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Because It’s The Cap: Edmonton Oilers Offseason Preview

The Edmonton Oilers enjoyed a massive improvement from 2015-16 to 2016-17, jumping a whopping 33 points in the standings and qualifying for the playoffs for the first time in over a decade. A full season of Connor McDavid and Oscar Klefbom coupled with added depth around the lineup in the form of Milan Lucic, Adam Larsson, and Kris Russell helped transform the Oilers from basement-dwelling joke into one of the better teams in the Western Conference.

Now that the organization’s decade of darkness is over, it’s time to take the next step forward — Stanley Cup contention. Oilers fans, and the organization as a whole, were thrilled with what the team accomplished this year, but simply reaching the second round of the playoffs and injecting some excitement into Edmonton isn’t going to cut it again in 2017-18.

Roster Analysis

As I mentioned earlier, Connor McDavid’s health played a big role in Edmonton’s improvement this season. McDavid scored 30 goals and 70 assists, winning the Art Trophy race by a hefty 11-point margin over Patrick Kane and Sidney Crosby. When looking at underlying numbers, McDavid had an overwhelmingly positive effect on the team, as virtually everybody saw improved production when on the ice with the team’s captain. I mean, really, I don’t have to walk through how good McDavid was this season. We all saw it happen. It was incredible.

Because of McDavid’s dominance, the Oilers tend to be characterized as a one-man team. While there’s some merit to that, it isn’t really accurate. Leon Draisaitl finished eighth in the NHL in scoring with 77 points and led the Oilers in playoff scoring. The team was also clearly better when Draisaitl anchored his own line as a centre than they were when he played on McDavid’s wing.

Jordan Eberle, Milan Lucic, Benoit Pouliot, and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins were somewhat disappointing in their production considering their salaries and the easy minutes they were fed playing behind McDavid and Draisaitl, but cheap depth players like Patrick Maroon, Mark Letestu, and Zack Kassian stepped up and compensated for it.

Perhaps the most noticeable area of improvement was on the blueline. For years, Edmonton’s defence was a disaster, and suddenly, it’s become a position of strength. The Oilers finished ninth in the league in unblocked shot attempts against per 60 minutes at even strength, whereas in years past, they consistently ranked at the bottom.

Adam Larsson, who was acquired at a very, very high price last summer, stepped in alongside countryman Oscar Klefbom. Larsson played the role of the physical and reliable defender which gave Klefbom the opportunity to come out of his shell and produce offence. Kris Russell, a late-summer addition who’s maligned for his poor possession numbers, played with steady Andrej Sekera and the two were strong in shutting down the other team’s top competition. And finally, rookie Matt Benning came out of nowhere and formed a solid third pair with Darnell Nurse, who looked much better playing in a reduced role.

In net, Cam Talbot had the best season by an Oilers goalie that we’ve seen in a long time. Talbot set a franchise record for wins in a season with 42 and posted an impressive .919 save percentage.

All told, the Oilers were a much more complete team than we’ve seen in, well, probably two decades, honestly. Their 103 points was the seventh best in franchise history and was the best Edmonton has seen since the mid-1980s. Also, when taking a look at underlying numbers, the Oilers finished with the sixth best Goals For percentage at even strength and a top-10 shot differential for the first time in over a decade.

It’s safe to say that the oil has finally been changed. 

Cap Situation

Depending on who gets taken in the expansion draft (we’ll get to that in a moment), the Oilers have roughly $61 million tied up into 11 forwards, six defencemen, and two goalies heading into next season. That’s assuming Mark Fayne and Jesse Puljujarvi are on the roster and it also counts all possible performance bonuses on entry-level contracts are met. In essence, it’s the most expensive scenario possible, and it results in the Oilers having about $12 million in cap room to work with this summer.

Offseason Game Plan

At the expansion draft, the Oilers are likely going to lose either Griffin Reinhart or Jujhar Khaira. Both players are young, cheap, under control, and can grow with the new organization. It would be nice if Vegas snagged Benoit Pouliot and his $4 million annual contract, but I’m sure George McPhee would rather have younger players with upside rather than an older player who seems to be past his prime.

When that’s over with, the focus immediately shifts to two key extensions — Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl. McDavid still has another year left on his entry-level contract, meaning the extension he signs this summer won’t come into effect until 2018-19. Draisaitl, on the other hand, needs a new contract for next season.

After his second season, Sidney Crosby signed a five-year extension worth $8.7 million annually, which, at the time, was 17.3 per cent of the salary cap. Malkin signed an identical contract a year later worth 15.3 per cent of the slightly-increased cap ceiling. If McDavid signs for, say, 17 per cent of the $73 million cap for 2017-18 like Crosby did, he’ll be coming in at $12.41 million annually. The Oilers could get both players to agree to some kind of hometown discount, but, realistically, McDavid and Draisaitl, come 2018-19, are likely going to cost the team around $18-19 million per year.

There’s also this whole Jordan Eberle conundrum. After a very disappointing playoffs in which Eberle managed just two assists in 13 games while looking completely lacklustre, the final part of H.O.P.E seems to be on the outs in Edmonton. As noted earlier, Eberle has a cap hit of $6 million for two more seasons. It seems like a terrible use of money, but in reality, it’s the going rate for a forward who scores 20 goals and 50 points, which Eberle did. For example, last year, Lucic earned $6 million annually for seven years coming off of 55 and 50-point seasons and Loui Eriksson got $6 million for six years after scoring 47 and 63 in Boston.

It wouldn’t surprise me to see Eberle moved this summer, but Peter Chiarelli really shouldn’t be in a rush to dump the winger’s cap hit. The Oilers won’t really be in a bind until 2018-19 when McDavid’s new contract kicks in. Also, Eberle’s value is at an all-time low, and we’ve seen way too many players jettisoned at their lowest points. While Eberle at $6 million seems terrible, there aren’t cheap replacements on the open market, and him in the top six is a hell of a lot better than Anton Slepyshev, Jesse Puljujarvi, or whatever other right shot the Oilers currently have.

Then there’s Kris Russell, who was quite solid for Edmonton this year. Andrej Sekera will miss the first couple months of the season after tearing his ACL in the playoffs, and the Oilers need somebody to fill his role. That said, it isn’t worth signing Russell, a 30-year-old who shoots left and doesn’t produce offensively, to a long-term deal in order to effectively fill a hole for two months. If they can get him on the short or cheap again, sure, go for it. But if somebody else is willing to pay the gritty blueliner money and term, you have to walk away.

Speaking of free agency, when it comes to improving the team via the open market, it’s unlikely Edmonton will make a big splash. They’ve done so in the past two years, handing out big, long-term deals to Andrej Sekera and Milan Lucic, but this year, based on their financial situation and the relatively thin market, the Oilers will likely be quiet. Some depth additions of solid veterans like Justin Williams, John-Michael Liles, P-A Parenteau, or Radim Vrbata would make a lot of sense for this team and it’s current composition.

In sum, I don’t expect a very busy summer in Edmonton as we’ve seen in previous years. There likely won’t be a mammoth Hall-Larsson swap, nor will there be a big Lucic/Sekera signing. This summer is about getting McDavid and Draisaitl locked up long-term, trying to free up some cap room, and making some low-key veteran additions before going on a playoff run with an older, more mature version of this group.

Previously in this series…

30. Colorado Avalanche, 29. Vancouver Canucks, 28. Arizona Coyotes, 27. New Jersey Devils26. Buffalo Sabres25. Detroit Red Wings24. Dallas Stars23. Florida Panthers22. Los Angeles Kings21. Carolina Hurricanes20. Winnipeg Jets, 19. Philadelphia Flyers, 18. Tampa Bay Lightning17. New York Islanders, 16. Nashville Predators, 15. Calgary Flames14. Toronto Maple Leafs13. Boston Bruins12. Ottawa Senators11. San Jose Sharks10. St. Louis Blues, 9. New York Rangers

  • Chiarelli deserves much credit. I didn’t agree with some of his moves, but he proved me wrong. He’s doing a good job.

    Also, Cam Talbot is the #1 reason Oilers played their way out of the NHL basement. It all starts with solid goaltending. Add McDavid to the show and now you have something.

  • Jaxon

    I think C Martin Hanzal makes a lot of sense. Big, fast, shoots a lot, is good on the dot, and has some scoring touch. 30 years old, so he’s not over the hill and they could sign him for 3 years. This would free up TMac to pull out the blender all season and play one or more of Nuge, Draisaitl, Letestu, Hanzal, and Caggiula on the wings. Too bad he’s not right handed. RC Derek Ryan would be a cheap option who is solid on faceoffs.

  • Nanook

    Im not ready to give up on Ebs just yet. For the first time last year he was asked to play a defending roll against top lines. He adapted well to the defensive part but struggled offensively. I thing that’s a reasonable thing to have happen year one of that situation. Ebs is smart, he just needs to find that balance and start chipping in offensively. If he can do that, then we got a second line that can defend and attack. At the very least I give him till the trade deadline to try work it out. Plus he simply cant keep missing the net the way he did this year, It has to get better.

  • Waittillnextyear

    Edmonton is only a move or two from the next level. Their team defense was in the top 1/4 of the league in goals against.
    They will get Connor and Leon signed this summer and things will then fall into place.
    As much as everyone seems to want Eberle gone he is still a guy that will get 50-60 points and 25 goals.
    If they dance with the right team (Islanders), I think there is a deal for Hamonic and when Sekera comes back that defense now looks quite strong.
    Add another forward in the Chiarelli mode and you have a legit cup contender .
    Draisaitl and McDavid in charge and the sky is the limit.
    I hate to say it but the fix is in for the rest of the western conference.

  • FISTO Siltanen

    If the Oilers keep Russell I’d rather they overpay for one year than have a longer term deal that might be impossible to get out from under. If he gets a two year deal I hope the Oilers front load it as much as possible and open up trade possibilities. I’d also bring back Gryba for the right price on another one year deal.

    • 73 Rookie

      Agree to both. Could then dangle Russell to Vegas with a little retained salary (can you retain salary on just 1 year of a multi-year deal?) to eat up their entry selection then Chiarelli can wheel and deal before the entry draft to pick up Hamonic or other depressed value player without losing anyone.

  • Hockey123

    Chiarelli in my mind has been inconsistent. Not having a backup goalie during the season and in the playoffs could have ended in disaster. Trading the #16 pick and #33 pick in the so called strongest draft in over a decade will effect the team for years. Funny in a so called weak draft they are upset they don’t have a 2nd rd pick.
    McDavid and Talbot really saved Chiarelli

    • Nanook

      Maroon, Kassian, Sekera, Larsson, Benning, Cagulia, Russell, Looch and letestu. A blind monkey would have picked McDavid first, and yes Talbot was a great move, but I think those other players mentioned more than make up for the Gustavson/Rienhart bad moves. I’ll take Pete over anything else we have had since Sather thanks.

        • Nanook

          they could have just as easily been busts, what we have is a sure thing. I never said Peter didn’t make a mistake or two, but since Sather we have had nothing even close. I recognise it was a not so good a move, I just feel a whole lot better about the good ones he made.

          • 24% body fat

            but Reinhart was a bust when they traded for him. On draft day he was not a member of the Islanders, and was passed by other less pedigree defenders in the system. Relative to his draft class everyone but him in the first round has shown progress. With the numerous number of left defenders in the organization and the transition to mobile defenders there was no evidence what so ever that he was an NHL ready defender when they traded for him, let alone good enough to move to the right side or pair with someone who can.

            Worst trade ever. Chia and MacT need to own this an move on. This was because of the oilers stubborness to look else where than the oil kings and hold the old boys club accountable. If Mact was actually fired when he was fired. Barzal would be replacing Eberle when we traded him, and Carlo would be on the right side. Neither would need to be protected either.

  • SeethingRed

    So I think if I read this article correctly you predict McDavid at… “he’ll be coming in at $12.41 million annually” then go on to say …”McDavid and Draisaitl, come 2018-19, are likely going to cost the team around $18-19 million per year.” Now unless I screwed up the math you are predicting Draisaitl’s contract to be 6.5-6.6 million per year?! Do you really think if you try and lowball your 2nd best (best in playoffs) player he won’t consider an offer sheet?! I think you are way, way, off….there are at least six guys below him in scoring that are making 9 million! Just try and offer him 6 million per…after he gets offer-sheeted for around 10!!!

    • Redbird62

      I think people need to maybe calm down on salary expectations for these two. First on Draisaitl, is seems that a reasonable expectation would be $6.5 to $6.75 million. Johnny Gaudreau got that out of Calgary after a season where he scored 78 points and finished 7th in scoring, and the prior year he was 3rd in Calder Cup voting. While I prefer Draisaitl, I don’t see why he would expect anything more that what Gaudreau got only after he sat out camp. Don’t let your anti-Flames bias understate Gaudreau’s perceived value in the NHL. As for McDavid, while the $12.5 million would be the equivalent of what Crosby got on a cap percentage basis, I don’t think a 10 year old precedent is a useful comparison and teams and players did not fully appreciate the long term implications of the deals then since the cap was only a couple of years old. Crosby and Malkin’s percentage take of the cap cost them players like Jordan Staal and Marion Hossa and was a factor, along with injuries, in them not getting back to the finals for several more years. Crosby and Malkin clearly sacrificed in their next contracts and they are seeing the fruits of that labor now. I understand that unlike McDavid, players like Crosby, Malkin, Toews and Kane can help their cap figure by taking lower salaries at the back end, but I could see McDavid agreeing to a deal in the $10-$11 million per year average salary, depending on the number of years.

    • Bills Bills

      If someone give Drai a 10 million offersheet, you take the draft picks. He has had one very good year playing mostly in a line with the best young player on the planet. Giving large long term contracts to unproven players is not a smart move and I doubt any other team would think it is. I would sign Drai for no more than 7 AAV and even then I would be a little concerned. He has yet to prove that he is a true top line center, never mind top 3 in the NHL like you’re suggesting they pay him.

  • I just re-read this article and the following caught my eye:” The Oilers could get both players(McDavid and Draisaitl) to agree to some kind of home town discount. Really? Why would they?
    Here are some reasons why they won’t: Eternal winter, mosquitoes, potholes, lack of nature, thunder storms, rain storms, tornadoes and earth quakes. Fracking, chemical spills, pipelines, and pollution, but there is West Ed mall.

      • SeethingRed

        What have you won exactly? Do you really think you are closer to a cup than Nashville or Anaheim…or even Chicago….really?
        Or did you maybe just get the perfect injury riddled first round match-up, and great goal tending? Are you closer to being Pittsburgh or being Ottawa? You had a great run but your team still has serious issues…so does mine…just acknowledge them and pull your head out!

    • braddos

      Because EVERYWHERE has mosquitoes, potholes, lack of nature, thunder storms, rain storms, tornadoes and earth quakes. What hockey cares about fracking which happens east to west and in the US too! Pollution is everywhere and there are many pipelines in North America. The REAL issue is whether or not McD believes the conversation Gretz had with him about his trade from the Oil making him sad because he knew they had a few more chances to win more cups if they could have stayed together. And how that is what really mattered to him , he wanted be on a special team that had those rare opportunities to win the cup. If McD and Drai see that vision a discount to enable a better team to be build better around them is an intelligent possibility. If it is all about being the highest paid players for ego sake then that being their priority wouldn’t allow the team to build as much around them. Winning brrings lucrative contracts by marketing for companies too, so that plays into “recooping” that “lost” money also realistically.

      • You left out eternal winter and chemical spills.

        In today’s Edmonton journal, weeds are taking over your city. Nice. Maybe the semi truck that flipped over spilling chemicals(also in today’s journal) is carrying round up. Not a week goes by, where chemical spills don’t pollute Alberta. An inside source at the fire department told me that firemen get more calls to clean toxic spills, than put out fires. They scoop up as much as possible by hand and water in the rest. The surrounding soil(aquifer) has to absord this. Don’t drink the water. Bottled water only in Oil country.

    • madjam

      You neglected to praise Edmonton like Conde Neste travel (well respected) did just recently calling Edmonton one of the top seven places in the World to be in June . The only N.American city to garner such accolades . There is a lot of positives living here , maybe you should come out of your shell and rediscover some instead of wallowing in your perceived negatives .

    • 99CupsofCoffey

      McDavid isn’t stupid. He’ll by a multi-millionaire 200 times over by the time he’s done. I can see him taking $10 million just to add one more piece that the team couldn’t afford if he maxed out.

      He wants to win. He’ll make more money off the ice than on. That’s why.

    • Hemi

      Holy Smoke! What a negative person you are. Having had been to various cities in both our Canada and in the States, Edmonton is just fine on it’s own. As stated by others, winning has a distinct advantage over any perceived negatives.

  • OilCan2

    The second tier players who showed up with their best ever seasons helped our cause. I think McDavid and Draisaitl will both take modest contracts with long terms and NMCs to cement their chances at creating the Dynasty ver 2.0. As stated by other blog scholars they will cash in much larger with off ice deals that are only showered on winners.

  • 24% body fat

    defence from 2012 better than Reinhart

    reiley lindholm trouba gostisbehere dumba ceci sverson parayko maata
    murray slavin hutton sjhei mccabe miller carrick lindell matheson
    benning gustafsson pouliot pelech dotchin ladue koekoek kulak

    looking at the forwards as well Reinhart would be a mid 3rd round pick that year, and a lot of scouts had him a late 2nd in 2014 if he were redrafts. You can say hindsight all you want but, we didnt aquire him at the draft, they did two years later when Islanders didnt want him and had an abundance of D. Oilers were trading from a position of strength in that a really highly ranked prospect fell to them, Islanders wanted him and were trading from a spot where they had no place for a player they didnt want and yet the oilers were fleeced. Again all because MacT was kept around to collect a paycheck.

    Chia dumped in the wood chipper by Snow

  • Second Tier Oiler Fan

    Chia is da man! he will win the exec of the year! Oiler fans can thank their lucky stars that they are not in the mess that is the Calgary Flames.

  • nuge2drai

    Talbot.

    Maroon.

    Larsson.

    Kassian.

    Benning.

    Letestu.

    Cagguila.

    Russel.

    Sekera.

    Anyone who criticizes Chia for trading Barzal for Reinhardt has some serious issues.

    You can only win them all in hindsight.

  • Fan the Flames

    The advantage Pittsburg has and Edmonton doesn’t have when it comes to signing star players to hometown deals is the tax relief players get in the states . Players need to get 20-30% more in Canada to have the same take home pay.

    • Redbird62

      The tax argument is based on very outdated information. For income over $400,000 the tax rate in Pennsylvania is 45.4% and in Alberta it is 48%. And since in the US the big number is coming from the Feds at 39% changing states won’t change the comparison much.

  • 0W-20

    Move Eberle to NYR for Stepan!! Stepan can be the flexible 2/3C (plus right-handed shot) to swap with Leon or RNH between C/RW as McLellan chooses to mix and match.