Baggedmilk dug into whether the Oilers can clear salary or not on Monday. He outlined movable and anchor contracts. It will be difficult. The Oilers can move salary, but only if they get creative. The organization needs to systematically change how they think and operate if they want to get out of salary-cap jail.
Edmonton’s salary cap situation isn’t good, but it’s salvageable. The Oilers have made their bed, but I’m bullish on them being able to turn things around. They need to fundamentally change how they manage and utilize the cap more efficiently, but there’s a way out. No more big free-agent contracts or bloated restricted free-agent deals without exploiting the leverage they have.
It’s unlikely the Oilers will be contenders next season, but they can open cap space to get there in the next few seasons.
Terrible contracts are always movable. Just like Wayne Gretzky was traded (twice), so was David Clarkson and his albatross contract. Sure, it took trading him for a player who was effectively retired, but the point remains: anyone can be traded.
The Oilers have a glut of players on poor contracts: Milan Lucic, Sam Gagner, Andrej Sekera, Kris Russell, Brandon Manning, Mikko Koskinen.
Gagner and Manning only have a year remaining on their deals. Burying Manning in the minors is a $200K difference compared to a buyout, which adds $666K to the cap in 2020-21. A buyout is pointless unless the goal is to save Daryl Katz money.
Gagner’s contract isn’t great, but he scored at a 32-point pace after being reacquired by the Oilers. $3.15-million is a little expensive for a third liner, but for one year it’s not a big deal. A Gagner buyout clears $2.1 million next season, but adds $1.06 million in 2020-21. The Oilers do not need more dead money, even if it’s only a million or so. They’ll have at least $1.33 million committed to buyouts to Benoit Pouliot and Eric Gryba for the next two seasons. I’d even consider re-signing Gagner for cheap if he was interested.
We don’t need to relitigate Koskinen’s extension. It wasn’t good or necessary, but that is the only contract I consider unmovable. The hope is Koskinen gives the Oilers something near league-average goaltending.
Bad contracts always exist, but teams are always there to lend a helping hand. History shows Milan Lucic, Kris Russell, and Andrej Sekera are all movable in some capacity.
Lucic probably won’t be moved at his full $6-million cap hit without significant assets attached with him. The key is retaining enough salary to entice a team and gain more cap relief than a buyout yields. Lucic has a $3-million signing bonus on July 1st. His actual salary is lower than his cap hit from then on.
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Lucic is a fourth, maybe third, line player at this point in his career, but he’s still Milan Lucic. Teams know he’s not the same 45-point guy who is a menace on the ice, but he’s still has name recognition and by all accounts seems like a good teammate.
Could there be compliance buyouts with a new collective-bargaining agreement? Possibly. There won’t be a restructuring of the salary cap, but compliance buyouts mean the player gets paid in full, can get a new contract, and teams have more space for to pay other players. Banking on that is a risk.
Underperforming players making $4 or $5 million get moved frequently.
The Carolina Hurricanes managed to turn Victor Rask and his $4-million-per-year contract into Nino Niederreiter. Rask is four years younger than Lucic and can play center, but he had 31 points in 2017-18 and just six in 26 games (an 18-point pace over 82 games) with Carolina before being traded. He scored three points in 23 games with Minnesota. Rask has three years left on his contract. Niederreiter scored 30 points in 36 with the Hurricanes.
Dion Phaneuf has been traded twice in the past three years. Toronto didn’t retain any salary when they sent him to Ottawa, they but picked up a few short-term contracts with mid-level money. The second Phaneuf trade is probably more applicable to the Oilers. The Senators retained $1.75 million of Phaneuf’s contract and took back Marian Gaborik’s contract. Gaborik played 16 games for the Senators in 2017-18, but he’s been on long-term injured reserve since.
The Los Angeles Kings traded Tanner Pearson, with two more years at $3.75-million left, to Pittsburgh for Carl Hagelin, who is on an expiring contract. Pittsburgh flipped Pearson to Vancouver for Erik Gudbranson and his $4-million cap hit for two more seasons. The Kings dumped a struggling, expensive player during a rebuilding time, while the Canucks saved a bit of cap space to take a chance on a skilled winger in exchange for an overpaid, limited defenceman.
The Oilers don’t need to dump all of Lucic, Sekera, and Russell before next season, but resolving the Lucic situation and trading one of Sekera or Russell should be a priority. Trade down in salary and take a reclamation project like the Canucks did with Pearson. Pearson had 9 goals and 12 points in 18 games with Vancouver. Peter Chiarelli is gone. There’s no obligation left to the players other than their no-move clauses.