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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Darnell Nurse: Is it better to go short?

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.

Ken Holland and Cost Certainty

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.

  • TrentonL

    Need to take advantage of teams who hover around the floor and want to save money.

    Trade 1:
    To Ottawa: Lucic, Russell, Kassian, Benning, Draft Picks (3rd could be convinced to a 2nd)
    To Edm: Ryan ($500k retained), Smith, Pageau, Gaborik (LTIR ~$1.25k cash cost over 2 years)
    -This nets out to Ottawa saving ~3.74mm in real cash while Edmonton saves ~$0.75mm in cap space.

    Trade 2:
    To Carolina: Manning
    To Edm: Darling (Retained 50%)
    -Darling is owed ~$7.1mm over 2 years (cap hit $4.15mm) but was in AHL before going on personal leave. I’d take a chance on his bounceback at ~$2.075mm cap hit vs having Manning cap hit of ~$2.25mm. Worst case scenario you bury him this year and buyout the next.

    Trade 3:
    To Carolina: Puljujarvi, Sekera, Draft Picks (2nd)
    To Edm: Hamilton

  • Kybra

    Priority 1: Attach a prospect dman to the Lucic contract. It’s going to hurt, but it’s the area of expendable strength.
    Priority 2: Buy out Sekera. A 1.5M cap hit in years 3 and 4 is good value for 3M savings in the first two.
    Priority 3: Trade the first rounder for a reliable scoring forward. First choice is Huberdeau, followed by Hoffman. Need a long term veteran solution that can fit under the cap.

    • The Rookie

      The problem here isn’t just the cap of someone you buy out or bury in the minors, it’s also the cap of their replacement. To buy out Sekera and save $3M in years one and two, what’s his replacement going to cost? I’d think at least $3M. And in that case now you haven’t made any cap relief because you are paying the same in years 1 & 2 and more in 3 & 4. So it’s a negative move. Trading Lucic needs to be appealing to Lucic AND the team getting him. I still believe the only way to accomplish this is a three team deal where the oil eat $1.5M, the next team get a pick or a prospect to eat $1.5M and the third team gets Milan Lucic at a $3M cap hit with only $2M actual salary. Lucic has to waive his NTC. So what team wants to take Milan for four more years at $3M that he would also be willing to go to?

      • Up North

        I do believe no matter who retains what on Lucic his cap hit is and will always be 6M based on the total amount of his contract and the years signed.
        If the Oil and another team retained 1.5 each a team could have Lucic for very cheap 3M/1M/2M/1M and if they wait until after July 1st 2019 the first year they get him for free the 4M over the last three years.
        If I am broke and needing to hit the cap floor Lucic actually looks very attractive to me.
        There will be a market for him If the new GM wants to trade him.

  • TKB2677

    I would absolutely trade Benning. I don’t have a problem with him in a 3rd pairing role. He’s an NHL dman who is OK but doesn’t do anything overly good and he’s not the best skater. I just think that you can replace him internally with someone way cheaper. Like a Jones as an example. Jones is a lefty but has played a ton on the right in the minors. Jones came up, looked pretty good. He skates way better, moves the puck way better and has more offense. Plus he makes 720K so you save 1.2 mill and at minimum you probably get the same defensively with the potential for more offense. They also have Bear who’s coming who’s a righty and makes 720k. They have the offensive dman Persson who’s coming over next year, signed for 1 mill, been playing and lighting up the Swedish league which is a real good league. So I think they have options. I also think that if you packaged Benning and say a pick, you could probably get a useful bottom 6 forward.

    I would look at Kassian. Yes he is scoring more lately but it’s because he is with McDavid and let’s be honest, he has 17 pts. Ideally he’s a bottom 6 guy and as soon as he’s in his correct role, he doesn’t score. At 1.95 mill is pretty rich for a 4th liner.

    I absolutely think they will trade Russell. He can be a decent dman, ideally in your 3rd pair but has shown he can elevate to a second pairing and do alright for a bit. He still skates well. I think he has some value. Teams are always looking for dmen and for a team near the bottom of the league in cap, the fact his salary drops while the cap hit stays at 4 mill is attractive.

    Call me crazy but I think the Oilers find a way to get rid of Lucic. It will cost them an additional asset and maybe they eat a little salary but with Chia gone, I think it happens. I do not think Chia wanted to get rid of his boy Lucic because they have a good relationship and he was his first big prize free agent.

    I’d strongly consider a buyout for Sekera. He’s been OK since coming back which is a pleasant surprise but given his age and 2 major injuries to his legs 2 years in a row, I just don’t see him being capable of being more than a really good 3rd pairing dman. At 5.5 mill, you can’t have that. If you can’t have Russell at 4 mill in your 3rd pair, you definitely can’t have 5.5 mill in your 3rd pair. If you can find a trade, do it but I doubt it.

  • 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.

  • FanBoy

    Trade 1: Lucic, Puljujarvi, Brodziak, Manning + 2019 1st rounder to Ottawa for Pageau, MacArthur, 2019 2nd rounder.

    Ottawa gets JP, and a top 10 pick, saves money from LTIR MacArthur, and Lucic would waive his NMC to go there with a promise he’s not staying. He’s only going there so they can eat part of his cap hit. EDM shelves MacArthur on LTIR because it’s easier than finding trades for Brodziak and Manning. Pageau becomes 3rd line shutdown centre who can chip in 15 goals.

    Trade 2: Vatanen retained (UFA at season’s end) for Russell, Bear, Wells, Safin, and conditional 2nd that turns into a 1st if he resigns in Edmonton. NJD adds 4 young assets and takes on Russell for 2 years who could play on their second pairing. Sekera could go in this spot too if they prefer him. EDM gets a guy Yawney worked with and can move the puck well to pair with Nurse or Klefbom.

    Trade 3: Connor Brown for a 3rd rounder so he can play in the top 9.

    Sign two top 6F in UFA, I really like Eberle because he’s a guaranteed 20 goal a year guy, and another playmaker that could slot in the top 6.

    Johansson (5M) – McDavid (12.5M) – Brown (2.1M)
    RNH (6M) – Draisaitl (8.5M) – Eberle (6M)
    Khaira (1M) – Pageau (3.1M) – Kassian (1.9M)
    Rieder (1M) – Cave (675K) – (Gagner) (3.15M)

    Klefbom (4.16M) – Vatanen (3.5M – retained 1.3M from NJD)
    Nurse (3.2M) – Larsson (4.16M)
    Sekera (5.5M) – Benning (1.9M)

    Koskinen (4.5M) – Stolarz (900K)

    Extras: Gravel (800K), Currie (675K), Persson (1M)

    Approximately 81M in cost

    • IRONman

      Lucic, Sekera and reider can go. No salary retained. Uses picks. 2 more season to get the junk out. Cap 2022 time to hit it. 97 and 29 worth every penny. Nuge is worth 6 million. Leon has 39 goals. Tavares got 11 million. Leon at 8.5 rocks. Leon in 23 yo. Future looks bright. Sam can stay. He brings heart like Nuge. Currie is a catalyst. Lov n it

      • FanBoy

        If someone offered a prospect or even a 3rd rounder for Sekera or Russell with no salary retained, I would take it. The greatest asset we’re getting back in the deal is cap space. However, we should be mindful that we don’t just trade them for cap space because there’s not a lot of UFA dmen out there this summer. Only Myers and Stralman would fit the bill to pair with Nurse on the second pairing. One of Russell or Sekera with Benning would form a solid third pair. The other I would ship out to get a puck moving dman.

    • FanBoy

      I would leave the entire Condors team alone and not graduate any of them next season. They’re having a great season, I would like to see a second straight season before proclaiming any of them will be NHL ready.

  • Clayton

    Connor’s salary is a steal? I think not! I agree that Connor’s 12.5M/season isn’t the reason the Oilers are in CapHell…but to classify it as a ‘steal’ is ridiculous! Here are some ‘Steals’:
    1. Nikita Kucherov – $4.8M for 104 points so far this season. Yes…that jumps to $9.5M next season, but for this season it is a steal.

    2. Johnny Gadreau – $6.75M for the next three seasons. Currently is only 5 points back of Connor for half the contract. That is a steal.

    3. Nathan Mackinnon – $6.3M per season for the next 4 years. Sits 6 points back of Connor for half the contract. That is a steal.

    Don’t get me wrong, Connor’s contract is not the cap issue for the Oilers and for the excitement he brings to the rink every night is worth the investment for sure. But to call it a ‘Steal’? What a JOKE!

    • The Plan

      It all goes in cycles. The Oilers were one of the first teams that had to “pay up”. The opposite will be true when CMcD is still making 12.5 and the other guys sign for $15-17MM in four years.

  • Rieder: let him walk. Save $2m
    Brozdiak: trade him by 2020 deadline for a 5th rd pick
    Kassian: If not in playoff contention, trade him by 2020 deadline for a 4th rd pick
    Lucic: trade in package and retain salary. $???

    Chiasson: sign a 2 year $1.5m AAV.

    Manning: trade him for pucks or bury now. Save $2.5m.
    Benning: trade him by 2020 deadline for a 4th rd pick. He’s a good stop-gap for Bouchard/Bear development.
    Russell: July 1 trade him for 3rd rd pick. Save $4m.
    Sekera: July 1 trade him for 2nd rd pick + prospect. Save $5.5m.

    Petrovic: walk. Save $1.95m
    Gravel: resign to a 1 yr $1m

    To start 2019/2020:
    $13.5m (not including Lucic) in saved capspace to sign a winger UFA like Brett Connolly at $2m or Eberle at $5m and throw money and a few years for Karlsson, although I doubt any of them would come to Edmonton.

    The D could look like:
    Klefbom – Karlsson
    Nurse – Larsson
    Gravel – Benning

  • 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.

  • FlamesFan27

    The Lucic and Koskinen contracts are both really bad. At the time, the Lucic contract didn’t seem that bad for the first half – in hindsight it’s much worse. But, I think a lot of GMs have done similar things (Neal in Calgary for example). The Koskinen contract is a complete mystery – it’s at least double of what it should be. The other issue for the Oilers is the glut of “minor” overpays; those 0.5M and 1.0M overpays add up. It will take people way smarter than me to figure a way out in anything less than 3 years.

  • Rockinghockey

    EDM should of traded Kassian at the deadline.
    Taking a look at UFAs there are not many top six players available that would probably sign here unless you over pay and it is not a good idea to do that. EDM will have to look at trading for players. I would look at Zucker to trade for.
    I would move players like Benning, Kassian, Russell and bury Manning. Of course trading Lucic would be a huge win.