Once you tack on Evan Bouchard’s nearly-900K performance bonus, the Oilers are heading into this season with just about 2.5 million in cap space to sign two free agents. This, after Mike Smith and Oscar Klefbom’s LTIR, after the first whiff of a new Darnell Nurse deal valued annually at 9.25MM, and an offseason flurry featuring moves like four years of Evander Kane The two free agents are Ryan McLeod (who has a qualifying offer of just over 800K) and Kailer Yamamoto, who is almost certain to exceed 2.5MM with whatever deal he signs. What’s it all mean? The Oilers are out of cap space, and they’ve got to free up some cap space prior to Kailer Yamamoto’s August 7th hearing next Sunday.
How do the Oilers get under the cap? The answer is simple: make someone go away. To do this, they’ll need to orchestrate a trade to a club that’s willing to take on some space.
Who’s a candidate to move? There are a few.
For the club’s sake, getting a club to take Warren Foegele in either a pure cap dump (or for a a contract valued at less than 1MM) is probably the best possible outcome. Foegele just finished the first year of his three year 2.75 MM AAV extension, he put up 26 points (14-12-26) in 82 games. I’m penciling Dylan Holloway in as a regular player come opening night, this would place Foegele on the fourth line to start. With the Oilers signing Mattias Janmark to a one year 1.25MM deal, it’s fair to reckon that Foegele’s time as an Oiler may be coming to an end. The Oilers have unloaded Zack Kassian and the two remaining years at 3.2MM off in Arizona, but it cost Edmonton two draft picks to sweeten the pot. Are there any takers for 2 years of Foegele at 2.75MM?
It would be especially bold to trade your only right wing currently under contract. Puljujärvi avoided arbitration when he signed a 1 year deal for 3MM on Tuesday. He put up career highs in goals and points in a year where he suffered an ankle injury, a shoulder injury, and a bout with Covid-19. Puljujärvi’s finishing has been a question mark in his game, but the ice is convincingly tilted towards the opponent’s net no matter what line he’s on. The Oilers would shed 3MM in cap space if they choose to move Puljujärvi, but it would also subtract the only right wing on the roster who’s currently under contract in Edmonton.
Tyson Barrie’s got two more years at 4.5MM a season. There’s a very good chance that he opens the season up as the third pairing right defenceman behind Evan Bouchard, who has arrived. Out of Foegele, Puljujärvi and Barrie, Barrie would probably be the easiest to unload from the roster as defencemen who can move the puck are always coveted. Barrie is a mover and a shaker on the power play, but so is Evan Bouchard. There’s no denying Barrie’s value to a club’s power play, but Evan Bouchard makes Barrie redundant. It’s glaringly obvious if Barrie is the third pairing right defenceman on opening night. A club like the Canadiens might want to take a crack at Tyson Barrie, but the Oilers would need to replace Barrie’s spot in the lineup with an actual NHL defenceman. I don’t think the Oilers are keen on moving Barrie’s contract, though they may have no choice if Yamamoto remains unsigned as the week marches on.
A SECOND BUYOUT WINDOW?
If the Yamamoto arbitration hearing comes and Yamamoto receives an award, a second buyout window will open. The Oilers could exercise a second buyout on any contract that meets or exceeds a 4MM cap hit that was on Edmonton’s roster at the 2022 trade deadline. This is probably a last case scenario for Edmonton, as they’ll no doubt be furiously trying to make something happen between now and then in order to sign their RFAs.
The Oilers will need an extra couple million in cap space to lock down both Kailer Yamamoto and Ryan McLeod. Shedding Foegele will likely be the least impactful way to do this, Ken Holland will be under pressure to make it happen this week.