A closer look into Edmonton’s cap situation
Photo credit:© Brian Fluharty-USA TODAY Sports
By NHL_Sid3 months ago
It’s poised to be a fascinating off-season for the Edmonton Oilers.
The team won’t make any significant changes, and most of the roster will remain the same heading into the 2023-24 season, but there are holes to be addressed and improvements to be made.
Unfortunately, next season’s salary cap ceiling has not been confirmed. It’s expected to rise by around $1-2M. Currently, the Oilers have 17 NHL players under contract for next season, with various pending UFAs and RFAs. Assuming the best-case scenario with an $84.5M cap ceiling, they have roughly $7.7M in cap space.
Without any further ado, let’s dive into the list of prominent pending UFAs and RFAs, and potential trade candidates.
*All cap-related info via CapFriendly, all microstats are tracked by me, all other stats via Natural Stat Trick
Evan Bouchard (RFA)
Apr 23, 2023; Los Angeles, California, USA; Edmonton Oilers defenseman Evan Bouchard (2) moves the puck against the Los Angeles Kings during the third period in game four of the first round of the 2023 Stanley Cup Playoffs at Crypto.com Arena. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports
Evan Bouchard’s contract is likely Edmonton’s top off-season priority. The big question is: should the Oilers bridge him?
“[Bouchard’s] getting a raise, there’s no doubt,” said Ken Holland in his season-ending press conference. “I don’t know if it’s a bridge deal or not.”
In a perfect and ideal world, a long-term contract is obviously the best option. We’ve seen the consequences of multiple bridge deals with Darnell Nurse, who was eventually signed to a hefty eight-year contract at a cap hit of $9.25M. Note that Nurse has never produced more than 43 points in a single season, while Evan Bouchard already hit that mark in his rookie campaign. Over a full season quarter-backing Edmonton’s top power-play unit with McDavid and Draisaitl, it’s quite possible that Bouchard produces 60-70 points, or perhaps even more.
As a result, it’s inevitable that Bouchard will be incredibly expensive at some point in the future, and it would be best to save money and lock up him now for many years to come.
However, per Daniel Nugent-Bowman, it’s unlikely that Bouchard signs a contract over 2-3 years. For Bouchard’s camp, it wouldn’t make as much sense for him to sign long-term with the flat salary cap, and the cap is expected to substantially increase in a few years. Considering their current situation, a bridge also be the best (and only) option for Edmonton.
A realistic long-term contract for Bouchard would likely cost $5M-6M at minimum for Bouchard’s camp to accept, if not significantly more.
This current Oilers roster is very close to winning it all, but several holes still need to be addressed. It would be incredibly difficult to fit a long-term Bouchard contract without downgrading the roster.
Leon Draisaitl turns 28 in October. Connor McDavid turns 27 next year. The Oilers have two years left on Draisaitl’s contract, and three years left on McDavid’s. It’s clear that the clock is ticking, and the focus should be on winning a Stanley Cup in this window. I do believe there’s still a solid chance McDavid and Draisaitl re-sign in Edmonton even if they don’t win a cup, but it’s quite obvious that winning a cup obviously gives them a much greater incentive to stay. Therefore, Edmonton should do everything possible to maximize that window.
Although it will hurt them down the road, this is why it may be best for Edmonton to bridge Bouchard, and use that additional cap space to address other areas and increase their cup contention hopes in this window. It isn’t ideal, but if the Oilers are in win-now mode, a 2-3 year bridge may be their only option.
The bottom six UFAs and RFAs
I’ve been a fan of Ryan McLeod for a while. McLeod checks a lot of boxes for a defensively-minded bottom-six player, ranking third on the team in controlled entries per 60, fourth in controlled exits per 60, and second in forecheck pressures per 60. With a 57 expected goal differential, he can drive play and possession quite well in his role. Moving forward, his biggest area of improvement is certainly his offence and production, but right now, he’s a capable third-line center.
In September of 2022, he signed a one-year contract for just $798K, and I expect him to get a slight raise. Over the past two seasons, he’s produced at a 28-point pace for 82 games, and it’s likely that his next contract will hover around $1.5M.
Derek Ryan had a strong season. Playing in a bottom-six role, he was Edmonton’s top forward at preventing scoring chances at even-strength, and their best forechecker. Furthermore, among all forwards with a minimum of 750 TOI at 5v5, Ryan ranked 91st in the league in 5v5 goals per hour (0.91).
If you think about it, there are technically 96 first-liners in the league (3 per team), so not only were Ryan’s defensive metrics superb, but he also scored at a low-end first-liner rate of production. He’s produced excellent possession and defensive results throughout his NHL career, and it’s hard to ask much more out of a bottom-six forward. The Oilers should certainly re-sign him, and it’s expected that they will sign him at or close to the league minimum.
Nick Bjugstad is a solid player. His underlying defensive results are also exemplary, and he had 15 5v5 goals, just one less than RNH, and two less than Draisaitl in considerably lower TOI. Bjugstad struggled at times throughout the playoffs, but I largely believe that was due to deployment, as Jay Woodcroft matched Bjugstad more against Jack Eichel’s line than any other Oilers center. Bjugstad is not a shutdown center, but he performs well as a two-way third or fourth-liner.
That said, Bjugstad could receive over $2M on his next contract. Every penny counts for the Oilers in their current cap situation, so I’m not sure if I’d re-sign him at that salary. It’s nothing against the player, but I’d only re-sign Bjugstad for under $1M.
Mattias Janmark is a decent fourth-liner. He can kill penalties, but his 5v5 metrics were relatively weak in comparison to the rest of Edmonton’s forwards. Personally, I would let him walk in free agency, but if he’s signed around league minimum as a 13th forward, it’s not the end of the world. The same goes for Devin Shore, although with Edmonton’s extremely tight cap situation, I doubt they have room for both.
For a long time, I’ve advocated for pursuing a strong finisher in the bottom six. In years prior, the Oilers would consistently underperform their expected goals with McDavid and Draisaitl off-ice at 5v5. This is why I’d like to keep Klim Kostin for another year, who scored at an impressive 1.17 5v5 goals per hour. Of course, he was at a fairly unsustainable shooting percentage of 19 percent, so that number will regress next season, but I do believe he genuinely has a strong release. It would be a good idea to give him another year to see if that finishing level continues. He does have arbitration rights, but I’d guess that his contract would be around ~$1.5M.
I expect Raphael Lavoie to be re-signed around league minimum.
Potential trade pieces?
The most likely trade candidates for Edmonton are Kailer Yamamoto and Cody Ceci.
I firmly believe the Oilers need an upgrade on Ceci. I’ve already talked plenty about Ceci in a prior article, so I won’t dive too deep into his performance here, but I’ll discuss his reported injury, as there have been reports that Ceci played through a core injury throughout the season.
It’s not publicly specified as to how long he dealt with the injury, or severe the injury it was, but if this is true, why did Edmonton never try something different from the Nurse – Ceci pairing? Why didn’t Edmonton address the RD depth at the deadline? This news does make some of their decisions more confusing.
Ceci could rebound next season, but he doesn’t exactly possess an exceptional track record of excelling in a top-four role. Yes, he played quite well following the arrival of Jay Woodcroft and Dave Manson in the second half of 21-22, but that seems like an outlier. Aside from that 40-game stretch, he does have experience against elite competition throughout his career, but he’s never thrived in that role, and he’s always been a subpar rush defender and breakout passer. Simply put, I don’t think Ceci is the right fit for Nurse, and Edmonton should pursue a potential upgrade.
As for Yamamoto, Frank Seravalli mentioned Yamamoto as one of his top-five buyout candidates. Seravalli also has Yamamoto 16th on his Trade Board.
I feel that a major problem for Yamamoto has been inconsistency. When he’s on his game, Yamamoto is a tenacious forechecker and puck hound, a strong complementary piece that can consistently get the puck to McDavid and Draisaitl. Unfortunately, he just hasn’t played at that level enough. In the past three seasons, despite playing over 700 minutes with McDavid, and over 1500 minutes with Draisaitl, his production rate of 1.44 5v5 points per hour ranks 292nd in the league. His underlying possession and defensive metrics are also unspectacular.
Per Seravalli, Yamamoto dealt with a vestibular system issue this past season, with symptoms similar to a concussion. It’s unfortunate, as I like Yamamoto, but simply put, he hasn’t made enough of an impact to justify his current AAV or a regular spot in the top six in these past few seasons. It’s most likely that Yamamoto will be the player on the move, whether it’s a trade or a buyout.
Brett Kulak and Warren Foegele could also be cap casualties.
Edmonton’s goaltending tandem will remain the same next season. Stuart Skinner isn’t going anywhere, and Jack Campbell’s contract will be difficult to move. Based on Ken Holland’s comments, it seems like Campbell will receive another chance in Edmonton next season, so don’t expect any change in net.
With all of that in mind, here’s how the roster would look if Edmonton signed most of their UFAs and RFAs (assuming a cap ceiling of $84.5M):
In this hypothetical scenario, McLeod and Kostin are both signed at $1.4M for one year, while both Ryan and Lavoie are signed at the league minimum. It’s unclear how Bouchard’s contract could exactly look, so I provided a rough estimate of $4M over 3 years (EvolvingHockey’s contract projections have him at $3.8M over 3 years). This is a 21-man roster that would exceed an $84.5M salary cap by roughly $617K, so it’s clear that some sort of move is inevitable.
If the Oilers buyout Yamamoto, they would have about $2M in total cap space. If Edmonton can trade his full contract without retaining any salary, just as they did with Jesse Puljujarvi, the Oilers would possess nearly $2.5M in cap space. I went over potential winger targets with finishing talent in an article last week, and I think the Oilers would be able to fit in a UFA like Connor Brown or Max Pacioretty with that cap space.
Additionally, in today’s tight cap world, young players that can make an NHL impact on their ELCs provide immense value, which is why it would be huge for Edmonton if one or more of Holloway, Lavoie or Bourgault broke out in 23-24. With their current cap situation, it’s likely that the Oilers will be forced to make some bets on internal development, so I expect both Holloway and Lavoie to obtain several opportunities with Edmonton next season.
As for the defence, I wonder if Edmonton could explore trading Philip Broberg in a package with Ceci for an upgrade at RD, which would move out roughly $4.1M in cap space. Of course, Broberg is young and has potential, but with Ekholm, Nurse and Kulak on the LD depth chart, I’m unsure if he makes a major impact next season. Broberg will be a good player, but at the least, a trade is an option worth considering.
One idea I’ve liked is trading a package consisting of Yamamoto, Ceci, and perhaps Broberg to Winnipeg for Dylan Demelo (I analyzed Demelo two weeks back) and Nino Niederreiter. Demelo is a clear upgrade over Ceci, and Niederreiter’s 5v5 scoring rates in the past few seasons are exceptional. Some salary would have to be retained, and Demelo does have an NTC, but this option could address two of Edmonton’s major needs.
In summary, it’s evident that Edmonton is exceedingly tight to the cap. There’s lot of work to do for Ken Holland, and it will be interesting to see what he does this summer.
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