Oilers GM and President of Hockey Operations Peter Chiarelli has signed Leon Draisaitl and has hinted he’s done all he’s willing to do for this upcoming season. You can forget about the Oilers bringing in UFAs like Jaromir Jagr, Jarome Iginla or Thomas Vanek. Earlier in the summer Chiarelli hinted at some possible trades… Well, I guess you can forget about those, too. What you see now is what you get.
Now that we have clarity as to what Draisaitl’s cap hit will be for the next eight seasons, we can have a serious discussion about how this team moves forward. Paying Connor McDavid + Draisaitl the same amount of money that Jonathan Toews + Patrick Kane get, for example, sounds fine to me. I’d rather have McDavid and Draisaitl. I’m totally okay with Draisaitl’s new deal. Obviously spending that kind of money does have implications on the rest of the roster.
I don’t think Oilers management have the goal of trying to win the Stanley Cup this season. Obviously they want to compete and win games, but the Oilers have some roster question marks, especially on right-wing, and there’s decent UFA wingers available and cap space to add at least one. If being a cup contender now was the specific intention of Oilers management, they’d load up now to ensure the team finishes first in the division, if not the conference. This Oilers team will challenge the Anaheim Ducks for the Pacific Division crown, but it’s not a 100% certainty the Oilers will be the better team. If I was the GM, I wouldn’t leave Division championship to chance by making the team as good as possible going into the season. Chiarelli hasn’t done that, so therefore I don’t think they are projecting this team as a cup winner yet. The goal in Edmonton is still “to improve”. I’m so tired of hearing that.
I mean, think about it: The Oilers have about $3 million in cap space now they can use. At this point, they could likely add one of Jagr, Iginla or Vanek for $2 million on a one-year deal. Considering ages and the fact these guys might welcome a cup run, you might be able to get two of three for $1.5 million each. Doing so would not conflict with the Oilers cap situation next season, and it gives the Oilers a bit more stability on the wings… because we shouldn’t be certain Ryan Strome, Jesse Puljujarvi, Anton Slepyshev and Drake Cagguila are good enough to play on the top two lines on the right side. Strome is the only one of the four that has put up a 50 point season, and I was sort of hoping the Oilers could have a right winger that has scored 30 or more in a season before. Yes, Jagr and Iggy in particular are old, but their career stats are what they are. There’s a better chance Jagr or Iggy could score 30 or more on McDavid or Draisaitl’s wing than Strome, Puljujarvi, Slepyshev or Cagguila.
A friend of mine sent me a Twitter message this morning asking if I’ve heard anything about a potential deal to move Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. Everyone sort of assumes at this point it will be Nugent-Hopkins who goes sometime between now and next summer, and that’s how the Oilers will fix their cap space problem created by the McDavid and Draisaitl contracts. I can honestly say Oilers management and coaches have said more about how Nuge is important to the team and how they want him to stay.
I think what you could actually see happen at the trade deadline this season is the Oilers unloading people. Patrick Maroon could be gone, as could Mark Letestu. Both are UFAs that have trade value. Both could be replaced by less expensive younger (and not as good) players. Both are players I would rather keep over Nugent-Hopkins. The Oilers won’t just give up assets for nothing, so they trade Maroon and Letestu instead of losing them for nothing this summer.
Math also suggests if the plan is to keep Nuge that Matthew Benning will need to go next summer. This is not as painful as people think it is. The Oilers have a guy name Ziyat Paigin who might be NHL-ready and will be a decent third pairing defenseman in the NHL, if not better. He’s left-shooting, right-pairing defenseman, which makes Benning vulnerable.
I’d rather say either Kris Russell or Andrej Sekera are out next summer, but both have No Movement Clauses for the next two seasons. They are staying.
I think if the plan was to move Nuge, the deal would have happened already. It’s becoming apparent to me the goal is rather to find a way to keep him. In terms of priority, I believe Nugent-Hopkins in the eyes of management is higher up the food chain than Maroon, Letestu and Benning. Other than Paigin, the Oilers have Eric Gryba under a completely affordable two-year contract, so they could easily use him on the third-pairing right-side, and move Benning.
Benning will be a restricted free agent next summer, and other comparable contracts in the NHL suggest Benning is worth around $2.5 million per season on a two-year bridge contract. Gryba is paid $900,000 per season. Paigin is $858,750.
Maybe the Oilers save themselves around $4 million per season if they let Maroon go instead of re-signing him. If Drake Cagguila replaces Mark Letestu as a Bottom 6 center, that saves around $800,000. Playing Paigin instead of keeping Benning would free up around $1.5 million. Combined, that’s over $6 million, and that’s enough to keep Nugent-Hopkins.
Keep in mind Lauri Korpikoski’s buyout and Mark Fayne’s contract both come off the books next summer. Between anticipated cap growth, reduction of bad contracts and the movement of a few players, the Oilers should be able to hang on to all their first overall picks.
To answer your next question, how you keep Cam Talbot for 2019/2020 is by moving Andrej Sekera once his NMC turns into a limited No Trade Clause, and you promote one of Caleb Jones or Ethan Bear to replace Sekera. This would shift around $4.5 million per season out, leaving plenty of extra cash to pay Talbot fairly.
People are making out the McDavid/Draisaitl contract situation as a disaster. It isn’t. But it does mean Oilers fans need to be a little more selective before they buy a new jersey.