An early exit from the 2020 NHL Play-Ins will give the Oilers plenty of time to think about what could have been. The draft will be here in just about seven weeks, and free agency will allow the Oilers to tinker a bit with the roster before the 2020-21 season starts.
Free agency is normally the time when we think about a big ticket player coming to town, or at least the idea of bringing in a few impact contributors. Barring a salary dump or a buyout, expectations ought to be tempered due to the flat salary cap.
Can the Oilers make any improvements on a shoestring budget? Let’s take a look at what’s available, and what the Oilers can afford to do.
The Oilers have just over ten million in cap space for the 2020-21 NHL season.
Who’s a free agent?
- 4 forwards. Andreas Athansiou is an RFA, Riley Sheahan, Tyler Ennis and Patrick Russell are UFAs)
- 3 defencemen. Ethan Bear and Matthew Benning are RFAs. Mike Green has retired.
- 1 goaltender. Mike Smith is UFA.
And, they’ll have over ten million (10.15MM) in cap space to do it all. It doesn’t happen without the club moving at least one contract. Maybe that’s a buyout, or a retained salary trade. Maybe Holland straight up deals Athanasiou for a pick, leaving the Oilers to worry about seven positions instead of eight. (They’ll still need some more cap hit to make it work).
The Oilers’ easiest way to free up some cap would be to buy out James Neal, which would instantly free up a little less than 4 million dollars in cap for the next three years (3.833MM, AAV). If they could get a taker at 50%, it would also do a world of good in half the time. If Zack Kassian is out of the top six for any length of time, it will make that 3.2MM AAV x 4 look more and more difficult each day. If the Oilers could find a taker for Kassian, that’d be sublime. He’ll be in Oiler colours for at least one year of that deal and likely more unless Seattle is just chomping at the bit to get at him.
SO LET’S SAY YOU FREE UP SOME CAP. NOW WHAT?
I think Neal is the most likely candidate to move this offseason. Kris Russell has a modified NTC and is worth 4MM in cap this coming season. I’d like to find new homes for both players, for this exercise we’ll buy out Neal only.
Fourteen million is a lot nicer looking than just ten, and you can probably grab two players with that amount of cap.
But hold the phone; before you go shopping with all of those nickels, you ought to take care of Ethan Bear and Matt Benning. Let’s sign Benning to a modest raise (2.25 x 2) and hope Bear wants to play nice (3.75 x 3). The Bear deal is going to get more expensive every day, and they ought to go long on this one.
Great. That leaves us 8 million to tie up 5 positions.
Bring back Tyler Ennis on a 1M deal along with a backup goaltender. For whatever reason, Keith Kinkaid seems to be the kind of player the Oilers would offer a few peanuts for (1MM). Jesse Puljujarvi gets back into the mix on his NHL out-clause from Liiga (1 MM). 1MM for Riley Sheahan and a repeat of last year’s deal for Patrick Russell (700K.) Andreas Athanasiou signs his QO at 3.3MM and the Oilers slide in just under the cap.
I’m tired just thinking about it.
What do you got?
Holland could have something up his sleeve where he moves on Adam Larsson or Kris Russell, or both. Depending on who you listen to, Darnell Nurse or Oscar Klefbom could be headed out. A team like Ottawa may have interest in Russell (1.5MM in real dollars vs. 4MM in cap), but Russell could veto that deal. It will be interesting to see if any teams have an interest to spend knowing the cap is likely dormant for the next three years. While this mock scenario brings back several pieces and a playable roster, there’s plenty that has to just go right. Improvements are minimal (add 98, take away Neal, bring in Keith Kinkaid and move on Mike Smith), so proceed with caution.
Can Holland make magic? He did it once with Lucic, but there’s more work to be done. Short of pulling a rabbit out of his hat, Holland is going to make next year’s roster on a budget. Let’s see how well he can do it.