This morning in the Mailbag, we were asked how the Oilers can clear cap space as they head into what will be one of the most important offseasons in franchise history. As we know all too well, there won’t be a lot of wiggle room for the new GM to come in and sign free agents/add salary in trades so he’ll have to get creative in order to make it happen.
For the purposes of this article, I wanted to take a look at some of the guys that are set to come off the books on July 1st and others that we’ll probably be hearing about in rumours as the offseason moves along. While the salary cap is expected to go up by $3-4 million, that won’t be enough to solve the cap issues that Peter Chiarelli left for us, and I’m very interested to see how the new GM will approach the situation. Are there savings to be had? Let’s look together.
Looking at the pending UFAs, the Oilers aren’t going to get much in terms of savings with these guys coming off the balance sheet, especially if a guy like Alex Chiasson has his number doubled or more. That said, here are the guys that could walk away on July 1st.
Alex Chiasson ($650,000): If you’re being honest, there’s no way you would have ever expected Alex Chiasson to finish the year with 22 goals after rolling into town on a PTO and turning it into a $650K contract, right? It’s impossible. Now that he’s in line for a new deal, I feel like it’s fair to wonder whether or not he’ll get that in Edmonton. Personally, I’d be open to signing him for two years at about $1.5-1.75 million, but anything higher than that would be risky, especially when you factor in the shooting% heater he was on early in the season.
Alex Petrovic ($1,950,000): Petrovic only played in nine games with the Oilers after being acquired from the Florida Panthers in exchange for a third-round pick and Chris Wideman, and I can’t imagine there would be any plan to re-sign him.
Anthony Stolarz ($761,250): Unable to get into the 10 games needed to maintain his RFA status after coming over in a trade from Philly, Anthony Stolarz will now be a Group 6 free agent on July 1st and will likely be changing teams again. Seeing as the Oilers will probably go for an experienced backup to support Mikko Koskinen, the new guy will probably cost more than Stolarz did this year so I can’t see any savings here.
Kevin Gravel ($700,000): I thought Kevin Gravel did a nice job of providing depth on the left side, but I doubt he’ll be retained because they’ll likely want to open up a spot for a younger player like Caleb Jones. Any savings on letting Gravel walk would be minimal.
Al Montoya ($1,062,500): You probably forgot he was still on the books, right? Unfortunately, having Montoya head to free agency only clears up $37K since he was already buried in the minors. Figs!
Tobias Rieder ($2,000,000): So long, Toby. After finishing up his season with zero goals, I can’t see any scenario in which the Oilers bring Rieder back. That said, someone will probably sign him on a cheap deal over the summer and he’ll go out and score the 10-12 goals that we were hoping from him this season. You know it’s going to happen.
Jesse Puljujarvi ($925,000): After having his season cut short by hip surgery, Jesse Puljujarvi’s future with the organization is up in the air. Some folks think that it’s time to sell on Jesse while his stock is still high while others feel that giving up on a 20-year-old doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. Looking ahead, Puljujarvi’s next deal won’t cost the Oilers a whole lot and I think it would be worth giving him a fresh start with a new coach and a new GM.
Jujhar Khaira ($650,000): I imagine the Oilers will retain Jujhar Khaira on another cheap deal as he brings some size, toughness, and secondary scoring to the fourth line. At $650K, Khaira probably won’t be in line for too much of a raise so I’ll go ahead and assume his number will be about the same for the 2019-20 season.
If there Oilers are going to clear some serious cap space, it’ll probably come in the form of a trade. That said, I have no idea how they’d make some of these moves work without adding on other assets. At that point, does it make a lot of sense to trade players to save space if that also means losing a more valuable asset such as a first round pick or prospect?
Andrej Sekera ($5,500,000): After returning from a torn Achilles, Andrej Sekera proved that he can still play defence at a high level. The problem is that he’s making $5.5 million, isn’t getting any younger, and still has two years left on his deal. Would the new GM try to sell on Sekera’s ability to move the puck, or would he want to bring him back as part of the solution, hoping that he can stay healthy this summer?
Kris Russell ($4,000,000): I don’t know if I’ve ever seen a player quite as divisive as Kris Russell. At $4 million, you could definitely say that he makes too much money, but there’s little doubt that he’s a serviceable third-pairing defenceman on most teams. Are there teams that could use a cowboy? I can see it happening. Russell still has two years left on his current contract.
Milan Lucic ($6,000,000): We’ve been talking about this one for a while now, and while I wonder if the new GM will be able to make something happen that clears out all or most of Lucic’s $6 million contract, I won’t be holding my breath. Lucic still has a big ticket left (four years) to go along with a full no-move clause, and that doesn’t exactly give the Oilers much freedom in terms of moving on.
Matt Benning ($1,900,000): I’m not saying that the Oilers should trade Benning, I actually think he’s a decent option for the third pairing, but I can also see a scenario where the Oilers would potentially want to have that spot available for someone like Bear, Bouchard, or Persson.
Brandon Manning ($2,500,000): Dare to dream? Burying Manning in the minors next year will make his cap hit $1,175,000, saving the team $1.3 million, but I don’t think we’ll be getting out from under that deal any time soon.
Ryan Nugent-Hopkins ($6,000,000): I can definitely understand why other teams would want to take a run at Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, but I don’t see how the Oilers will get better by moving their third-leading scorer. Unless the deal knocks the Oilers’ socks off, I can’t see Nuge going anywhere.
At the moment, the Oilers will have $1.63 million in dead space tied up in buyouts to Benoit Pouliot and Eric Gryba and I don’t know how much more they’d be willing to add onto that total. I know we’ve talked about buying out players like Lucic and Russell, but I don’t think that paying those guys millions to not play here is necessarily going to help all that much. For a guy like Lucic, there are years where you wouldn’t even save any money at all and that’s not a great use of space. For Kris Russell, year two of his buyout would see the Oilers eating $3.4 million in dead space because of his signing bonuses, which makes that idea less than ideal as well.
At the end of the day, I don’t know that buying guys out is going to be a realistic option for the Oilers given the age and contract length of the players you’d want to get rid of. That said, I also wouldn’t have expected the Oilers to pay for Benoit Pouliot years after he’s been moved out of town so who the hell knows what’s going to happen. All I know for sure is that buying players out hasn’t necessarily worked out so well for us so far, and starting now could actually make things worse.
WHAT TO DO?
As I mentioned at the top of this article, the Oilers are going to have to get creative if they’re going to clear cap space for next season. Unfortunately, most of the bad deals the Oilers have also come with term and they’ll probably need to add sweeteners to any trade they make unless the expectation is to swap one bad contract for another. Needless to say, the Oilers will have some very interesting decisions to make in the coming months as they try to upgrade basically every area on their depth chart with next to no money available. Whether it’s adding assets to trades or adding millions to the buyout column, the Oilers are going to be a very interesting team to watch as the offseason rolls on. How they navigate these waters will likely determine whether or not we’ll be having this same conversation again next summer. What do you guys think?