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Photo Credit: © Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports

A $9.5-million third pairing?

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.

Nov 18, 2017; Dallas, TX, USA; Dallas Stars right wing Tyler Pitlick (18) and Edmonton Oilers defenseman Kris Russell (4) fight for the puck during the first period at American Airlines Center. Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

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)

Sekera Buyout Russell Buyout
Buyout Cap Hit Savings Buyout Cap Hit Savings
18-19 $1,611,111 $3,888,888 $611,111 $3,388,888
19-20 $2,611,111 $2,888,888 $1,111,111 $2,888,888
20-21 $2,611,111 $2,888,888 $3,611,111 $388,888
21-22 $1,611,111 -$1,611,111 $1,111,111 -$1,111,111
22-23 $1,611,111 -$1,611,111 $1,111,111 -$1,111,111
23-24 $1,611,111 -$1,611,111 $1,111,111 -$1,111,111

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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      • OnDaWagon

        I’m wondering, not only Sekera, but, if the Oilers can rebound from the stink they continue to leave in this city.

        Leave it to Mr. NMC/NTC to F up things. He would go buy a car, and demand to pay more than the sticker price.

        And the coaching here is past due. Way past due. Return to sender. But like i said…all of them worked at hockey Canada. The buddy system. Don’t expect any chances, unless Nicklehead is fired.

    • Craig1981

      When I hear Oilers fan talk buyout and hassle his preformance, sometimes I wonder if us Oiler fans aren’t any better than leaf fans……….but then I remember I haven’t seen 100+ blogs of Taveres signing here and I feel slightly better

    • puckle-head

      It’s nothing against Sekera, it’s more a question of where does he fit in? Do you honestly see him, even if he returns to form (which is an “if” based on his age), passing a healthy Klefbom or Nurse on the Oilers depth chart? Again, as the article says, having one overpaid defense man on the 3rd pair is no big deal, but the Oilers look like they will have Russell on the 3rd pair as well. My preference would be to see Russell go, and he may actually have some value after a strong year, but we can’t keep them both. Having a log jam at a certain position isn’t a good thing if the log jam is expensive as the one Chiarelli has created.

      • nbandito

        You keep him and see what you have. Chances are good he returns to form based on his hockey IQ and fitness. If he doesn’t, then you consider a buyout but it’s far too soon to consider a buyout this offseason. If he re-injures the knee, having his salary on reserve won’t hurt us.

    • CMG30

      There is always a concern that an injury can curtail a career. Just like what happened to ryan W a few years back. Hopefully a summer off can bring him back.

      • WHH

        Apparently, he somewhat re-injured the rebuilt knee a few games ago. That is why he is out of the lineup now. I agree with another blogger about why were they playing him in garbage time. Will he be able to continue working on his knee or how much is it re-injured. Again, a really puzzling decision to play him in garbage time instead of giving his knee ample time to heal.

    • BobbyCanuck

      That is the biggest thing that drives me mental about our brain(lack-of) trust. Play the guy with coming back from a serious injury, play him with a knee brace, because you know we can still make the play-offs if we win the next 40 games in row. Very poor asset management

  • E-Mac

    Sekera will bounce back. He is not done yet. He’s more than capable of being a good top-4 defenseman. That being said, I would love it if they were able to trade him for some picks and then offer sheet Dumba. I’m sure Minny would match, but he would be a perfect right shot powerplay QB.

  • Jerri Kurli

    I think Sekera will return to form eventually, but this season sure is a cause for concern. He has played less minutes than any other defenseman and has been arguably their worse defenseman in that time. If he was still injured they wouldn’t clear him to play, which tells us he’s not as mobile as before. I’m sure it will improve with a summer of proper training and rehab but still something to worry about. We’re in such a hurry to suggest trade scenarios for Klefbom, but why aren’t we looking to rid ourselves of Sekera’s contract. He’s had 1 good season for us which wouldn’t necessarily warrant 5.5 million AAV. It would open up so much room to let us retool our backend. That could be a trade we’d be happy to lose if the money is coming off the books.

    • camdog

      Sekera has had 2 good years, one bad. My biggest problem with his contract is the term, one year too long. I think he’ll recover next season, but at the same time, as he ages I expect more injuries.

    • crabman

      The type of Knee injury and surgery he had takes 6-9 months to rehab to the point where he could play. But it takes a full year to get to 100%. Being able to play without further injuring the knee is different from being able to play at the 100%. Add that to jumping into the season when everyone else is at mid season form and at a position that requires a lot of quick turns, pivoting, and stop and go, was a recipe for disaster for him.
      If he has the same issues with mobility at training camp then there is a problem. Until then it’s purely speculation how mobile he will be next year. Something to worry about at his age but this season is h about hardly an indicator of what we should expect going forward.

  • Jaxon

    Not to mention a possible 4th line of $8.625M if Lucic-Khaira(or worse if someone else is brought in)-Kassian end up on the 4th. That would be $18.125M at the very bottom of the roster instead of the usual price of around $5.125M (guesstimate warning). Overpaying the bottom of their roster by $13M is ludicrous.

  • TruthHurts98

    Only this organization rewards those who don’t earn it. Fire PC as soon as the season is over or this Cap Hell with a depleted roster will only get worse! He overpays every player and with his awful trades and lack of action last summer how does he have a job???? #becauseOilers

  • tkfisher

    I like Sekera, but have a 9.5 million third pairing is embarrassing and screams lack of foresight and poor construction by management. Based on the LHD depth chart, we all knew this was coming and the only way it makes sense is if the plan is for Sekera to slide over and play RD (which he’s done before, but is less than ideal). To put into context how that structure knee caps the team @ 9.5 for the 5 and 6 D, the Oilers could trade Sekera and Russell for nothing picks (name the picks – 3 round, 8 round whatever), sign Carlson from Washington to a 7 million a year deal, sign two 1.5 million dollar replacements (actual 5-6 D Gryba type contracts) and come out with about the same cap hit. Not saying Carlson is the guy to sign, (his point spike looks like a bit off an anomaly and he probably won’t live up to that contract), but the point is, having actual 5-6D contracts make room to actually have a stud 7 million dollar D man on the right side for the same cap hit.

  • Poloismz

    the problem with this article is that it makes the assumption that Nurse and Klefbom are both ready for top pairing minutes day in and day out. this season has proved that they are neither ready for it, yes maybe next year they might be closer but still there are no guarantees. If Sekeras can regain his form from past couple of seasons than it gives Nurse/Klefbom time to improve their game instead of getting buried by too many minutes at top pairing. Its like the writer of this articles didn’t even watch this season happen.

  • crabman

    Having a $9.5M bottom pair is not ideal but 1 year isn’t going to sink the team and after next year both Sekera and Russell only have MNTC.
    If the Oilers bridge Nurse, which I expect they will, in the 2×$3M range that would give them 3 top4 D making under $11.5M. That is very good value. It would be better if the money they save in the top4 could be used to improve another part of the roster and not get waste was on a bottom pair but I don’t think it is a death sentence next season. If the cap goes up to $80M, Nurse gets bridged and Strome comes back at a similar contract as he has now they will have around $8M to improve the club before trading any salary the other way.

  • Slipknot 8

    It doesn’t matter who the Gm is next season…

    If they are at all competent and want to truly turn this team around and be competitive and challenge for the Stanley Cup then
    Sekera, Lucic & Russell cannot be on the team.
    They cost way to much for what they give and the Oilers have no cap space to go after elite level players to play with McDavid and Draisaitl.
    Further to that they need a RHD who can play the PP and a couple PKers.
    It’s going to be tough but if you can move a contract like Phaneuf, then I think Lucic can be moved.
    I think it’s the most important off season for the Oilers.

    • Dan 1919

      I honestly can’t believe Chiarelli has got himself into cap trouble this fast, you would have thought he’d have learned something from Boston. I’m not an anti Lucic or Russell guy, but when you look at Chiarelli’s body of work as a whole, he overspends in a gross way.

      • Odanada

        Despite his rather obvious flaws, Bobby Nicks hired him anyways. Says rather a lot about Bobby’s hockey acumen. He may be flashy with a forensic audit, but he is no NHL hockey man.

  • btrain

    Sekera represents a financial problem as a 3rd pairing defender not only as the potential is there that he and his partner collectively make 9.5 mill but also because he and the two guys ahead of him on the left side will likely combine to make at least 13mill (once Nurse gets paid). The problem with Sekera, is that even if he returns close to his usual form, where does he rank on the depth chart on the left side? I think its a real possibility that a healthy Klefbom and Nurse still outperform him, relegating him to 3rd pair. If he wasn’t 5.5 mill that would be a great depth problem to have but on a team with its two stars making a combined 21 mill alone, its not a luxury that they can afford. Will be very interesting to see how, or if, this can be addressed.

  • ubermiguel

    The modifications in those NMCs matter, anyone remember the details of those? I hope Sekera has a better time coming back from injury than Whitney; that was a rapid decline and killed the backend.

  • Kepler62c

    Hmmm is:

    Nurse/Klefbom – Larsson
    Nurse/Klefbom – Sekera/Russell
    Sekera/Russell – Benning
    Extras: Gryba/Auvitu?/Lowe?

    so bad? I find it hard to believe that Sekera or Russell won’t be capable of filling that 4th Dman slot in the top 4. Also, as we are all well aware: injuries happen.

    Personally I think this is overblown, if Nurse signs a similar contract to Klefbom/Larsson then oilers have their top 5 dmen making ~ $22M. That isn’t crazy to fit under the cap as it’s basically taking Fayne’s $2.6M Cap buried in the minors and adding it to Darnell’s $1.7M cap hit this season (with bonuses).

      • crabman

        Nurse was the Oilers best defenceman this year but he hardly had a “great” performance. He had a career high 6 goals and 25 points. He was never a great scorer in junior and isn’t projected to be in the NHL. I think he is a prime candidate for a bridge contract. It is unlikely he has a huge spike in offence over the next couple of years that would drastically increase the next contract. This team needs to start taking advantage of the team’s control over RFAs. You don’t need to go longterm on the 2nd contract unless the player is projecting as an elite producer. You get paid more for points in this league.

      • crabman

        there are 7 D that fall into the same age group as Nurse that are on a 2nd contract making $5M or more. Rielly(Tor), Lindholm(Ana), Jones(CBJ), Ristolainen(Buf), Parayko(StL), Hamilton(Cal), and Ekblad(Flo). That’s it. And everyone of them well outproduced Nurse during their ELC.

        Nurse played 196 games, had 46 pts averaging .23pt/g.

        His closest 2 comparisons from the list are Jones and Ristolainen. All the others averaged over .40pts/g.

        Ristolainain had 194 games, 65pts for .33pts/g. But he took off his final year with 41 points and averaged over 25min/g.

        Jones 240 games, 83 pts, .35pts/g. But again he had a major push his final year. after his trade to Columbus when given the opportunity to be the top pair guy he had 41 games, 20 pts and was playing 24:27 a game.

        I like Nurse and think he is an important player on the Oilers going forward but he hasn’t shown to be worth $5M+ a year yet.

    • Tooleybuc

      Too many people getting lost in the weeds. Bottom line, if your 6 D are: Benning, Klef, Larsson, Russell, Nurse, and Sekera… then you are likely not a good playoff team. That group of 6 needs to be upgraded. Period. The chemistry is bad. The L/R balance is bad. The salary balance is wrong. Somehow, the overall 6 D-man position needs to be re-engineered and overhauled.

  • Odanada

    Back in 2015, when Bob Nicholson hired Chiarelli, he said:
    “A person of Peter Chiarelli’s caliber does not come around very often.”
    Seems to me that Nicholson is also part of the problem

  • thenoble1

    Trade Oscar klefbom in a heartbeat. He may be a great passer and score the odd goal but the guide leaks on defense. And isn’t that what he is supposed to be a defenseman? Defenseman first….offencive defenseman last. Just my two cents.