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Opportunity Knocks

The Oilers need to shed cap prior to next season, and that window of opportunity is open for a very short time.

Edmonton Oilers v Philadelphia Flyers Photo by Len Redkoles/NHLI via Getty Images

The Oilers are in a fight for the playoffs. After last night’s disappointing 3-1 loss to the Pacific Division leading Calgary Flames, Edmonton will need something like 16 or 17 wins in their last 25 games in order to have a fighting chance at the second season. Whether or not they’re able to do that remains to be seen. If Edmonton can go on a little run here, maybe Ken Holland becomes more of a buyer at the deadline. If the Oilers hit the skids, maybe he’ll look to sell.

Regardless of what happens between now and the end of the season, the Oilers need to seize an opportunity that’s been placed before them.

Get right out of here! It’s happening again. This is one of those moments where a GM ought to light up and leap to the phone. The Sabres have almost forty million in cap space next year. You’ve got a GM of another NHL franchise on the record that’s willing to take on contracts if the price is right? That’s great, because I know a team that’s got a few contracts that they could get rid of.

Why do the Oilers need to free up cap space? The answer is clear. Edmonton has nearly zero cap space after this season is up. Uncle Kenny went buck wild at the free agent market last offseason, and this year’s offseason is in a financial pinch. Edmonton will have roughly six million in total space this offseason to sign deals for Jesse Puljujärvi, Kailer Yamamoto, Tyler Benson, Ryan McLeod, and William Lagesson. That’s before we get to UFAs like Evander Kane or Mikko Koskinen (or his replacement). In other words, any space Ken Holland can dig up will be an immediate benefit to the Oilers. It’s time to get creative.

You’ve seen some of these kinds of deals before. Teams are looking to get out of a contract by trading players along with picks or prospects as payment for the privilege of dumping cap space. Prior to the current season, teams were calling up Arizona and just dumping contracts with a sweetener or two off at their door for nothing, not even a conditional pick in return. If Buffalo (or Seattle, or Arizona) are willing to take on contracts, Ken Holland needs to get to the phone yesterday and make it happen.

There are a few contracts that the Oilers should try to shed. Here they are, in all their glory:

  • ZACK KASSIAN (3.2MM, SIGNED THROUGH 2023-24)

Kassian signed that four year deal back in early 2020 during a heater while on Connor McDavid’s top wing. Kassian finished with more than 30 points for the first time in his NHL career that year, he’s combined for a grand total of just 19 points over the last two years combined. Kassian is at his best when he’s engaged and able to irritate the opposition. He’s had several injuries that have kept him out of the lineup, and I don’t think he’s looked the same since a fight with then-Senators defenceman Erik Gudbranson last year.

  • MIKE SMITH (2.2MM, SIGNED THROUGH 2022-23)

Mike Smith had a very good season in 2020-21. In 32 games, he put up a .923 SV% and had 3 shutouts, even though he had some significant time on injured reserve early in the season. This year, Smith has struggled mightily so far. Not only has he battled injuries, he’s only been able to put together a .891 SV%, which ranks him near the bottom of the entire league. A veteran in his 17th NHL season, the Oilers have tried to depend on the soon-to-be 40 year old Smith to be the number one goalie this season. It just hasn’t worked out.

  • TYSON BARRIE (4MM, SIGNED THROUGH 2023-24)

Barrie is gifted offensive defenceman who had 48 points in the 56 game abbreviated season last year. I had thought Barrie would have moved on to greener pastures at the conclusion of last season. Holland was pressed when he lost Adam Larsson to the Seattle Kraken, and Barrie got inked to the multi-year deal. The emergence of Evan Bouchard has often relegated Barrie to the third pair, although he’s played plenty on the first pair between last year and now. A third pairing defenceman with a four million dollar cap hit is all kinds of crazy, though Barrie could help run a power play wherever he may end up.

The Oilers would need to offer up a sweetener for Kassian and Smith. Maybe that’s a pick for either player. For Barrie, I think they could fetch a prospect in return without much trouble.

Would the Oilers miss any of these players? I don’t think they’d miss Kassian or Smith at all, and I think the Oilers could move on from Barrie rather easily as Evan Bouchard continues to mature. Most importantly, a successful trade deadline could see the Oilers offload nearly ten million in cap space with these three players. With next to zero cap space available this offseason, the Oilers are going to need every bit of cap they can get.