Are the Oilers truly capped out? It's an interesting question to ask. There still are free agents available, such as Nikolai Zherdev and Petr Sykora, that could improve the Oilers team. Could they take a run at adding another UFA before the season begins?
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Before getting into this, it should be noted that the Oilers presently have 48 players under contract, two below the NHL limit of 50. The Oil also have too many NHL-skilled players competing for jobs with the team as it is. The Oilers might have the greatest collection of third and fourth line players ever assembled. And that's the problem - They have lots of decent players, but very few stars on the forward lines. Players like Gagner, O'Sullivan, Cogliano and Penner all have potential, but have yet to completely achieve star status. Hemsky is a legitimate NHL star, and Horcoff could be considered one in respect to his two-way play. That's it.
The cap number includes all the players who "make the team," meaning, the contracts that count against the cap include the 22 or so players the Oilers keep on their roster. A player like Robbie Schremp, who may or may not make the team this year, will not see his NHL salary count against the Oilers cap number if he is sent down to Springfield.
Keeping this in mind, and factoring 21 salaries (because the discussion here is what would happen if the Oilers went and found another player), the Oilers cap number would look like this October 1 (in millions):
Forwards (12): Horcoff $5.5, Hemsky $4.1, Cogliano $1.133, Gagner $1.625, Penner $4.25, O'Sullivan $2.925, Moreau $2, Pisani $2.5, Brule $800K, Stortini $700K, Nilsson $2, Comrie $1.125 = Total $28.658 million
Defenseman (7): Souray $5.4, Visnovsky $5.6, Gilbert $4, Grebeshkov $3.15, Smid $1.3, Staios $2.7, Strudwick $700K = Total $22.85 million
Goaltenders (2): Khabibulin $3.75, DesLauriers $625K = Total $4.375 million
Allowable Cap Number ($57.971) minus Total Spending $55.883 = $2.088 million space
What does this all mean? It means Zherdev and Sykora are too expensive for the Oilers to add without making a move first. I expected Zherdev to sign with the KHL almost immediately after being cut from the Rangers, but it did not occur. What could he be signed for by an NHL team? I suspect he'd go in the $3mil per season range. A decent deal if you are a team like Edmonton, but slightly beyond what cap space would allow. Sykora, who can play center and is known to be a serious and responsible player, is likely to go in the $2.5mil range. Still beyond Edmonton's reach.
Keep in mind a couple of things when looking at the Oiler's situation: For one thing, if they try to deal away salary, they still will need to replace the player moved with someone else. The 22 player roster is pretty much an NHL standard way to function. So you can't just completely shed salaries. Another thing to keep in mind is that teams need to keep a million or two space from the top of the cap, to ensure they can deal with issues as they arise during the season. The Oilers, at best, only have $1 million free to play with right now.
The bottom line is, the Oilers definitely have some holes to fill - They need a second face-off center to assist Horcoff; they need one more legitimate Top 6 forward for scoring, and they still are, overall, undersized as a team. While adding Zherdev or Sykora is not impossible to suggest, the Oilers would need to ship away at least one reasonably sized contract to make room. There could be some deals before the season begins, but the Oilers, like many other teams in the league, are restricted by the laws of cap management.
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