At some point over the next few months, Bob Nicholson will stand in front of a podium at Rogers Place and introduce a new General Manager. That person will be given the reins and tasked with building a contender around Connor McDavid. It’s a task that can be summarized in one sentence but as we all know, it’s much more complex than that. The list of chores that the incoming GM will need to accomplish this summer is rather long, but so is the list of attractive assets that sit as building blocks for the next hire to build around.
THE REALLY TOUGH PART IS DONE
Finding elite, superstar level players are the most difficult part of building a team. To get them, you either need to make a massive trade a lose a bunch of assets or you need to tank for three or four years and hope the lottery balls are kind to you.
Luckily for the next GM of the Oilers, he already has a franchise player in Connor McDavid. He also has a 50 goal scorer in Leon Draisaitl to slot next to him. The supporting cast around the two young stars is not good, but the best players are already in place. The next GM will get to start his tenure with the most dynamic duo in the NHL.
Most teams in the NHL are looking for high-quality centres. The Oilers have Ryan Nugent-Hopkins on their second line center. When it comes to second line centres, I honestly believe Nugent-Hopkins is in the elite category. He can take tough minutes and has eight years of going head-to-head with the top centermen in the Western Conference.
Having a duo like McDavid and Draisaitl is something every single rebuilding team in the league is trying to get. A second line centre like Nugent-Hopkins is something that every GM in the league would love to have. Those are fantastic building blocks and are often, some of the toughest pieces to acquire when trying to build a team. The new GM has those pieces in their primes.
After those three, their forward group is about as far away from being competitive as any other group in the NHL. Finding solid depth pieces and support players for the teams’ skilled pieces will no doubt be difficult, but it’s easier than finding high-end skill.
The Oilers have been searching for a top pairing, puck-moving defenseman for over a decade. I don’t expect that search to magically stop this summer. Those are just very tough trades to find and complete.
The defence that the incoming GM will inherit is not perfect, but there are some nice pieces that do exist. I believe Oscar Klefbom is already a top-pairing defenseman and he’s locked up on a great contract for the next four years. Darnell Nurse is a young top-four defenseman who the next GM will have a chance to sign to whatever type of contract he desires (long or short term).
Andrej Sekera and Adam Larsson are more experienced than the first two and while they also have some holes in their games, you can’t deny that they’re effective NHL defenders.
The young group that features Evan Bouchard, Caleb Jones, Ethan Bear, and Dmitri Samorukov also looks very promising. There are some good pieces on the blueline, even if they won’t be ready for the 2019-20 season.
The new GM will no doubt be looking for that big, offensive, top pairing defenseman this summer but even if he can’t get that piece, he still has a group of six defenders who anchored this team to a 103 point season in 2016-17 plus a handful of young prospects. That’s a good start.
If the next GM were to sit me down and ask me about the goaltending situation he’ll have to deal with in Edmonton, I would simply say “you’re pretty screwed, man”. The current regime decided that committing $4.5 million to Mikko Koskinen for the next three seasons was smart and now whoever takes over this organization is stuck with it. The only thing that the next GM can really do is find the best backup goaltender on the market. That’s it. They’re stuck with Koskinen as their starter.
Now, finding a quality backup would be easy if you had a bunch of cap space to play with. The next Oilers GM won’t have that luxury when he takes over the team.
I’m not calling it “cap hell” anymore because there are plenty of ways for the Oilers to give themselves a little breathing room. Here is my quick summary of the Oilers cap situation:
- Many believe that the salary cap will go up by $3-4 million for next season. If we assume the low-end of that, the Oilers will start the offseason with $11.4 million in cap space.
- They have plenty of free agents who they’ll let walk, but I think they will no doubt bring back Alex Chiasson, Jesse Puljujarvi, and Jujhar Khaira.
- I believe it will cost a maximum of $4.5 million to resign those four players. That means the Oilers could have as much as $7 million in cap space with 11 forwards, six defensemen, and one goalie. That’s not the worst situation possible. A seventh defenseman, 13th forward, and a backup should not cost more than $3.5 million which means the Oilers could afford to bring in one $3 million player this summer.
The situation is more complex, and they need to bring in more than one quality player who makes $3 million but, if the incoming GM wants to create some added cap space, there are two ways he could do so rather quickly.
- Buying out Sam Gagner immediately saves the team $2 million against the cap.
- Trading Matt Benning for a draft pick and replacing him on the roster with Caleb Jones saves the team roughly $1.2 million against the cap.
Those are two quick solutions which could give them an extra $3.2 million in wiggle room. If that were to happen, then the team could suddenly sign their in-house free agents, fill out the fringe of their roster, and have around $6 million in cap space. I’m not saying those are good or bad ideas, but they’re possible solutions to the cap problem. They could also look at trading big contracts like Kris Russell, Andrej Sekera, Milan Lucic (nearly impossible), or Adam Larsson. Those moves create bigger holes on the roster and is a whole different conversation.
My point, the Oilers are tight against the cap, but it isn’t quite “cap hell”. With two simple transactions, they could start the summer with just north of $6million.
The next GM will have to do some heavy lifting, I’m not denying that, but you also can’t argue that he isn’t exactly starting with nothing. There are some great pieces on the Edmonton Oilers roster, they just need more support. Finding cheap support should be the main focus of the incoming General Manager.