It was announced this week that the NHL’s salary cap ceiling for 2018-19 will fall between $78 and $82 million. That’s good news for the Oilers as Connor McDavid’s $12.5 million extension is set to kick in on top of the team’s already-crowded salary cap picture.
The Oilers have nine forwards, four defencemen, three goalies, and one buyout commitment equating to roughly $65 million against the cap for next season. If the Oilers bury or trade Al Montoya and add Kailer Yamamoto to the roster they’ll have 10 forwards, four defenders, two goalies, and a buyout costing them just about $65 million.
Some holes will be filled when restricted free agents Darnell Nurse, Matt Benning, Ryan Strome, and Drake Caggiula are signed to new contracts. I expect all four to be back next season and it should cost the Oilers about $10 million combined. It could be slightly less, it could be slightly more, but I estimate $4 million for Nurse, $3 million for Strome, $2 million for Benning, and $1 million for Caggiula. If that’s the case, Edmonton will have between $3 and $7 million to upgrade the roster depending on where the cap ends up.
That brings us to this week’s What Would You Do Wednesday question. How should the team attack free agency? Which player out there makes the most sense for the cap-strapped Oilers to add?
Raise the floor
Like I said, the four restricted free agents will eat up a good chunk of Edmonton’s available cap room. When signed, the Oilers will have 12 forwards (or 11 depending on what happens with Yamamoto), six defencemen, and two goalies. It essentially leaves room for depth additions on the wing and blueline.
The most sensible option for Peter Chiarelli this summer is to raise the floor. An issue for Edmonton last year was a lack of scoring depth as players like Caggiula, Zack Kassian, and Anton Slepyshev who looked good during the playoff run in 2017 failed to translate their success into the following regular season. The blueline also struggled in the wake of Andrej Sekera’s injury.
Raising the floor means adding cheap-but-effective players to up the depth of the roster. The Oilers have two obvious needs: wingers who can score goals and a defender who can produce some offence. This summer’s bargain bin features wingers like Thomas Vanek, Lee Stempniak, Kris Versteeg, Radim Vrbata, and Drew Stafford who, while not flashy or spectacular, are veterans who can put the puck in the back of the net. The list of blueliners who can produce offence that will be available for cheap is virtually non-existent. Still, guys like John Moore, Thomas Hickey, and Ian Cole could help Edmonton’s blueline depth.
Given the team’s cap situation, taking flyers on some of the aforementioned names above seems to make the most sense. But as we saw last year with Jussi Jokinen and Mike Cammalleri, there’s no guarantee that these players will be effective. While these signings would be low-risk, there’s a very good chance they’re also low-reward.
Find a way to make a splash
The Oilers didn’t make a big addition last summer. They dealt Jordan Eberle for Ryan Strome, bought out Benoit Pouliot, re-signed Kris Russell, and made a minor addition in Jussi Jokinen. The thought was internal options would step up and flesh out the roster. It was a reasonable gamble given what we saw during the playoff run, but it failed miserably.
Would navigating the 2018 off-season, in the same way, be a mistake? There are some free agents on the open market who would be perfect fits on this Oilers team. Unfortunately, they would be great fits on most teams and, as a result, are going to get paid. John Carlson would give the Oilers a huge boost on the power play, but he’ll command at least $7 million. James van Riemsdyk and James Neal would look great next to Connor McDavid, but both will command at least $6 million.
If the Oilers are going to add a player like this, they would have to clear cap room. That isn’t going to be easy. Milan Lucic and Andrej Sekera’s deals are going to be impossible to move without taking significant money back, dealing Oscar Klefbom or Ryan Nugent-Hopkins opens up cap room but creates another hole.
What say you, Nation? What path should Chiarelli take this summer in free agency? Should he clear cap room and make a big splash? Or should he try to raise the floor of the roster with depth additions? How would you navigate free agency? Who are your ideal targets?
WWYDW IS BROUGHT TO YOU BY PRO AM SPORTS