There’s a real chance both Andrej Sekera ($5.5 million AAV) and Kris Russell ($4 million AAV) find themselves on the Oilers’ third pairing next season. The Oilers need to upgrade their defence. They currently have three defenceman they can count on to play top-four minutes next season: Darnell Nurse, Oscar Klefbom, and Adam Larsson.
Sekera would normally be a lock to play in the top four. He has a long history as a top-four defenceman, but a major injury at his age makes it uncertain. This year has been a write-off for Sekera. He returned from injury in December to mixed results. He’s averaged 16 minutes a game and the Oilers have been outscored 27-9 at 5-on-5 with him on the ice. He hasn’t been the same player.
Can the Oilers rely on Sekera in 2018-19? He’ll have an entire offseason to train, but he’ll be 32 by next October. The Oilers have Darnell Nurse and Oscar Klefbom on the left side, so Sekera returning to form isn’t as pressing, but having a $5.5-million defender playing on the bottom pairing is a poor use of cap space.
Russell’s a controversial player, but even his most ardent supporters can acknowledge the Oilers need to upgrade the right side of their second pairing. Russell’s contract was always a poor bet by Peter Chiarelli, but the idea was he could play on the third pairing after the first year or so and it wouldn’t be a huge deal. Sekera’s injury and Nurse’s upcoming contract make that more difficult. That’s a lot of money on defence.
Good teams can handle one overpaid defenceman on the roster. Washington has Brooks Orpik as their number four defenceman at $5.5 million a year. Tampa Bay is one of the best teams in the league and Braydon Coburn is on their third pairing at $3.7 million. Dion Phaneuf’s been Los Angeles’ fifth defenceman since being traded there. He has a $5.25-million cap hit for three more seasons.
One pricey defenceman on your third-pairing won’t kill you. Having almost $10 million on your third pairing is a different story. The Oilers need to improve other parts of their roster and that money dedicated to Sekera and Russell will hurt. Can the Oilers trade one of Sekera or Russell for either a right-shot defenceman or an expensive, but useful forward? Both defencemen have term left on their contracts and trade protection, but exploring that avenue is preferable to moving, say, Oscar Klefbom.
What about a buyout? (Check out NHLNumbers’ new buyout calculator)
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A trade is clearly preferable to a buyout. Even if the Oilers retained salary, both Russell and Sekera’s contracts expire after the 2020-21 season. Buying either of them out adds a dead cap hit for three more years.
But a buyout is still enticing. It immediately opens up significant money for the next three seasons and the Oilers can simply buy them out, whereas the player has some say in a trade with no-move protection. Both Sekera and Russell carry no-move clauses at some point in their contracts.
The Oilers run the risk of having both Sekera and Russell on their third pairing next season. A $9.5-million third pairing is too expensive for a team that has many holes to fill.
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