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Cut The Cap

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The Edmonton Oilers have to free up cap space somehow this offseason. How should they go about it?

Edmonton Oilers v Colorado Avalanche
Kris Russell carries a 4 million cap hit for the next two seasons.
Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images

The Edmonton Oilers need to free up some cap space this offseason. They’re up against the cap wall so incredibly hard, that even a generous increase of four or five million to the current cap ceiling will only allow them a (relatively) meagre ten or eleven million in cap space to shore up the roster. That ten or eleven million dollars is even less if the club plans on bringing up players like Kailer Yamamoto, Evan Bouchard, Caleb Jones or if they re-sign Jesse Puljujarvi. The bottom line? Ken Holland’s got to find a way to inject this club with some cap space. And like Ringo said, it don’t come easy.

The Oilers were a sub-80 point team to finish the 2018-19 season, and they’ll need to make some moves this offseason in order to shore up the roster. We covered what Ken Holland will likely be asked to do for the 2019-20 season, and the list is long. A couple of wingers, maybe a puck moving defenceman, a backup netminder among other things. The Oilers have to cut some cap, and they’re going to have to get creative in the trade market.

Where to start?

MILAN LUCIC, 6MM x 4 YEARS (NMC)

I’m reading things on the internet lately that suggest that Peter Chiarelli wasn’t the right person to trade Milan Lucic and that Ken Holland is. I’ll one-up you and suggest that Peter Chiarelli shouldn’t have been the person to sign Milan Lucic and then trade Taylor Hall, but then again I haven’t crippled two NHL rosters in my GM career. Whether you loved the Lucic signing on day one or didn’t, the big man finished this last season with 20 points having spent significant time on the fourth line. The kicker is that Lucic owns a NMC until the final two years of the deal, where he has a limited NTC. Fortunately for the Oilers? Lucic seems open to waiving his NMC, especially if it’s to Vancouver. With a buyout unavailable due to Lucic’s bonus structure, the Oilers could breathe a sigh of relief while retaining 50% of Lucic’s cap hit in a trade. The rub? It will likely cost the Oilers a significant asset to get Lucic off the books via trade.

KRIS RUSSELL, 4MM x 2 YEARS (NMC w/ MODIFIED NTC)

Another signing that was either loved or hated by the masses when it happened just under two years ago, Russell has spent significant time playing the right side on the second pair with Darnell Nurse. Russell is very good at blocking shots, though he’s not going to provide much offence and has some difficulty with the first pass. There will likely be some interest in this player, though the player has a ten team trade list in 2019-20. This is a player that could probably be moved without any retained salary, which is good news for the Oilers.

ANDREJ SEKERA, 5.5MM x 2 YEARS (MODIFIED NTC)

Sekera has had two big injuries over his last two years, and that’s likely going to be a fairly big red flag to any potential suitors. When Sekera did make it back into the lineup last season, he looked surprisingly good on the third pair after missing most of the season recovering from surgery on his Achilles. A player with this term remaining on his deal sounds like a trade deadline 2020 scenario from here. Sekera has a 15-team trade list from now until the end of his deal.

SAM GAGNER, 3.15MM x 1 YEAR

Finally, a deal without any NMC/NTC restrictions. Sam Gagner was brought back to the Oilers in a deal that sent Ryan Spooner to the Vancouver Canucks. Gagner was shuffled around the lineup a bit, but spent a fair bit of time with Colby Cave and Bob Nicholson’s favourite player in the world, Tobias Rieder. A team might take Gagner at half price, though the Oilers might buy him out and enjoy the 2MM cap space this year.

ZACK KASSIAN, 1.95MM x 1 YEAR

The Oilers didn’t have very many solid options not named Leon Draisaitl to play right wing this past season. Zack Kassian got moved all over the lineup, and he didn’t crash while playing alongside Connor McDavid. That being said, the Oilers are probably looking for a more stable option to play in the top six. Kassian is a decent bottom six option, but a team that is looking for what he can bring to the table could relieve the Oilers of nearly 2MM in cap space.

MIKKO KOSKINEN, 4.5MM x 3 YEARS (MODIFIED NTC)

Ain’t nobody touching that one. Move on.

These are just five players on the club that the Oilers could hope to move in order to free up some cap space. Oh now, the Oilers could trade a player like Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (6MM x 2 years) for an Actual NHL Player™, though I would avoid shipping a top centre (and 69 point player in 2018-19) for a lesser player. We’ve been through that enough, really.

The Oilers have to free up some cap. Some deals will be easier to make, while some could be downright noxious. Any deal that sees Milan Lucic leaving Edmonton will likely see a big piece go along with him for little in return. The Oilers have to avoid the other side of this coin as well, and not ship the top goods simply for cap relief.

It’s an unenviable position for Ken Holland in his first year, but the Oilers are likely going to have to make some hard choices if they want to be active in any way come unrestricted free agency this July.