Beer Budget

The salary cap crunch and shoestring budget Ken Holland faced going into the opening of free agency Monday wasn’t his fault, but as the guy charged with cleaning up the mess left by Peter Chiarelli as the POHO and GM of the Edmonton Oilers, it certainly was and is his problem.

Even having freed up some cap space with the buy-out of Andrej Sekera as the overpay season opened, Holland simply didn’t have the money to make any kind of splash Monday, and he didn’t, as has been duly documented. Signing bottom-six forwards along with goaltender Mike Smith and re-signing Alex Chiasson to a two-year deal isn’t reason to stand up and applaud. Some pundits gave Holland a failing grade for Monday’s work.

I’d suggest those grading Holland that way don’t have a firm grasp of the cards he’s been dealt – that, or they want a fast fix no matter what and they don’t care. There’s no sizzle attached to rummaging through the bargain bin looking for a deal that makes sense and fits the budget, so if you’re not excited about Holland’s work so far, fair enough. If you want a Corvette but your budget dictates a mini-van will have to do, nobody high-fives.

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If you want to point out there are roster holes left to fill, you’re absolutely right. And if you don’t want people preaching patience after all these years of ineptitude, I completely understood – that falls under the not his fault but his problem part of the gig. You won’t hear, “Don’t complain, just trust Ken without asking any questions” from this corner. That’s too much to ask of a fan base that’s been sold a bill of goods more than once.


That said, what you’ve seen since the free agent season opened is the reality of the limitations Holland has to operate within, at least for the time being. While Holland hasn’t burned through what little cap money he has, he reiterated today he’s not done. Unlike Chiarelli, who traded Jordan Eberle for Ryan Strome in a salary dump and then didn’t use the cash to improve the team, I don’t see Holland bungling the Sekera buy-out.

“We’ve still got a couple more months before we get to training camp,” Holland said today in an interview with Oilers Now host Bob Stauffer. “(We’re) going to continue to work the phones here to see what we can do to try to add to the group a little bit. We don’t have a ton of cap space, but we’ve got a little bit of cap space. Certainly, I’ll explore the trade market as we go forward.”

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Obviously, there has to be more. I like the re-signing of Chiasson, but I’m not expecting another 22 goals from him. Still, given the money thrown around Monday, he’s a fit at $2.15 million a season for the next two years. If he can score 12-15 goals, spot in on the top three lines and work the power play, it’s a solid signing. Not the PTO bargain he was last season, but solid.

I’m not sold Smith is going to be an upgrade over Cam Talbot, so a reasonable bonus-laden one-year term or not, goaltending remains a question for me. If one or two of Markus Granlund, Tomas Jurco, Gaetan Haas or Joakim Nygard find a home in the bottom six, that will help. Can Jujhar Khaira get back on the track he was on coming off a disappointing season? Even if the answer to both of those questions is yes, there has to be more. That has to happen, but it doesn’t have to happen today.


Until Holland can get more money off the books, what we’ve got right now is a salary cap version of what Glen Sather had to endure late in his tenure under Peter Pocklington and, later, the EIG – big needs and a small bankroll. That, for now, means making the best bets possible on a shoestring budget. Unlike the bad old days when there was simply no more money to be had, Holland can navigate his way out of the position he’s in now, given a little time between now and when training camp opens.

So, you’re saying the Oilers need more time, eh, Brownlee? Yes, even if I can’t help but think of Dallas Eakins saying, “Craig’s on it.” That’s a hard sell around here, and justifiably so. If there’s a shortcut, another way to get the Oilers to where they want to be given the situation Holland is in right now, I’m sure he’d like to hear it. Me too.

Previously by Robin Brownlee

  • Hemmercules

    Like it or not, once again, patience what we have to have to endure this newest rebuild. Not enough cash to entice a decent free agent. Trade a man and make a new hole. Holland has his work cut out and it’s going to take him at least a few offseasons to make it right.

  • billsbills

    I just don’t see who off the roster there is a trade market for in the forward group.

    Maybe he can make some moves from the back end but I don’t see that helping a team that was brutal defensively last season. Unless you’re trading Russell or Benning you’re going to create a massive hole on the back end that you won’t be able to score your way out of. I get the feeling of there was a move to be made for Benning or Russell, it would have already been done.

    Just my $.02

  • Towers-of-dub

    i love articles like this. There’s no cap space so he’s trying to fill out the bottom 6 on the cheap, but people are whining about it. If there was cap space he’d be overpaying a UFA because UFA’s always get overpaid, so 3 years down the road, we’d be whining about that! I’m sure Panarin is going to be an $11.6MM player for the entirety of that contract, right!?

  • Odanada

    Gotta congratulate Chiasson.
    Back against the wall he takes a PTO and parlays it into $4.3M
    That takes guts, drive and character and I hope he continues to deliver for the Oil.

  • Serious Gord

    The budgetary handcuffs holland has now aren’t much different than the ones chia had last off-season.

    Chia needed a perfect injury-free season to make the playoffs- didn’t get it and made some rash moves to try and salvage the season and by doing so squandered what little nhl-ready depth assets he had.

    Now holland has to sit tight and wait for the immature depth assets to grow another season; let some bad contracts run out or become sensible buyout or trade options.

    If the team does run mostly injury free and the goalies perform at least above average a wildcard might be possible.

    Really the only wise move he could make now is to trade his fastest depreciating asset – RNH – for some assets that can appreciate, fill the wings and be here longer than two seasons.

    Sadly the fans, the local media and many in the org have fallen in love with the inventory when it comes to RNH and an excellent opportunity to improve the team for the mid and long-term will be squandered.

  • Vanoil

    My issue is with his priorities. He certainly looked at the draft as a long-term fix, ignoring the obvious current/shorter-term (1-3 yrs) needs of the team. He didn’t leverage the CBA as other more creative teams did. SAy what you will about the avanteguard Kyle Dubas in Toronto, but he used what his ownership had to make sure nobody stole from his team’s future needs. Andreas Johnson and Kasperi Kapinen wanted more money in their pockets now and a chance to spring board that into even more down the road — the result was reasonable contracts which kept the two in Toronto, short and long-term. You have to wonder if Holland could have beat those deals by offering more money upfront to either of them at the risk of only a couple of picks. Again its what the team needed now that was overlooked. The future will be bright I’m sure but what about the McDavid years??? Broken record to suggest McDavid, won’t be happy looking at the roster for the next few years while they wait for the long-term (five year) plan to unfold. That’s a tall ask for the world’s best player.

    • Glencontrolurstik

      Dubas traded a much needed 3rd line centre with grit (in Kadri) for a rental D man to appease the fanbase… Bailey is a UFA next season…
      That stuff like the Oilers did in the past… We don’t want that.

      • Beer_League_Ringer

        What are you talking about? I get your point, but choose a better example… Dubas got Barrie AND Kerfoot (24 years old, 3rd line C, 43 and 42 pts the last two seasons) for Kadri. Big win.

        • Boba The Fett

          They wont be able to afford to resign Barrie next year and they still need to sign Kerfoot and Marner this year. Kadri is signed for 3 or 4 more years. Not the best result for Toronto but not the worst

      • The Perceptor

        Kerfoot is not a throw in. Compare the stats of Kadri and Kerfoot. I’m not a Toronto fan at all, but I like this trade from their perspective, especially considering Colorado retained lots of cash.

      • Vanoil

        No he traded the reason they lost in the first round for two consecutive years, for a wash across the board (players of equal value), managed to replace a D-man he couldn’t sign (and the fan-base hated) with another of equal value, and kept his team in tact, while maneuvering his roster so as to be able to sign his biggest hold-out RFA. That is new age avantegard management, not 22 years of experience, sitting and waiting for father time to erode McDavid’s best years.

    • Glencontrolurstik

      I guess this is where the coach comes in then… No one is talking about motivating Looch to continue working on his development?
      His skill-set fell off a cliff. With a lot of effort he should be able to get at least some of that back. I believe, if he sees a glimmer of hope in himself, he’ll improve exponentially… I even would accept a streaky point-getter at this point in his career. We are stuck with him, it’s his turn to man-up. The coaches and management can show him that… Didn’t Tippett have Doan out of his prime?

      • Quoteright

        In Pittsburgh Sid always plays with spare parts and makes it work because he is the best.
        In Edmonton
        Connor has to do the same
        Maybe on two lines
        I could see Connor dragging around Lucic and Gagne quite well. Those two are slow but Gagne has passing skill (he only needs to make one) and Lucic should be told to forget about the puck and go reek havoc.

  • Abagofpucks

    AHAHAHA so now were trading Mcd and Drai again, ok.

    Some of you these guys crack me up, throw out a carcass and the birds come flawking in to pick at the bones. CAW CAW CAW.

    • I remember somebody in December said “Chiarelli needs to trade Draisaitl and Nurse for Nylander if he wants to keep his job”. Ever since then I’ve just scrolled past every armchair trade on this site

  • El Oilero

    As much as I want a top 6 winger to ride with Nuge I think in general he did well. The top 6 isn’t the problem. The bottom 6 needs to be improved and he made steps to address that.

    I’m going to miss Sekera.

  • Better free agency market next year. They will have more money available hopefully. A lot of 1 year deals for the bottom six should make for better competition and results. If they can bring in a 20 goal scorer before camp it will be a trade. Hopefully they can ice a team competitive for a playoff spot. We may even see a rookie or two grab a spot? Crossing toes and fingers!

    • It took Chiarelli 3 years to build this team(going back to the Lucic signing), it’s going to take longer then 2 months to fix it. All these short term deals are good because they can fill the roster right now and not sabotage us down the road. Some overpays like Manning, Benning, Gagner, Brodziak, and Kassian are all off the books next summer and open up $13.6M in space, even if one or two do comeback it would be at a cut and we really only have Nurse to re-sign. Push as hard as possible to ice a good team now but don’t let it get in the way of next summer and beyond

  • Harry2

    At this point the Oilers have to get out from under Lucic’s contract. Package him with next years 1st and a prospect. Although the time to do that would probably have been before free agency when the money could of been used. Bottom line is Holland has to find a way to gain cap space

    • CMG30

      As much as I’d love to move Lucic the fact of the matter is that he’s nearly impossible to move owing to his NTC as he would have to agree to any move which, frankly, makes any move extremely unlikely.

      The only teams willing to take on a 31 year old player who’s production has fallen off a cliff even when playing with McDavid? How many teams are going to want such a player who’s also carrying 4 years worth of a $6M cap hit? The only chance will be teams entering a rebuild and are willing swallow the cap hit to collect a raft of high end picks and prospects that surely will have to accompany such a player. If you were Lucic which teams fitting that description would you be willing to waive your NTC to go to?

      At least with the Vancouver switcharoo we’d be getting a guy back that will be moveable in the future.

    • Ken McTippett

      Nobody wants Lucic. He is untradeable unless he okay’s the deal and the Oilers take a bad contract in return. Looch has one of the worst contracts in the game right now. We are stuck with it.

  • Free Bird

    I actually like what Holland has done so far in free agency. This team was second last in killing penalties last year: 74.8% on the PK… second last! Signing some bottom six forwards, like Granlund and Nygard, who can kill penalties is dollar-for-dollar the best return on investment this team can make right now. Addressing secondary scoring is a much more expensive problem and realistically that will take time to solve, both to clear out the bad contracts and to wait for some of the prospects to develop into productive scorers, which is a far better approach than overpaying UFA’s and regretting it two-three years later.

  • CMG30

    I have zero issues with how Holland handled free agency. It’s called silly season for a reason: wild overpays on both money and term with the predicable result of handcuffing a team a few years down the road. Any pundit who says that gave Holland a failing grade should have their head examined.

    In fact we should go back and grade some of these so called experts on their grades over the years. Lets swing back to some of these teams that apparently ‘won’ free agency day in past years and examine the deals awarded again to still see if they still deserve an ‘A’.

  • Time to Ride

    I spent some time over the weekend watching video of the Arizona Coyotes from the years Tippett was the coach and it reminded me of how frustrating it was to watch them beat the Oilers time after time. The Coyotes had no real stars but they played a determined, in your face, hard forechecking style that seemed to frustrate teams. Who’s to say that the Oilers can’t learn to play that style; with the added bonus that they can throw out an elite first line. I’d love to watch an Oilers team that consistently outworked its opponents. Lets hope Holland is adding players that have that in their DNA.

    • Ken McTippett

      That is what the Oilers are going to have to do if they want to make the playoffs. Too many passengers with not enough talent on this team. The culture needs to be changed more than anything.

    • Glencontrolurstik

      True that… But the one question I have that just keeps eating at me. As excited as I am the Oilers have Tippett. Why wasn’t he coaching, or doing anything hockey related since. 3 years. Hopefully it was a break. We all need that.

      • Reg Dunlop

        Tippett was let go in Arizona in June 2017, hired as advisor in Seattle one year later and then 11 months later hired to coach the Oil. Where do you get 3 years out of hockey?

  • Schmidt Head

    Winter after winter of “be patient” is the inevitable result of summer after summer of stupid managers making stupid moves in a panic trying to “make the playoffs.”

    If there’s one phrase that I’m sick, sore and tired of hearing around here it’s “make the playoffs” as if that were some gold standard of success!! The goal isn’t to “make the playoffs”, it’s “win championships!!” Half the GD league makes the freakin’ playoffs; ONE team win the cup! Which one do you want?!

    Every year it’s the same thing; a stupid manager looking for that one magic bullet who will somehow, miraculously get us to “make the playoffs”.

    Personally, I’m delighted that Holland stayed out of the free agent “frenzy” because most of those signed aren’t worth the money they got. A quality depth player at a good price in July will still be a good buy in September at an even better price so I’m glad that he’s not playing the annual game of stupid!

    It’s time for a 360 degree change in thinking around here! Replace “make the playoffs” with “build a winner!!”

  • Jay (not J)

    Saw a post on the Athletic where they were grading all of the GMs. I believe that Holland came in at a c -. I shudder to think what he might have done instead to try and go for the A. Grading trades that way has nothing but entertainment value. This upcoming season is going to be a challenge, but nothing Holland can do this summer is going to change that.

  • toprightcorner

    Nobody can say that Holland had a bad UFA day because he had limited cash on the day everyone gets overpaid. If PC was still here and made the same moves,you could give him an “D” because he out himself in this position.

    Over the past dozen years, any signing the Oilers made on July 1st were either too expensive, too long, or both.

    Holland’s signings weren’t sexy,but nobody can say he grossly Iver paid in money ot term, when most GM’s did. That is a win.

    Holland likely wants to keep about $1.25 mill in cap space for a deadline deal if they are in the hunt and earmarked $1 mill in bonuses for Smith. That means he can make a trade and bring back about $2 mill more salary back then he sends out. That means he can trade a prospect for a roster player or make a big trade if he wants to.

    Fixing the Oilers from the Chiarelli mess is a 3 job.

    Year 1 – fill in depth, move some salary,dont rush prospects, be in playoff hunt until the last couple games,making playoffs is a bonus.

    Year 2 – add a bigger piece or two,move out salary, start to integrate prospects And push to lock up playoff spot 5 games before end of season, get in and maybe steal a round

    Year 3 – fill in holes around prospects, clear some salary, add 1 big missing piece to make them into a mid contender, plan to win a round in playoffs and maybe two

    Year 4 – Go for the cup.

    Expecting anything faster is foolish, things happen to move faster is possible.

    I want the Oilers to build a solid contender for as long as possible, while addi g prospects that can continually come in to keep the cap down. Rushing things just to make the playoffs will not provide sustained success and if McDavid can compete for the cup every year for the last 3-4 years of his contract, then he will resign again and that will give the Oilers a 10 year window to win a couple cups. That is the goal making the playoffs next year is not.

    • MrBung

      No cup. This rebuild with McDavid would have had to be done much better. I think winning a round or two will be a tall order unless some of these prospects really hit above their pedigree.

    • Serious Gord

      The key will be to make consistent progress. If that four year plan looks to be five or longer mcd might not wait.

      So many things to address makes even four years seem a stretch. Lucic’s contract will take that long to be clear of.

    • Vanoil

      Are you sure McDavid is willing to wait four more years on the side-lines… The Holland model works for a team starting the re-build; if that’s the case maybe they should be trading their No.1 asset … yeah, I don’t think that will go over too well. Holland is definitely taking McD’s goodwill for granted. Not sure his agent (one of the most respected people in hockey) will let that go for too long.

      • BobbyCanuck

        Hopefully it goes a couple of more years, with the annually increasing salary cap, in 3 yrs McDavid’s contract will be the best value for the money in the NHL.

        Should be able to get 2 top pairing D, a 1C, and a first round pick out of the deal, or something comparable depending on where the holes are in 3 yrs. Mind you, by then that would cost more than $12.5M/yr to retain…

        Crazy talk, that what this is. McDavid will not ask for a trade

    • Shameless Plugger

      Wow!! What a fresh take. Dude you’re just saying the same thing everyday. That’s like the first round exit of trolling. Surely your mom can help you come up with some better material. See you tomorrow.

  • MrBung

    There is no shortcut. This team was left in poor shape. Definitely not making playoffs this season and probably not the season after. McDavid’s patience will be tested in a big way.

  • OilCan2

    Beer Budget? If it’s Roger’s beer prices he’s got a LOT of MONEY. LOL.

    I like his moves. He’s changed the office by punting Sutter and keeping Hitchcock around. He’s got a coach who brings a solid system. His signings are a bit of Euro, Vets and room for a Condor or 2. It seems like he has faith in our younger D as the Sekera buy out hints so maybe Nurse goes one for one for the coveted top six winger.

  • RJ

    Lightning were behind the 8-ball, they trade Miller and get the Canucks to throw in a first rounder.

    Leafs behind the 8-ball, they make numerous moves.

    Lots of teams making moves, except Edmonton. For $5m/season, KH can’t come up with a better plan than “patience”? That was MacT’s schtick.

  • Bigdaddypuck

    People need to relax on this idea of signing or trading for a top six winger.
    I’d plug Benson in to start the season and perhaps sign Maroon. If the oilers overachieve then guess what 3 or 4 million dollars at the deadline can actually get you a rental to help make a playoff drive. Trading Nugent-Hopkins just would divide one of the best tandoms in the NHL. And who do put on your second line power play at center. You want unproven wingers
    to fill that role? Well go to Bakersfield or look to the KHL or Europe. Center is actually an area of strength on the Oilers, on a team that has lots of holes to fill and question marks. If anything has been proven over the last couple years is not everyone can automatically play beside Conner and succeed. So it stands to reason that just because Leon centers a line dosnt mean those people will succeed. And you won’t get back two established wingers just a couple of maybes. Sekera is gone this year hopefully the cap goes up and Lucic is next.

  • SnowMan8

    My first reaction when I heard Mike Smith in Edmonton was WHY!!?! As far as coming in and stealing the starting job I wouldn’t put money on it. But after some thought I think if he plays like a solid back up (good possibility) Oilers will benefit from a veteran like that in the locker room for sure. So I have done a bit of a 180 on that one

    • Serious Gord

      He’s. 37.

      Just had the worst regular season of his career with one of the better defences in the league in front of him

      And now will have one of the shakiest.

      You might want to rethink the “good possibility” idea.

      • SnowMan8

        Yes he had a bad season but started to turn it around towards the the end. I don’t think because he is 37 it means he’s done and doesnt have a good season left in him

  • goodtobelucky97

    This is what I expected Mr. Holland to do on July 1st.
    Sign a few stop gap players to fill the roster in until the prospects are ready for the NHL…..maybe find that diamond in the rough in the process.

    I’m glad the Oilers re-signed Chaisson and added Smith for a back-up goalie…however, I think Smith could end up being the starting goalie by mid-season.

    Mr. Brownlee, you are right on the mark….the Oilers have a beer budget to work with and will have to make due with what they have for now. It sucks but it’s the reality of the situation.

  • Biomass

    Jets have seriously depleted blue line and perhaps an interest in re-uniting Laine and Puljujarvi. Puljujarvi and Russell for Ehlers. Maybe have to throw in a future pick as well.