PHOTO CREDIT: JAMES GUILLORY/USA TODAY SPORTS
Last week, the Edmonton Oilers re-signed Leon Draisaitl to an eight-year contract, thereby (probably) finalizing their roster for next season and giving us a good idea of what they’ll look like beyond that.
The salary cap situation going forward is going to be difficult, but if the Oilers plot their decisions carefully it should be navigable.
If we look solely at signed players, Edmonton is committed to a total cap hit of $60.8 million for the 2018-19 season. It’s prudent for planning purposes to assume a flat cap—$75.0 million—given how slow growth has been in the NHL the last couple of years, though the actual figure is likely to increase a little.
Assuming no big deferred bonuses, that gives the team roughly $14.2 million to deal with its free agents (both restricted and unrestricted) as well as any additions it makes. This figure doesn’t include Jesse Puljujarvi’s entry-level bonuses, which could be extensive and may well complicate matters, because so far it’s debatable how many of them he’ll hit.
Unrestricted Free Agents
Edmonton has three significant unrestricted free agents, and a few of the lesser variety:
- LW Patrick Maroon (current hit: $1.5 million). Maroon is in line for a big raise whether he stays in Edmonton or not. Is he a replaceable complementary player, or does his combination of size/scoring mean he needs to be locked down? Something in the $4.0 million range seems like a decent bet for his next deal.
- C Mark Letestu ($1.8 million). Not many players set career-best totals at age 32. Edmonton’s going to have a difficult choice if Letestu does it again, and an easier (though sadder) one if he doesn’t. It wouldn’t surprise me at all if he’s able to command a small raise on a multi-year deal with a good season.
- LW/RW Jussi Jokinen ($1.1 million). This year’s bargain signing probably doesn’t figure into the long-term plans. If he’s a perfect fit and has a good year, he might double his contract; if not, there will be other cheap veteran wingers around next summer.
- Other UFAs: RD Mark Fayne, LD Yohann Auvitu. Fayne obviously won’t be back, while Auvitu is unlikely to be expensive even if he is.
Restricted Free Agents
It’s hard to say how many of the Oilers’ seven NHL RFA’s are going to require significant expenditure to retain. The number could be as low as one or as high as six:
- C/RW Ryan Strome (current hit: $2.5 million). We don’t know where Strome is going to play, and as a right shot it’s conceivable he gets time both with Connor McDavid and on a top power play unit. Assuming a year similar to his last two (30-ish points), qualifying him would cost $3.0 million.
- RD Matt Benning (up to $1.08 million). Defencemen typically don’t make a lot on their second contracts, but there’s a chance Benning gets the power play ball and runs with it this coming season. Assuming that doesn’t happen but that Benning works his way into the No. 4 slot at evens for a good chunk of the year, we’re probably still talking something in the $2.0 million range.
- LD Darnell Nurse (up to $1.71 million). Outside of the power play stuff, a lot of the Benning write-up applies to Nurse. I think it’s more likely he’s the team’s No. 5 defender – though a step forward is undeniably possible – and if so even with his draft pedigree it’s hard to imagine him coming in much higher than something in the $1.5 million range on a shorter deal.
- LW/RW Anton Slepyshev (up to $1.53 million) and C/LW Drake Caggiula (up to $1.35 million). Some young winger is going to get an opportunity to play up the Oilers lineup. Puljujarvi may take the job and run with it, which would almost be worse in that he’d be triggering more of his bonuses. One of these guys could cash-in, but it’s probably as likely that both have third-line seasons and end up being cheap to re-sign. Barring a breakthrough, Edmonton might be able to keep both for $2.5 million.
- Other RFAs: RW Iiro Pakarinen, G Laurent Brossoit. Fourth line wingers and backup goalies don’t generally cost much to bring back.
Navigating the Cap
When we’re looking at our original $14 million-and-change budget, the place to start is with Edmonton’s RFAs. Using the rough estimate above for all seven and barring a crazy season from anyone, the total expenditure comes in around $11 million. That leaves $3.0 million for three roster slots, with two of them fourth line/end-of-roster roles that should be cheap to address. Add in a cheap veteran winger, the 2018-19 version of Jokinen, and the Oilers can probably survive (depending on Puljujarvi’s bonus situation) without trading anyone, merely at the expense of some pricey UFA losses.
The situation changes if some of those young guys really explode, but even then a couple of million might be covered off by NHL revenue growth and a corresponding increase to the cap. It’s really not so bad.
Where things get tricky is if Maroon is re-signed after another great goal-scoring season. Barring a big year in NHL revenue growth, bringing him back means moving out a big ticket – almost certainly one of Russell, Sekera or Nugent-Hopkins, given Lucic’s contract details and the importance of all the other expensive players. One other player to keep an eye on is Strome, who has that $3.0 million qualifying offer; if he has a poor debut campaign in Edmonton he might be one-and-done for salary reasons, particularly if Letestu or Jokinen look like keepers at the same time.
What might also make things difficult is if Edmonton makes a big splash at the trade deadline. If they bring in a pricey rental guy and have success with him, it might make sense to re-sign him and sacrifice one or more of the others on this list. Now we’re veering pretty hard into the speculative, though.
There’s also the matter of 2019-20. Cam Talbot will be an unrestricted free agent and Jesse Puljujarvi’s entry-level deal will be over. That’s not quite as bad as it sounds. Talbot will probably be due for a raise but already costs nearly $4.2 million against the cap, while Edmonton is dancing around Puljujarvi’s bonus situation throughout this scenario anyway.
None of this is going to be easy, but it’s doable. Despite a few questionable contracts on the team roster, it would be a mistake to be overly pessimistic about Edmonton’s salary cap situation at this point.