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With A Second Buyout Window Looming, A Look At The Oilers' Salary Cap Situation

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Will the Oilers buyout Nikitin on Saturday? Do they need to?

Jeff Gross/Getty Images

We last looked at the Oilers salary cap situation a little more than two weeks ago, on the eve of free agency. Since then the Oilers have acquired Lauri Korpikosi for Boyd Gordon and signed a pair of free agents: Andrej Sekera and Mark Letestu. With those changes, and a second buyout window on the horizon now that the Oilers and Justin Schultz have agreed to terms on a new one-year deal, it's time to update that post to see where things stand today.

As before, all numbers are courtesy of

Forwards (14) 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
Lauri Korpikoski 28 $2,500,000 $2,500,000 UFA
Nail Yakupov 21 $2,500,000 $2,500,000 RFA
Matt Hendricks 34 $1,850,000 $1,850,000 UFA
Mark Letestu 30 $1,800,000 $1,800,000 $1,800,000
Anton Lander 24 $987,500 $987,500 RFA
Tyler Pitlick 23 $945,000 * Unknown
Connor McDavid+ 18 $925,000 $925,000 $925,000
Luke Gazdic 25 $800,000 RFA
Rob Klinkhammer 28 $725,000 UFA
Defence (7)
Andrej Sekera 29 $5,500,000 $5,500,000 $5,500,000
Nikita Nikitin 29 $4,500,000 UFA
Justin Schultz 24 $3,900,000 RFA
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
Goalies (2)
Ben Scrivens 28 $2,300,000 UFA
Cam Talbot 27 $1,450,000 UFA
Sub Total $66,201,666
Bonuses $3,200,000
Bonus Cushion (7.5%) $5,355,000
Amount Against Cap $0
Total $66,201,666
Cap Space $5,198,334

So as it stands the Oilers have a couple dollars less than $5.M2M left to spend before they reach the cap. To get to this number I did a couple of things. First, as I did previously, I assumed Pitlick's contract value will be the same as his qualifying offer, a small change either way won't affect the overall picture very much. And second, with the addition of Sekera I've bumped Reinhart out of the top seven. Also in the AHL in this scenario is Leon Draisaitl.

Part of the reason for leaving both off the roster was to keep things simple before diving into the issues surrounding their bonuses. I'm less sure about Draisaitl, but based on his statements after the draft I believe that Chiarelli is envisioning Reinhart as an Oiler next season, so he probably needs to be accounted for somewhere. The question is, where do you put him? The obvious candidates for him to replace are either Ference or Nikitin by way of burying one in the minors (this is not an option with Ference), a trade where the Oilers retain salary (I'll assume 50%), or a buyout.

Here is how the cap looks in those scenarios.

Buried in the AHL Trade & Retain Salary Bought Out
Previous Cap Space $5,198,334 $5,198,334 $5,198,334
Nikitin Savings ($950,000) ($2,250,000) ($3,000,000)
Reinhart Cap Hit $863,333 $863,333 $863,333
Bonuses Against Cap $195,000 $195,000 $195,000
Remaining Cap Space $5,090,001 $6,390,001 $7,140,001

Trade & Retain Salary Bought Out
Previous Cap Space $5,198,334 $5,198,334
Ference Savings ($1,625,000) ($2,583,334)
Reinhart Cap Hit $863,333 $863,333
Bonuses Against Cap $195,000 $195,000
Remaining Cap Space $5,765,001 $6,723,335

Alternatively, the Oilers could choose to carry eight defencemen to start the season in order to create a spot for Reinhart, sending someone like Pitlick or Gazdic to the AHL for a month or two  until another option presents itself. In this case the increased cap cost would be minimal, an extra $195k in bonuses and plus/minus the difference between the two contracts is. For example, if Gazdic were demoted the additional cost would be $258,333.

So if the Oilers just want to get Reinhart into the lineup, there are options available and they all leave the team with a decent amount of cap space. But if they want to get Draisaitl into the mix as well, things start to get a little tricker as his full bonus amount, $2.475M, would count against the cap. It's still workable situation for the Oilers, but those dollars really start to eat into the bottom line and would leave very little room to add anything anywhere else unless the dollars are reasonably close. So a theoretical trade of Schultz plus something for Brent Seabrook would work, whereas signing Cody Franson or Christian Ehrhoff probably wouldn't.

So what does all this mean? What do the Oilers do? To be honest, I think the way that they handled the Schultz arbitration is a bit of a tell here. They did it in such a way, by opting not to try and reduce Schultz's salary, that they opened up this second buyout window, I can't imagine that there wasn't a reason for that. And my guess is that they use that second buyout window to part ways with Nikitin.

Between Nikitin and Ference I'm more concerned about having Ference on the roster. I don't think there is much of a bounce back opportunity for Ference, but I suspect that the Oilers are leery of carrying a buyout longer than McDavid's entry level deal to get out from under his contract. So in the end I believe that it'll be Nikitin that goes. Whether or not they add another payer remains to be seen, but this move will give them additional room under the cap to do that, be it a trade or another free agent signing, and opens up a spot for Reinhart if they can't.