If you read my last article about buyout options for the Oilers, you’ll know that I wasn’t entirely on board with the idea of buying out Sekera. It would not have been my first choice.
Let’s start by getting the blatantly obvious out of the way: buyouts are bad because they create dead cap space for twice the length of the remaining term on the deal. Andrej Sekera had two years left at $5.5 million per year, and now he will carry a cap hit of $2.5 million through 2021 and $1.5 million through 2023 after being bought out. That’s a significant amount of money to pay someone not to play for you anymore, especially for a cap strapped team like the Oilers!
With Pouliot ($1,333,333), Gryba ($300,000), and now Sekera ($2.5M), the Oilers now have $4,133,333 in dead cap space for this season. That is before burying Brandon Manning ($1,175,000) in the AHL. There could be $5,308,333 in dead cap space.
Alright, now that THAT is out of our systems, let’s take a rational look at why Holland eventually chose to buy out Sekera.
Some optimistic fans felt that Sekera could return to his form from 2016-17 when he was a top 4 defender. He wasn’t bad playing 3rd pairing minutes at the end of last season, and he stabilized Matt Benning. He also played on Slovakia’s top pairing at the WHC in May.
I was not one of those fans.
Sekera’s mobility has been significantly reduced as a result of his two injuries. It was particularly bad in 2017-18 with his knee brace, but he is a far cry from the player that he once was. That should be expected after two serious leg injuries in consecutive seasons. The man is 33 years old. His decline has been accelerated by injuries, but he has most definitely made the turn to the back nine of his career.
The Oilers are trying to make their defence cheaper and more mobile. While Sekera was mobile before the injuries and he does move the puck well, having a 33-year old coming off of two major injuries doesn’t fit with the plan. I think Sekera still has value as an NHL defenceman, but not at $5.5 million.
Given the financial implications of the buyout, I highly doubt that this was Holland’s first choice. Sekera’s NTC was to be modified on July 1, at which point he would have had to submit a list of 15 teams that he would’ve accepted a trade to. I’m not so full of vitriol that I don’t believe that Holland tried his best to move Sekera before making this decision. I would definitely buy it if Holland were to come out and say that no one was interested in spending an asset on a 33-year old coming off of those two serious injuries at $5.5 million (or even $2.75 million in a maximum retained salary deal).
I honestly think that modifier was put in place for this summer by Chiarelli for a reason. When Sekera was signed, Oscar Klefbom and Darnell Nurse were young prospects that weren’t ready yet. Fast forward to today, and they have passed him on the depth chart. I think that was always the expectation. I think the plan was always to look at moving Sekera before the end of his contract; it just sucks that injuries have reduced his value to the point where a buyout was the only option for moving him out.
We know that the future dead cap space sucks, and the fact that injuries have hit Sekera so hard is unfortunate both for him personally and the team, but let’s look at the positive implications for the Oilers moving forward.
There are two obvious positive things that will come out of this. The first is that the move opens up $3 million in cap space for 2019-20. Given the fact that the Oilers need a minimum of 4 forwards (one of which needs to be a 3C) and a quality back-up goalie, they needed more cap space to work with. The bad news is that the money will likely be spent in the UFA market, which I know isn’t desirable because that’s the market where teams over pay and give big terms to players on the decline.
The thing of note here is that the Oilers haven’t been rumoured to be looking at any of the really big names that would command massive term. Brett Connolly is the biggest name the Oilers have been linked to, and the maximum term that I’ve seen rumoured for him is only 4 years. It also sounds like that deal may not come to fruition in Edmonton based on what Rishaug reported earlier.
Donskoi, Boyle, Filppula, Brassard, Haas… none of them are getting more than 3-4 years max, and I’d argue that Donskoi is the only one that would get more than a 2-year term. The future is important and that dead cap space sucks, but making the playoffs this year is a thing as well. The organization has acknowledged it and has stated that the playoffs are the goal this year. Given the fact that the prospects aren’t going to be rushed along and they are not truly ready to contribute yet, and that the trade assets that would yield quality roster players are other quality roster players, the UFA market is the most likely route in Edmonton this summer. Holland is known for liking his veterans, so expect a couple of aging vets to sign short term deals with the Oilers in the coming days.
The other obvious implication of the Sekera buyout is the fact that it creates a roster spot at 3LD. Holland said that he expects one or two young defencemen to make the team next season. The majority of the prospects aren’t ready yet, but Caleb Jones is ready for that 3LD spot. I have suggested that he might be involved in a trade this summer, but the Sekera buyout changes that for me. A D prospect might still get traded, but that 3LD spot has Jones’s name written all over it. That promotion would alleviate some of the log jam on defence that is awaiting Bakersfield. Jones comes with a cap hit of $720,000, which means that the real amount of cap space that this buyout creates is $2.28 million (assuming that I’m right and Jones does make the team). Jones’s addition automatically makes the defence cheaper and more mobile, which is exactly what the defence needs to be.
Given that the cap isn’t going to go up significantly until at least 2021, the Sekera buyout wouldn’t have been my first choice. However, I’m choosing not to be as angry about it as I know most Oilers fans will be about it given the fact that this buyout was the one that could have opened the most cap space immediately, and that a roster spot is open for Caleb Jones.