Looking ahead to the future it seems likely Oscar Klefbom and Darnell Nurse are the Oilers top-two left defencemen. So where does that leave Andrej Sekera and his $5.5 million cap hit?
It is difficult to evaluate where Sekera is at right now, because he hasn’t been the same player since tearing his ACL in game five of the Pacific Division final last May.
He returned to action on December 21st and, as expected, he looked rusty. It took him some time to find his game. It didn’t help that he got injured on February 9th, in Anaheim again, and missed another two weeks of action. He was starting to play better recently, but then he took a shot off his foot in Tampa Bay and didn’t play last night.
It has been a frustrating season for him, and he’s admitted he hates playing with a knee brace, because it limits his range of motion and ability.
“The mobility (in his knee) is not what it was, so I’m trying to come up with some other movements. When I turn one way it doesn’t react how I’m used to. I need to finish the season strong, have a good summer workout so I don’t have to have the brace, which is limiting me,” Sekera explained.
I expect he will be much better next year after a full off-season of training, but Sekera turns 32 in June and if Klefbom and Nurse are the Oilers top two left defenders for the future, can they afford to pay Sekera $5.5 million to play in their third pairing? He currently has a full no-movement clause, but that changes next year.
I expect he will play for the Oilers next season, but on June 1st, 2019, Sekera can be traded to 15 other NHL teams. On March 1st, 2019 his agent needs to submit a list of 15 NHL teams he would accept a trade to, and starting June 1st, the Oilers are free to move him to any of those 15 clubs.
Sekera has three years remaining on his current deal. He carries a $5.5 million cap hit, but the final two years of the deal in 2019/2020 and 2020/2021 he will be paid $4.5 million. A no-movement clause protects a player, but ultimately if a team really wants to trade a player, we’ve seen them make it happen.
The Oilers like Sekera. He is a stable, solid, reliable defender, but can they afford him for three more seasons at $5.5 million? I don’t see it.
The other factor is the expansion draft. Commissioner Gary Bettman confirmed yesterday that Seattle will have the same rules as Vegas
A quick reminder on the rules if you don’t remember them.
- Teams have the option of protecting seven forwards, three defensemen and one goalie, or eight skaters and one goalie.
- Players with no-movement clauses have to be protected. First and second-year pros along with unsigned draft picks are exempt from the expansion draft.
- Teams must make a defenseman and two forwards available who played 40 games the previous season or 70 total games in the previous two seasons.
I understand the draft is two years away, but unless the Oilers makes some major changes, I’d assume Klefbom, Nurse and Adam Larsson are the top-three D-men they will want to protect. Ethan Bear and Matt Benning would need to be protected or exposed. Kris Russell would need to be protected as well (no move clause), so I could see them trying to move him before the expansion draft as well. On June 1st, 2019, the Oilers will have ten teams they can trade Russell to. On June 1st, 2020, it will be 15 teams. The final year of his contract is easily tradeable after July 1st, 2020, because after he gets his bonus, he will be owed $1.5 million during the season.
Up front, Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl, Jesse Puljujarvi, Kailer Yamamoto, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Milan Lucic (no move clause), Ryan Strome and Jujhar Khaira are the leading options at this point.
As we saw this past summer, teams can make trades to keep players, and the Oilers like many teams will have a lot of young players they don’t want to lose, so we could see them make a deal.
DOES SEKERA FIT?
The salary cap is expected to be between $78-82 million next season. With McDavid’s new $12.5 million contract kicking in then, the Oilers won’t have much cap space.
McDavid, Draisaitl, RNH, Lucic, Puljujarvi, Khaira, Aberg, Kassian, Klefbom, Larsson, Russel, Sekera, Talbot and Al Montoya total $60.2 million. They have $1.33 million in cap space for the Benoit Pouliot buyout.
If the cap is $78 million, they will have $16.5 million to spend, and if it reaches $82 million then they will have $20.5 million to spend. Obviously, they are hoping for the latter.
Darnell Nurse is the only Oilers player in line for a big raise.
For this article, let’s say he signs a bridge deal worth $3 million a season.
Ryan Strome inks a $2.75 million deal.
Matt Benning and Drake Caggiula will likely come in around $1 to $1.2 million each.
So that leaves one more D-man and four forwards with $10.55 million to spend (assuming the cap is at $80 million).
The Oilers could sign or acquire a $4 to $5 million winger and still have room to fill out the bottom of the roster.
If Anton Slepyshev re-signs, and I’m not certain he will based on ice time, he will be in same boat as Caggiula.
It isn’t ideal, but the Oilers should be close to the cap ceiling next year, and not waste cap space like they did this season. Many teams have found solid contributors on value contracts the past few summers, and it is about time Oilers GM Peter Chiarelli finds a few cheap veterans on short-term deals who can contribute.
How Sekera plays next year will impact his future with the team, but even if he plays well, the emergence of Klefbom and Nurse makes him someone I see the Oilers trading next summer.
Many have written about Kris Russell’s contract, and I understand the concern, but Russell makes $1.5 million less than Sekera and he can play both left and right defence. Right now, both look like they could start next season in the Oilers third pairing. They would be a very good third pair, but very expensive, and I could see them playing there next season, I don’t think it is reasonable to have $9.5 million in their third pair for an extended period of time.
Looking into the future, I won’t be surprised to see Sekera traded before Russell.
Sekera has a bigger cap hit, but he also has 15 teams — five more than Russell — the Oilers could trade him to. I suspect neither plays out their contract in Edmonton, but don’t be surprised to see Sekera dealt, starting as early as next summer.