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The Oilers Didn't Buyout Nikitin. A Look At Their Cap Situation Heading Into Free Agency.

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The waiver deadline came and went, and Nikita Nikitin's name was nowhere to be found. So here's what the Oilers have to work with heading into free agency.

Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

The first free agency window has closed and Nikita Nikitin is still a member of the Edmonton Oilers. If you go to bed every night dreaming of a buyout, there is still a chance that it could happen but it's unlikely at this point. Sorry.

There is a very nice post the Silver Seven looking at buyout rules, from that post:

The second is a window related to arbitration, and it carries some extra restrictions. For this window to open, the team has to have gone to arbitration. This window opens on the third day after the team's last arbitration is concluded and is open for 48 hours. There are also restrictions on which players can be bought out - First, the player has to have been on the reserve list as of the last trade deadline (so no buying out that off-season signing you regret until the next trade deadline). Second, there is a minimum cap value for a contract to be eligible for this - $2.75m AAV initially, but the value goes up based on the average league salary each year.

The one exception to this extra window is when the only arbitration case is team-elected, and that player earned more than $1,750,000 (in 2013 dollars - it's adjusted up based on league average salary) in the previous season. In that specific case, the window does not open.

The good news for the buyout lovers out there, is that Nikitin could be bought out should the second window open for the Oilers. The bad news is that it'll require one of the team's three restricted free agents filing for arbitration. Brandon Davidson doesn't have arbitration rights, and I can't imagine Justin Schultz thinking he'll get more that his $3.675M qualify offer. So that means it all comes down to Tyler Pitlick. Sure, it's possible that he files for arbitration but I wouldn't think it's likely. Like it or not, it's time to start thinking about life with Nikitin again, and with free agency just a day away we might as well start with a look at the Oilers salary cap situation.

Courtesy of generalfanager.com, the Oilers current contracts.

Forwards (14) Age 2015/16 2016/17 2017/18
Jordan Eberle 25 $6,000,000 $6,000,000 $6,000,000
Taylor Hall 23 $6,000,000 $6,000,000 $6,000,000
Ryan Nugent-Hopkins 22 $6,000,000 $6,000,000 $6,000,000
Teddy Purcell 29 $4,500,000 UFA
Benoit Pouliot 28 $4,000,000 $4,000,000 $4,000,000
Boyd Gordon 31 $3,000,000 UFA
Nail Yakupov 21 $2,500,000 $2,500,000 RFA
Matt Hendricks 34 $1,850,000 $1,850,000 UFA
Anton Lander 24 $987,500 $987,500 RFA
Tyler Pitlick 23 $945,000 * Unknown
Leon Draisaitl+ 19 $925,000 $925,000 RFA
Connor McDavid+ 18 $925,000 * $925,000 $925,000
Luke Gazdic 25 $800,000 RFA
Rob Klinkhammer 28 $725,000 UFA
Defence (7)
Nikita Nikitin 29 $4,500,000 UFA
Justin Schultz 24 $3,675,000 * Unknown
Mark Fayne 28 $3,625,000 $3,625,000 $3,625,000
Andrew Ference 36 $3,250,000 $3,250,000 UFA
Eric Gryba 27 $1,250,000 UFA
Oscar Klefbom+ 21 $894,166 RFA
Griffin Reinhart+ 21 $863,333 $863,333 RFA
Goalies (2)
Ben Scrivens 28 $2,300,000 UFA
Cam Talbot 27 $1,450,000 UFA
Sub Total $60,964,999
Bonuses $8,025,000
Bonus Cushion (7.5%) $5,355,000
Amount Against Cap $2,670,000
Total $63,634,999
Cap Space $7,765,001

This isn't how I would construct the Oilers roster if it was up to me, but based on what we've heard I think this is probably close to what we'd see if the team was to strike out in free agency, and is therefore a reasonable starting point tomorrow. To try and give a complete picture I've taken the liberty of removing Derek Roy and Keith Aulie, adding Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl, and Griffin Reinhart, and filling in contract values as required (identified with a *). I've given McDavid the maximum allowed under the CBA; both Schultz and Pitlick have been listed at the qualifying offers. You'll also see that with this roster scenario that the Oilers exceed the 7.5% bonus cushion allowed in the CBA.

Four players in my theoretical roster have been marked with a +, indicating that they have a bonus not shown in the table above. Their contracts and bonuses are summarized in the table below. I've included Darnell Nurse as well, since there is a pretty good chance that he spends some time in Edmonton this season and his bonus might need to be accounted for at some point. However you choose to construct the Oilers' roster, remember that as soon as these bonuses exceed the cushion - $5.355M - the Oilers will have to account for the overage. Basically the Oilers end up working with a reduced salary cap.

Player Cap Hit Bonuses
Leon Draisaitl $925,000 $2,475,000
Connor McDavid $925,000 $2,850,000
Oscar Klefbom $894,166 $350,000
Griffin Reinhart $863,333 $2,350,000
Darnell Nurse $863,333 $850,000

And if you want to add an extra layer of complexity to all of this, speeds is here to help. In his latest at Hockey Symposium, which I highly recommend reading, he notes the following with Drasaitl and Reinhart:

There is a consideration for Draisaitl that does not exist for Reinhart. If Edmonton leaves either Reinhart or Draisaitl in the AHL all year, an ELC year would be burned. However, with Draisaitl, a year in the AHL vs. a year in the NHL results in him being a UFA in 2023 instead of 2022; Reinhart's UFA status is not impacted by whether or not he plays in the NHL. When you combine that with Draisaitl having an effective cap hit of 3.4M (again, assuming the bonus overage is already maxed out), is it that hard to argue that Edmonton would be better off to sign a UFA W for 2.5M, save some cap space, save a year towards UFA status for Draisaitl, and let him play a full year as the #1C in the AHL?

Tomorrow the Oilers will head into free agency looking to add a defenceman, maybe two, and possibly a winger as well. A long shopping list given that they'll only have, give or take, $7.5M to spend, assuming they're looking at the numbers the same way that I have. And if that's the case I think we should either set our sights a little lower or expect another trade to happen at some point very soon. Considering the values that are usually available in free agency, I wish them luck.