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The Big Questions: Should the Oilers look at buying out a player?

As I’ve been going through the different questions that Ken Holland will be facing in the upcoming offseason, it’s clear that the Oilers GM will need to find a way to free up some cap space. Over the weekend, I looked at a few players could be traded and while there are certainly some obvious candidates on the Oilers, it might be difficult to pull off a move like that considering the current economic state of the league.

If the cap doesn’t go up, which is almost certainly will not, then it will be hard to trade away a player like Kris Russell. So what can Holland do if there’s no trade market for Russell or even someone like Alex Chiasson? Well, he could explore the option of buying out a player.

The word ‘buyout’ should absolutely make Oilers fans cringe considering they currently have around $5 million in dead cap space on the books. That number drops to around $4.4 million after this season but they’ll still have Benoit Pouliot on the books for one more year at $1.3 million, Andrej Sekera at $2.5 million (it drops to $1.5 million for two seasons after that), and $750k of Milan Lucic’s contract.

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With a hefty amount of dead space already on the books, you could understand why Ken Holland might not want to buy out another player this offseason. However, we also know that Holland is going to need to find some extra cap space if he wants to improve the team this summer.

While he could, and likely will explore the trade market for players like Kris Russell, James Neal or Alex Chiasson, but again, it might be tough to find a trade partner considering the current state of the league. The cap likely isn’t going up so teams might not be willing to take on a veteran with a higher cap hit. In Russell’s case, he also has a partial no-trade clause.

So what would a buyout look like for one of those three? Let’s take a look courtesy of the buyout calculator at puckpedia.com!

Let’s start with Russell. If the Oilers bought him out, here’s how it would impact their cap situation:

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The Oilers would save themselves $1 million in cap space this season while taking on a $500k penalty for the 2021/22 season. It’s not ideal and they’d actually be better to retain 50% of his contract and try to trade him. Considering his cap hit is $4 million for next season and his actual salary is just $1.5 million, keeping 50% and trading Russell might not be too difficult. Buying out Russell would be foolish in my opinion.

James Neal is the other big name that gets thrown into buyout conversations. He has three more seasons on his contract with a cap hit of $5.75 million. If they bought him out this summer, it would look like this:

So for three seasons, they would save themselves just over $3.8 million but would then face a $1.91 million penalty for three seasons after that. It’s not ideal to have a player on your books for six seasons when he won’t actually play for the team. On top of that, Neal still posted close to 20 goals this season. If you get rid of him, you need to replace that production.

While a buyout of James Neal is tempting because of the money it saves you over the next three seasons, I wouldn’t do it this summer.

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Alex Chiasson has the lowest cap hit of the three as he is owed just $2.15 million for one more season. Here is what his buyout would look like:

This move would save the Oilers $1.43 this season and cost them $716k for the following season. It gives them some cap relief now and doesn’t cost them too much the season after. Like with Russell, I wonder if the Oilers could retain some money on Chiasson and deal him.

Obviously, you’d prefer to not have to retain money but honestly, I feel like Ken Holland would be better off to go that route instead of buying out a player. The Oilers have a lot of dead cap space on the books already and while I can understand why it would be tempting to get some immediate, easy cap relief, I just don’t think it’s the right move for the Oilers.