did next season.

    Cap is going up. Rather than talking about trading good players, do something useful and write an article about who we should simmgn next off-season.

    We need an upgrade on wing, any decent options out there?

  • gordo

    who makes the next trade, chia? hope not. is lucic at 6 million tradeable?
    do we really have the kind of goaltending that wins championships? who will be the new general manager? what talent can the new general manager bring in?

  • 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.

  • Flamesfanforever

    What would of been your guys opinion on signing a guy like Iginla at the beginning of the year. Yeah he lost a few steps and wouldn’t produce like he use to. On other hand he plays with alot of heart, could help the power play, also could be a good leader and help guide the team and mentor the young guys. I’m sure he could of been signed cheap on a one year deal. I thought we was the best player down the stretch for the kings last season. Im a flames fan. Not here to troll. I thought we would of been a good fit for an oilers team that looked like they would go deep in the playoffs. Just wonder what some oiler fans think

  • Serious Gord

    Meanwhile in Boston – chia and lucic’s former team are on course to becoming the number one team in the league.

    I’m not sure was that says about both guys.

  • Connor McFly

    Let’s face it. Chiarelli is the primary problem here. He didn’t take long to make his first blunder. ie: Griffin Reinhart. That trade and the hiring of Chia and Mclellan cost the Oiler’s 4 second round picks if I recall correctly. Not exactly an auspicious beginning. I wouldn’t let that idiot make any moves. He simply cannot be trusted. TMac can follow him right out the door.

  • camdog

    Maroon only value contract on team. McDavid worth every penny. Rookies worth their dollar JP, Benning and Khaira. Everybody else over paid by 500,000 plus. 4th liners included. The value Larsson contract for a guy that will never score more than Russell isn’t a value contract.

  • Muleman84

    After reading most of these comments, it seems to me we all have forgotten putting a winning team together is NO easy task. Just because said player on PAPER is worth this or that, I’m coming to the realization, specifically from reading a hockey player’s autobiography, that personalities MATTER!!! Therefore, I believe most people on here are dead WRONG on the Russell AND Lucic contracts. Those two guys are HUGE in the room and the ice! Lucic, who many of you forget has brought to this team a snarl and toughness and respect that ALL of us were complying about us lacking during the DoD!! And Russell, you heard how valuable everyone thinks of him when he scored that own goal! I’m not saying these are the best players with the best contracts, just that BOTh of these players IMO will be the backbone to any Cup winning team that Connor leads us too!! Seem so like we all have short memories!!!!

  • ScottV

    To me – the biggest problem is not so much the players and what they are paid, it’s the manner in which the team plays.

    If right now – the team was winning, playing stable hockey and clearly enroute to a playoff berth, not many would have too much of a problem with player contracts.

    The manner in which the team plays has created, is creating – and if not stopped, will continue to create contract problems in the world of a salary cap.

    The McL focus has been to free flow hockey, with much more emphasis on offence than defence. All McL really ever talks about – is where he might be able to manufacture more offensive chemistry.

    There’s an old adage that its defence that wins championships, or the best offence is a good defence. While I would not advocate for coaching to the strictest sense of the above, I would suggest that we would be a lot better off leaning more in that direction than not. McL leans the other way – to offense. McL is much more likely to coach a 4-3 game, than a 2-1 game.

    All things being equal like say a .650 winning percentage – over a period of time, the 4-3 coach is going to produce a team contractual nightmare vs the 2-1 coach, for the same result where it counts – winning. Not to mention, that it is a lot more likely – that a coach who leans to coaching a 2-1 game is much more likely to sustain .650 plus hockey.

    Example – playing McD and Drai together last year. Clearly an offensive uptick. But – there was a real downside to that move. Their offence gave up many glaring defensive lapses that Talbot was somehow able to cover up by standing on his head – more than is proving sustainable. It created an imbalance of skill. Having the two young centermen playing together, impeded each others need to develop into solid vet two way c men, capable of anchoring they’re own lines for the future. Clearly having two guys, switching off on c duties on the fly, is an overplay to offensive. Things happen so fast, that you invariably run into you do it – no, you do it – confusion, that leads to the puck in the back of the wrong net.

    What else did this offensive overplay accomplish? Well – it significantly raised the bargaining positions in critical negotiations for McD and Drai. Further – it raised Maroon’s bargaining position, to the point where he will now likely have to go.

    There are many examples of an over play to offence with player usage and strategy / tactics.

    • crabman

      I agree that it is probably easier for a defensive minded coach to consistently win over a run and gun coach. But I think it is more because team defence is emphasised and when your less talented players are on the ice they don’t get caved in gf%. But the rest about Draisaitl and McDavid playing together causeing problems I completely disagree with. They never shared Center duties outside of Draisaitl taking the face off. He then moved to his wing. And when they played together they absolutely dominated play. their gf% , corsi, Fenwick. any measurement you want to use they dominated. That sometimes left the other lines weaker and that could make life harder on Talbot at times but when McDavid and Draisaitl were on the ice I can’t imagine his life being any easier. They were the highest scoring duo in the entire league! As far as increasing a players worth because of great results playing together, I’m fine with that. McDavid was going to get paid whatever he wanted. And I would rather players be put in a position to succeed and help the team win and get paid because of it over worrying about contracts and try to drive down player success to save money down the road. The whole point of the game is to score more goals than the other team. configure your lines in a way that you do that and worry and let the GM worry about how he is going to manage the team.

  • Mitch92

    People complaining about the Lucic deal need to remember that he was brought in to play with and protect CMD. The deal is not that bad if he remains in the top six. Players of Lucic’s ilk tend to learn to pick their spots better as they age. No need to take on all comers. His job is to discourage idiots like Brandon Manning and Jake Virtanen from taking liberties against our best players. I believe that Lucic can still provide that service for the Oilers for years to come. It is on the coaching staff to find a way to make the Lucic – McDavid combination work. Don’t try to change the player’s spots. Find a way to help the players work together by maximizing their existing strengths. Lucic does not have to be a 25 goal scorer to be successful with the Oilers. He has to make space for CMD to produce 100 + points a season to be successful. If Jesse Puljujarvi can develop into an offensive threat playing with Looch and CMD then Drai can be set free to create a second dominant line. It will take some time but in a lost season why not work on creating chemistry for the future?