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Photo Credit: © Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports

The NHL’s buyout period begins on July 1. Will the Edmonton Oilers use one?

The first few days of the off-season have moved along quietly but things are going to start heating up this weekend.

The first key date on the NHL’s off-season calendar is the beginning of the buyout period on July 1 and multiple teams, including the Edmonton Oilers, are considering whether they should use one to rid themselves of a bad contract.

Using a buyout has become an annual tradition in Edmonton as the Oilers bought out Lauri Korpikoski in 2016, Benoit Pouliot in 2017, Eric Gryba in 2018, Andrej Sekera in 2019, and James Neal in 2021. The Oilers have just over $4 million in dead money from Milan Lucic, Sekera, and Neal counting against the salary cap for 2022-23 and then it’s currently just Neal’s buyout penalty for two years after that.

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This summer, the most likely candidate to be bought out is Zack Kassian, who’s two years into the four-year contract extension he signed back in January of 2020.

Kassian had a successful run on Connor McDavid’s wing in 2018-19 and 2019-20, scoring 15 goals in 79 and 59 games respectively in those seasons. He was set to become an unrestricted free agent in the summer of 2020 but Holland got Kassian locked up to that aforementioned four-year, $12.8 million deal well before he could hit the open market.

In the first two seasons of that contract, Kassian has scored just eight goals across 85 games. Though a big part of Kassian’s role is being an enforcer, that’s obviously not enough production from a player making $3.2 million.

If the Oilers use a buyout on Kassian, he’ll cost the team $966,667 against the salary cap for four years. That’s a savings of $2,533,333 in 2022-23 and $1,333,333 in 2023-24 and added hit of $966,667 in 2024-25 and 2025-26 after the contract would have expired. 

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Though continually sweeping problems under the rug and borrowing from the future to help the present isn’t ideal, the Oilers are very tight up against the salary cap this summer, and getting another $2.5 million to work with would be very helpful.

Two other names that have been brought up as possible buyouts for the Oilers are Duncan Keith and Mike Smith.

Keith has one more year left on his contract at $5,538,462 and, if bought out, would cost the Oilers $4,538,462 in 2022-23 and $500,000 in 2023-24. The savings here isn’t worthwhile because $1 million wouldn’t even be enough to replace Keith on the blueline. That said, there’s a buyout possibility involving Keith and another team that Jason Gregor proposed that I’ll go through later on.

Smith has one more left on his contract at $2.2 million and, if bought out, would cost the Oilers $533,334 in 2022-23 and $833,334 in 2023-24. This also isn’t worthwhile because even if the Oilers can’t stash Smith on the Long-Term Injured Reserve for a salary cap bonus, they could put him through waivers and get a $1.125 million savings without having to spread the money out over two years.

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Buyouts aren’t the only way to open up salary cap room in the off-season. The Oilers could also look for a team willing to take on money in exchange for a sweetener, as the Arizona Coyotes did with the New York Islanders, Philadelphia Flyers, and Florida Panthers last summer.

The Coyotes recieved two second-round picks and a third-round pick for taking on two years of Andrew Ladd at $5.5 million, a second- and seventh-round pick for taking on two years of Shayne Gostisbehere at $4.5 million, and a second-round pick and a prospect for taking on one year of Anton Stralman at $5.5 million.

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Given Kassian makes significantly less than all of those players, it shouldn’t cost more than a third-round pick and a middling prospect to dump his contract.

Sticking with the idea of money-saving trades, Jason Gregor mentioned an interesting idea on Twitter on Tuesday evening…

The Oilers could give the Coyotes a sweetener to trade for Keith and then buy him out, which, as I mentioned earlier, would cost them $4,538,462 in 2022-23 and $500,000 in 2023-24. The Oilers could then bring back Keith in free agency on a much cheaper contract, just like the Washington Capitals did a few years ago with Brooks Orpik.

In my mind, this type of move would be preferable for the Oilers to using a buyout. Creating dead money has been something that’s plagued the organization for years and it would be ideal to get out of the habit of constantly kicking problems down the road.

The Oilers are a team in win-now mode with a solid farm system and they can afford to sacrifice some draft picks in order to get their finances in order.

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