The Oilers need to be patient, yet again

After the Oilers won the Golden Ticket at the 2015 Draft Lottery, they brought Peter Chiarelli on board to help guide the franchise to success. He was a seasoned, veteran general manager who had the pedigree of winning a Stanley Cup in Boston and he was a much-welcomed breath of fresh air from the Old Boys Club who had unsuccessfully managed the organization for many years prior.

To be blunt, it didn’t go as planned. He created many cracks and holes on the ship that led to the Oilers sinking. He was fired three-and-a-half years into his tenure and the Oilers are now back at square one. This time, rather than finding somebody to steer a ship loaded with prospects and financial freedom to success, the Oilers need to find somebody to clean up the wreck left by Chiarelli.

The situation

On the bright side, the Oilers still have a nice core of Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Oscar Klefbom, Darnell Nurse, and Adam Larsson under control for at least two more years after this one. Of course, on the not-so-bright side, the Oilers have a wealth of bad contracts bogging them down, making it difficult to add to that solid core. Also, Chiarelli managed to lose value in so many deals that the Oilers now lack high-quality depth.

So while Edmonton has a core featuring the best player in the league to build around, the next general manager brought in will have to navigate through salary cap hell while also accumulating talent up and down the roster.

The last thing Oilers fans — who have endured many years of tanking, coaching and management changes, and failed rebuilds — want to hear is be patient. Unfortunately, there aren’t any quick fixes. Patience is what it’s going to take to turn this ship around.

Nov 24, 2017; Buffalo, NY, USA; Edmonton Oilers left wing Milan Lucic (27) against the Buffalo Sabres at KeyBank Center. Buffalo beats Edmonton 3 to 1. Mandatory Credit: Timothy T. Ludwig-USA TODAY Sports

Navigating cap hell

The biggest issue for whoever takes over is going to be navigating the Oilers out of cap hell. The Oilers already have the majority of their roster intact for the 2019-20 season and it’s going to take some time to push out the bad contracts weighing this team down. 

Assuming Kailer Yamamoto and Evan Bouchard are on the team, the Oilers have eight forwards, eight defencemen, and one goalie combining for roughly $72 million against the salary cap. RFAs Jesse Puljujarvi and Jujhar Khaira will be back with new contracts, while Ty Rattie and Tobias Reider might not. Ryan Spooner and Brandon Manning could be buried, which would save just over $2 million. Regardless, the Oilers don’t have much wiggle room.

Some of Chiarelli’s most puzzling moves came in the final few months before he got fired. He turned two serviceable forwards, Ryan Strome and Drake Caggiula, into two players who are best served as buried contracts in the AHL, Ryan Spooner and Brandon Manning. He also inked Mikko Koskinen, a goalie with virtually zero track record of success at the NHL level, to a fairly big contract.

These are the death by a thousand papercuts moves that highlighted Chiarelli’s tenure as Oilers general manager. Out went two decent players, in came roughly $3 million in dead cap room. The Koskinen deal may end up being fine if he plays as he did in his first two-dozen games with the Oilers, but if he doesn’t, he’ll end up being added to the list of problematic contracts along with Milan Lucic, Andrej Sekera, and Kris Russell.

Ideally, the Oilers could trade Spooner and Manning without taking anything back in return. I can’t imagine anyone is lining up to take on those cap hits, though. They could also buy both players out, putting them on top of the charges they have for getting rid of Benoit Pouliot and Eric Gryba. It would cost $1,333,333 over two seasons to buy out Spooner and it would cost $916,667 and $666,667 over the next two years to buy out Manning. It’s best just to bite the bullet with these players as their deals expire after the 2019-20 season.

The other problematic contracts aren’t going anywhere soon. The biggest one, of course, is the Milan Lucic deal. There are four more years left after this one and it’s been structured to be buyout proof. Andrej Sekera may or may not be a problem. He’s got two more years left at $5.5 million and we have no idea what to expect from him coming off his second major injury. Putting Kris Russell in this category is probably a bit unfair. He’s a solid player, and while $4 million is a little rich, you can do a lot worse. Koskinen, as I said earlier, could also end up in this category too. All the Oilers can do is hope he’s the goalie he was earlier in the season.

The key to working through salary cap hell is patience. If the Oilers had a Stanley Cup window open right now, you could validate things like using draft picks and prospects to dump bad contracts and buyouts to spread deals over a longer period of time. But the Oilers are back into somewhat of a rebuilding phase, so the best thing to do is let these things ride out rather than trying to look for a quick and easy solution with long-term ramifications.

Sep 17, 2018; Calgary, Alberta, CAN; Edmonton Oilers defenseman Evan Bouchard (75) skates against the Calgary Flames during the third period at Scotiabank Saddledome. Edmonton Oilers won 7-4. Mandatory Credit: Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports

Finding talent

The other part of navigating salary cap hell involves being conservative when it comes to talent acquisition. The Oilers are badly lacking high-quality depth on their roster at this stage, but given their situation, they can’t go nuts in free agency to solve their problems.

The bright side is that there’s already a foundation here to build around. Beyond the talent like McDavid, Draisaitl, and Klefbom already on the roster, the Oilers have some interesting young players working their way up the system.

Evan Bouchard looked good during his cup of coffee at the NHL at the beginning of the season and Caleb Jones was better during his call-up than anybody could have expected. The AHL team in Bakersfield, led by young talents like Cooper Marody, Tyler Benson, Jones, and William Lagesson, is currently on a 12-game winning streak. Michael McLeod, Krill Maksimov, and Ostaf Safin are next in line to join the Condors as the older players graduate to the NHL level.

As the Oilers slowly work their way out of salary cap hell, they need to shift their focus to loading the system with talent. On one hand, they’re only a few points out of a playoff spot right now, on the other hand, they’re only a few points up on dead last in the league. I’m not suggesting the Oilers go on a tankathon as we saw in the early 2010s, but the priority right now can’t be loading up for a short-term run.

Accumulating talent goes hand in hand with working out of cap hell. The key is patience and making decisions that benefit the long-term health of the organization. It’s better to deal Alex Chiasson, Alex Petrovic, Kevin Gravel, Cam Talbot, and whoever else on short-term deals at the deadline than it is to give up draft picks and prospects to make a run at making the playoffs.

It’s the same deal next year too. The top priorities right now are shedding dead weight and adding to the system. Maybe the team can squeeze into the playoffs with what they already have, but the goal shouldn’t be to make additions, whether through trade or free agency, that simply put a bandaid over the wound.

What does it all mean?

It’s easy to be frustrated about where the organization is standing right now. I mean, it’s impossible not to be. Nobody expected back when the Oilers won the lottery that this is where they would be four years into McDavid’s NHL career. The organization is worse off after three-and-a-half years of Peter Chiarelli than it was when they hired him.

Unfortunately, the only way through this mess is patience. The Oilers have two major issues to fix due to the Chiarelli era. They’re deep in salary cap hell and they lack high-quality depth. You can’t quickly work out of salary cap hell and, if you’re in salary cap hell, you can’t just go on a shopping spree to acquire quality depth.

Chiarelli made a lot of mistakes during his time here, obviously. I think the biggest issue, though, was haste to make changes. He came in and quickly spent the open salary cap room he had on free agents and dealt away high-quality assets to fill holes. Had he taken the time to allow the young team to figure itself out, things could have gone a lot differently.

If the next general manager comes in and tries to remedy the Oilers with a quick fix, things will only get worse. Buyouts will worsen the cap situation long-term. Trading prospects and draft picks for short-term solutions will continue to hemorrhage the organization of depth. Being active in free agency will sink the Oilers deeper into cap hell.

The only solution is patience. It’ll take time, but they have to get it right this time.

  • 18% body fat

    Oilers weren’t good enough in the dressing room last night. They need players who are better in the dressing room.

    They also didn’t punch and fight enough last night. They need more grit and fighters.

  • Canoe Ride 27

    I truly believe that Chris the Intern or Spider would have been legitimately better GMs than Chia turned out to be. And no offense guys, it’s actually a compliment. Granted the bar is low.

  • CMG30

    Chirelli at twin major faults: He could not accurately assess the true value of a player and he could not manage the cap. Getting the cap under control is going to be a major undertaking. Once that is complete we can build around the centers through free agency and whatever comes up from the minor ranks. This IS a very doable build but only for the right GM.

    • slats-west

      You can add. He went too heavy in a league what was moving to speed as he overestimated the LA Kings impact on western conference.

      I contend that Lucic will be an asset when games get closer checking. It’s just we haven’t found a line mate for him to be effective Eg. Puck controlling play making centre.

      • nijames

        Lucic will never be an asset, the game has passed him by, no room for that slow big player in the NHL any longer. Not only is it foot speed he lacks he lacks the ability to think the game at the speed it is played now. That is why the play dies on his stick 99% of the time.

  • AlexTheOilersFanSince2006

    The good news, Peter has done well at the draft table. Condors are 1st tin their division and have won 12 straight. So we have that going for us 🙂

  • toprightcorner

    100% agree.

    Oilers shouldn’t buyout anyone. They need to trade them while maintaining up to 50% of their salary so they are off the books as soon as possible. In most cases, it is less of a cap hit than buying them out based on the structure of the contract. Throw in prospects or picks if required.

    I would rather a bigger guy in Manning and Spooner for 1 year and use the full cap amount the following year. Let’s be honest, 2-3 years is when the Oilers will hopefully be improving where they need the cap space

  • toprightcorner

    Getting the cap under control is more important then adding expensive talent, otherwise you will always have happened issues. Spend a year doing whatever it takes to unload bad contracts by adding g sweeteners. The moves they make should be as close to break even cap in and out. Once there is a but of breathing room, you can add salary for the right players to fill the right holes. Nobody can be worse at assessing pro talent than Chiarelli and current pro-scouting department.

  • FISTO Siltanen

    I believe there will be some bad contracts GMs want out of (or their owners do).

    Example: Corey Perry has two years left with $15M owing. Lucic is owed $16M over 4 years. I believe there could be interest from the Ducks for financial reasons. I can’t imagine Lucic would turn down opportunity to return to SoCal (he spends his off-seasons there and plans to live there when he retires). So would Perry be open to a move here? And if yes next July he’s owed $5M signing bonus which leaves a few million owing.

    That is a VERY moveable contract next July.

  • Guy5354

    Bob Nicholson is not mentioned in the article. He hired Chiareli and he let the debacle go on too long. Now he gets a do over, and that is concerning. Katz is in a bad spot but at some point he has to at least consider reorganizing. Is there a better time than now to do that?

  • gomez444

    you are asking fans to be patient lol, its been 13 plus years of this gong show, and the arena still sells out, they have been more than patient they just want results

  • ed from edmonton

    Thanks for the well thought out article.
    I agree that it will take the Oil at least through next year and maybe longer to field a competitive team. This is rebuild 4 (I think) and I wouldn’t blame, in fact I would take some sadistic pleasure, if the Oilers season ticket base goes down to say 8 000 with few suites rented. I can’t blame anyone from taking the attitude of, I’ll get back to you when you earn it. Some will cry “fair weather fans”, but the Oil faithful have just gone 3 category fives and a 4th is one the way.
    One possible action is to jettison many players in the next 2 weeks for whatever they can get. Virtually anyone not named McD, Drai, RNH could be considered. But prime names would be Chaisson, Kassian, Talbot, Reider, Brodziak, Manning, Gravel, Petrovic. Although many of these guys have no value some might and anything they can get for any of them is welcome, even of it means the Oil get a bunch of lower end picks. The trouble is the Oil don’t have a GM and I don’t see the current group falling on their sword so to speak.
    Unfortunately the new GM not likely in place until June so meaningful change may be 1 year away.
    Sekera situation is important. He either has to be a $5.5M value, i.e. at least top 4 or unable to “full fill his obligations as an NHL player” so he can be LTIRed. If he can play 5/6/7 dman, it’s another boat anchor for 2 years.
    What about Klef? His injury history is becoming a real issue. In the 2015/16 season he missed ¾ of the season, followed by his best season, then a poor season due favoring a sore shoulder, now a good 30 games then injured again. So far his short comeback has shown trouble handling the puck and tentative in puck battles. Is a guy who is plays reliable high quality minutes perhaps 50% of the time worth keeping?
    Agree that Oil are probably 2 years away from cleaning up the mess and I don’t blame anybody from saving a few $10Ks and telling the Oil they will think about season tickets after they improve.
    All of this makes the decision for the next GM critical. It must not be a person who “fits with the Oiler culture”. It is a culture of in competence.
    Their may be a CBA negotiation this summer and possibly a work disruption. If so the possibly of a compliance buyout may become available. Faint hope clause for Lucic situation.

  • bcoil

    Ok the plan is send the NHL coaching staff down to the condors and bring up Jay and his staff ,WHY dos this management team keep bringing the old style coaches that are “all me way or the Highway ” All the successful teams have coaches that know how to talk to the new hockey players .But no we got to bring in a guy who yaps denigrates and intimidates .Just like the last one and the one before that.

  • Abagofpucks

    The owner needs to pull his head out of his ass and get rid of the ship of fools. Then hire a proper GM, President, and who ever else needs to go so they, who ever they are can fix this team. And yes it will take a couple years, but there’s nothing anybody can do but be patient. Petey was allowed to sewer this team by the very ppl that are still in control right now.

  • KootenayDan

    The current roster has to find a way to play better and buy time for the prospects and younger players no other choice. Our best players need to lead this team it doesn’t matter they are so young there is no other choice. This team needs leaders really bad right now.

  • Butters

    I think what might be best for the hockey side of the equation long term would be the Oilers to be, for all intents and purposes, out of the playoff race by this weekend, This will prevent management from messing up this team even more. It may hit the business side with renewals, but if this team can start to win again in a few years, that issue will resolve itself.

  • Butters

    Also fingers crossed for a compliance buyout when Seattle joins the league, or Lucic waives his NMC for the expansion draft and Seattle picks him up. Might be wishful thinking, but as an Oiler fan, that is all I am left with.

  • The Whispererer

    It’s a bit amusing to see posts acclaiming Woodcroft and calling for his promotion to the Oilers when it was just last season he was the subject of endless derision as McClellan’s assistant.

  • Serious Gord

    If we could be assured that all of the fok and fog will be removed the. I would get behind being patient.

    But they won’t be removed and thus there is no need to be patient – nothing will have changed.

  • Rama Lama

    I got trashed for suggesting that Leon Driasatle does not know how to play defence ( on Gregor’s last post) and finally Mark Spector said much the same.

    I would trade this player now as he has whatever condition Eberle had………we need drivers of the play in both ends of the ice. The fact he has never benched says it all.

  • Big Jacks Meat

    i am out of patience. you have had it from me for 10 plus years. No more. There are 2 or 3 in this pathetic organization that i would keep and only 2 of them wear skates. The other is Hitch. The man is passionate and dedicated to this team and city beyond belief. It pains me to watch him suffer with the crap and undedicated 95% of crap whom wear oilers colors. Mcdavid , Nuge and perhaps Leon , as well as Hitch , the rest can go. And that includes you Katz , actually mostly you the toys you employ. Lowe , Macncheese or what ever your name is. Howson , how are you not on an unemployment line. Must be nice collecting a cheque from an eccentric reclusive owner hey boys. Get out , your heroism is long gone in this town. Most don’t even remember you.

    FREE CONNOR….Yes , i am getting there.

      • Spydyr

        The Oilers have made over a 100 million per season profit every year Katz has owned the team. He is not a savior he is a billionaire making even more money.

        I said this many times before the Oilers would be in a much better place if Gregg has purchased the team instead of Katz.