How can the Oilers create cap space?

The Oilers are up against the salary cap and near the bottom of the Western Conference. They have a handful of problem contracts and need to get better if they don’t want to waste Connor McDavid’s prime years. The Oilers’ cap situation isn’t good, but I think it gets exaggerated. Milan Lucic’s contract is the only contract I’d consider among the worst in the league. There’s a lot of expensive contracts, but I believe most could be moved without significant salary retained or assets included.

How can the Oilers create space to improve the roster?

First, lets stress that neither McDavid nor Leon Draisaitl’s contracts are problems. McDavid’s contract is a steal and would still be even if he took the league maximum. The Oilers didn’t use all their leverage when they signed Draisaitl, but it’s still not a problem. Sure, you’d like to see him centering his own line and playing less with McDavid for $8.5 million a year, but he’s scoring and his contract is fine. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins has two more seasons after this one at $6 million per year. That’s fair for one of the Oilers’ only scoring threats.

Oscar Klefbom and Adam Larsson provide value for their $4.167-million cap hits. Darnell Nurse has another cheap season before he needs to be re-signed.

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Those players aren’t the issue.

Kyle Brodziak
$1.15 million for one more season
Concern Level: Very Low

I didn’t mind the Brodziak contract. It’s low enough where he can be buried in the minors without a large cap penalty ($.025m). Brodziak has been okay, but I wouldn’t be surprised if he ended up in the minors and they wanted a faster, cheaper option as the fourth-line center next season .

Matthew Benning
$1.9 million for one more season
Concern Level: Fairly Low

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Benning’s contract isn’t a huge deal, but could the Oilers move him and replace him for less than $1.9 million? Probably. Benning’s a capable third-pairing defenceman and shoots right so teams would be interested. I wouldn’t be surprised if the Oilers traded Benning for a draft pick. Nashville’s third pairing has Dan Hamhuis ($1.25 million) and Yannick Weber ($0.675m). You can save money with a cheap third pairing and the Oilers might need to do with multiple years left on Kris Russell and Andrej Sekera.

Zack Kassian
$1.95 million for one more season
Concern Level: 

Like Benning, the Oilers could save money on their fourth line by trading Kassian. Kassian’s been on a scoring run playing bigger minutes recently, but his career suggests he’s mostly a fourth-line guy. Kassian is fine if he’s your third-line right wing making $1.95 million. He’s making too much to play on the fourth line, especially when you can get a player near league minimum to do everything he does.

Kassian’s contract isn’t a big issue but trading him seems reasonable and would clear almost $2 million for a more significant addition. The Oilers would finally be selling high on a player for once.

Tobias Rieder
Contract: RFA after this season, needs to be qualified at $2.2 million
Concern Level: Low

Rieder was a smart buy-low option. He’s having an extremely unlucky season. Last season was Rieder’s worst before this season and he still scored 12 goals. He’s on pace to not score a single goal this season. He’s played 48 games! Rieder’s 11 assists in that time isn’t good enough and qualifying him at that price wouldn’t be smart. It’s entirely possible the Oilers don’t extend a qualifying offer and cut ties with Rieder, but I’d see if he’d take another cheap contract for $1-1.5 million. There’s no way he lost his skill this year and he provides a lot of elements the Oilers need, including speed and penalty killing.

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WWYDW(FE): Matt Benning or Mike Green

Brandon Manning
$2.75 million for one more season
Concern Level: 

Manning is overpaid and the trade that brought him to Edmonton was bad. Manning is another third-pairing guy who doesn’t bring anything the Oilers don’t already have in their glut of third-pairing defencemen. A buyout would clear $1.33 million cap space but adds another $0.666 million in 2020-21. Unless Peter Chiarelli gets another job, a Manning trade is unlikely. The Oilers can simply bury him in the minors for a year and only $1.75 million will count against the cap.

Sam Gagner
Contract: $3.15 million for one more season.
Concern Level: Low

Gagner returns to Edmonton as part of the Jordan Eberle trade tree. Ryan Spooner was a big disappointment and Gagner should provide more scoring than Spooner. Seeing as how both Spooner and Gagner cleared waivers, no one is trading for Gagner without another overpaid player coming back.

Gagner is useful and can play some center and wing. I don’t mind Gagner in a middle-six role on right wing. A Gagner buyout clears $2.133 million in cap space next season, but adds $1.066 million the season after. I’d resist and just keep Gagner on the roster. I’d even consider re-signing him for cheap if he was interested in staying in Edmonton.

Kris Russell
$4 million for two more seasons
Concern Level: 

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Russell has a place on an NHL roster, but the Oilers need an upgrade and he’s too expensive for a third-pairing role. Russell has two years left after this season at $4 million per year. His salary drops to just $2.5 million in the last year of his contract. Russell can be a useful player and I bet there are a few general managers who admire his shot blocking and tough style of play. I think there’s a reasonable chance the Oilers could move Russell with no salary retained.

Mikko Koskinen
$4.5 million for three more seasons
Concern Level: 

Koskinen’s contract is perplexing, but he’s here and it’s extremely unlikely the Oilers would move, or be able to move, Koskinen before his contract kicks in. The Oilers need a goalie for next season and apparently liked Koskinen enough to overpay him significantly. Koskinen’s .909 save percentage isn’t good enough or worth $4.5 million per year. If his save percentage is near .908 next year the contract will look even worse. Koskinen isn’t going anywhere.

Andrej Sekera
$5.5 million for two more seasons
Concern Level: 
Medium to High

Sekera’s play down the stretch should help the Oilers decide their path with the veteran defenceman coming back from two major injuries. Sekera has two more years at $5.5 million after this season. That’s not too bad of a price for a top-four defenceman if he can regain form. The Oilers have a few options. They could simply bring him back as a veteran guy in more of a depth role. Sekera should be more than fine in a third-pairing role and they could revisit a trade or a buyout after the season.

About Jesse...

The Oilers could buyout Sekera this summer.

Season Savings Cap Hit
2019-20 $3,000,000 $2,500,000
2020-21 $3,000,000 $2,500,000
2021-22 -$1,500,000 $1,500,000
2022-23 -$1,500,000 $1,500,000

A Sekera buyout wouldn’t be the worst way to open up space. The Oilers get $3 million in each of the next two seasons and only add $1.5 million in years three and four. That’s manageable with the salary cap going up and both the Eric Gryba and Benoit Pouliot buyouts off the books in 2020-21.

A trade would be preferable, but difficult. The Oilers aren’t going to be contenders in 2020 so I’d hold onto Sekera for another year and explore a trade or buyout then.

Milan Lucic
Contract: $6 million for four more seasons
Concern Level: 
Very High

Lucic’s contract is the pièce de résistance of Chiarelli’s tenure as Oilers general manager. It’s by far the most difficult contract to move and the biggest obstacle the Oilers will face when they want to improve their roster.

The key with Lucic’s contract is his actual salary is lower than his cap after his signing bonus is paid on July 1st.

Season Signing Bonus Total Salary Cap Hit
2019-20 $3,000,000 $6,000,000 $6,000,000
2020-21 $3,000,000 $4,000,000 $6,000,000
2021-22 $2,500,000 $5,000,000 $6,000,000
2022-23 $3,000,000 $4,000,000 $6,000,000

After July 1st, Lucic’s salary is $3M, $4M, $5M, $4M.  $26 million of his $42 million will have been paid off and his salary will be at least a million lower than his cap hit going forward. That could be attractive to teams looking to reach the salary floor like Arizona, Ottawa, and Carolina. Ottawa has traded a ton of salary and will need some money to reach the salary-cap floor.

A Lucic buyout doesn’t accomplish much.

Season Original Cap Hit Cost Savings Cap Hit
2019-20 $6,000,000 $625,000 $2,375,000 $3,625,000
2020-21 $6,000,000 $625,000 $375,000 $5,625,000
2021-22 $6,000,000 $625,000 $1,875,000 $4,125,000
2022-23 $6,000,000 $625,000 $375,000 $5,625,000
2023-24 $0 $625,000 -$625,000 $625,000
2024-25 $0 $625,000 -$625,000 $625,000
2025-26 $0 $625,000 -$625,000 $625,000
2026-27 $0 $625,000 -$625,000 $625,000

A Lucic buyout offers minimal cap savings. The best option is a trade and retaining salary might be the way to entice another team.

There’s talk about attaching Jesse Puljujarvi with Lucic to try and trade him. I’m not sure that’s the avenue I’d take, but it’s an option.

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Should they stay or should they go now?

I’d explore trades for Kassian, Benning, Russell. Bury Manning in the minors and keep Brodziak, Gagner on the roster. Re-sign Rieder to a cheaper one-year deal or don’t qualify him. Heavily consider a buyout for Sekera and explore a resolution to the Lucic situation.

I don’t think next year will be a contending year so I would hold off on adding a lot of salary for 2020. Focus on building a contender for 2021 and beyond.

  • Oiler Al

    Nothing will change,unless there is a major house cleaning in the “ivory tower”! That’s starting with Lord Burger himself.Get all the “old smelly jocks” away from hockey Ops. They are only feeding nonsense to Katz, who would not know a proper hockey player if he was sitting at the NHL awards show.See Wayne on the recent road games…why?This is junk. The same junk Melnyk has created in Ottawa.Oilers need a cleansing…unfortunately
    it wont happen under King Katz rule…how sad.

    • kelvjn

      Lowetide said it best, playing in a horrible team will cost a lot of players their careers.

      Who in the right mind wants to sign a player who wouldn’t stand out in a sucky bottom feeder? Where is the market for players associated with a lazy, soft, dump- and-no-chase-so-I-can-get-the-hell-off the-ice brand of hockey? Europe?

      Presumably most teams looks get better player than what they had.

      Why anybody think there is a market for an Oilers 4th line or 3rd pair player? Last I checked Peter is still unemployed.

  • FutureGM

    You lost me on Brandon Manning low and Sekera high. One guy isn’t better than our AHL optin in Jones or cheap option in Gravel and the the other has made a noticeable difference to our team despite being out almost 2 years.
    Probably not related. We should definitely not have a proven, veteran Dman on the team at all…

  • VvV

    Wild idea. Oilers receive Bobby Ryan has 7.25 cap hit for 3 more years but Ottawa retains 2-3 million and receives Lucic and his 6 million For 4 more years cap hit. Ottawa is able to hit the cap floor, Eugene Melnyk actually saves money because Lucic actually salary is far less than his cap hit. Bobby Ryan has 13 goals 22 assists this year, based on his playoff performance from 2017 he still has game given the right situation I think. This doesn’t fix the Oilers cap issues, they do get a slight discount for what I think is a better player with better upside.

    • Rick Stroppel


      Bill Scott is the “capologist”, he is incompetent, fire him too.

      Amazing how the Oilers organization functions. In his last half season in Edmonton, Hall started to look a little discouraged. Who wouldn’t. Solution: trade the future MVP for a 3-4 defenceman.

      Eberle had one bad playoff, thirteen games. Solution: trade him for nothing, eventually.

      Ryan Strome made ONE BAD PLAY, got beat by Sidney Crosby in overtime. Solution: trade him for Gagner, eventually (who they could have got at ANY TIME for a 4th round draft pick because he wasn’t even playing for Vancouver). So they traded Strome for nothing, effectively.

      Edmonton Oiler player makes a mistake, stupid reactionary trade to follow. Edmonton Oiler executive makes a mistake, promotion to follow. What a joke of an organization.

      But the truly GALLING thing is the profound ARROGANCE of these clowns. They really act like they invented professional hockey. They are so stupid (Lowe, McTavish, Nicholson) that they literally say something really stupid every time they speak to the public. That leads to PROMOTION, no more speaking in public. Smug smiles and high-fives as they sit around the executive box. Nicholson says whoever they hire has to fit “our culture” (the culture of losing, I guess). Trot out somebody new to rationalize the endless clown show.

      • Derian Hatcher

        @ Rick. I love your passion! And you are correct on so many levels. I would endorse you for the following:

        1- “Fan Advisor” to the OBC where they must hear you out BEFORE they pop the cork on the wine. You would report back to the fans on what their responses are.

        2- You become eligible for media accreditation and you can ask as many questions and follow-up questions as you please without some PR lackey stepping in.

  • Derkus the circus

    Reider can fade away to europe after this year as far as im concerned. Im not ready to buyout sekera yet, but we may have to for space because of how bad the lucic deal is. Perhaps buyout for lucic after next year makes more sense.

  • BobbyCanuck

    uhow all the scenarios presented go with the assumption that we have kids on the farm that are worthy replacements. Is that not what management thought for last year, and this year? How did that work out for the Oilers?

  • Vanoil

    Brodziak — pylons are $12 at Canadian tire … anything more than tha is an over-pay. Worse, it is taking time away from Khaira as a centre where we could certainly use him to drive the compete on his own line. If a Fourth line centre needs something — its compete; Brodziak rests way to much on his status as a veteran to drive any play. And the lack of results from the line are clear for all to see.

  • Odanada

    Lou Lamoriello unloaded the Phaneuf contract
    Feb 9, 2016
    For Phaneuf, forwards Matt Frattin, Casey Bailey and Ryan Rupert, and defenseman Cody Donaghey, the Maple Leafs received defenseman Jared Cowen and forwards Milan Michalek, Colin Greening and Tobias Lindberg, along with Ottawa’s second-round pick in the 2017 NHL Draft.
    Phaneuf still had 5 years left at $7M
    This is what a real NHL hockey man can do for a team

      • McHitch

        That the Lucic contract is tradeable.

        How about this idea.

        Retain 1.5 million and trade Lucic and a 2nd round pick to the Coyotes or Sens for a Zach Smith(been on waivers, passed up by the league) type player.

        Than the Sens or Coyotes retain 1.5 million and ship off Lucic to a team that needs 4th line toughness for a late pick.

        Lucic real salary will be 0 million, 1 million, 2 million, 1 million. He will atill carry a cap hit of 3 million, but at that rate he is easily moveable for a 4th round pick.

        Coyotes or Sens will get a 2nd and a 4th for taking a 1.5 million cap hit. Oilers lose a 2nd and retain 1.5 but get out of the contract.

        According to CBA, a player can have salary retained by TWO teams for a maximum of 50% of their contract. So this is a plausible solution to free up 4.5 million in cap space.

        • kelvjn

          Except there is a NMC in the Lucic contract, so he has to like the idea to be a 4th liner elsewhere. But given the dysfunctional oilers management, it’s likely he rather be anywhere but here.

      • Odanada

        Since you seem to require further explanation of every comment, I’ll humour you: If the Lou could unload an ugly contract like Phaneuf’s, there is hope that the Oil could move Lucic.
        Sufficiently enlightened now?

  • Kevwan

    Trade Benning and Russell. Replace them with any 2 of Jones, Bouchard, Bear, Lageson or UFA under 1 mil D. Savings 5 mil plus.

    Let Reider walk. Bury Brodziak. Savings 3 mil plus. Sign Derek Brassard @ 3 mil for 1 yr. Use the other 5 mil plus and get a scoring w.

    • McHitch

      So your saying trade:

      Russell, Benning, Brodziak and Reider


      Brassard and a 5 million dollar Winger.

      That seems like really good management, which makes these moves extremely unlikely considering our history

  • Mike Modano's Dog

    I disagree completely on your Brandon Manning assessment.

    First off I disagree that he’s a 3rd pairing defenceman. I would say he is a 7-8 d-man, but honestly feel he is AHL quality only. That means he is getting paid 2.75 MILLION dollars to be an AHL defence man. $1.75 Million buried in the AHL is a huge concern to me.

    Put it all together and I would put his contract at MEDIUM to HIGH status – the only reason it isn’t at the highest level is because it is only for 1 year. That said, it will add to our inability to compete for that one year, wholeheartedly!

    I want to add – and you’re not disputing this fact at all, but giving up Caggiula to get him was unforgivable!!

  • Mike Modano's Dog

    On Zach Kassian, keep him! His salary has ZERO concerns to me.

    He belongs higher up the lineup. He’s fast, with good hands and can play with skill. He can keep McDavid safe on his line, and the minute you trade the player you will be looking for someone else to take his place in the lineup.

    His contract isn’t bad, unless he is placed on the 4th line, where I don’t feel he belongs, at all! Simply put, don’t play him there!

    Overall I really enjoyed your article. Please keep more like this coming, very interesting, informative, and needed while we need to negotiate our way through the cap problems we are clearly in – and will be in for the next few years!

    • Lowe enuf

      I agree with your comment. The only problem I have with it is Zach disappears far too often. Lately he has been much better. If he played with more consistency, he would be a real asset. He would make a lot more money as well but he would be worth it.

    • kelvjn

      Still remember in the Leaf game he had the puck in the leaf zone catching two leafs who couldn’t came off for change. A few new oilers on the ice already but he waited like 2 seconds, getting cornered, before anybody joined him. He’s one of the few that still cares.

  • Reinman

    Now that is a good and interesting idea. Package Lucic with something attractive to get rid of his whole contract. That is a great idea. How about Russel, Lucic and our 2019 first round pick to Ottawa for their 2019 4th round pick.

    • Reinman

      10 million in free cap space is definitely worth our first round pick. Then we can go after Jeff Skinner, or Artemi Panarin, or someone like that in the off season.