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What does the next GM have?

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

Dec 13, 2018; Winnipeg, Manitoba, CAN; Edmonton Oilers center Connor McDavid (97) look on during the first period against the Winnipeg Jets at Bell MTS Place. Mandatory Credit: James Carey Lauder-USA TODAY Sports

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.

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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 BLUELINE

Oct 21, 2017; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Edmonton Oilers defenseman Oscar Klefbom (77) in action during the first period against the Philadelphia Flyers at Wells Fargo Center. Mandatory Credit: Derik Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports

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.

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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.

GOALTENDING

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.

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CAP PURGATORY

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.

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  • camdog

    If the Oilers trade one of their top 6 d-men, they need to add a prospect and get a better d-man in return. Oilers can’t go into a season with a d core weaker than the one we finished the season. Sure Jones might be ready, but when injuries happen on defence and he’s back into a top 4 role the Oilers are done.

  • TKB2677

    For the defense, there are pieces there. What the Oilers need to do is to bring in more speed, puck moving and maybe more offense. In order to do that, they need to open up a couple of roster spots. I have said it in other threads, I think one of Sekera or Russell gets moved. In a perfect world, I would do both. That would free up both cap space and roster spots. Sekera’s contract turns into a 15 team list. Russell’s turns into a 10 team next year then a 15 team. I think Sekera is harder to do because he makes more and it’s up in the air what he can be in terms of a 2nd or 3rd pairing guy. Teams value what Russell does and they know what he is. He’s a heart and soul, block shots, 4-5 dman that can skate. You may have to retain some money for each but I could see it happen.

    Another option for me is Benning. I don’t have a problem with him. He’s established himself as a mostly solid 3rd pairing guy. I don’t have a problem keeping him, I would most definitely keep him if he was a better skater but at the same time like what was mention in the article, you can replace what he does for less money with a better skater.

  • Hemmercules

    I think they have to just sit on the defence this year unless some sort of trade comes along. Trades for good Dmen aren’t common either. Teams keep those guys and when they do get traded its very costly and likely out of the Oilers price range if they truly don’t want to mortgage the future like Bobby said. Signing a free agent Dman will be an overpay they can’t afford unless they snag a decent one a day or two after the frenzy at reasonable dollars. When healthy, their defence is OK I think but that’s a big gamble to assume guys like Klef and Sekera and Russel can remain healthy for an entire season. If Jones is truly ready next year them I’m all for ditching Benning for a pick but rather have Jones continue his development in the AHL if he’s going to get 3rd pair minutes and press box in the NHL. Keep Gravel unless you can snag something better for cheap.

    I keep JP, Juju, Chiasson and Gagner. Use whatever cap space you have get a forward or two and a backup goalie. If by some miracle you can dump Looch on someone by all means do that. Ditto Manning.

    Like the writer of the article said, screwed on the goalie front. Koskinen is the guy. Hire whatever trainer, coach or shaman you need get this guy playing consistently.

    If the right trade comes along anything can happen but I don’t expect any blockbusters from the Oilers this summer. Ride out another year being below average and build in the right places without wasting assets or cap space. 20-21 is the time to get more active and fill out whatever you haven’t added/fixed over this next year. By then some prospects will also be further along and possibly ready to make the jump.

  • RyanCoke


    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 $5 million which means the Oilers could afford to bring in one $6 million player this summer.”

    Your math is all over the place and doesn’t add up anywhere. We are so screwed. somehow we had 7 million in cap space and after signing Alex Chiasson, Jesse Puljujarvi, and Jujhar Khaira. Then we spend 5 million on 3 players and end up with 6 million left over to sign one 6 million dollar player. Well my math says that 7 million – 5 million = 2 million not 6 million

  • TKB2677

    I think the Oilers can get rid of Lucic. Teams value what he does. You don’t have to look any further than Vegas. Brand new team, clean slate. Able to sit back and watch how the league is evolving which was speed and skill. What do they do still? Trade for Reeves, a career goon, then after last season, resign him for 2 years at 2.775 mill. He was making 1.125 mill last year. So they gave him almost 2.5 TIMES his salary. I think if the Oilers paid out Lucic’s 3 mill bonus on July 1, his actually dollars goes down to 16 mill over 4 years. Then if you retain even up to 50%, a team would take him. I firmly believe that a big reason for Lucic’s struggles is in his head. I say that because he gets chances almost every game. So I think he will bounce back if he went to another team, just not for the Oilers because his mental game would be better. If he is making around 3 mill and is scoring teens in goals and being Lucic, teams would be all over him.

  • HockeyYoda

    I agree with much of what you say Tyler, but I think your a little generous on some player assessments. I like the Oilers, I pay $250 a year to watch all their games as an out of market fan. But as much as I like Nuge, he’s not an ELITE 2nd line centre. But he is a very good player. Elite 2nd line centres, Malkin, (Tavares or Mathews) Kuznetsov, Point. But he can do the job if he has true top 6 wingers.
    Klefbom a true top pairing D? He’s probably sound enough to play alongside a real one…so I guess. But the D needs a real overhaul. I agree with you on Nurse..he’s legit. Keep him.
    But please…I’ve had enough of Benning and Russel. Benning is too mistake prone and can’t score if his life depended on it. The only way he gets a goal is when his erroneous shot gets redirected off someone. Russell can’t make a tape to tape pass out of his zone unless he has all day to do it. McDavid needs players who can get him the puck in stride. I thought Bear looked better than Benning in his late trial last year but he still needs to improve his foot speed. I know Russell is untradable but they’re going to have to bury him or use him as a deep depth defenceman or something. I actually have a little more faith in Koskinen then most.. but I agree he needs a very strong back up.

    • Glencontrolurstik

      Yes, Matthews got 3 more points than Nugent-Hopkins this year, so there is that…
      I’d argue that if Nuge played in the east, his work ethic (can’t compare to Matthews) would force the main-stream-media to prop him much higher than he’s ever been positioned here. I’m saying that we “Oiler Fans” appreciate Nuge, but that’s as far as it goes, but I’d rather have him, than “me-me” Mathews on my team, all day.

      • Dallas Eakins Hair

        true but you have to look at the supporting cast Matthews has had and then look at Nuge who has different linemates all over the place So I think Nuge did well for himself this year, you cant complain about the guys work ethic and considering what Matthews went up to in salary Nuge is a bargain. Well would Matthews do as well without a regular supporting case that he plays with… I think he would do well, but how well is a different story. Now with Tavares their the heat is off Matthews some, how much he likes sharing the spotlight, well thats another story

    • Glencontrolurstik

      Benning is actually improving as this season went on. In fact he hasn’t “regressed” since being an Oiler…
      He is showing promise & does not cost a lot… Good value is actually what the Oilers need now.
      He’s not the worst Oiler on the Team.

    • Rock11

      You are correct Nuge isn’t an elite no 2 centre. He is actually a low end number 1. This year he ranked 31st in scoring among Centres. He did this on a low scoring team without winger depth or a Dman who can make a head man pass. He also did it while taking on many of the Defensive responsibilities of a no.1 centre as the Oilers prefer to use Mcdavid in as many Offensive situations as possible. We Oiler fans tend to compare to Nuge to 97 and he comes up short but when compared to other Centres around the league the high 2 low 1 comparisons are apt.

  • Heschultzhescores

    After watching the BN & KG press conference, I’ totally convinced now that Gretz is not qualified to be our next GM. He built an AHL team that is competative….Wooo Hooo! Keep him, but give him a job at what he supposedly does best…Scouting.

    • camdog

      Good NHL teams don’t measure the success of their AHL team by looking at win lost records. They measure the success by the number of young players that graduate to the NHL team. They don’t always translate. Maybe they do have enough kids down there that are really going to be good NHL players.

  • Glencontrolurstik

    Am I the only one thinking that Pullijarvi will be a completely different player next year because of his successful surgery? In world Jrs. Laine & him were very comparable. I think that he will surprise next season & we’ll see that player we picked, (what was it, 5th?). He may actually be that forward we are looking for?

  • Oilersforever

    Tyler, are you offering us all a few more seasons to sit without the playoffs? we need a large-scale cleaning of the roaster. No Haira Cave, Larsson, JP!

  • rnj

    Gagner is a scoring at a pace of around 0.4 PPG, close to his career average. Even at $3M that is still great value point production per dollar.

    On top of that he’s a great character guy and his next contract will not be $3M.

    For perspective, I made a depth chart comparing Tampa and Edmonton using PPG/$ and Sam at 0.4/$3M is one of the only Oilers who would make their roster. He’s a great middle six option.

    Khaira was another at around .33 PPG. These are the type of guys teams need to keep.

    Draisaitl-McDavid-Kassian
    ???????-Baby Nuge-??????
    Khaira-??????-Gagner
    4th line

    Move Russell+Puljujarvi+2019 1st+Bear for Parayko

    Nurse-Parayko
    Klefbom-Larsson
    Sekera-Benning

    • Glencontrolurstik

      You are correct about Gags. His stock is declining though, & he knows it… Anyone veteran that is loaned to another teams farm system has to know he is declining. I get the sense that he is over the moon to be back here. But his production will fall off. Yes, keep him, but more in a Chaisson sort of short contract, < 1.5 mil/ sort of thing..

    • Rock11

      Chiarelli is that you. 2 high first round picks plus a legitimate D prospect for Parayko? I will give credit for getting Russell out of town but holy hell that is a lot of assets going out for really good, but not great, D man.

      • rnj

        Jesse being a high first rounder doesn’t mean he has value. Ironically it was Chiarelli who thought that way, it’s what got us Reinhart. The team can’t keep messing around wasting time on defense.

        Jesse is a question mark. Russell was acquired in UFA. Bear isn’t projecting to top 4 based on any reports I’ve seen. A 1st rounder isn’t a guarantee, see Jesse / Reinhart etc for examples. Even if they are solid very few can jump to the league in their draft year.

        The team needs to win now. We have Bouchard, Sam, and Jones coming up as defensive prospects.

        Try the deal without Bear and throw him in if you have to. People will be pissed but they’ll forget about it when we’re in the playoffs

  • Oilersforever

    Draisaitl – McDavid – ???????
    ???????- Nuge-Rattie
    Chiasson(?)- McLeod- Gagner(?)
    Lucic (Maksimov) – Marody – Kassian (Benson)

    Klefbom-Jones
    Russell-Bouchard
    Sekera-Bear
    (Samorukov – Persson)

    Koskinen (??????)

  • Gravis82

    no more buyouts. Keep Ganger for goodness sakes. We are not winning the cup next year so there is no need to spend to the cap on a free agents right now. Ganger can still play

  • Gravis82

    the oilers are not going to find a puck moving top pairing D man in a trade. We need to give up on this fantasy. You have to draft one. If you draft one your cup chances increase. If you dont, or cant find a way to do that, you probably dont deserve to win a cup

  • usetobewise

    Wouldn’t it be wonderful if Ron Hextall was hire to be the next GM and was he was given carte blanche to fire anyone he chooses? But, there is a catch! He has to do it circa ‘1987 Cup Final on Kent Nillson Style’. Meaning he literally takes a wooden Vic goalie stick and two hands all the inept individuals in the back of their legs and they then are forced to make their shameful exit out of the organization.

  • CMG30

    The situation around the Oilers is not dire. They’ve lucked into having the key pieces to build around. What they really need is to have the folks in charge actually understand how to build a team and be able to accurately evaluate NHL talent. I know we’re all armchair GM’s here but it should be code red for an organization when the random armchair GMs would have a better track record than the actual guy…

    • Gravis82

      except for the part that if we would have drafted BPA in 2015 and 2016 and kept our good players we would have likely been competing for the stanley cup this year and for the next 5 years.

  • Rick Stroppel

    Sorry, I think the math is wrong in this article. Look at the third bullet point under Zach Giafanikopolous’ picture. Start with 8.4 million cap space (per Cap Friendly) add 3 million anticipated increase, total 11.4 million. Sign Chiasson, Puljujarvi and Khaira for 4.5 million total, leaves 6.9 million. Only have 11 forwards on roster, therefore have to sign 12th AND 13th forward, AND 7th defenceman, AND back-up goalie. Assuming you do all that for 5 million, you have 1.9 million left, not 6 million. You cannot get an impact player for 1.9 million.

    Also buying players out and trading them solves almost nothing because as soon as you do that you have to replace them.

    I believe that some otherwise qualified candidates for the GM job are going to take the time to look at Cap Friendly (unlike Oilers management) and say “holy moly what a mess, why would I want to get involved with this tire fire?” Particularly with a bunch of red wine hangers-on looking over their shoulder?

    • Rick Stroppel

      Sorry I am the third guy on this site to point this out, maybe the author would like to go back and re-do that paragraph? Seriously, nobody is perfect. But it does illustrate the fact that the Oilers really ARE in cap hell.

    • Gravis82

      you solve this by not signing Chiasson. Are Khaira’s metrics really good enough? Trade Kassian and Russel and Ganger and Lucic for nothing. At this point we have overpaid for overpaid assets. Yes, that is right. We found overpaid players and then overpaid to get them. Kassian is ok, but his defensive metrics are not great and he does not score enough on the top line vs. what a real top line player would. We need to clear about 6 expensive off the roster for no return. The return we could get for those players will not help. The cap space we get for those players in the hand of a competent GM will help us plan for the 5 year road back to the playoffs. This is reality and we all know it.

      • Rick Stroppel

        And I thought I was negative! Now I am really depressed.
        PS: There’s an old joke about a kid who was so ugly, they had to tie a pork chop around his neck so the dog would play with him. That’s what Lucic’s contract is like. You literally could not trade him for nothing. You could put him on waivers, or expose him in the expansion draft, and nobody would take him. The only way to get rid of Lucic is to attach several draft picks and/or prospects…which kind of defeats the purpose of a “rebuild”.

      • The Whispererer

        I’d be interested in learning how to trade $32 million in contractual obligations for nothing. ( Lucic $19.0, Russell $8.0, Gagner $3.15, Kassian $1.95 )
        According to your comments, these players aren’t even worthy of playing on the team that finished 25th out of 31 NHL teams this season.

  • OilCan2

    Draft good players. Keep good players. Do not overpay. Write that on the wall of the new GMs office. With a bit of luck we may get an NHL player this June at the Draft. There are Condors circling too.

  • toprightcorner

    NO BUYOUTS!!!

    Trade and retain 50%. Oilers don’t need dead cap space further down the road. Retaining 50% saves them at least what they would on a buyout and not extra years.

  • toprightcorner

    Nurse will likely be traded. He wanted over $5 million on a long term deal last summer. After scoring 40 pts while Klefbom and Sekera injuries gave him more offensive situations than he will ever get, he will be looking for a min of $6-$6.5 on a long term deal. That is way to expensive for a guy who can’t transition the puck and is not a 1st pairing player.

    His value is sky high and some teams may even see him as a top pairing guy in a year or two. With the value of dmen, the Oilers could get a huge return and get 30+ goal winger no problem.

    Jones is a year away from taking his spot on 2nd pair and next year will be a bit of a transition year due to cap issues.

    I would trade Nurse if you could get a good return.