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Seravalli: The Oilers will “almost surely” buy out James Neal, Mikko Koskinen buyout is also a possibility

Over at Daily Faceoff, Frank Seravalli posted a whole bunch of news and notes around things to expect once the NHL lifts its roster freeze on Thursday afternoon.

Among the notes were a handful of Oilers-related tidbits around how the team can free up more cap room this summer, including the team being likely to buy out James Neal’s contract, the possibility of also buying out Mikko Koskinen, and Zack Kassian generating some interest as a trade candidate around the league…

The Oilers will almost surely be buying out the contract of @James Neal in short order.

There are rumblings of interest in @Zack Kassian that could further increase cap space.

Further goaltending clarity, with @Mike Smith closing in on a new two-year, $4 million deal, would help. The Oilers could also buyout @Mikko Koskinen for $3 million in cap savings this season, going with an inexpensive Smith and @Alex Stalock tandem for a total of $4.285 million (including Koskinen’s dead cap space hit).

Let’s start with Neal.

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This buyout pretty much feels inevitable. After a productive debut season with the Oilers in 2019-20 in which he scored 19 goals over 55 games, Neal’s production completely fell off a cliff in 2021. He played in just 29 games and scored five goals and 10 points, cleared through waivers, and spent a good chunk of the season either as a healthy scratch or on the Taxi Squad.

A Neal buyout would cost the team $1,916,667 against the cap for four seasons. That’s a savings of $3,833,333 over the remaining two years of Neal’s contract in 2021-22 and 2022-23 and then a $1,916,667 hit in 2023-22 and 2023-24 for two years after his deal would have expired.

The best part about the one-for-one Neal for Milan Lucic swap was that Neal’s contract isn’t buyout proof like Lucic’s contract is. Given that, it always felt as though Neal would be bought out at some point and it appears that will happen in the coming days.

There’s also the report on Kassian, in which Seravalli suggests that teams around the league are showing interest in Edmonton’s enforcer.

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Kassian inked a four-year contract extension worth $3,200,000 annually back in January of 2020. At the time, Kassian was thriving alongside Connor McDavid and it appeared as though he was set to become a fixture in Edmonton’s top-six.

Since then, though, Kassian’s play has fallen off. He scored just two goals and five points in 2021 over an injury-riddled season and his cap hit is too rich for such production, especially now that teams are facing a flat salary cap ceiling for the foreseeable future.

It’s difficult to say what kind of return Edmonton could get for Kassian at this point. Teams do value physical play and toughness but $3,200,000 for that role is heavy if the player isn’t producing offensively. Maybe Edmonton could attach a draft pick to Kassian to move his salary or maybe they could take on another contract in return.

Regardless,  other teams having some interest in Kassian would help explain why Ken Holland opted to protect him in the Expansion Draft.

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Finally, there’s the note about Edmonton’s goaltending situation.

We know that Mike Smith is going to be back with the Oilers on a two-year deal worth $2,000,000 annually. There was a lot of strife over giving Smith, who turned 39 years old in March, a multi-year deal, but spreading his money out over a couple of years might be a better play than loading up and signing a more expensive one-year deal. If Smith can’t hack it, the Oilers have a pretty easy contract to stash in the minors without a significant buried cap hit.

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Not perfect, I know, but it isn’t a disaster, either.

Seravalli also mentions the possibility of buying out Koskinen, though he doesn’t use the same “almost surely” preface that he did with Neal. Buying out Koskinen would cost the Oilers $1,500,000 over two seasons. That’s a $3,000,000 savings in 2021-22 and a cost of $1,500,000 in 2022-23 when his deal is set to expire.

Koskinen had a pretty rough season in 2021, posting an .899 save percentage over the course of 26 games. That said, he wasn’t all that bad after Smith returned from the Injured Reserve. Remember, Koskinen played every single game for the first month of the season. When he was back in a tandem with Smith, Koskinen posted a solid .910 save percentage over 14 games.

The challenge with buying out Koskinen is that a good chunk of his freed-up money has to go to a replacement, unless the Oilers are comfortable rolling with a Smith and Alex Stalock tandem next year. We know Koskinen is overpaid at $4,500,000, but he also has the track record of being a solid goalie in a tandem situation. If he’s bad, Edmonton could stash him in the minors and free up $1,125,000 in cap room and not worry about taking on the buyout penalty in 2022-23.