Ken Holland has yet to put his stamp on this Oilers roster. This is rumour season, and there have been quite a few of those in the last week. The Oilers are apparently in on a bunch of free agents like Brett Connolly, Joonas Donskoi, Noel Acciari, Daniel Carr, Mike Smith, Petr Mrazek, and Curtis McIlhinney. There are also a lot of trade rumours, mostly surrounding Jesse Puljujarvi, Milan Lucic, and Kris Russell.
If any significant additions are going to happen this summer, Holland will need to open up some cap space. He can do that with trades or buyouts. Trades are all rumours at this point, so we’re just guessing as to how much cap space could be created with a trade because we don’t know the details of said trades. However, we can get a concrete number to represent the cap savings that any buyout would create thanks to sites like CapFriendly (my source for all cap related information).
That’s what I want to look at here.
We know that a buyout results in a player being on the books for twice the remaining length of his contract, but the cost is different for every player for every season. What benefit would the Oilers get from buying someone out, and who would be the guy to get bought out?
The obvious guy that people have discussed at length is Milan Lucic. I’m not even going to go there because having him on the books for 8 more seasons is just stupid, especially when you consider that the savings would only be $375,000 in years 2 and 4. That would just be MORONIC!
We have to remember that the summer of 2021 is a big summer for the Oilers because they have some important contracts expiring at that time. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins will be the most important one, but Adam Larsson, Tyler Benson, and Kailer Yamamoto will need new contracts that summer too. Cooper Marody could be in that conversation as well. The contracts of Andrej Sekera and Kris Russell will expire by then, but the goal here should be to maximize the amount of cap space for that summer.
That’s 2 seasons from now. If I’m Holland, I’m not buying anyone out if they will be on the books after 2021 because I’ll want as much cap space as I can get for that summer. By the sounds of it, the cap won’t be going up by all that much until after the new CBA comes and the NBC television deal expires in 2022. I wouldn’t shoot myself in the foot for the summer of 2021 just to free up a little bit of space for next season. That excludes anyone that has 2 or more years left on their current contract from a buyout.
Buying out Andrej Sekera now would save the Oilers $3 million in each of the next two seasons. That would open up a roster spot for Caleb Jones ($720,000) next season, and it would create $2.28 million that could be used for help up front now. That would need to be weighed against the $1.5 million in dead cap space for 2021-22 and 2022-23. That’s not the decision I would make. Sekera’s veteran presence and poise with the puck are assets.
Kris Russell has 2 years left on his deal with an AAV of $4 million. His cap hit for next season after a buyout would be $916,667, but then it would climb to $3,416,667 in 2020-21! Then he would still be on the books for two more seasons after that. That is a pointless buyout.
If Holland is going to buy someone out, then this player should only have one year left on his contract. A buyout would need to actually open up some cap space for next season, and a cheaper replacement should be easily attainable.
One name is Matt Benning. From a savings standpoint, it might make some sense because his cap hit would only be $233,333 next season and $333,333 in 2020-21 after a buyout. Joel Persson could be a viable replacement at $1 million, and CapFriendly is already counting him against the cap. That $1,666,667 could just be added directly to the $8,333,001 in cap space that CapFriendly currently has for the Oilers (new value of $9,999,668). Caleb Jones or Ethan Bear could also fill that spot at $720,000 instead of Persson at $1 million. There are legitimate savings to be had there; but Matt Benning is a young, right-handed legitimate 3rd pairing defender. A buyout would be horrible asset management. If Benning is bought out instead of being traded or retained, then there might be riots on 104 avenue.
There are three names that merit actual consideration for a buyout.
The first is Brandon Manning. His current cap hit is $2.25 million, and his cap hit for next season after a buyout would be $916,667. That’s a savings of $1,333,333. Manning was buried in the AHL last season, and he is the 8th defenceman on the Oilers depth chart right now. He won’t play in Edmonton, so keeping him on the roster doesn’t make sense.
Manning’s replacement would likely come from the AHL in the form of Jones ($720,000) or Bear ($720,000). It could also be Kevin Gravel, who was at $700,000 last season and would likely warrant a slight raise (possibly $750,000-$800,000) if he were to re-sign in Edmonton. If one of those players were to be the replacement, then the Oilers would have only gained approximately $600,000. It’s not a lot, but it’s something.
If the Oilers were to go with 14 F and 7 D instead of 13 F and 8 D, they could use the whole $1,333,333 on a winger. Here’s the thing though: Manning’s cap hit in 2020-21 would be $666,667. Simply burying Manning in the AHL again would leave him with a cap hit of $1,175,000 for next season ($1,075,000 savings). That’s only $258,333 more that what his cap hit would be next season after a buyout. Is that extra $258,333 of cap space worth losing $666,667 in 2020-21? I don’t think so. I would bury Manning in the AHL if there’s no trade available.
The second name worth looking at is Kyle Brodziak. He was entirely ineffective as an Oiler last season. The Oilers need more speed and more than 9 points out of a 4th line centre. He’s also 35 years old. His cap hit is $1.15 million, and his cap hit for next season after a buyout would only be $350,000. That’s a savings of $800,000. We could just say that $800,000 would be used on a winger, but the buyout would open up a hole at centre in the bottom 6, which we already know needs upgrading as it is. Colby Cave is there, but I don’t see him being able to produce enough offence to warrant a full-time spot. He’s a reliable and cheap 13 F in my mind, which is fine.
The question is, can Holland find a replacement for Brodziak for less than $800,000? There’s Gaetan Haas, the centre out of the Swiss league that is rumoured to be signing with the Oilers. If Joakim Nygard’s contract is any indication, his deal won’t be more than $925,000, the maximum for an entry level deal. How about Noel Acciari? The Oilers have been rumoured to be in on him. I think he will surpass that $800,000 mark, but I don’t think it will be by all that much.
Here’s the big thing with buying out Brodziak though. Burying him in the AHL would actually create more cap space than buying him out would! The savings from sending him to Bakersfield would be $1,075,000, leaving a measly cap hit of $75,000. A replacement centre could definitely be signed with that much space! Burying Brodziak still wouldn’t really help Holland address the wing situation though.
The third option is Sam Gagner. As a fan, I’d hate to see this happen, as I’m sure many of you would. He’s a fan favourite, especially after his return to the team last season. He is left standing as the return for Jordan Eberle, and a buyout would officially kill the Mark Messier trade tree (Google it). He had decent production (10 points in 25 games) with the Oilers after his arrival here. I can see him as a 3rd line option at right wing in Edmonton.
The problem is that I can say the same thing about Zack Kassian. The other problem is that the names that the Oilers are chasing in free agency also play right wing, and I could say the same thing about all of them! Any of Chiasson, Connolly, and Donskoi could also end up on the 3rd line in Edmonton. If the top 3 right wingers are some combination of Gagner, Kassian, Chiasson, Connolly, and Donskoi, then Edmonton will be alright. Gagner could be the most expensive one in the group (only if Connolly signs for $3 million like some rumours have suggested), and I’d argue that he has the least potential to play in Edmonton’s top 6 next season.
Gagner’s cap hit is $3.15 million. His cap hit for each of the next two seasons after a buyout would be $1,016,667. That would open up $2,133,333 in cap space for next season. As it stands right now, the Oilers can only really sign one of Chiasson, Connolly, or Donskoi. At the time this article was written, CapFriendly had the Oilers with $8,333,001 in cap space. If we add the savings from buying out Gagner, the Oilers would have $10,466,334.
If Connolly and Donskoi both sign for $3 million each, then the Oilers would still have $4,466,334 to use on a back-up goalie, Jujhar Khaira (whose future remains cloudy with the addition of Nygard and no guarantee that Lucic gets traded), and a potential upgrade at centre. That’s before any decision on Manning or Brodziak. CapFriendly also has Joel Persson and his $1 million on the active roster counting against the cap, which is certainly not a guarantee at this stage.
The point is that a Gagner buyout is the one buyout that would open up the most options for Holland in his quest to upgrade the wing position without shooting himself in the foot for a crucial 2021 off-season.
Kassian would be another option as he only has one year left on his $1.95 million contract. His cap hit would be $616,667 next season after a buyout, and $666,667 in 2020-21. There would be $1,333,333 in cap savings there, which could go straight towards the previously mentioned UFAs. However, Kassian’s size and speed are valuable, and he can moonlight on that top line with McDavid and Draisaitl. I wouldn’t buyout Kassian.
My preference would be for Holland to use trades to create cap space instead of buyouts because of the dead cap space that would remain well after the expiry of the contract as a result of a buyout. However, if the buyout were to happen on anyone with one year left on his deal, I’d get over it if it meant that the team would be improved enough to make the playoffs in 2020.