Oilers fans, are you comfortable with this roster as the team heads into the 2017/2018 regular season? Please make the assumption Leon Draisaitl will be re-signed and on the roster for opening night. What will that opening night roster look like? There’s plenty of debate about it.
If Oilers management go with the players they have now, I suggest the opening night roster will look like this:
L1: Patrick Maroon – Connor McDavid – Drake Cagguila
L2: Milan Lucic – Leon Draisaitl – Ryan Strome
L3: Jussi Jokinen – Ryan Nugent-Hopkins – Jesse Puljujarvi
L4: Anton Slepyshev – Mark Letestu – Zack Kassian
Ex: Jujhar Khaira and Iiro Pakarinen
D1: Oscar Klefbom – Adam Larsson
D2: Darnell Nurse – Matt Benning
D3: Kris Russell – Eric Gryba
Ex: Dillon Simpson and Andrej Sekera (LTIR)
G: Cam Talbot and Laurent Brossoit
Before we go any further with this discussion, we need to understand what the actual salary cap position of the Oilers is. I mean, if there’s no money available, there’s no need to have a discussion about things the Oilers could do to improve the roster.
Let’s say for the sake of this discussion Leon Draisaitl is an $8 million per season cap hit. I think that’s perhaps a high estimate, but we’re better to overbudget than underbudget.
The Oilers need to keep around $5 million in cap space available for player performance bonuses. Connor McDavid is $3 million of that. There are others – Slepyshev, Cagguila, Puljujarvi, Benning and Nurse – That can all earn extra bucks if they’re good.
If you look at CapFriendly, they currently suggest the Oilers have just under $17 million in cap space. You need to subtract Draisaitl’s $8mil and the bonus $5mil from that, leaving you $4 million. CapFriendly has Mark Fayne as part of this team, and there’s no way that happens ever again. The Oilers will bury his contract, and doing so will open up another million in space. Of course, teams are foolish if the spend right to the cap… It’s fair to suggest the Oilers have around $3 million in cap space to work with, plus whatever contract amount that would be subtracted from removing a current player from the active roster of 23. If Jesse Puljujarvi spends another year in the AHL to make room for a different player, for example, you could subtract his $925,000 cap hit plus a good $500,000 in potential bonus money you’d need to keep aside. This would give the Oilers more like $4 million and change in functional cap space.
I loved what the Oilers did in the playoffs this Spring and I think the league took away a series win from the Oilers against the Anaheim Ducks. But that being said, I was really furious at GM and President of Hockey Operations Peter Chiarelli for doing nothing to make the team better during the 2017 trade deadline. My belief was, the team has enough pieces now to challenge for a Stanley Cup, so why not improve it if you can?
It would be easier? Better? Positive? If Oilers management made moves now to improve the team going into the 2017/2018 season to ensure the team first makes the playoffs, and second, dominates, if possible.
I have a few concerns with the current Oilers roster as I have it listed.
1. Drake Cagguila is mostly unproven as a top-line forward in the NHL. He can almost skate with McDavid, but can he finish plays?
2. Ryan Strome is only slightly more proven than Cagguila, and there’s no reason to believe he’s the right winger to play with Draisaitl or McDavid.
3. Jesse Puljujarvi looked several years away from the NHL when he tried it last season, and I believe it would be better if he spent one more year in the AHL. Notice how all my concerns are on the right side?
4. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins is an expensive player to have as the third-line center, but he lacks the offensive finish required to play in the Top 6. I don’t see him as a third-line center because he scares no one physically. The reason the Oilers finally improved was because they were no longer soft to play against. All of the soft players have been dealt. Nuge isn’t soft; he just isn’t scary.
5. The defense will always worry me a bit. I worry about Oscar Klefbom’s foot. I worry about Andrej Sekera being out too long. I worry that Nurse and Benning are still unproven past being third pairing. I worry that this, as a group, doesn’t have enough offensive punch.
Interestingly enough, there are still options out there for the Oilers to make their team better this season. $4 million in functional cap room means still-available free agents like Andrei Markov, Jarome Iginla, Mike Fisher, Jaromir Jagr, Cody Franson, Mark Streit, Shane Doan, Daniel Winnik and Thomas Vanek can be considered.
The Oilers do have a few movable assets: Patrick Maroon and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. Maroon has one season left on his contract, and perhaps Oilers management realize they won’t have the cap space needed to keep him past this season. It’s highly likely Nugent-Hopkins will be dealt; it’s more a matter of will it be now or next summer. His $6 million per season cap hit is a big problem in Edmonton now, but it wouldn’t be in a number of other cities. The Detroit Red Wings, Vancouver Canucks, Montreal Canadiens, Colorado Avalanche, Columbus Blue Jackets, Carolina Hurricanes, New Jersey Devils and Arizona Coyotes could all find room for Nuge if he was available.
What I would do? My choice would be to move Nugent-Hopkins now if the right deal is available and if the Oilers can acquire an appropriate third-line center replacement for him. I don’t really see a 'Nugent-Hopkins for a different center' trade helping the Oilers immediately in any way, because it’s hard to drop cap spending while acquiring players who play at the same position (See the Jordan Eberle for Ryan Strome Trade)… So we’re talking about two moves here. The first would be shifting Nugent-Hopkins for a more sustainable asset. Second would be acquiring someone who can play center and contribute to the Oilers immediately in a meaningful way.
The team I would look to is the Arizona Coyotes, and the player I would target is Tobias Rieder. Rieder is a former Oilers draft pick, and a player who has some offense to his game. He has played on lines in international competition with fellow countryman Leon Draisaitl, and they showed tremendous chemistry together. Rieder’s cap hit? $2.25 million currently. Obviously, Nugent-Hopkins for Rieder straight-up is a terrible deal for the Oilers. A second high-end asset would need to come from Arizona. Perhaps we’re talking about a Draft Lottery protected first round pick? Basically, if the Coyotes miss the playoffs but win one of the top three picks in the draft lottery, they keep the pick and the Oilers get the Coyotes first round pick from the next season. Maybe to balance this out, the Oilers need to throw in a second asset as well, as the Coyotes would be giving up a high pick in this deal. The Coyotes could use a young defensive prospect of quality and the Oilers have plenty of those. Caleb Jones as the throw in?
This trade would give the Oilers roughly $8 million in functional cap space for the 2017/2018 season. If you want to win now, all sorts of options have just been opened up.
Second move I would consider here is moving Edmonton’s first round pick in 2018 to a team that is in cap trouble and perhaps has an extra center. One team comes to mind: The Toronto Maple Leafs. Tyler Bozak is the Leafs player I am thinking of. It’s a bit of a risk. Bozak is in the last season of his contract, and he’d absolutely get $4 million per season or more on a long-term re-signing. But he’s a right-shooting two-way center who can win face-offs; something the Oilers have been starving for.
It’s a worthy risk to take. The Oilers still would have around $4 million in cap space to play with come the trade deadline. At center, they would be solid with McDavid/Draisaitl/Bozak/Letestu. On the right side, Strome or Cagguila (with McDavid) and Rieder (with Draisaitl) could work. Puljujarvi could return to the AHL so he isn’t rushed for no reason. The Oilers first round pick upgrades into being the Coyotes first round pick, provided it is no higher than fourth overall.
The one thing these two moves don’t do is help the defense… but there’s still $4 million in cap room, and there’s still a few free agent defensemen. The Oilers need offense? Maybe Mark Streit is the right option on a one-year deal. Would he take $3 million for the season?
Oilers Opening Night Roster?
L1: Patrick Maroon – Connor McDavid – Ryan Strome
L2: Milan Lucic – Leon Draisaitl – Tobias Rieder
L3: Jussi Jokinen – Tyler Bozak – Anton Slepyshev
L4: Drake Cagguila – Mark Letestu – Zack Kassian
D1: Oscar Klefbom – Adam Larsson
D2: Mark Streit – Kris Russell
D3: Darnell Nurse – Matt Benning
G: Cam Talbot and Laurent Brossoit