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The 2020/2021 Oilers Won’t Have Many Changes

We don’t know when this NHL season will be completed, if ever, nor do we know when the 2020/2021 season will begin, but when it does the Oilers will look very similar to the team you saw on the ice on March 11th. (Side note, that was 50 days ago. Seems much longer. Stay strong my friends, you are doing great.)

Edmonton doesn’t have much cap space, but after signing Gaetan Haas to a one-year extension on Tuesday, Oilers GM Ken Holland has 17 players looked up for next season.

The Oilers have 11 forwards signed with a combined cap hit of $43,484,167 which includes Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, James Neal, Zack Kassian, Alex Chiasson, Josh Archibald, Gaetan Haas, Kailer Yamamoto and Joakim Nygard.

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They have five D-men under contract with a total cap hit of $18,783,667 between Darnell Nurse, Oscar Klefbom, Adam Larsson, Kris Russell and Caleb Jones.

And in goal Mikko Koskinen is signed with a $4.5 million cap hit.

They also have $4,583,333 in dead cap space due to buyouts of Andrej Sekera and Benoit Pouliot and retained salary on Milan Lucic.

The Oilers are committed to 17 players at $71,351,167.

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Considering the NHL has projected a flat salary cap (no increase from this season’s $81.5 million) for next season, that means the Oilers have $10,148,833 to sign six players.

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WHO WILL THEY SIGN?

Mar 9, 2020; Edmonton, Alberta, CAN; Las Vegas Golden Knights center Nicolas Roy (10) shoots the puck against Edmonton Oilers goalie Mikko Koskinen (19) during the third period at Rogers Place. Golden Knights won the game 3-2 in overtime. Mandatory Credit: Walter Tychnowicz-USA TODAY Sports

Ethan Bear is their most important RFA signing. He will be signed, but for how much? Bear could command $4million+/year on a long-term deal, but might opt for a shorter term at a lower rate in hopes of cashing in big in a few seasons. There haven’t been many contract negotiations thus far, due to Covid, cap uncertainty and no rush due to next season starting later. I’d lean towards him signing a shorter term deal between $1.5m-$2m.

They also have Matt Benning as an RFA at $1.9m. If Benning is your third pair right D-man you are fine, and the numbers back it up, although his minutes are low. Ideally you’d want his cap hit a bit lower. The challenge for Benning is the Oilers have Evan Bouchard at a very friendly cap hit at $894,167 developing in the AHL.

Benning is eligible for arbitration, if the Oilers qualify him, but I don’t think they can do that financially. They’d re-sign him for $1-$1.2 million, but I don’t see them qualifying him at $1.9 million. Even if they took him to club-elected arbitration, the lowest they can offer is a 15% rollback ($285,000), so he’d still be a $1.615m cap hit.

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I’ve read and heard many say the Oilers will trade Kris Russell and his $4m cap hit. But that is much easier said than done. Russell is a solid third pairing/PK defender, but his cap hit is too high. He is owed $2.5m in cash ($1m bonus and $1.5m in salary) and he has a 15-team no-trade list. If the Oilers pay his bonus, then trade him, the team acquiring him only has to pay $1.5million. If the Oilers retain half his cap hit and salary, then the team acquiring him only pays $750,000. He’d be a bargain at that price. However, that means the Oilers would be paying $1.75 million to not have him on the team, and they’d have a $2 million cap hit. And they’d have to replace him, and that likely would cost at least $1milllion in real money.

So then Oilers owner Darryl Katz would end up paying more in cash for Russell’s roster spot, than he would have if they just kept him. Trading Russell is not as simple as some think when we look at the actual money owed. If they keep Russell I don’t see how financially they can retain Benning.

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They did sign UFA D-man Theodor Lennstrom yesterday. And he might be in the mix for the 7th D-man slot. But I don’t see him being a regular in the lineup to start the season.

Forwards…

February 25, 2020; Anaheim, California, USA; Edmonton Oilers left wing Andreas Athanasiou (28) celebrates his goal scored against the Anaheim Ducks with defenseman Darnell Nurse (25) center Tyler Ennis (63) and center Connor McDavid (97) during the third period at Honda Center. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

Andreas Athanasiou is an RFA. He had a rough season scoring 10-14-24 with an ugly -45 in 46 games with the Red Wings, and produced 1-1-2 in nine games with Edmonton. He had seasons of 54, 33 and 29 points in the three previous years in Detroit. Today the 54-point campaign looks like a bit of an outlier. Can he score 30 goals again, or is he more of a 16-20 goal scorer?

He and his agent will say the former, while I’m sure Holland will lean towards the latter. For sure Athanasiou is not getting a raise, but I wonder if Holland can negotiate a slight decrease?

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I fully expect Athanasiou and Bear will be signed, meaning they’d have 12 forwards and six D-men locked up. Best case scenario is they have a combined cap hit of $4.5m. Likely closer to $5million.

So that leaves five million to sign two forward, one defenceman and a goalie.

Riley Sheahan is unrestricted. He was solid on the PK, took the second most faceoffs on the team and was decent in a bottom six role. But they already resigned Haas and Jujhar Khaira played centre late in the season. If they view Khaira as a fourth line C option, do they need him and Sheahan? Depth is important and I could see Sheahan re-signing for one-year with a slight raise to $1 million.

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Mike Smith was a leader in the room, which is a bit odd for a goaltender, but he brought a lot of energy and isn’t afraid to speak up. He could return for one year, with a similar bonus structure in place. Ideally you’d want his base salary lower, closer to $1.5 million.

Bouchard, William Lagesson or Lenstrom could be the defenceman. Their cap hits make them very attractive with limited cap space available. If Benning is gone Bouchard is the third right-shot D-man.

Tyler Benson might be the other forward, or Holland and head coach Dave Tippett might look for a veteran (Tyler Ennis).

Regardless of how you look at the roster, I don’t see much room to bring in new pieces, unless Holland makes a significant trade.

If the Oilers are to improve next season, it will come internally as many of their players are still young and developing. But there is a risk in that as well, as it is unlikely that all of them take another step.

Their current roster is a playoff roster, but is it a Cup contending roster next season?

Do you like the approach to begin next season with a similar roster, or do you think the Oilers should improve externally?

RECENTLY BY JASON GREGOR