Photo Credit: © John Hefti-USA TODAY Sports

The Oilers opened up some cap space, now what?

The Oilers placed defenceman Andrej Sekera on unconditional waivers for the purpose of a buyout Sunday morning. Sekera has two years remaining at a $5.5-million cap hit. A Sekera buyout opens $3 million in each of the next two seasons. With free agency opening tomorrow, it’s clear the Oilers have something in mind. How will Ken Holland use this newfound cap space?

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

The Oilers are essentially borrowing salary cap space from 2021-23. It’s an interesting decision. The salary cap didn’t rise as much as anticipated and should grow more in the next few years with the NHL’s TV deal with NBC up for renewal, so $3 million now is a good bet to be worth more than $1.5 million three and four years later.

Sekera was likely to start the season on the Oilers’ third pairing, which is now open for a cheap rookie like Caleb Jones to take the job.

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Adding another buyout to money owed to Benoit Pouliot and Eric Gryba isn’t great, but the Oilers need to improve. Connor McDavid is contractually obligated to the Oilers for the next seven seasons, but that might change if the team is continually awful. Holland needs to improve the team in some capacity.

PuckPedia has the Oilers with $12.408 million in cap space now. The only restricted free agents are Jesse Puljujarvi, who has requested a trade, and Jujhar Khaira, who scored three goals last season. EvolvingWild’s projections have Khiara signing a two-year deal worth $1.138 million a year. Fairly inconsequential. The Oilers should still have upwards of $10 million in cap space to reconstruct the roster without any significant free agents to sign, and that’s before any trades.

Free agency contracts can be extremely damaging to a franchise. Oilers fans know this with Milan Lucic’s bloated contract hindering the team, but there’s still value to be had. I wrote about some mid-tier options for the Oilers a few weeks ago and that’s the case. Brett Connolly, Joonas Donskoi, and Richard Panik would be a godsend on the Oilers, although TSN’s Ryan Rishaug says it sounds like Connolly won’t end up in Edmonton, but those are mostly middle-six wingers. Holland now has space to go after a higher-end guy. Could he be in on Gustav Nyquist? Mats Zucarello?

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The Oilers have many needs: another goaltender, a bunch of wingers, a forward that can play center, and a right-handed guy on defence. It would be impossible to solve all those needs in free agency.

Holland can try to fill multiple needs with nearly $12 million to work with. Maybe Holland’s more aggressive on Petr Mrazek or Robin Lehner. Adding more dead money to the salary cap isn’t ideal but adding some quality pieces makes it less painful. Holland has the space to go after a big free agent, but the trade route could be more fruitful. Mike Hoffman is available, and he makes just $5.187 million for one more season. Minnesota Wild GM Paul Fenton still wants to trade Jason Zucker, who is signed long-term at a fair rate. Hoffman and Zucker will provide better value on much more reasonable contracts than most free agents out there, though they would require additional assets through trade.

The Oilers are less restricted by the cap and that could help their negotiations with free agents and other teams. The Maple Leafs paid a dear price in a future first-round draft pick to rid themselves of the last year of Patrick Marleau’s $6.25 million per year contract. The Nikita Zaitsev to Ottawa trade isn’t official yet, but Kyle Dubas will likely have to add a sweetener for the Senators to take Zaitsev’s suspect contract. The Maple Leafs badly needed cap space to sign Kasperi Kapanen, Andreas Johnsson, and Mitch Marner, but also to improve their defence. The Oilers aren’t in that position.

Holland has greater flexibility, but that demands meaningful additions. A free-agency splurge on Alex Chiasson, Brian Boyle, Corey Perry, and Mike Smith would be more of the same mismanagement we’ve seen from previous Oilers general managers. The Oilers’ cap situation isn’t strong by any measure, but Holland has more room to operate.

Holland and the Oilers have been inactive up until now. They’re one of 10 teams without a trade involving a player (Zaitsev to Ottawa is inevitable), but buying out Sekera on the eve of free agency signals movement. Tomorrow will indicate how significant.

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Follow me on Twitter: @chrispagnani.

  • Kneedroptalbot

    good move by Ken Holland.
    Playing Caleb Jones on the 3rd pairing in sheltered minutes makes more sense than playing Sekera there. He has been very average since the knee injury, and it saves cap space too.

    • hammer313

      Why in god’s name would you buyout Sekera, this is probably the best I have seen him play for 3 years! Trade him, my god! Retain some salary, 2 mil, and get a forward, prospect, draft picks, something! Just another Oiler bonehead, bull$*#& move. Some things never change, old Oilers must still be making the moves and puppet Holland tangling, taking the hits! Smith, seriously, let’s see if Fuhr will come out of retirement?!

  • oo3

    So entering the season with out a replacement for Sekara doesn’t ring any warning bells ? our defense wasn’t strong enough last year we need a 3rd four guy Nurse is not one neither is Russel didn’t anyone else watch last year ?

  • TruthHurts98

    Oilers are apparently signing Mike Smith (puke) to 2 years at 2 million. And also trying to sign Perry. Players I have a strong dislike for: Marchand, Smith, Kesler, Perry, Matt Tkachuk and Lucic. So if the Oilers get 3 of them I will just laugh at them miss the playoffs yet again. I feel sorry for Connor. Trash away but this is ridiculous. Let’s just put the goalies with the 2 worst glove hands in net. Drafting top 5 next year.

  • CactusJr

    No Perry please. Dzingel is a name that’s flying under the radar and Holland knows what he’s getting with Nyquist. It’ll be interesting but we can’t afford another Free agent overpay/mistake.

  • Serious Gord

    Didn’t see this buyout coming. A healthy sekera and the defence might have been ok if he has a bounce back. Perhaps the org knows that’s not possible.

    Certainly now have to go get another competent defender – but at what cost?

    And we will be seeing kris Russell in panic mode for another season I presume.

    And did holland do this knowing he has a deal in place for sekeras replacement or is he gonna wing it (pardon the pun)?