On Wednesday, Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman reported
the probability that the salary cap for 2018-19 would stay at $73.0 million. Assuming
that comes to pass, how are the Edmonton Oilers situated? Can they take
advantage of the lack of growth in the cap?
The Oilers are currently committed next season to a roster
with a cap hit of just over $61.8 million, which includes all the players
listed above as well as the cost of Lauri Korpikoski’s buyout. That leaves them
with a little under $16 million in cap space to play with, money they can use
to sign their restricted free agents (most notably Leon Draisaitl) and make any
needed upgrades to the roster.
It isn’t quite that simple, though. Three additional moves
- Benoit Pouliot was already obviously not a favourite before
a tough season. He’s likely to be dealt, either in exchange for a similar
contract or with the Oilers retaining some money. For our purposes here, I’m
going to assume Edmonton moves him for futures while retaining half his
contract, shaving $2.0 million off the cap and opening up a spot at left wing.
- Mark Fayne falls into the same category as Pouliot, and
while he can pretty clearly play at the NHL level (he’s destroying the AHL
right now) he probably isn’t tradeable on his current contract. I’m going to
assume a buyout, which would result in a cap hit of $1.29 million next season.
- Edmonton is going to lose someone to expansion. It might be Pouliot or Fayne, particularly if they can work out some kind of deal with Las
Vegas, but the most probable pick at this point looks to be Brandon Davidson.
That shaves $1.425 million off the cap and opens up a roster spot.
With those three subtractions, the Oilers enter the summer
with just under $17.0 million in total cap space.
Of course, Edmonton actually has significantly less than
that $17.0 million to play with, given the number of restricted free agents
inside the organization in need of new contracts.
Leon Draisaitl is the most significant player needing a new
deal. The Oilers have the option of trying for a long-term contract or negotiating
a bridge deal. My guess is that they
choose a bridge contract simply because Draisaitl is still five years from
unrestricted free agency; they can do a cheaper two- or three-year deal and
still have multiple RFA years to play with. Nikita Kucherov’s three-year deal seems
like it’s in the ballpark, which would mean a cap hit in the $4.8 million range.
Then there are a number of RFA’s internally to look at. Your
mileage may vary as to which of these should be signed and at what dollar
figure; here are my guesses:
- Zack Kassian will be back. His qualifying offer of $1.5
million is probably in the range of what he deserves; I’ll budget a modest
raise to $1.65 million and it wouldn’t surprise me if he got a two-year deal
even a little north of that.
- Jujhar Khaira and Griffin Reinhart will make the jump to the
NHL roster. I’d guess a two-year, one-way deal for Khaira at just under his
current qualifying offer, while Reinhart should be willing to accept a cheaper one-year,
- There’s room for one of Anton Lander, Tyler Pitlick and Iiro
Pakarinen as an end-of-roster piece. Lander’s versatility would make him my
choice, but my guess is that Pitlick gets the nod after an admittedly fantastic
start to the year. Given his injuries, something built around his qualifying
offer makes sense to me. That leaves Pakarinen and Lander looking for work
- From an NHL perspective, the other RFAs of interest are
Jordan Oesterle, Dillon Simpson, David Musil and Taylor Beck. I don’t think
there’s room for both Oesterle and Reinhart (unless Edmonton keeps 8D), so nix
Oesterle. At this point two-way deal and a trip through waivers makes sense for
Simpson and Beck (if Beck isn’t replaced by a different veteran), while Musil
seems to have fallen off the radar entirely.
Those assumptions leave a roster with two significant holes
and $8.3 million in available cap space.
The vacancy on the blue line is currently Kris Russell’s
job, and the Oilers have the option to go with a stopgap or try and find a
long-term solution here. Russell isn’t likely to take another stopgap deal;
this summer represents his last chance to hit a homerun and he can’t be blamed
for looking for a long-term contract. Ideally, this job would go to a
right-shooting defender with an offensive dimension, though short of Kevin
Shattenkirk the ideal candidate does not exist in free agency.
Drake Caggiula holds the third-line centre job by default at
the moment, but next year’s team should be a contender and there’s no reason to
leave a question mark in this rather important slot. There are a few potential
free agent fits, ranging from the high-end (Martin Hanzal or Nick Bonino) to
more moderate choices (Patrik Berglund, David Desharnais).
Edmonton has sufficient cap space to spend real money on one
of those two holes and modest money on the other. They could even go a little
further by pushing rookie bonuses to next year, but that would be a mistake:
Connor McDavid’s contract is up in the summer of 2018 and the Oilers will have
need of their cap space then.