Breaking Down What A Flat Cap Will Mean For The Oilers
As has been reported by a number of sources now, it looks like the cap will likely remain flat for the next two seasons at 81.5 million. Like over half of the other teams in the league, the Edmonton Oilers have spent essentially right to the ceiling and will have some tough choices moving forward. These choices will range from signing RFA's, looking at any UFA options, and trying to move some existing contracts out.
Holland needs to be shrewd and needs to get his existing players to buy in and accept the economic realities that will come with a lack of increase in cap space.
Let's break it down.
Edmonton has three key RFA's that need to be signed, with William Lagesson being the fourth. Athanasiou, Bear, and Benning will all need contracts prior to the beginning of next season. RFA's who make 1 million dollars or more have to be offered 100% of their prior contract. For example, Athanasiou who is currently making 3 million dollars a season needs to be re-signed by the Oilers for at least that amount. Given the weaker season AA had in Detroit (24 points through 46 games) and the paltry 2 points (1G, 1A) in 9 games with Edmonton, I do not see him getting any kind of raise. The only question is whether that will be on a one or a two year deal.
Likewise I expect to see Matt Benning re upped at his existing 1.9 million dollar deal. Despite dealing with concussions this past season, when Benning played on the third pairing he excelled in the role and was a positive influence on the ice. In Benning's case I think we see a one year deal at the same 1.9 million dollar mark.
The toughest signing will be Ethan Bear, who made the jump to the NHL this season and alongside Darnell Nurse became a strong tandem, eating up the most 5 on 5 minutes for the club. At $720,000, the Oilers need to pay Bear at least 105% of his salary but he will certainly get much more than that. With the flat cap, I think we should expect a 2 year bridge deal like so many other defensemen get, hopefully in the 2.1-2.3 million dollar range. A perfect scenario would be for Holland to convince Bear and his camp to take a longer term deal in the 5 or 6 year range, below 4 million, ala Mattias Ekholm with the Preds; a deal that remains one of the best value deals in the league.
THE OILERS UFA's
Before we get into discussing any Unrestricted Free Agents, let's first discuss how rough the next couple seasons are going to be for UFA players. It is highly unlikely we see many teams throwing around big dollars or long term deals, such as the Panarin signing from last summer.
Pending UFA's like Hoffman and Dadonov, who are 30 and 31 years old respectively, in prior years would get 4-6 year deals worth at least 6 million a season. Teams will now be hesitant to offer anything above 3 years in order to maximize their own financial gain.
Even an elite player who is only 28 like Taylor Hall who should have been able to bank on making 9+ million may need to settle on a smaller 2 or 3 year deal himself.
Having said all that, the Oilers own UFA's certainly are not in the same category as the above mentioned players but they too will likely have to tread carefully on the open market and accept less money than originally intended.
Simply put, I believe the Oilers should look to sign Tyler Ennis and no one else. The only other player I would consider signing if they agreed to a pay cut would be Mike Green on a one year, one million dollar deal to add some veteran depth. Offering Ennis a one or two year deal, hovering around 1 million would be a pay raise for him. On top of that, Ennis showed some chemistry with McDavid and could be enticed to stay, knowing he would have an opportunity to boost his own numbers and have one more opportunity to make more on the open market.
Edmonton should not sign Riley Sheahan nor should they sign Mike Smith. Sheahan's numbers at 5 on 5 was among the worst of the Oilers forwards. Sheahan is much more suited as a 4th line centre than the third line minutes he played for the Oilers but Holland has already extended a perfect 4th line option in Gaetan Haas. Money is going to be tight and despite his ability on the PK, Sheahan is expendable.
Read my Player Report Card of Mike Smith for a more in depth look on his year. Smith is a declining goaltender and there are options available on the open market that could be acquired for what Smith is making now.
MOVING OUT CONTRACTS
Holland and the Oilers are still trying to dig themselves out from the reign of Peter Chiarelli. Brandon Manning will be off the books but there are other contracts that the team would do well to rid themselves of. The bad news? Every other team will be wanting to do the same and not take our garbage in return.
Three players strike me as the most egregious problems for Edmonton; Kris Russell, James Neal, and Jujhar Khaira. I exclude Alex Chiasson because while he is overpaid at 2.15 million, he does bring skill to the table.
Let's get the easy one out of the way; easy in the sense that there is no way the Oilers are moving James Neal. There were rumblings that part of this CBA would include an amnesty buy-out, which would allow each team to buy out one contract without it counting against their cap. Sadly that is not the case. Neal has three years left on his deal at 5.75 million. Buying him out now would save the team roughly 3 million a year but would hit the team to the tune of 2 million a year for the next 6 years. Expect Neal to be on the opening night roster next season.
Khaira should have some value. It was reported near the deadline that Boston had interest in Jujhar but could not make the dollars work. At the very least that shows there are interested parties around the league. With a flat cap every dollar counts and moving Jujhar would free up 1.2 million.
The biggest help for the Oilers being able to add help to the roster would come from moving out Kris Russell. Russell has one more year at 4 million dollars and has been surpassed in the lineup by Caleb Jones. In a normal year, Russell would be tradeable with the GM's who value his perceived toughness and shot blocking abilities. However, with money tight across the league, GM's probably won't want to take on 4 million for a third pairing defender.
I keep circling back to LA as a suitor for Russell. The Kings have cap space, may be looking to add some veteran depth, and have a coach who was comfortable running Russell as a top four defenseman in Todd McLellan. Even if the Oilers have to retain a million dollars on a trade, it would be in Edmonton's favour to make that move.
Imagining a scenario in which the Oilers trade Kris Russell and Jujhar Khaira, the Oilers would have roughly 7 million dollars in cap space which could be used to address a third line centre and backup goaltender with money left over when the time comes to extend the likes of Yamamoto and RNH.
When the off-season eventually occurs, we won't see a flurry of additions made by the Oilers but how Holland handles the existing roster will have massive ramifications for the organization moving forward.
Thanks for reading.