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Photo Credit: Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports

LAING: Cap crunch still looms for the Edmonton Oilers

Over the last two weeks, the Edmonton Oilers have locked up two of their top free agents in this year’s class.

Zack Kassian got a shiny four-year, $3.2-million AAV deal.

Today, Darnell Nurse’s two-year, $5.6-million AAV deal was made official.

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What’s leftover are a lot of players that need to be re-signed, and not a whole lot of cap space to work with. Most importantly, there’s one contract that could define the type of off-season the Edmonton Oilers have and that’s an impending deal for RFA D Ethan Bear, who has stepped in and looked tremendous this season as a rookie.

Now, there are two ways that you can go about Bear’s next contract. You can lock him up long-term, which in my eyes is absolutely the right move, or you sign him to a short-term bridge deal. Either option comes with its own sets of pros and cons for the short-term and long-term benefit of the organization.

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What’s ahead

According to Puckpedia, the Oilers will be entering this off-season with just under $13.5-million in cap space.

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I used their new PuckPedia GM mode and played around with some of the options for the Oilers and either way, things are going to be tight heading into next season.

I took the liberty of re-signing Bear to a six-year, $4-million contract. I also opted to re-sign forwards JOSH ARCHIBALD, Joakim Nygard, Gaetan Haas and Riley Sheahan to one-year, $1-million contracts. I think these are reasonable deals for players who are still largely question marks, but are guys that have shown they can be positive contributors to the team.

Patrick Russell got a one-year, $750,000 deal while Sam Gagner was locked up for a league minimum one-year, $700,000 deal. William Lagesson got a one-year, $800,000 contract. I think Russell’s game needs to improve, while Lagesson could be playing in Edmonton next year. Gagner, meanwhile, absolutely needs to stick around even if he’s an extra forward again. He’s been really good for the Oilers this year and provides great veteran leadership.

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That leaves the Oilers with $1.7-million in cap space to work with and it doesn’t include a second goaltender to play alongside Mikko Koskinen. Edmonton needs to find a goalie better than MIKE SMITH.

I think these are all fairly reasonable contracts for the aforementioned players and are likely near what they actually get on their next deals.

Back to the Bear contract, which might come in a little higher than $4-million on a long-term deal, but I wanted to be optimistic about the Oilers keeping his cap hit low. If the team/player wants to go with a bridge deal, I doubt Bear would make anything less than $2-million on a two-year deal so the numbers aren’t too far off either way.

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While in the short-term a bridge deal may alleviate some cap problems for the Oilers, it likely means that on a long-term deal after the bridge he’s looking at $5-6-million. A long-term deal, meanwhile, may make things a little snug for the Oilers in the next year or two, they’re likely saving money in the long run.

Either way the Oilers go, I still think it poses a difficult set of challenges in the short-term when it comes to improving the Oilers roster.

What the Oilers need to do

 

Edmonton gets put in a tough spot this offseason even with Nurse taking a pay cut in the short-term. Edmonton is likely going to want to upgrade their forward group and should be targetting a top-six winger between now and the start of next season. As I wrote on the weekend, Connor McDavid needs some offensive power alongside him.

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This leads us to the trade market where it’s time for the Oilers to look long and hard at trading both Adam Larsson and Kris Russell now or in the offseason.

Neither of them has the ability to contribute offensively and don’t see powerplay time. Both also have long track records of dragging down their teammates and continue to be on the wrong end of goal differentials at even-strength. The eye test may be kind to these two at times, but the numbers don’t lie.

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It’s clear that the Edmonton Oilers’ four best defencemen are Ethan Bear, Darnell Nurse, Oscar Klefbom, and Matthew Benning. I think it’s fair to say that Caleb Jones would be able to step in and fill the shoes of Russell on the third pairing, while Bear should be able to step up more and eat into Adam Larsson’s minutes. We should also see Evan Bouchard in Edmonton next season and increased minutes from Jones.

In turn, Edmonton can look to trade Larsson, and potentially more, for the top-six winger they need and Russell for cap space to find a goaltender and more forward depth.

Edmonton is going to be in a tough spot when it comes to navigating their cap and it’s going to be interesting to see how Ken Holland and co. improve the Oilers.

On Twitter: @zjlaing

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