Any time a General Manager makes a move, there’s always risk involved. There’s a risk of losing an asset, cap space, or a roster spot. Sometimes all three. Still, when a move is made you would like to see it address some questions that may have surrounded the roster. A good move should fill a hole and provide a little more certainty when it comes to the roster.
When the Oilers made a pair of trades this past Sunday, I don’t think they answered any real questions. In fact, I think they just created more.
HOW FAR AWAY ARE RUSSELL & SEKERA?
Right now the Oilers have seven defensemen on their roster. They have carried eight for most of the season, which is worth noting. I could see Kris Russell returning to the lineup and the Oilers opting to just keep eight d-men for the time being.
The more puzzling situation is the one with Andrej Sekera, who is currently on long-term injured reserve and doesn’t have his $5.5m counting against the salary cap. With the cap hits of Alex Petrovic ($1.95m) and Brandon Manning ($2.25m), the Oilers are currently dipping into their LTIR relief.
Sekera has apparently been saying that he’s feeling better and would like to go on an AHL conditioning stint at some point in January, which would set up for a return right after the all-star break in early February. The problem now is that the Oilers can’t bring in Sekera without moving out a contract.
If management truly believed Sekera was going to return soon, or at all, they likely wouldn’t have brought in two players with cap hits around $2 million. It just creates a headache when Sekera returns.
When the Sekera injury was originally announced, I said I wouldn’t have been surprised if he sat out the entire season. He’s only getting older and as we saw last year when Sekera returned from an injury mid-season, an older defenseman returning from a leg injury when everyone else is in mid-season form isn’t exactly a recipe for success.
After these moves, I’m starting to get the sense that an Andrej Sekera return this season might not be a guarantee, which brings me to my next question.
WILL THEY USE MORE LTIR?
I wasn’t expecting Chiarelli to address the LTIR issue at all, but he mentioned in a rather unprompted way during his press conference on Monday.
“We’ve dipped into our LTIR money. So, we’ve gone above and beyond right now. We’ll still continue to look. Our owner’s given us the ability to dip into the LTIR money, which we have.”
It’s interesting that he says “they have” LTIR money. It’s technically true, but again, if Sekera is coming back this year, you have to be careful with how you use that extra cap space. The team will still need to be cap compliant when Sekera is back in the lineup.
If he isn’t going to come back this year, then I think it should be expected that the Oilers use up the remainder of the wiggle room at having Sekera on LTIR gives them. Chiarelli point blank said that Katz is okay with that, which brings me to my next question.
IS THERE ANOTHER MOVE COMING?
Regardless of the LTIR situation, I think it’s fair to expect the Oilers will make a move in the next month or so to address their forward situation. Drake Caggiula was a polarizing player for Oilers fans but you can’t deny that he had some good offensive instincts. Given how weak they are on the wings and the fact they’ve now subtracted an everyday winger from their lineup, a move is needed.
The quality of player they can acquire depends on a few different things.
If they want to get an impact top-six or top-nine winger it’s going to cost them both cap space and assets. The cap space can either come from LTIR or from moving out a contract. Ryan Spooner wouldn’t be the ideal candidate but good luck finding someone to take all of the $3.1m that the Oilers are currently giving him.
Another option would be to move a defenseman, which they’ll have a surplus of once everyone is healthy. That brings me to my final question.
WHAT HAPPENS WHEN EVERYONE IS HEALTHY?
This is how I would lay out the Oilers depth chart once everyone is healthy:
|Oscar Klefbom||Adam Larsson|
|Darnell Nurse||Kris Russell*|
|Andrej Sekera||Alex Petrovic|
|Caleb Jones||Matt Benning|
Kris Russell is a left shot who can play the right side and given how many lefties the Oilers have, I would assume he will be doing exactly when he’s healthy.
Of course, there is no guarantee the Oilers defence will be completely healthy, but even if they get close, they’ll have some serious decisions to make.
Sending Caleb Jones back to the AHL is the easy decision but even that only knocks them down to nine defensemen. They could also send down Kevin Gravel, which would put them at eight, but he’s looked really solid this year and I think he would be a great option to keep around as an extra defenseman.
Even if Sekera doesn’t return and they send down Jones, that would mean two of Manning, Petrovic, Benning, and Gravel would need to sit. I doubt they want the newly acquired Brandon Manning and his $2.25m price tag being a consistent healthy scratch. I think they like Alex Petrovic enough to want to keep him in the lineup. That leads me to wonder if Matt Benning could be used as a trade chip to try and add a forward. He might not get you very much, but you could package him with a pick to try to pry a winger from someone.
The team is struggling mightily right now and the moves they made only created more questions for me. That’s not a good sign.