Wednesday was a big day for Caleb Jones.
He signed his 2nd NHL contract, a two-year deal with an AAV of $850k that will kick in at the start of next season.
Jones has 9 points in 40 career games with the Oilers, and 3 points in 23 games so far this season. He is an exciting young defenceman whose main skills of puck moving and mobility are a great fit for today’s NHL are much needed on the Oilers blue line. His production has been limited so far, but he’s just getting started.
It’s a great contract for Jones and for the Oilers. The 22-year old gets another 2 years to really prove himself at the NHL level, and he will have an opportunity to earn a much bigger contract in 2022. The Oilers get a good, young puck moving defenceman with a reasonable cap hit that should be able to contribute. It’s a win-win situation.
This contract is a first step towards clearing up a somewhat muddy situation on the Oilers’ back end for the next couple of years. It could have wide spread implications for a number of guys in the organization as soon as February’s trade deadline.
Both Jones and William Lagesson were to become RFAs this summer. The fact that Jones has a contract for next year and Lagesson does not is a pretty clear indication of the club’s preference between the two players. Lagesson will ultimately still be under team control after this season. However, he will require waivers to go to Bakersfield next season, and I imagine that he would not clear waivers. If the Oilers want to keep him after this season, it will likely be as a 7th defenceman.
I have speculated that one of Jones, Lagesson, or Ethan Bear would be traded before next season because they were all in the same situation contractually. Jones just got his deal, and Bear has been an important part of the Oilers defence this season. Lagesson appears to be the odd man out.
Speaking of Bear, I’m curious to see how Jones’ deal will affect Bear’s next contract, if at all. Bear was drafted one round later than Jones in 2015, but Bear has been the more effective NHLer. Bear will certainly earn more than Jones will next season, but I’m curious to see by just how much. Will Bear get a two-year bridge deal like Jones, or will the Oilers sign Bear long-term right away? Time will tell.
Going into next season, this is how the organizational depth chart on defence is shaping up:
Klefbom – Larsson
Nurse – Bear
K. Russell – Benning (RFA)
Jones – Bouchard
I think it’s fair to say that the Oilers probably wouldn’t have been so eager to sign Jones right now if they didn’t want him to have a full-time NHL roster spot next season. He’s not going to play above Klefbom or Nurse, so the guy that is standing in his way right now on the left side is Kris Russell.
Next year will be the last year of Russell’s 4-year contract that carries an AAV of $4 million. Most fans think that he is over-paid. The contract is probably a little rich, but it makes a lot of sense to have the more mobile Jones playing 3LD over Russell and to spend the $3.15 million in cap space savings on additional forward depth.
When Russell signed that contract at the start of the 2016-17 season, I predicted that he would not finish that contract as an Oiler. That prediction appears to be coming to fruition! It would make a lot of sense to trade Russell at this year’s trade deadline or over the summer.
One big reason to move him that is being over-looked is the fact that he will have to be protected in the expansion draft because he will have a no-movement clause in his contract at the time of the draft. The team could ask him to waive it at that time, but Russell has a lot of control here. More on the expansion draft later in the article.
Russell’s NMC is a big reason why a trade will be difficult. He has a 10-team trade list. Holland only has 10 teams to work with on a Russell trade. Russell and Jones could still be on the team next season. We have to think of that as a possibility, as much as most fans have basically assumed Russell will get traded because that’s what they think the best course of action will be.
Matt Benning does not currently have a contract for next season. Benning’s presence on next year’s Oilers team is not a given at this point. Since the Oilers are doing alright without Benning in the lineup right now and he will be back in action after the All-Star break, Benning’s name could be floated around at the deadline this year as well.
In the event that Benning is not with the Oilers next season and Russell stays, the bottom pairing would likely be Russell and Jones.
A lot of what happens next season will depend on the development of Evan Bouchard. He’s always had the offensive side of the game down pat, but the defensive side of the game is still a work in progress. Condors coach Jay Woodcroft has said that Bouchard is making progress with that side of the game. The question is whether or not he will earn a roster spot next season.
If Bouchard makes the Oilers as the 3 RD next season, that would mean that Benning would likely be gone. It would also bump one of Russell or Jones out of the top 6. Jones could be the 7th D, but where does that leave Lagesson? It would certainly be on the outside looking in, and most likely in another uniform.
I haven’t even mentioned the possibility of bringing Joel Persson back, but that seems like a long shot given his play and the log jam that is forming on defence.
The other big consideration that Holland has to have in any moves going forward is the impact of the upcoming Seattle expansion draft, which is set to happen in the summer of 2021.
The expansion draft rules will be the same as they were in 2017 for the Vegas Golden Knights. One of the rules states that each team needs to expose one defenceman that will have played at least 40 games in 2020-21 OR at least 70 games over the course of the 2019-20 and 2020-21 seasons, AND that is signed through the 2021-22 season.
You’ll notice that Jones’ new contract expires in 2022. He and Oscar Klefbom are the only two Oilers defencemen that are currently signed through 2022.
The Oilers will surely protect Klefbom as he is a top pairing defender on a team friendly contract.
I’ve already mentioned the fact that Russell will have to be protected because of his NMC, unless he is willing to waive it for the expansion draft or he happens to get moved before that time. Even if he is able to be exposed, he would not qualify for this rule because he is not signed through 2022.
I would imagine that Darnell Nurse’s next contract will take him beyond 2022. I would also imagine that the Oilers would wish to protect him.
Bear’s next contract should also take him through 2022. I can’t imagine the Oilers exposing him if they are able to protect him.
There are 4 defencemen that could need protecting right there. The Oilers might expose Nurse or Bear too if Russell stays and refuses to waive his NMC!
Bouchard will automatically be deemed ineligible to be taken by Seattle because he will only have had 2 professional seasons by the time next season ends.
Larsson will be an UFA at the end of next season. He will likely be exposed, but he wouldn’t qualify for the rule that I stated earlier because he is not signed through 2022. If the Oilers were to extend him, they might also want to protect him.
The Oilers have to have SOMEONE that fits the criteria to expose! Right now, that player appears to be Jones.
The Oilers can protect either 3 D and 7 F, or 8 total skaters in addition to protecting 1 goalie.
Up front, McDavid and Draisaitl are obviously being protected. Nugent-Hopkins will be a free agent at the end of next season. There is an interesting decision looming there as well. Other than those 3, I could see the Oilers protecting Kailer Yamamoto and Tyler Benson.
If they expose Nuge out of fear that he will leave as an UFA anyway, then the Oilers could protect the other 4 forwards that I mentioned and then choose 4 D to protect. If Russell has to be one of them, then Jones will still be exposed. If Russell is gone, then the Oilers could protect Jones as well; but they would still need to have a defenceman that fits the criteria to expose!
The Oilers could extend any of Russell, Larsson, and/or Benning through 2022 and simply expose one of them.
No matter what happens, I’m worried that the Oilers will lose a good player in the expansion draft unless Holland is able to swing a side deal.
Hopefully I’ve given you a glimpse into the types of decisions that Ken Holland and his staff will have to make prior to this trade deadline and over the course of next summer.
Holland is waiting until closer to February 24 to make any firm decisions on what he might do at the deadline. A lot will depend on where the Oilers will be in the standings at that time. We do know that Holland wants to make the playoffs this year though.
On the OilersLive podcast, I said that I would be happy if Holland were to sit on his hands and hold on to his assets through this deadline. However, I wouldn’t have much to write about if I didn’t speculate on who could be dealt at the deadline.
The Oilers’ needs are clear. They need scoring wingers and a bona fide 3rd line centre. Earlier in the season, I speculated that trading Jones for a scoring winger would be worth exploring, but his new contract makes a Jones trade far less likely. A team could find his cost-certainty over the next two years appealing, but a Jones trade is still quite unlikely at this point.
We also know that Holland has no desire to part with his 2020 1st round pick, thank goodness. He also does not want to deal Bouchard, Philip Broberg, or Dmitri Samorukov… not even for Taylor Hall.
With all of that being said, here is my list of Oilers that could easily be on the move in February:
William Lagesson – RFA this summer, appears to be the odd prospect out.
Kris Russell – With a younger, cheaper, and more mobile option signed through 2022, Russell’s days as an Oiler may be numbered. His NMC may make a deal difficult though.
Matt Benning – There is always a market for a young right-handed defenceman. The Oilers have fared well enough without him through his injury, although he is valuable to the Oilers as the 3 RD. With Jones signed and Bouchard coming as soon as next season, there might not be room for Benning in Edmonton next season.
Jesse Puljujarvi – The player appears to still be intent on not playing in Edmonton. James Neal and Kailer Yamamoto can both play right wing in the top 6, where Puljujarvi would hope to play if he were to come back. Zack Kassian and Josh Archibald could be back next year as well. This trade is more likely to happen at the draft, but I wouldn’t rule out a deadline deal either.
Jujhar Khaira – His inconsistent play could spell the end of his time in Edmonton. Joakim Nygard’s speed has been very useful on the forecheck, and he has been more effective on a line with Riley Sheahan and Archibald than Khaira has. Tyler Benson is coming up eventually as well, whether it happens this season or next. The reality is that bottom 6 left wingers can be found for cheaper than $1.2 million for next season, and there are plenty of reinforcements waiting in Bakersfield that can do what Khaira does now (cough, cough, Granlund, cough, cough).
Some people have suggested that Sam Gagner’s name is out there. I’m sure it is; but it would cost the Oilers a quality asset to move his contract. If there’s a big name coming in a different deal, then that type of move makes sense. If not, then it makes absolutely no sense to use a quality asset just to dump an expiring contract that will only really impact the team for another 6 weeks after the deadline. I don’t see it happening.
I’m not going to make any predictions about who is the most likely to be moved at the deadline at this point, but those are the names that I believe to be in play. With the Seattle expansion draft situation looming, I would be surprised if either Russell or Benning were to be moved at the deadline though. I would expect something to happen with them in the summer if anything is going to happen with them at all. Holland has a bit of time, so he might as well use it.
That’s all I’ve got for now. While the Jones deal is a win for the Oilers, it definitely creates some intrigue around what is sure to be an interesting trade deadline and off-season in Edmonton!