We have all heard by now that the NHL will have a flat cap for the next few seasons. That is going to be tough for cap strapped teams like the Oilers because player’s salaries will continue to rise while the cap stays flat.
The way to combat that is to make room on the roster for prospects by moving costly veterans out. Caleb Jones, Evan Bouchard, and Tyler Benson are all either NHL-ready or damn close to being there. The Oilers are also reportedly close to re-signing Jesse Puljujarvi for close to $1 million. All four are cheap options that would increase the amount of skill on the Oilers roster. Holland just needs to find a way to make room for them.
As is tradition in my blog, here is a look at the current cap situation for Holland and the Oilers for 2020-21:
Neal ($5.75M) McDavid($12.5M) Kassian ($3.2M)
Nuge ($6M) Draisaitl ($8.5M) Yamamoto ($894,166)
Khaira ($1.2M) 3C Archibald ($1.5M)
Nygard ($875K) Haas ($915K) Chiasson ($2.15M)
UFA F: Sheahan, Ennis, P. Russell
RFA F: Athanasiou (QO $3M), Puljujarvi (QO $971,250)
Prospects: Benson, Marody, McLeod
Nurse ($5.2M) 1RD
Klefbom ($4,167,000) Larsson ($4,166,666)
Russell ($4M) Jones ($850k)
RFA D: Bear (QO $735k), Benning (QO $2M)
Prospects: Bouchard, Lagesson, Lennstrom
UFA G: Smith
Retained: Lucic ($750k)
Buy Out: Pouliot ($1,333,333); Sekera ($2.5M)
Cap Space: $10,548,835
Active Roster: 17
Avg $/plyr: $1,758,139
The following is a list of the Oilers that could be moved off of the roster to make way for younger and cheaper talent:
Kris Russell (1 yr, $4 million) – When Peter Chiarelli signed Kris Russell to a 4-year deal in 2017, I predicted that Russell would not finish that contract in Oilers colours. My reasoning for that was because Darnell Nurse was going to pass him on the depth chart and then the Oilers would be paying Russell $4 million to play on the 3rd pairing. That has been the reality for some time now.
Russell blocks shots well. Despite what his fancy stats might say, he is an effective defender. However, Russell lacks puck moving ability. That’s what the Oilers have a more pressing need for right now, and they have young Caleb Jones who is ready for full-time NHL duty.
Russell has an NMC that allows him to submit a list of 15 teams that he will agree to play for next season should a trade option become available. It makes trading him somewhat difficult, but certainly not impossible. He will also only be owed $1.5 million in real salary for next season. There will be a team with cap space and an owner that wants to keep operating costs low that will be willing to bite on a veteran defender like Russell.
Matt Benning (RFA, QO $2M) – Credit Chiarelli for finding Matt Benning. Benning led the Oilers in plus-minus in 2018-19, and was only bested by Yamamoto this past season… but Yamamoto only played 27 games. Benning is the best open ice hitter on the team, and he rarely makes glaring mistakes away from the puck. He does have a hard shot that I wish that he would utilize more often. Let’s be real here though… Benning is no more than a 3rd pairing defender, and like Russell, he does not move the puck well.
He’s an RFA this off-season, and it’s time for the Oilers to make a decision on him. I’m sure that Benning will want a slight bump in his pay over his qualifying offer of $2 million, which is getting a little spendy for a cap-strapped Oilers team to spend on a 3RD. That is especially true when you consider that Evan Bouchard is close to being ready, if he isn’t already.
Holland doesn’t have to move Benning, but it could be a move that would shed some salary without having a massive negative impact on the roster.
Adam Larsson (1 yr, $4,166,666) – There are a lot of people in Edmonton suggesting that the Oilers need to move one of their top 4 defencemen for a winger. Many have pointed to Nurse, but I think that would be a dumb move given that there aren’t many defencemen that can get 25-30 even strength points that have Nurse’s skating ability and physicality. I don’t think this is the right time to move any of the top 4 defencemen, but if I had to choose one of the top 4 defencemen that I would even consider moving, it would be Larsson.
Larsson is going to turn 28 before the 2020-21 season starts, and he will be an UFA at that season’s end. I view Larsson as an elite defender. He will never have the offensive prowess of Erik Karlsson, but he defends at an extremely high level. The reason to move Larsson would be because his back is likely going to give him issues for the remainder of his career.
Trading Larsson at any point is going to be a sore point for Oilers fans because the return will inevitably be disappointing compared to his acquisition cost. Larsson’s age and his long-term team-friendly contract were definitely factors in what made him valuable in the eyes of Chiarelli, but those factors are now gone. His value has diminished in Edmonton, which is something that Oilers fans will have to accept. Having said that, I believe that Larsson would still yield a useful middle-6 forward, whether it be a high-end 3C or a 40-50 point winger. Russell would be the likely replacement in the top 4 with Jones filling his 3LD spot, unless Bouchard really emerges at camp.
Jujhar Khaira (1 yr, $1.2M) – Khaira is a rare Oilers pick from outside of the 1st round to earn a full-time spot on the roster. He’s big, and he is an effective penalty killer. However, he is maddeningly inconsistent. He can be really physical when he wants to be, and he has shown occasional flashes of talent. He just doesn’t bring those things to the table consistently.
Moving Khaira would open up a minimal amount of cap space, but every cent matters to a cap strapped team like Edmonton. If Holland could find a replacement for Khaira in the $800-$900k range, then that would open up $300-400k, which could make a big difference when trying to negotiate with free agents or when negotiating trades. He may have already found that replacement in any of Joakim Nygard, Gaetan Haas, or Tyler Benson.
James Neal (3 yrs, $5.75M) – Neal had a blazing hot start to the season, but he was entirely ineffective at even strength for the vast majority of the season. He was skating with injuries for the second half of the season, but he did start to look a bit better in the play-in series against Chicago.
Bruce McCurdy recently wrote a great piece comparing Neal and Lucic in their new uniforms this past season, and it wasn’t as glowing for Neal as many Oilers fans would have you believe. He didn’t seem to find a home beside McDavid or Draisaitl, and the impact of his shot is severely limited playing on a 3rd or 4th line with guys like Khaira and Chiasson. If I’m Holland, I’m looking for a buyer. That will be easier said than done at $5.75 million per season. I would not be in a hurry to buy him out because I’d rather avoid the buyout penalty for the next 6 seasons than have the immediate cap space. Short-term rewards rarely pan out in the long-term. Perhaps Seattle could be coaxed into taking him given his experience in Vegas.
I don’t see a trade involving Neal happening this summer, but he is certainly expendable.
Andreas Athanasiou (RFA, QO $3M) – To say that Athanasiou was disappointing in his short stint with Edmonton would be an understatement. 1 goal in 13 games including the play-in series, and that goal came in his Oilers debut. He also made multiple miscues with the puck in his own zone.
It has been suggested that the Oilers might not even qualify Athanasiou, which is a move that I would be on board with given his performance. I would be okay if he signed for a lower cap hit, but $3 million is a bit rich for what the Oilers got out of him.
Seeking a trade for AA would simply be about trying to recoup some of his acquisition cost (Gagner and two 2nd round picks). Holland would not get what he spent on AA, but he might get some of it back. He is certainly expendable, but I’d be surprised if we were to see an AA trade.
Alex Chiasson (1 yr, $2.15M) – Chiasson deserved to get paid for what he did after signing a PTO and earning a roster spot with the Oilers in 2018-19, but the Oilers did not get full value out of him this past season, nor do I think that they will in this upcoming season.
Chiasson’s goal output returned to the mean in 2019-20. Before last season’s 22 goal effort, he had never scored more than 13 in a season. He scored 11 this past season. Chiasson is effective as a 4RW, and the Oilers have been trying to squeeze every drop of value out of him by using him on the PP, but $2.15 million is too much for him.
Not all of these trades will happen of course, but I really think that a Russell trade will and should happen this off-season. There needs to be a change on the blueline, and the opening for Jones needs to be made. I also really feel that Khaira and Chiasson should be moved to open up roster spots for younger wingers. Nygard or Benson could easily fill Khaira’s spot on the 4th line; and the top 4 RWs associated with the Oilers right now are Yamamoto, Kassian, Archibald, and Puljujarvi.
The Oilers might have to move some prospects in order to shed some cap space. These are the prospects that I would realistically be willing to part with this off-season unless the return would blow my mind:
William Lagesson (RFA, QO $735k) – One could argue that Lagesson is NHL ready. Last season, the Penguins benefitted from the Oilers’ surplus on D by acquiring John Marino for pennies, and another team could do just as well by snagging Lagesson. My hope would that it would be a part of a bigger deal that would either move some cap space or bring back a useful forward.
Cooper Marody (1 yr, $925k) – I actually really like Marody. He’s got silky hands and he makes smart decisions with the puck. I could see how he would have some value to a team.
Cameron Hebig (RFA) – Hebig is big and physical. He also possesses a little bit of offensive flare. I don’t see him as an impactful NHLer, but he could work his way to a 4th line role given the opportunity in the right situation. I don’t think that situation is in Edmonton.
Ostap Safin (2 yrs, $775k) – Safin appears to be a longshot at this point, but he could be an add-on in a move to clear up some cap space.
The obvious question that I assume that you have after reading this is what could the Oilers realistically get in return for these players? Next week, I’ll take a closer look at which teams the Oilers could potentially make trades with involving these players this off-season.