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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Throwback Thursday: This week in 1979, Edmonton Oilers make NHL preseason debut

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.

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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.

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.

  • Oily Reign

    I don’t get the desire to trade Kassian. Sure, as only a 4th line plug, he’s not worth his contract. But, usually he’s not on the 4th line. He moves up and down the lineup, PK, and a beast during the playoffs (when officials let players play real hockey).
    If we trade him, we will then be looking for a player just like him (At a higher salary I’m sure).

  • Darcy yaceyko

    On a positive note. Want to send a shout out to carey price for granting a dying mother’s wish for her son to meet his hero Carey Price. All class as always.

  • Rick Stroppel


    Step 1: Fire Nicholson. He started working for the Oilers organization almost 5 years ago, in June of 2014. He has accomplished nothing. The great “forensic audit”, announced in April of 2015, was a joke. What is the point of keeping him?

    Step 2: Find out EVERYONE who had knowledge of the Koskinen deal, the Manning deal and the Petrovic deal before they happened. Fire the all. If that includes K. Gretzky, W Gretzky, McTavish, Messier, Messier’s brother, any or all of the pro scouts…fire them all. They are incompetent.

    3. Fire K. Lowe. I don’t buy the idea that he has zero input on hockey decisions. He is always at the draft. What in the heck does he know about running a business? Has he ever run a business? Fire Lowe and bring back Pat Laforge to do what Lowe is supposedly doing.

    4. When Katz was trying to wheedle money out of the taxpayers of this city he had a lot to say. Remember Seattle? Remember him appearing with some players in front of city council? Now he has his arena deal…the team is a steaming pile of manure…and Katz has nothing to say. He sends foolish Nicholson out to say “we are right there” (unbelieveable). Katz needs to make a sincere public apology for the state of team, and back that up by ACTUALLY GETTING RID OF ALL THE INCOMPETENT HANGERS ON.

    • Step 1, there was no audit, Step 2 do it anyways just to be sure, would not want to see another stick boy fired. Step 3 any professional franchise would have tied a can to his ass immediately after the Lord Of The Rings Press Conference. Step 4 I will be shocked if any of it ever happens.

      • Spydyr

        Not only did they not Fire Lowe after the worse press conference in the history of press conferences Katz promoted him and brought in Burger Bob to be the teams mouthpiece.

        • Don’t know why you would get a trash on this. The whole world know’s they need to be fired if they wont step down. And I was serious, any other team would have fired him immediately after that PR debacle, never mind the 1000 or so other debacles. I swear , every time one of them speaks, they say something stupid, fire Lowe so we know for sure Keegan wont be the GM someday. Take that money and invest in a PR firm, it would be a much better use of the funds. If they are all still here next year, and they will be, we can expect about the same results, except maybe we can have a Coach quit partway thru a game and set another new NHL precedent like the 27 or 28 first shot goals.

    • 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.

    • ed from edmonton

      Agree that Broziak is not pert of the solution. The danger that Paganinini has fallen into is comparing Brodziak to other Oil forwards, not to NHL caliber players.

  • CaptainCanada94

    Amazing how San Jose regrouped after we bounced them in the playoffs. How are they not in cap hell and we are? Thanks a lot Chiarelli.

    This whole cap situation is inexcusable. 1-2 years minimum before we are able to see some light. So long as we dont keep digging our hole deeper. (AKA Koskinen)

    Sad that an optimistic viewpoint= is that Oilers merely compete for a playoff spot next year. Following year squeak into playoffs. And the next year potentially win a round or two.

    A competent GM would have had the Oilers as Cup contenders this year, next year and the following year.

    • Peter simply didn’t know how to negotiate. Nobody was going to get in a bidding war with us for guys Kassian, Benning, Caggiula, Koskinen, and even Nurse and yet he gifted them generous deals. Overpaying those guys by 500K or $1M doesn’t seem like much but it adds up alot. It’s important to retain your guys but it’s also to save any dollar you can.

  • Alfonso

    That’s ridiculous … Brodz & Reider bring nothing so very much deserve a high rank …Benning is a plug … high … Manning is deplorable … high … Russell is overpaid by at least one million per season … Koskinen deal is mystifying …

    • Christian Pagnani

      Brodziak has one year left at an AAV that can be almost entirely stashed in the minors. Rieder’s a restricted free agent so the Oilers can just not qualify him, which I expect them to do. Burying Brodziak and letting Rieder walk creates almost $3 million in space.

      There’s far more concerning contracts. Brodziak and Rieder aren’t significant.

  • 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…

  • 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.