I’ve spent the last few weeks going through some of the big questions that will be facing Ken Holland once the 2019/20 season officially wraps up and the offseason begins. No matter what the question is, part of the answer always involves the salary cap. The bottom line is that we really don’t know what the ceiling will be for the 2020/21 campaign and that will really affect what Holland can do with his roster.
If he wants to sign Ethan Bear to a long-term deal, bring back a player like Tyler Ennis, or upgrade their third-line centre, then he will likely need to trade out a contract or two to free up some cap space. So who could Holland move on from to save cash? Here are some candidates:
Kris Russell: He is without a doubt the most obvious candidate to be moved but he will also be one of the most difficult for Holland to trade. He has one more year left on his contract with a cap hit of $4 million. The one thing that might help Holland if he decides to move Russel is that after his $1 million signing bonus is paid out, he really only has $1.5 million in ‘real dollars’ left on his contract. That could be very attractive to a team that’s looking to shed some salary while staying above the salary floor for the upcoming season. Considering the fact that we’re in a pandemic and teams might not be allowed to have fans in the stands next season, there could be a lot of teams looking to cut costs. Russell’s contract will actually help them do that.
While he does get a lot of hate from some parts of the fan base, I actually think Russell is a very solid third-pairing defenseman. He blocks shots and can still skate fairly well. The only reason I think the Oilers should be trying to trade him is his contract. Having an extra $4 million to spend this summer would go a long way. CHANCES OF BEING DEALT: 70%
ALEX CHIASSON: I’m very torn on a player like Chiasson. On one hand, he makes just a shade over $2 million, so his contract isn’t exactly bad but it certainly isn’t great either. He’s a bit of a streaky player but he likely would have hit the 15 goal mark for a second straight season had the 19/20 season not been paused. When you trade a player who scores 15-20 goals a season, you do need to replace that.
The biggest problem for Chiasson is that he’s been pushed very far down the depth chart. On the right side, he’s below Kassian, Yamamoto, and Archibald. If they wanted to take a chance on the left side, he would still be below Nugent-Hopkins, Athanasiou, James Neal, and potentially even Tyler Ennis. He just isn’t a good enough five-on-five player to pass any of those players on the depth chart.
When it comes to special teams, he doesn’t kill penalties and while I do value his net-front presence on the powerplay, the team still has James Neal. Even if the Oilers hold a little bit of his deal, I think moving Chiasson might be a smart play. CHANCES OF BEING DEALT: 70%
JAMES NEAL: Like a lot of Oilers fans, I was pleasantly surprised with how productive James Neal was early in his first season with the club. He had a couple of big games and appeared to be a natural fit on their top powerplay unit. His play at even strength was a definite weakness, but he was a clear upgrade over Milan Lucic. As the season continued on, Neal’s play started to decline and he was eventually forced out of the lineup with an injury, which may have explained some of his poor play.
Would the Oilers like to get rid of Neal’s $5.75 million cap hit? I’m sure they would. However, I don’t think it’s very realistic to expect that. To deal him off, you’d likely have to keep a significant portion of his contract and I would hate to see the team accumulate even more dead money than they currently have. If it was $200-300k, then that’s a different story.
I would rather see them trade a piece like Alex Chiasson to save a couple million bucks then have to eat $2 million to trade off a player like Neal. CHANCES OF BEING DEALT: 10%
JUJHAR KHAIRA: He’s a pretty polarizing player among Oilers fans. He’s been pretty inconsistent over the last few seasons and at times, hardly looks like an NHL player. When he’s on his game though, he’s a strong bottom-six forward who is a fantastic penalty killer and has decent offensive capabilities.
While he doesn’t score often, he was fourth on the Oilers in shorthanded time on ice (Sheahan, Archibald, and Nugent-Hopkins were ahead of him) with 100 minutes played. 5th on the Oilers was Leon Draisaitl with just under 70 minutes followed by Markus Granlund (UFA) and Patrick Russell (UFA) who were both between 25-41 minutes of shorthanded time on ice.
My point is that if the Oilers move on from Khaira, they will need to find another winger that can kill penalties. I’m not sure they have that player on their roster right now, which is one reason they might not want to move on from Khaira.
The Oilers do have a lot of depth forwards though. Joakim Nygard, Gaetan Haas, Josh Archibald, James Neal, and Alex Chiasson are all under contract and are all candidates for bottom-six wing spots. If they trade Khaira and replace him with a player making league minimum, like Patrick Russell or Sam Gagner, then they would be saving themselves $500k. That extra little bit of money could allow them to sign Ethan Bear to a long-term deal or maybe bring back Tyler Ennis. CHANCES OF BEING DEALT: 50%
The bottom line is that every dollar counts for the cap-strapped Edmonton Oilers and finding a way to move out a player or two that might be overpaid will be the key to Ken Holland having a another successful offseason.
Disagree with my list? Think a player has a better/worse chance of being dealt? Let me know! YELL AT ME IN THE COMMENTS!