Posted 8:45 PM ET | Comments 8
When considering the long-term future for the Edmonton Oilers, it makes more sense to consider cap hits and contracts for the 2018/2019 season than for 2017/2018. Why? Because a good third of the roster this season have contracts that will end next summer. It is during the Summer of 2018 when Oilers management will need to make some hard decisions about who stays and who goes.
Perhaps the greatest question surrounding the future of the Oilers roster is if there is room for Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and his $6 million per season cap hit. Maybe Nuge underperforms in terms of total offense one can expect from a first overall pick. However, there’s much more than offense to Nugent-Hopkins game. Oilers Head Coach Todd McLellan referred to Nuge as “the Oilers Pavelski”, and if you know about the San Jose Sharks you’ll realize McLellan was trying to say Nugent-Hopkins might be the Oilers most important all-around forward. We know Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl will be asked to provide most of the offensive punch. Nugent-Hopkins will be asked to be a key player in all situations: 5-on-5, penalty killing, powerplay and shut-down center. It’s hard to give up a player capable of doing that.
The Oilers currently have a little under $17 million in cap space, but that’s not the reality of what money they still have available for the 2017/2018 season. From that $17 million, you can subtract roughly $8 million for Leon Draisaitl, and another $5 million in player contract bonuses. In truth, the Oilers have around $4 million in space this season. My good friends at CapFriendly have the Oilers with $16.8mil in cap space, with 23 contracts at the NHL-level. If you adjust their list you can add Draisaitl’s cap hit, call-up defenseman Yohann Auvitu while Andrej Sekera is injured, and bury Mark Fayne and his contract in the AHL.
In 2018/2019, so many players will require new and more expensive contract. I am going to guestimate what they are worth on extensions, so then we can better consider what cap position will be beyond this upcoming season.
Patrick Maroon - $4 million per season on a three to five season extension. (up from $1.5mil cap hit this season)
Darnell Nurse - $2.5 million per season on a two-year bridge deal (from $863K plus bonuses)
Matt Benning – We’ll give him the same as Nurse: $2.5mil per season for two seasons on a bridge deal. (from $925K plus bonuses)
Drake Cagguila – I estimate a $1.5mil per season bridge deal (from his current $925K plus bonuses)
Ryan Strome - $4 million per season (from $2.5 million)
Mark Letestu - $1.5 million per season on a three-year extension. Yes, it’s lower than what he gets now, but consider his age. Letestu is very important to the Oilers because he’s their only right-shooting center who can win face-offs. The team will try to keep him, and Letestu won’t mind making another $4.5 million in Edmonton (from $1.8mil per season).
Anton Slepyshev - $1.5 million on a bridge deal. Slepyshev is a sleeper… He could end up becoming a second-line player of consequence in Edmonton. I think the Oilers keep him around (from $925K plus bonuses)
Laurent Brossoit - $900K. He’s not going to play enough this season to earn much of a raise. (from $750K)
And then for 2018/2019, factor in McDavid going from $925k + bonuses to $12.5 million per season. Ouch.
The NHL salary cap for 2018/2019 will probably increase a couple of million to, let’s say, $77 million. Coming off the books will be Jussi Jokinen ($1.1mil), Mark Fayne’s contract ($3.625mil) and the buyout for Lauri Korpikoski ($1mil).
We need to project the Oilers 2018/2019 roster in order to continue further. It’s the only way to make some sense out of who can stay or who could go. This is a projection WITHOUT moving anyone yet.
L1: Maroon ($4mil) – McDavid ($12.5mil) – Yamamoto (925K+ bonuses)
L2: Lucic ($6mil) – Draisaitl ($8mil) – Puljujarvi (925K + bonuses)
L3: Slepyshev ($1.5mil) – Nugent-Hopkins ($6mil) – Strome ($4mil)
L4: Cagguila ($1.5mil) – Letestu ($1.5mil) – Kassian ($1.95mil)
Ex: Khaira ($675K) and Pakarinen ($800K)
D1: Klefbom ($4.167mil) – Larsson ($4.167mil)
D2: Sekera ($5.5mil) – Russell ($4mil)
D3: Nurse ($2.5mil) – Benning ($2.5mil)
Ex: Eric Gryba ($900K)
G1: Cam Talbot ($4.167mil)
G2: Laurent Brossoit ($900K)
Space for Performance Bonuses: $3 million
Pouliot Buyout: $1.33mil
Total of all contracts and expenses listed: $83.406 million
Amount above the projected $77 million cap: $6.406 million
Option #1 is moving Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and replacing him with a player that has a $1 million per season or less cap hit. What likely happens is Drake Cagguila or Ryan Strome moves to center and rookie Tyler Benson gets promoted to the NHL. This creates $5 million in cap space. Still not enough room. I have allowed for $3 million in bonuses, Oilers management could ignore some of this and hope they don’t get penalized in future years.
Option #2 is moving Patrick Maroon (or letting him walk in the summer) and Ryan Strome and replacing them with two players who earn $1 million or less. Consider Tyler Benson to be one of the players, and the other guy is someone random from free agency or via trade. Doing this would open up $6 million in cap space, which is almost enough.
Option #3 is moving Patrick Maroon (or letting him walk in the summer) and Darnell Nurse. Benson replaces Nurse and likely Ziyat Paigin replaces Nurse. Benson’s cap hit is $839K and Piagin’s is $859K. Doing this would open up around $4.5 million in cap space. It would be Nurse who needs to go and not Benning because right-shooting D are harder to find and the Oilers have several quality left-shooting D they can access in the future. This scenario also means Oilers management are flirting with punishment should players on ECL’s get their bonuses.
Here’s something important to consider: Part of the reason the Oilers and Draisaitl might be hung up with contract negotiations is that giving him a bridge deal; let’s say two seasons at $6 million – Would free up cap space until both Kris Russell and Andrej Sekera’s no movement clauses no longer apply. Both Russell and Sekera can be dealt two seasons from now. Should the Oilers keep Nurse and Benning, and promote from within – by that time, it could be Ethan Bear and Caleb Jones as the third pairing – How the Oilers solve their cap crisis is by losing Maroon or Strome next summer, followed by dealing both Russell and Sekera two summers from now… provided, of course, Draisaitl signs a bridge deal for less money than an eight-year deal.
We’re getting off topic. My point in all of this is that Ryan Nugent-Hopkins doesn’t necessarily need to be the player who goes. The math proves it. Is Maroon + other assets more important to Oilers long-term success than Nugent-Hopkins? Perhaps the best suggestion I can give you is to look at the Oilers prospect list and recognize the team has very few center prospects developing. Should the Oilers keep their centers as being McDavid, Draisaitl, Nugent-Hopkins and Letestu for the next four seasons, there will be stability in Edmonton at one of the most key positions on the team.
Wingers are easier to find than centers.