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Let’s keep the NHL offseason trades going

With little doubt that this has been one of the strangest years in NHL history, why would we ever assume that the offseason that is yet to come won’t follow suit? With a fair chunk of teams pressed up against the cap, I’m predicting a sillier offseason than most and preparing to strap myself in for the ride because things could get weird.

Over the past couple of weeks, we’ve already seen the Toronto Maple Leafs ship Kasperi Kapanen to the Pittsburgh Penguins in exchange for a first-round pick, a prospect (among other random parts) and some cap space, while the Blues sent Jake Allen to Montreal for a pair of draft picks. In both of those trades, the need for cap space was obvious and it was reflected in the return. That got me thinking about what this year’s offseason might look like with so many teams fighting a flat cap and likely open to selling off assets for pennies on the dollar just to try and make the balance sheet work. To be honest, from a pure entertainment standpoint, I’m thinking that this could end up being a lot of fun to watch… or terrifying. Either way.

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If you look at the available cap space among the top half of teams over at PuckPedia, it doesn’t take a rocket surgeon math type of guy to figure out that there are a bunch of teams, Oilers included, that will need to dump some salary if they’re going to either improve their rosters with new additions or try and keep players they already have that need new deals. The St. Louis Blues want to keep Alex Pietrangelo so they sold Jake Allen and his $4.35 million contract to the Habs for a half-eaten roast beef sandwich with no mustard. Punt the asset, collect the cap space to deal with. It’s a cold business, these here pro sports, but that’s the way it’s gotta be, especially with a COVID cap. How many times are we going to see those types of trades this summer offseason? How many more screaming deals for solid NHLers are out there to be had? Can Ken Holland find a way to get in on a buyer’s market? Can he sell off some of his guys this way? Are there free agents that would be willing to sign a short term deal when they would have only considered something longer term back when the calendar flipped to 2020?

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Back at the trade deadline, a lifetime ago in Coronatimes, GMs around the league made moves with an expectation that the salary cap would go up in 2020-21, and to have it stay flat means that some of the in-season contracts and trades that they made are going to backfire. Even Ken Holland admitted that he acquired Andreas Athanasiou because the salary cap was supposed to go up, making a contract extension much easier to justify back in February than it will be today. As a result, the Oilers may have to walk away from a player that would have otherwise been in their plans. How many ‘Athanasious’ are there on the other 30 teams that are in need of new contracts but may get cut because the math doesn’t work? How many more ‘Jake Allen for a Summer Sausage Lunchable’ type of trade are we going to see before the regular season gets started? Probably a lot, and I think that means we’re in for one of the most interesting offseasons in years.

WHAT ABOUT THE OILERS?

Considering the Oilers’ own cap situation, they don’t have much space to sign their RFAs and go fishing for a goaltender while also seeking improvements for throughout their roster with the $10 million they have left available, meaning Ken Holland will need to get creative if he’s planning to head into next season with a better club than the one he had when they got bumped out against Chicago. In my mind, there’s no doubt that the Oilers made some tangible steps forward this past season, but that’s also a remarkably low bar to clear given their record over the past decade, so I think it’s fair to say that we would all appreciate another jump in 2020-21 (or whenever next season happens).

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But how will he get the job done? It’s anyone’s guess, at this point, and I say that even more so now that we’ve already seen two of the deals that already got done. My point is that there could be an opportunity to make some noise here in terms of acquiring and shedding players. The way I see it, Ken Holland has a few contracts that he’d probably like to move at some point this offseason, and while I obviously have no idea what his list looks like, this is my not-so-educated guess:

  • Kris Russell is in the final year of his four-year contract that carries a $4 million AAV, but the actual dollars paid out in terms of salary is only $1.5 million. There has to be a budget team that wants to add some cap hit without having to pay out the same value in real money, right? Cowboy? Anybody?
  • Alex Chiasson has one year left at $2.15 million and is coming off a season that saw him register 24 points (11G, 13A) while averaging 13:07 in TOI per night. That’s some decent depth scoring and if his contract number was $600-700K less then I’d probably want the Oilers to keep him.
  • James Neal has three years left on his contract that carries a $5.75 million AAV and trading him would obviously clear a tonne of space, but I highly doubt he gets moved at this point. Neal scored 19 goals in his first year with the Oilers, was a notable contributor on the powerplay, and that will likely keep him around for at least another year. Right now, the Oilers need more goals than less and Neal should hopefully provide another handful of them in 2020-21.
  • Jujhar Khaira had a tough year in 2019-20 (6G, 4A) and with one year left on the deal that pays him $1.2 million, he might be a guy that gets included in a deal. We know that Khaira was almost moved as part of a package to Toronto last year, so there’s reason to believe that it might happen again.
  • As I mentioned above, Andreas Athanasiou needs a new contract and it’s really difficult to predict what Ken Holland is going to do with a guy that barely got a chance to get going as an Oiler. His handful of regular season games after the trade were mediocre if not disappointing and his play-in round against Chicago was only moderately better, so that’s not exactly a ringing endorsement for committing to Athanasiou beyond a one or two-year ‘show me’ deal. If Holland can get that done at a sizeable discount then I think you have to keep him, but if he can’t then you have to move on.
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The obvious problem is that we have no idea how other teams value any of the guys I’ve listed or whether they would be willing to part with any assets, cap space included, in order to bring them in. That said, I also wouldn’t have expected the Montreal Canadiens, a team that has Carey Price as their goaltender, to acquire another $4 million tender either, but here we are. With rumours circulating that Holland has already reached out to the Penguins about Matt Murray, a guy that is likely available because of an internal cap in Pittsburgh as well as being unwilling to lose a tender to the expansion draft, I wouldn’t be surprised to hear more instances of Uncle Ken out looking to buy. But before he’s able to pull the trigger on anything substantial, he’s going to need to find someone to take a contract or two in exchange whatever’s left of their roast beef sandwich. We wait.