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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.

  • jaggsonwire

    Here’s my advice to Chia before the trade deadline: FIRST: pursue Panarim for Nuge. He is a proven finisher on a $6M contract for two more years. He’s a right shot, a creative thinker, and skates swiftly. He would shore up the ailing power play on the right half wall, which would allow us to take away Letestu for good. Failing that, go after Hoffman. He is a left shot, but at least he is reasonably young and able to finish. SECOND: move Klefbom for OEL. OEL would blossom here. Arizona would probably take this deal. Yes OEL will need to be resigned in a couple years. But no one is taking in Sekera, Lucic, or Russell on their contracts, sorry. We will also need to move Maroon and Letestu and Strome for whatever picks/prospects that we can get. This plan makes the team better NOW.

  • 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.)

  • 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.

  • vetinari

    We are boned and the friggin NM/NT clauses for Lucic and Russell mean that likely the wrong players will be moved in the offseason. If I was a betting man, I suspect RNH ($6M/per) and Klefbom $4.167M/per) are the next offseason casualties because they each lack NM/NT clauses while Chiarelli favorites Lucic and Russell hold a hammer for at least another two seasons. A Russell buyout this quickly would also hurt too much so soon after the Pouliot buyout. I would ask Russell to consider waiving his NM protection in exchange for his top 10 list of teams and offer any trade partners that we would hold $1M of his salary per year (this still clears $3M/year off our books over the next three years and may even allow us to get something back in trade while putting that money towards Nurse). If Russell refuses then add that contract to the Chiarelli effigy pyre and try again in two years when his modified NT provisions kick in. I could easily see Russell as our next Fayne by the end of next season.

    • Dapper Dan 3099

      As crappy as his contract is, he is still pretty much on pace for what hes always done (around 50 points)….if we buy out lucic, buy out Russell, buy out whoever (we already have pouliot on the books for a few more years)….were gonna be capped out just from dumb buyouts, and you still have to sign someone to play in that spot….also this team would develop a reputation of luring players in, only to have our fan base whine them out of town with demands for buyouts….

      as sad as it is to admit, there really is no solution here other than to hope that guys bounce back next year (yes I know, its unlikely)

  • Dapper Dan 3099

    I love all the talk about, sign Nurse for dirt cheap (after he’s had the best season of his career), trade Russell after one year if his contract, buy out lucic and have his buyout count for the next decade….sign the best UFA for dirt cheap….and all our problems are solved

    the problem is Nurse will want to GET PAID…and if we don’t pay him, another team will…

    buying guys out this soon into long term deals, will cripple this team financially and if you think our cap situation is bad now, imagine having some stupid number like 10 mil in just buy out cap space…and who will want to sign here then to replace those guys…

    if some of the fans on here were GM’s, holy man! Last year it was trade Eberle ASAP, trade NUGE for whatever, etc… and this year, people want to already burn their brand new Drai jerseys, buyout everyone not named Mcdavid, and trade Talbot for a 6th round pick….. because obviously rash decisions have worked out well for us so far

  • 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.

  • DRT57

    I have an idea. Oilers show some pride , emotion, some Balls. get mad McLellan throw sometime a stick, an ass. coach ,a reporter, a water bottle , a tantrum something. Kassian grab Looch. Then grab Marron beat some life into those two smouldering corpses. Do something or. Never mind

    • DRT57

      Cap space , trades ,NHL, Bettman , Referees, Challenges , Chia ,Lowe , Mac T , Ownershipear. ,Management I’ve heard it all , its sick ,none of it is the problem .This is basically the Team as last year ,they need a Shrink. There still stuck in game 6 & 7 against Anaheim. There Tramatized , Mentally Fragile Scared or just sulking , there broken. Blow up this group

        • DRT57

          Ahhh I’ve bothered you ,so sad ,maybe you should file a hurt feelings report to Oiler Nation. Have me punted ,I’d be honoured . Have gotten by since Flames & Oilers got hear in 79 , just thought I’d try this out for fun. Pick on a few Flames bashes Stir the pot , hook a few suckers ,and your it and easy. After you get me punted suck a bag of Di….

          • Kass - Brought to you by BTF 2.0

            I have no control over who gets punted by ON. Just sayin I got banned for saying a lot less than you have on ON and have seen the same on FN

            Glad you’re so proud of your trolling. Thanks for admitting you’re a douche. I like getting POS’ to admit it and “your it and easy”

        • DRT57

          No , more like your 27th place Oilers ,more like your 12-14-2 home record ,more like your 11-14-2 road record ,more like your 9 goal 6million dollar man Looch , more like your 1 goal 5 million dollar defenceman,Sekera more like the 5 or 6 times you’ve been shut out at home this year or
          Your trip thru California last week More like Monday night ,score 5 give up SEVEN. Want me to stop. Buddy don’t bring a plastic fork to a gunfight you pinhead

          • Kass - Brought to you by BTF 2.0

            Your flamers played tonight and the Oilers didn’t and yet you spent all night here bashing the Oilers. Shows you’re just a troll and not really a fan anyway. If the OiIers are such a joke and irrelevant why arent you following the flamers.

            Your mental health problems again?? Either that or you’re just an idiot

            You won’t stop anyway except when the Oilers win. Checked the GDB and wrap up for the Tampa game – Joe Dirt goes back under his rock.

            In fact you only showed up to troll a couple weeks ago after the Oilers playoff chances ended. Big hero to come yap now.

            The only thing that really bothers me is that the mods across the nations network are not consistent at all. If an Oiler fan said half of the crap on FN that you said on here they would be banned. But eventually the payback will come to FN – so atta boy, wreck 2 sites you clown.

  • Gravis82

    We are in trouble. In a position like this we need to look at what we have now and how to maximize the playing time for the money we are spending. We are not positioned to win a cup, that is not happening. Just need to be respectable for a few years until cheap young talent emerges.

    Run Nuge, McDavid and Drai as the top line. Strome as 3C. This sounds crazy I know, but before you trash me think about what it is going to cost to bring in a top line RW or LW. It’s is going to either crush us financially or cost Darnell nurse, which just solves one problem while creating another.

    jp is probably ready for 2RW. Lucic is really 3LW at the moment. JJ can continue on the 4th line.

    This means to transform the team we need a really really good 2LW. And a really really good 2C both of whom kill penalties. This is less expensive than finding 1RW and 1LW.

    For the 4th line keep JJ and fill the rest with centers who are penalty killers.

    What kinds of players are these?
    2LW – Grabner, Rust, Saad.
    2C – Stepan, Brassard, Turris
    3RW – Neiderider, Pitlick(!), Stafford

    Common theme in all of those players, is that they get traded or hit free agency or a team moves on when they are transitioning. Not franchise players so more likely to become available.

  • oilredemption

    First of all this team is a complete tire fire on and off the ice. No direction at all. In my eyes clearing house is the only way…
    Step 1) maroon and Dillon Simpson for jack studnick (ironically oilers draft pick for chia) and Boston 2nd round.
    Step 2) letestu for a 3rd, Strome for a 2nd/3rd. Benning for 4th. Kassin for a 4th.
    Step 3) trade klefbom, cagguila, Caleb jones + Boston 2nd for a hoffman and pageau (ottawa eats 50% of pageau salary)
    Step 4) actually draft good prospects and develop them with picks remaining.
    Step 5) sign nurse to a bridge 3.5 X2, Mike green 5.5 x 3 and grabner at 3×3, paajarvi 800k × 2, pak at 677k x 1, auvitu 700k x 1.
    1st line: Hoffman McDavid Grabner
    20.69million
    2nd line: Drai Nuge Poolparty
    15.425million
    3rd line: lucid Pageau Yamamoto
    8.525 million
    4th line: Paajarvi Khaira Pak
    1.358 million

    Extra forward at 675k (rattie maybe)

    1st pair: nurse Larson
    2nd pair: sekera green
    3rd pair: Davidson Russell
    Auvitu as the extra
    Combined defense salary: 24.267

    Goalies: talbot Montoya = 5.22 million
    All combined without bonus’= 78.5 milion.
    This solves pk and pp woes but allows no wiggle room in the cap not that they were going to have any anyways

  • LenM

    Here you go slamming Russell again. Sekera: GP 10, 1 point, 5.5mil, BS 8, -10. Klefbom: GP 51, 4.1mil, 14 points (of which 6 points are PP points), BS 108, -12. Larsson: GP 40, 6 points, BS 83, +/- 0. Russell: GP: 55, 4.0mil, 20 points, BS 168, +/- 0.
    FYI Christian: BS = Blocked Shots.
    With the stats above Russell is earning his wages. I feel Larsson, Klefbom and Sekera should be on the trading block. Oilers have defensemen in the minors which would perform better.

    • ChumpIX

      Finally someone saying something good about Russell. I agree with you.

      The oilers for years have lacked the effort. That’s one thing Russell has in excess. If wanting to change culture as has been talked about for years.. Russell and individuals like him are the ones you’d want to keep. Add in that he’s been keeping up and actually passing the other defensemen we view as the go to guys id say he’s a keeper.

      Sekera is vastly overpaid, and klefbom is a #3 that is out of his element as the #1. I’m ok with Larsson and glad he’s with the oilers too but Cher did a crap aweful job with that trade. Ebs and a pick would have likely been enough but instead we sent our biggest trading chip away.

  • 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.

    • 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!

    • 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.

  • 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.

  • gordo

    imo lucic is now an albatross worth 3 – 3.5; strome maybe 1.5. the d is horrible, and nurse is the best of the group. we need a goalie. trade nuge? he’s top 6 with connor and leon. btw kudos to mact for drafting draisaitl, and tell me again why we drafted puljajarvi and not tkachuk or sergachev?