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.
Those players aren’t the issue.
Contract:$1.15 million for one more season
Concern Level: Very Low
I didn’t mind the Brodziak contract. It’s low enough where he can be buried in the minors without a large cap penalty ($.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 .
Contract:$1.9 million for one more season
Concern Level: Fairly Low
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.
Contract:$1.95 million for one more season
Concern Level: Mild
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.
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.
Contract:$2.75 million for one more season
Concern Level: Low
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.
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.
Contract:$4 million for two more seasons
Concern Level: Medium
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.
Contract:$4.5 million for three more seasons
Concern Level: High
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.
Contract:$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.
The Oilers could buyout Sekera this summer.
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.
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|
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|
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.
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.