The Stanley Cup has been awarded. The draft is less than a week away. Free agency is a week away. Aside from trade deadline week, this is the busiest rumour week of the NHL calendar.
Those rumours are plentiful this year because of the flat cap. If you saw Frank Seravalli’s article from Thursday, then you saw that he used our Oilers as an example of the types of decisions that teams are facing this month.
I’ve spent the last couple of months posting articles about those very same upcoming decisions and potential solutions, and this is the article where I reveal my 2020-21 (probably 2021) Oilers roster. Behold:
Nuge ($6M) McDavid($12.5M) Puljujarvi ($1.2M)
Ennis ($1M) Draisaitl ($8.5M) Yamamoto ($894,166)
Nygard ($875K) Koivu ($3M) Kassian ($3.2M)
Neal ($5.75M) Haas ($915K) Archibald ($1.5M)
Khaira ($1.2M) P. Russell ($700k)
Nurse ($5.2M) Bear ($3M)
Gustafsson ($2.5M) Larsson ($4,166,666)
Jones ($850k) Bouchard ($863k)
LTIR: Klefbom ($4,167,000)
Retained: Lucic ($750k)
Buy Out: Pouliot ($1,333,333); Sekera ($2.5M)
Overage: $676,000 (?)
Cap Space: $10,835
Russell to FLA for 2020 3rd round pick (COL): After moving Mike Matheson to PIT, the Panthers need another LD. They have cap space and a desire to have low operating costs. They also have ambition to win now because they have Barkov and Huberdeau doing their thing, they have point producers on their top pairing in Ekblad and Yandle, and they just spent big money on Bobrovsky. Russell’s services at $1.5 million in real dollars makes sense for them, and the Oilers would recoup a draft pick in this deep draft.
Chiasson to BOS for Lindholm ($850k) and Lantosi ($750k): The rumoured deal involving Chiasson to the Bruins has Anders Bjork coming the other way, but I’d have 0 interest in Bjork. He would be 3 more years of mediocrity at an $1.6M AAV. No thank you. I’d be interested in some AHL help, which Lindholm and Lantosi could provide.
Based on the rumours that are out there, Ken Holland’s wish list, and the cap situation that the Oilers find themselves in, it looks like Holland’s eyes are bigger than his stomach right now. The fireworks that many people seem to be expecting or hoping for would be quite complicated to execute.
Jesse Puljujarvi headlines the “new” additions to my Oilers roster. He represents the cheapest bet with the best odds of becoming a scoring winger for McDavid. We know his floor is a useful 3RW, and Kassian can play with McDavid if that ends up being the case. Mikko Koivu is the 3C that I would target not only because of his potential mentorship role for Puljujarvi, but because he can produce over 30 points, he can win faceoffs, he can play PK, and he can still hold his own against elite competition (check out @Woodguy55’s post on Koivu for that information). Rounding out the “new” additions to the forward group is deadline pick-up Tyler Ennis. Ennis is quick, he can get in on the forecheck, he’s starting to find his offensive game again, and his cap hit will be affordable.
I’d love to move Khaira’s contract because I find him to be inconsistent and overpaid, but it’s one more year, and the Oilers need an extra guy around that can PK and play centre if needed.
The notable omission from my forward group is Andreas Athanasiou. One could argue that he simply had a cold streak as an Oiler and that he was starting to find his form near the end of the Chicago series, but the Oilers ultimately don’t have the cap space needed to sign him. I opted to spend the money to strengthen other areas of need. Ennis being a cheaper option and Tyler Benson being on the cusp of a full-time NHL job made the AA decision possible. It hurts to have spent the assets for nothing, but the pandemic has hurt a lot of people, and the Oilers are no different.
The news of Oscar Klefbom’s potential upcoming surgery was the biggest reason that AA had to be sacrificed. The Oilers will have to learn their lesson from 2018 when Andrej Sekera hurt his Achilles while training that summer and didn’t return until February. Peter Chiarelli did not replace him with a quality defenceman and instead chose to try to fill the hole with a platoon of cheap NHL/AHL tweeners that ultimately were not good enough. I’m not advocating going out and spending a lot of assets and money on a big name. Yes, the Oilers can place Klefbom on LTIR. That would allow them to go over the salary cap. However, they do need to be under the salary cap on the first day of the season before they put Klefbom on LTIR. That means they would have to wait until after the season starts to go over the salary cap. The idea is to have the opening day roster be as close to the salary cap as humanly possible so that the Oilers would be able to exceed the salary cap by the greatest possible amount after putting Klefbom on LTIR. My roster leaves Holland $10,835 of cap space, which is about as close to the cap as one could reasonably expect Holland to get to the salary cap.
My choice to fill the void left by Klefbom is Erik Gustafsson. In my make-believe ideal roster, the player doesn’t get a choice on whether or not he gets to come here. My guess is that Gustafsson probably won’t be in a hurry to sign with the team that drafted him and gave up on him. However, he is exactly what the Oilers need. He got 29 points in 66 games with Chicago and Calgary last season, so we know the points are there. He is known primarily as a puck moving defenceman, which is a big area of need for the Oilers. Most importantly, he is coming off of a contract where his AAV was $1.2 million. Gustafsson’s point total went down drastically last season after a breakout 60-point season in 2018-19. He has definitely earned a raise, but the regression he showed last season will keep his cap hit affordable.
RFA Ethan Bear would get a 2-year bridge deal at $3 million per year from me. I’m using Darnell Nurse as a recent comparable. He signed a 2-year deal at $3.2 million per year. Bear is playing more of a role on the team than Nurse was coming off of his ELC, but Nurse had more points per game than Bear in the season before singing his second contract. It would be nice to sign Bear long-term, but the money isn’t there right now.
My roster construction for opening night has Evan Bouchard occupying the 3RD position. That is partly because his salary being included would put this roster as close to the salary cap as possible. It’s also partly because I believe that he will be ready. He had a tremendous finish to his AHL season, and he will be playing and developing in Sweden’s second tier professional league. I don’t know how it stacks up to the AHL, but I imagine that the competition level would be similar. Regardless, the next NHL season starting in January will allow Bouchard the basic equivalent of having another half a season of AHL development time. That will likely be juuuuuust enough to push him over the top.
However, there needs to be a plan in case Bouchard isn’t ready by then. Jones can also play on the right side. That would open up the 3LD spot. I’d extend William Lagesson for the league minimum. He is also playing and developing in Sweden right now. Lagesson played 8 games for the Oilers last season and did not look out of place. His time in Sweden could also push him over the top when it comes to his NHL readiness. Lagesson and Bouchard will be in a battle for a roster spot during training camp. Failing those two options, Holland could go out and get someone else once Klefbom gets placed on LTIR.
In goal, I chose to sign UFA Thomas Greiss. I believe that he has been one of the better back-up goalies in the league over the past few seasons on Islanders teams that haven’t always been that good. Holland has said that he wants to spend about $7.5 million on his goaltending this season, and the tandem of Koskinen and Greiss would come in close to that number. Greiss would be an upgrade over Smith in terms of consistency. This tandem would give the Oilers a chance to win every night. Greiss is not Markstrom, but the Oilers can’t afford to spend big money on a goalie unless Koskinen were to somehow disappear off of the roster.
My strategy was to hold on to my assets this year. I want one more year to get a clearer picture on what we have in the pipeline, and I want to see Holland stick to his “overripe” policy. I want guys to demand roster spots before moving a guy like Larsson. Bouchard could be ready at some point this season. Benson could be as well. Broberg appears to be taking a big leap this year, and his development could be happening a lot quicker than we all expected. If any of those three can make the NHL in the next calendar year, then the Oilers will be able to create some cap space and make a splash heading into 2021-22. Larsson is the one guy in the top 4 that I’d be willing to part with, but I don’t see a viable replacement in the system that is ready for 2nd pair work at the moment. Then again, that’s what I thought before I saw Ethan Bear last year too.
I definitely think that this roster would make the playoffs in 2021. I would not say that the team would contend with this roster because they do need one more legitimate scoring threat in their top 6, but this team would be better than the previous edition of the Oilers because of the creation of a 3rd line that won’t get out-scored consistently and because of more consistent goaltending.
Let me know what you think of the roster and the thought process behind my decisions! I’ll be posting a draft primer and a mock draft before Tuesday’s first round, so keep your eyes peeled for that.