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Offseason Thoughts and the Importance of Patience

Ken Holland is not a GM who’s going to be pressured into making a move. He isn’t going to make a trade just for the sake of it and he’ll only pull the trigger if the move absolutely makes sense.

The situation with Jesse Puljujarvi is a prime example of that. Holland didn’t give in to the pressure from the player’s agent and just take the best deal he could. He waited and now, it looks like the player might be coming back. Having a patient GM can be frustrating at times but I think this offseason might be the best time to have a GM who isn’t afraid to play the waiting game.

We’ve heard a lot of talk about the number of organizations who are feeling financial pressure during the current global pandemic and that’s leading to some owners telling their hockey ops departments they need to cut payroll. Teams that would usually be spending to the cap, like the Penguins, are suddenly being told they no longer can. That along with the fact that the cap is staying flat is bad news for players who are about to hit unrestricted free agency. A lot of free agents are going to have to take much less then they might feel they’re worth.

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Frank Seravalli of TSN recently listed 13 teams that he sees as being in “cap hell” and while the Oilers are one of those teams, the fact that almost half the league is right up against the cap, could still work out in their favour.

The Oilers currently have an estimated $8.25 million in cap space according to our friends at PuckPedia. Let’s say that they can get both Ethan Bear and Matt Benning signed for a combined $3.5 million, which I think is possible if they give Benning a two or three-year deal and go short-term with Bear. That will leave them with $5.75 million in open space.

If they can find a way to move out Kris Russell’s $4 million cap hit, which I believe is very possible considering the difference between his salary and actual cap hit, and depth forwards like Jujhar Khaira and Alex Chiasson, which I believe is also do-able, then they could actually have some extra walking-around money. If they shed all three of those contracts, they’ll have around $13 million in open room.

Now, that’s obviously a best-case scenario but even if they only get rid of Russell’s cap-hit, they’ll still have north of $10 million in free space. I’m assuming they’ll be able to get Puljujarvi signed for around $1 million, so that will leave them with $9 million to sign a goalie and a third-line centre. For the sake of this exercise, I’m assuming that they’re either trading Athanasiou or letting him walk in free agency, which I don’t agree with, but is a very real possibility. The point I’m trying to make here is that there is a way for the Oilers to clear up some cap space without trading an impact player. A lot of teams don’t have that option.

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If a goalie costs around $3-4 million and a third-line centre costs between $2-3 million, the Oilers could have anywhere from $2-4 million left over once they’re done filling out their roster.

Now, the reason I wrote all of this out is to show that the Oilers could have some money left over to sign a free agent. You’re probably thinking “oh ya, what free agent is going to sign for between $2-4 million?”

But this might be the best offseason to have that kind of money laying around.

The big names like Taylor Hall, Alex Pietrangelo, and even Mike Hoffman are going to get paid. But I think that the second tier of unrestricted free agents like Evgeni Dadonov, Mikael Granlund, Craig Smith, Tyler Ennis, and Connor Sheary could have a hard time getting the kind of money they were hoping to get before the pandemic hit.

I’m not saying all of those players will still be sitting on the market at the end of October, but if one or two of them are and the Oilers have a little bit of money left over, they might be in a prime spot to convince a player to take less than market value on a one-year deal. 

If a player knows they aren’t going to get the money they wanted on a long-term deal, you could see why the chance to play with Connor McDavid or Leon Draisaitl for a season could be appetizing. They could rebuild their value and potentially get more money next season.

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The other side of this is the trade market. If the Oilers are sitting with a few million in cap space once the initial dust settles this offseason, they might be able to take advantage of a team that desperately needs to shave cap space before the season starts. 

Even if they wanted to wait to sign a backup goaltender, being patient might be rewarding. There are a lot of goaltenders who will be looking for new teams and a place where they will get a chance to play a lot. The Oilers will give a goaltender a good chance to start north of 45 games next season and that will be enticing for a lot of free agents. Edmonton might not be able to afford one of the bigger names on the market right off the hop, but if they waited a few weeks, they might be able to get a quality option for much less then they thought they would. Even on the trade market, if Holland waits, the price might start dropping on some intriguing options as teams get more worried about the salary cap and the looming expansion draft.

I’m not saying that the Oilers need to start the season with a bunch of open cap space but this might be the perfect offseason to free up a little bit of money and then just be patient, which is something I think Ken Holland is more than okay with doing.