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Photo Credit: Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports

How can the Oilers create cap space for 2018-19?

The cap crunch is coming. The Edmonton Oilers currently have nearly $8 million in cap space, according to NHLNumbers. Some will cover Connor McDavid’s entry-level bonuses, but the real concern is when McDavid’s eight-year, $100 million extension kicks in next season and his cap hit jumps to $12.5 million.

McDavid’s contract is not a problem, if anything he might be underpaid in a league that doesn’t accurately value their star players, but it means there’s no room for bloated contracts further down the roster. The Oilers need to surround McDavid, and Leon Draisaitl, with enough talent to win and that means not overspending on players that aren’t difference makers.

The Oilers have $60.946 million already dedicated to 13 players: seven forwards, four defencemen, and two goalies.

The bulk of the roster is there. Can they fill out the rest with $20 million (assuming an $80-million salary cap)?

The Oilers have six restricted free agents of note: Darnell Nurse, Ryan Strome, Matt Benning, Drake Caggiula, Brandon Davidson, Anton Slepyshev, and Iiro Pakarinen.

Lets say the Oilers part ways with Slepyshev and Pakarinen and sign the rest. We’ll use Matt Cane’s (@Cane_Matt2018 Free Agent Predictions as a reference.

  • Strome’s qualifying offer is $3 million, but the Oilers could negotiate a lower cap hit like they did with Zack Kassian last summer.
  • For Nurse, I’m using Michael Matheson and Jaccob Slavin’s contracts and putting Nurse in the middle.
  • Benning’s last two years are similar to Nathan Beaulieu before he signed a two-year, $4.8-million contract last season.
  • Davidson’s a reasonable depth defenceman who could play up in the lineup. His qualifying offer is more, like Strome, but I’m assuming he takes less to stay.
  • Jesse Puljujarvi has $2.5 million in potential performance bonuses he could hit, stick tap to Allan Hull at the Copper and Blue for pointing it out. They’d have to keep this in mind or face a possible penalty in 2019-20.

Re-signing all their RFAs and accounting for Puljujarvi’s bonuses leaves Edmonton roughly $5 million to add two wingers and a fourth-line centre, but that means a very similar team returning in 2018-19 and no room for spare forwards. And there isn’t much in free agency.

So what can they do?

Trade or don’t qualify Ryan Strome: Strome’s $3-million qualifying offer is a lot for a third line player on pace for 32 points. The Islanders probably thought Strome was going to take off by the end of this contract. He’s a useful right wing/ centre who could fetch a draft pick at the trade deadline. The Oilers also could just not qualify Strome, making him a free agent at the end of the season. Calgary did this with Joe Colborne after the 2015-16 season and the Penguins did the same with Justin Schultz after acquiring him from the Oilers.

Strome’s contract shows why the Jordan Eberle trade was so poor; Some of that cap space saved went to Russell’s extension, but the one year left on Strome’s deal meant there wouldn’t be much cap saved for 2018-19 if he had a strong season.

Trade a left-handed defenceman: Edmonton’s  money is at centre and left-handed defence. The Oilers could sign Nurse to a bridge deal, but that’d still be a lot of money dedicated to left-shot defencemen. Kris Russell is the obvious one to move, but he has a no-move clause and trading him likely require retained salary or money coming back. Andrej Sekera is another option. He’s older, coming off a serious injury, and maybe it’s wise to get out of that deal when you can. But Sekera has a no-move clause as well. Darnell Nurse is young and loved by the organization, so that leaves Oscar Klefbom. Klefbom had an amazing campaign last season but hasn’t matched that level this season.

Trade a centre: McDavid and Draisaitl aren’t going anywhere. Can a Ryan Nugent-Hopkins trade make sense for Edmonton? Sure, but it can’t be another trade where Edmonton significantly downgrades in skill just to shed money or fill a need.

Buy out Kris Russell: The Kris Russell deal was a bad contract the moment it was signed. The no-move and no-trade protection means that it could cost the Oilers a defenceman much better than Russell. The Oilers can’t go into next season with Kris Russell on the right side of second pairing. That leaves him on the third pairing making too much money.

Year Savings Buyout Cap Hit
18-19 $3.388M $611k
19-20 $2.888M $1.111M
20-21 $388K $3.611M
21-22 -$1.111M $1.111M
22-23 -$1.111M $1.111M
23-34 -$1.111M $1.111M

A Russell buyout immediately frees up three million next season and nearly another three million in 2019-20. The problem is the massive penalty in 2020-21. The salary cap going up every year should help with expansion in Vegas and likely Seattle, but that’s still a lot of dead money in a year the Oilers should be contending.

Trade Zack Kassian: Kassian’s a valuable player, but that’s a costly cap hit for a fourth-line player. The Oilers could find a similar player for nearly a million less.

The salary cap rising will help, but only a little. Improving the roster will be even more difficult with McDavid’s entry-level contract ending and huge salary locked into overpaid veterans with no-move and no-trade protection.

  • TKB2677

    Explain to me how Benning is worth 2.4 mill? He’s a #6 who at times looks like he can’t even be that. He makes just under 1 mill right now. So if you want to give him a 1.25-1.4 contract, go for it. That’s a nice raise for a guy who’s been terrible for most of the year.

    I like him as a player but I would look at moving Kassian. When they signed him, I thought it was a good deal because I thought he could elevate to a 3rd liner. It doesn’t look like he’s anything more than a 4th liner.

    I’d be negotiating a short term contract with Strome for at the same salary or slightly less than what he makes today. If he expects a raise, I laugh him out of my office.

  • LAKID

    This is proof that Chia is a very very bad GM and should not be able to continue further. Strome should not be qualified @ 3 million and is not in the same situation as Zack Kassian was, let him walk if he won’t sign for @2 million and that’s on Chia. Kassian however is on a good contract but is not being used inproperly. Sign Nurse for 8 years @ 4.5 million or bridge him take no more risks. Benning and Davidson should not get big contracts if any. Slepechev is a keeper and it would be ill advised to trade a cheap contract.

    • Kneedroptalbot

      Dress Lucic for the pre-game skates, then sit him as they see fit.
      Do this 4-5 times and ask him if he would like to supply a trade list. Repeat as necessary.

    • Yet these collective geniuses advertised that he is available. A big, strong, young and cheap player that scores when given a chance is not the ones you get rid of. The rest as Mac-T said on most nights are “non factors”. “Visually better”,” Looks like another development year “. Amazing he still has a job and based on precedent I sure as hel* would not ask him for advice.

    • hammer313

      I hate to even suggest this. I agree with the article and with most comments. Much of what I have been saying for awhile. What I’m suggesting is perhaps crazy, but if we all see the inept management for quite awhile now, why can’t the one’s that should see it? I suggest they don’t care, or it is being run like this on purpose. The building is full, life is good. That contract to Lucic after you had drafted a franchise player is very suspicious in my mind’s eye. No movement and NO BUYOUT, I have never even heard of that. This guarantees Lucic here for the duration. Now you sign more no trades, to marginal players, what happens 2-3 years from now, when you are even further in cap purgatory? McDavid will ask to be traded, seeing this fiasco continue. This guarantees the Oilers to remain mediocre for decades. I think this will happen, because my faith in this organization is completely shot. This group of a..clowns are mentally unfit to run a hockey pool, never mind a pro hockey team!

  • That's My Point

    Trading roster players for draft picks??
    How many Oilers draft picks outside of the 1st round are on the current Oilers roster?
    EYE-OPENING isn’t it?
    Don’t take picks; the scouts and management waste them.
    Get UFA’s who are actually in the NHL signed.

    • Clayton

      Draft picks…even if the Oiler Scouts gain small clue (or more likely get fluke pick)…won’t be ready to contribute to the team for at least a couple of years. The Oilers need to start making something happen sooner than later and quit wasting Connor’s years in Edmonton (and testing his patience). Honestly…I believe Connor wants to stay in Edmonton, be an Oiler for life and so on…but how many years of disaster before he is asking to be traded anywhere!?

    • puckle-head

      I’m okay with taking picks for players at the deadline. We can always turn around and trade those picks at the draft. Think about it, when teams are gearing up for a playoff run, they aren’t going to put to much value in future draft picks, then when the draft comes around they’ll be looking at all the shiny new potential.

  • The problem with the Oilers is they give big contracts to entice players to come and stay, but those contracts are the very things that don’t motivate the players to play better, plus they hinder the team in cap space.

    Oilers don’t have a single player in the top 50 in defensive scoring.
    Russell is 55th with 20 pts
    Nurse is 65th with 18 pts
    Klefbom is 93rd with 14 pts.

    And you want to offer Nurse $5m and Benning $2m?

    Nurse should get a bridge deal at $3.5m. Nurse has the ability to become an offensive threat, but he’s not worth $5m right now. No way.
    Benning should get a bridge deal at $1.5m and no more. Same reasons.

    Never trade quality centreman like Nuge.

  • Jason Gregor

    Puljujarvi might max out at $850,000 in bonuses, but it is highly unlikely he reaches his “B” bonus of $1.65 million. He would need to be top-five in voting for the Hart, Selke or Richard, or be a 1st or 2nd team all-star (top-two RW in entire league), win the Conn Smyth or be top-ten in either points, goals, assists or points-per-game. I don’t think Puljujarvi bonus is much of an issue.

    Signing Strome for lower than his QO makes sense, and likely happens.

    As for Matt Cain’s predictions. I’d be very curious how he came up with Josh Bailey getting a $7.9 mill cap hit or Mark Stone getting $9.063, or even Evander Kane getting $6.8 mill? Those numbers seems very high to me.

    • Christian Pagnani

      I agree, that seems unlikely and gives them a bit more room.

      Cane’s predictions are based off of their current season’s pace. Those are high, but Bailey is on pace for 88 points and the model probably goes out of whack with that.
      Cane does say the length and model need work (https://twitter.com/Cane_Matt/status/957746823451631622), and things bounce around a lot when stats are prorated. I thought it’d be useful to reference those, and use my judgement.

  • Bringer_Of_Snow

    -Benning is not worthy of a multi year contract, if any. He was mediocre last year, playing bottom pairing minutes. But time after time this year that he was put in a position to do more (more minutes, more special teams time), he has been brutally exposed. Stupid passes, weak battling, not getting shots through. Don’t even get me started on his foot speed. If you have absolutely ZERO other options, you give him a 1 year, $1M deal at most. Not worth a penny more. There are plenty of other FA dmen that can more than replace him.
    -The Oilers should absolutely be resigning Slepy. It is actually sickening how obvious his playing time is reflected in the fact that he’s a Russian haha. When in the lineup, he is more effective than Drake, Pakarinen and at time Lucic and Maroon. I think resigning Drake and Slepy should be no-brainers, especially since they’ll be sub $2M AAV.
    – The Oilers only hope of improving this team after Chiarelli burnt it down is to move one of Lucic, Russell or Sekera. All of the contracts with NMC, I know… not likely. $5M in cap can not improve this team. Last night when Maroon and Strome were put on Connors line, I felt sorry for him. Yes Maroon is a great piece when cycling, but McDavids game is based on his SPEED. The Oilers need to get Connor a fast, skilled winger who can wire the puck. Not a ton of options in FA (Kane, but not worth what he’ll get). So they’ll need to trade for one. Cheap options like Ho-Sang are my preferences, but they should look at like a Charlie Coyle or something.
    – Ideally you sign Nurse to a Klefbom/Larsson like deal: 8 years at a $4.2-5.0M a year. If he wants much more, you bridge for a year or 2. I for one am scared of giving out another big contract after an entry level deal, you don’t want the player to just check out like Eberle. But I feel Nurse could really be a bargain down the line, not to mention the numbers at this point in his career favour the Oilers negotiating sides (unfortunately Chia is at the helm).
    -Trade Strome for Boone Jenner. Identical expiring contracts right now. Both coming of down years. Boone can be your 3rd line center, Jujhar 4th line, then McDavid and one of Drai/Nuge as your 1-2 punch. If you can afford to keep Nuge, one of him or Drai can give Connor a solid winger.
    -Lots of backups as FA this year. If Montoya is moved at the TDL, then absolutely make it a priority to get one. LB is not an option. And no matter how much some people oppose it. Talbot is our starter next year, don’t have a choice. He’s played like crap this year, but hopefully last year was the real him, not this year.
    -Trade for an Tyson Barrie. I was saying Dumba for the last 3 years, but not a chance we even get a sniff at him now. Need a puck moving dman with offensive instincts. Bear is at least 3-5 years before being an NHL regular. If I have to put up with another season of Klef, Russell, Sekera, and Benning looking off McDavid, Jesse or any of the forwards for that matter, skating full speed waiting for an outlet pass, only to have to hit the breaks at the blue line waiting for the D to move the puck, I am going to rip my eyes out.
    -Sign Grabner, maybe look at one of K.Hayes, J.T.Miller or Hertl as depth wingers.

  • The Future Never Comes

    All I see in this piece is the amount of overpays for virtually every player on the roster not named McD. I could be a GM just like Chiarelli too, just hand out pales of cash like it’s candy. Kris Russell is work $2.5 on any other team (maybe Less): $1.5 overpay, Lucic is playing like a player worth $1 mill (top 3 worst contract in the league)- $ who knows overpay value $3 mill +, Kassian is work $1.5 max -.5 overpay, Strome is worth 2.5 max- do not qualify for more, Drai is worth $7 mill- 1.5 overpay, Gryba $1 mill- in the minors, Pouliot buyout $1.3 dead money, Sekera when he’s healthy is worth about $4 million- 1.5 overpay, I could keep going but at the end of the day the Oiler’s have sewered about 10+ million a year in overpays for the next 3 plus seasons. These contracts have kneecapped the Oiler’s chances at Stanley before they were even at the dance. At least Chi-town won some cups before they entered cap hell. Were in cap hell already with some giant holes to be fixed and practically back to step one again. Cool dude.

  • Alberta Ice

    McDavid underpaid? How much more will he be making than the next highest paid player in the league next year? (And he is making lots more in endorsements anyway, so forgive me when I question his being underpaid.)

  • camdog

    Buying out Russell doesn’t really save cap space. The Oilers might be able to find a better d-man at 3 million a season on the right side, but that money still needs to be spent to replace Russell’s position in the line up – number 2 right side d-man. Surely people aren’t considering going into next season with Benning and Davidson as number 2 and 3 on right side?

    Are there any good right shot d-man available as UFA or well they just be another player to be bought out as is standard with Oiler UFA signings.

  • belair

    Fill a number of the holes this off-season with cheap depth options and DON’T give Darnell Nurse $5 million dollars.

    Maroon for Amadio
    Letestu for Petan
    Slepyshev for Girgensons
    Throw in a pick on either side here or there.

    Petan (1) – McDavid (12.5) – Draisaitl (8.5)
    Lucic (6) – RNH (6) – Puljujarvi (1)
    Khaira (1) – Strome (3) – Yamamoto (1)
    Caggiula (1.5) – Girgensons (1.6) – Kassian (1.8)
    Amadio (1)

    Nurse (3.5) – Larsson (4.1)
    Klefbom (4.1) – XXXX
    Sekera (5.5) – Russell (4)
    Gryba (1)

    Talbot (4)
    Montoya (1.25)

    Nurse gets a two year bridge deal. Roster comes in at just under $74m. Make a decision on Benning…keep him or add a better defenseman and cut bait. Still some money to play with.

    • Kneedroptalbot

      Don’t expect any better results with this lineup next year.
      Strome and Lucic too damn slow.
      No improvement or depth in the leaugue worst goaltending situation.
      “Death By 1000 cuts the Sequel”.

      • belair

        Well to be fair, that roster is pre-July 1st.

        And honestly, speed hasn’t been the issue this season. Execution has. Our ability to execute a quality PP, a PK, a team defense capable of avoiding bad or untimely goals…those are the reasons we’re losing this season.

        The guys who are going to have to change those results are already on this team. The Chris Kreiders, the Mike Hoffmans, etc that people are fawning over do very little to address those issues, but they sure do cost a lot.

        Realistically, this off-season is about adding organizational depth because there’s nothing coming in from Bakersfield next season. There’s no reinforcements coming and the cap scenario is a significant issue if the plan is to throw expensive patch jobs at the ‘problem’.

  • Spaceman Spiff

    I’m sorry, but I just can’t take this anymore…

    – It’s “buy out” when you’re using it as a verb. Example: “If the Oilers choose to buy out Russell’s contract, it’ll cost …”

    – It’s “buyout” when it’s a noun. Example: “Lucic could be a target for a buyout thanks to that big contract he signed with the Oilers in 2016.”

    Again, sorry. I just had to do it.

    • Tooleybuc

      Can we please stop regurgitating the same 6 names on Defense… and can we throw away the 7th name (Gryba) forever. Gryba is not good enough for a good NHL team. His days are done. As for the other 6… Klef, Lars, Sek, Benning, Nurse, and Russell… they are a toxic mix. Those 6 can’t all be here next year, or the following year. At whatever $$$ amount, it’s a grotesque overpay for a mediocre group of 6.

      IMO, at least 2 of them have to go this summer, or perhaps sooner. You have to try and move Sekera and Russell… regardless of NM clauses. Failing that, you have to move Nurse and/or Klef. I’d even part with Benning. The group just isn’t good enough, plus, it’s a bad mix of lefty/righty… PK/PP… and 1st, 2nd, 3rd pairing. Any permutation feels forced. The chemistry isn’t right. Yes, I’m aware the 6 played together, seemingly well, for a brief period during the playoffs last year. But you are fooling yourself if you think they can recapture that form. That group is not aging well… getting more expensive by the day… and are drifting apart. Time to start engineering a new group of 6. Keep what you have to… liquidate the rest.

      For me, Nurse seems to be the obvious move, as he’s the only one to generate value in return.

  • Natejax97

    They won’t change much this summer as far as player personnel goes. A few minor deals, but no blow up of the roster is coming.

    Look for them to trade some expiring contracts at the deadline, and keep all of those picks at the draft and keep working to restock the cupboards.

    July 1st will come and go, but we can’t go big fish hunting, there is no room, so Chia will continue to tinker around the edges of the roster.

    Maybe keeping this d-core together is less of a gamble next year when Sek is healthy and Oscar gets a good training summer in. Who knows, all I do know is that it was good enough last year, not good enough this year.

    Look for a new backup goaltender a couple new depth players, and our first round pick to be inserted into the lineup in the fall.

  • CMG30

    Something has clearly gone wrong in the construction of the team. We’re a 25th place team that’s soon going to be bumping up against the cap. Only a couple legit prospects in the minors and they should not be counted on to come up and fill out the roster for cheap…

    Firstly, can the architect.

    Next, a way has to be found to move Lucic and Russell. The buyout penalty is simply not palatable. Not sure how it can be done since both have some form of NMC in their contracts. It’s debatable weather or not Lucic is currently worth his contract but after another couple years there is no way. I could stomach Russell’s contract if he was only paid half what we’re giving him now. Unfortunately, having the leagues top shot blocker is not worth 4M a year.

    Strome needs to be traded if there are no plans to re-sign him.

    There will be some tremendously heavy lifting that must happen over the summer. There is nothing about Chirelli’s track record that makes me think he can handle it. His record so far consists of trading valuable players and picks for bit parts that he alone seems to value… and the results have been wholly predictable. Reinhart in, draft picks lost. Hall for Larrson and nothing else. Eberle out, Strome in and it’s an open question what he’s going to turn into if anything. Really the only sharp move has been Maroon but I’m starting to chalk that up to dumb luck. Nicholson or Katz needs to turf Chirelli if this team is to have any chance of improving over the summer.

    • Gaz

      Totally agree. It was clear to me that Maroon was a fluke when Chiarelli signed Lucic to that albatross of a contract.

      Why overpay Lucic, the aging version of the heavy player, when you’ve fallen (apparently ass-backwards) into a similar player in Maroon? He made his “heavy” bet on Lucic – now Maroon has to go. How much better would things be if he passed on Lucic (oh no, nobody to look angry for 58 minutes a night) and snagged Maroon on a 4×4 extension this summer?

      Don’t even get me started on Russell.