FanPost

Are The Oilers Managing Their Cap Space Well?

Bruce Bennett

In 2010, I posted a series of Fan Posts focused on what I thought were important aspects of building a winning hockey team. These included:

  • Managing budgets in a cap world.
  • Managing and aligning talent.
  • Leveraging free agency
  • Developing talent

Watching the Oilers crater this season got me thinking back to those elements of success and how the Oilers have been doing since.

Managing Budgets in a Cap World

Managing cap space effectively is a critical part of success in a cap world. At the time I hypothesized that a cap team should spend approximately the following percentages on forwards:

Line

Cap Percent

1st Line

27%

2nd Line

15%

3rd Line

10%

4th Line

5%

I decided to see how this forecast compared to what 6 perennial teams perceived to be winners or strong contenders spend per line: Boston, Detroit, Chicago, Pittsburgh, San Jose, and Vancouver.

First, the forwards:

Line

Min

Avg

Max

1st Line

19%

25%

27%

2nd Line

13%

17%

23%

3rd Line

6%

9%

15%

4th Line

3%

4%

6%

How does that compare to the current Oilers?

Based on the following line combinations:

Line

LW

C

RW

% of Cap Space

1st Line

Hall

Nugent-Hopkins

Eberle

26%

2nd Line

Perron

Gagner

Yakupov

18%

3rd Line

Smyth

Gordon

Hemsky

15%

4th Line

Gadzic

Acton

Eager/Jones

3%

Interestingly, the Oilers are slightly high on spend on the top line, but close enough to average to be acceptable. Assuming a $70M cap next season, the Oilers will be "overspending" on their top line by $0.5M over average, and $0.9M below the max.

The second line slides in right on average and will actually improve should the cap reach $70M next year. The fourth line also comes in the range as long as Ryan Smyth plays above 4th line level and goes away next year. Every single one of the six teams I looked at spent very little on their 4th line. Some were loaded with goons, some were loaded with value contracts, but no one allocated much cap space to this line. On the worst case with Smyth and Ryan Jones on the fourth line, the Oilers wasted 7.3% of their cap space on a line that should be consuming half of that.

The third line was interesting. With the cap reduction, it was pretty obvious this was a line that top teams decided they could go cheaper on. Only Boston is spending material money on this line and only Boston and Detroit were over 10%. Detroit's number was driven by the Weiss signing at $4.8M, someone they clearly have there because he can play higher up the line up when needed. Only San Jose and Edmonton have $5M players on their notional 3rd line (Hemsky and Havlat). And it's reasonable to expect Martin Havlat will be gone next season.

Edmonton, on the other hand, is spending right to the max for this line, and well above the average. Given they are spending "in the range" on the other three forward lines, that means this overspending will cost them somewhere else. Ideally, the Oilers will look to bring the spending on the third line down to the $6.0-$6.5M range for next season.

This means with Boyd Gordon consuming $3M of the cap space allocation, the Oilers need to find some value contracts to share the remaining $3.0 to $3.5M. It also means the end of an expensive forward on the RW.

Next up, the defense:

Min

Avg

Max

Oilers

1st

10%

15%

17%

8%

2nd

7%

10%

14%

11%

3rd

3%

5%

8%

7%

What this shows is the Oilers are spending way too little money on their top pairing. Additionally, if you push Justin Schultz and Andrew Ference to the bottom pairing, the Oilers will be spending over double the top performers' average on the bottom pairing (assuming Schultz hits his bonuses). It also reflects what many observers have been saying about the Oilers defence - they lack true top pairing defencemen whereas really good teams have them.

On goaltending, the Oilers are spending average on their back up (even if he isn't justifying it) and well below average on their starter.

Min

Avg

Max

Oilers

Starter

6%

8%

11%

5%

Back up

1%

2%

3%

2%

In today's NHL, it seems to me, it is suicide to go cheap on both your goaltending and your defence. The top performers are spending 30% of their cap space on defence to the Oilers 26%. Top performers are weighting this spend to the top pairing. The Oilers are weighting their spend to the bottom pairing. Combined, the top performers devote on average 40% of their cap space to keeping the puck out of their net. The Oilers devote 33%. And we wonder why the Oilers bleed goals?

So, in terms of spend, areas for action in Edmonton would appear to be:

1. Reduce the amount of cap space consumed by the 3rd line by finding value contracts (real NHL players or young players that are clearly ready for third line duty, preferably the former). This probably is the end of Ales Hemsky in Edmonton. Even at $3.5M he is too expensive

2. Invest in the top pairing even if it means trading a core player to make it happen.

3. Reduce the cost of the 3rd pairing materially. Assuming a $70M cap, this pairing should not cost more than $3.5 to $4.0M in total.

4. If you can find the right starter, you can spend more, but he needs to be the guy.

Ideal budget:

Percent

$M

Committed $M

1st Line

25.0%

17.5

16.0 to 18.0

Hall, RNH + Eberle or Yakupov

2nd Line

17.0%

11.9

8.6 to 12.6

Perron, Gagner + maybe Yakupov

3rd Line

9.0%

6.3

3.0

Gordon

4th Line

4.0%

2.8

0

1st Pairing

14.9%

10.4

0

Petry is RFA

2nd Pairing

9.6%

6.7

3.3

Ference

3rd Pairing

5.3%

3.7

0

Schultz is RFA

Starter

7.7%

5.4

0

Back up

1.9%

1.3

1.0

Labarbera

Extra roster players (21 to 23)

2.9%

2.0

0

Available for Deadline deals

3.0%

2.0

Total

100%

$ 70.0

The Copper & Blue is a fan community that allows members to post their own thoughts and opinions on the Edmonton Oilers and hockey in general. These posts do not necessarily represent the views of the staff of The Copper & Blue.

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