There are more than a few people who know that the Edmonton Oilers are top-end loaded. Just this week, Dom Luszczyszyn of The Athletic wrote that the Oilers stand no better than a 20% chance of making the playoffs considering they have Connor McDavid surrounded by “Guy, Guy, Guy.”
But, Edmonton isn’t in bad shape when you consider their elite-level contracts are more than favorable in today’s NHL landscape and new GM Ken Holland has created a flexible situation where he can surround his stars with useful talent on more favorable contracts over the next few seasons.
The RFA Issue in the NHL
The current landscape of the NHL is an ugly one when it comes to restricted free agent contracts. There are more than half-a-dozen teams with high-end and uber-talented players simply waiting for the first shoe to drop and one player to sign so the rest of the dominos can fall.
The Oilers are lucky not to be in that situation.
While players like Mitch Marner, Mikko Rantanen, Matthew Tkachuk, Zach Werenski, Patrik Laine and others potentially miss training camp, the Oilers are sitting pretty, with everyone ready to roll on the 2019-20 season. Even next season, the worst the Oilers have to deal with is the contract for Darnell Nurse: a situation they are likely already working on.
A team like the Toronto Maple Leafs is not so lucky.
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The Maple Leafs Situation is Ugly
Yes, the Maple Leafs are a better team on paper than the Edmonton Oilers. Probably by a large margin. The Oilers may have the best player in the game but the Maple Leafs have arguably the top forward corps in the NHL and GM Kyle Dubas has done a masterful job of reworking the blue line into something that resembles and contending backend for this coming season.
The problem for the Maple Leafs is that they’re looking at huge long-term issues and there’s no way around it. While the Oilers have McDavid locked up long-term at $12.5 million per season, Leon Draisaitl at $8.5 per season and Oscar Klefbom at an astounding $4.1 million, the Maple Leafs are staring an ugly truth right in the face: there’s absolutely no way they can keep this team together.
By this time next season, Dubas may be looking at a situation where only six forwards are locked up long-term — two of which make over $11 million per season (John Tavares and Auston Matthews) and one (William Nylander) almost $7 million on what many consider an overpayment. Dubas will also have only Morgan Reilly on the blue line signed, but knowing that come to the start of the 2022 season, the team could go broke trying to keep him, all while having to sign at least five more players to surround him.
Related: Ranking NHL Teams By Forwards
The Dubas / McKenzie Interview
Dubas sat down with TSN’s Bob McKenzie for a lengthy interview. A good chunk of time was spent discussing the Marner situation but within that interview, they discussed contracts for players like Matthews, Nylander, and others. Dubas talked about different leverages and contract situations being unique for each contract and that’s only going to continue to be a problem for the Maple Leafs moving forward.
Dubas did a good job deflecting a lot of the concerns, even changing the narrative for the Maple Leafs but one can’t envy the job he’s facing in the next one-to-three seasons. In fact, the Maple Leafs may be facing the hardest decisions in the NHL moving forward.
Dubas told Bob McKenzie he sometimes looks back and wonders if they should have done anything differently. He’s going to wish he had. For example, Steve Simmons of the Toronto Sun wrote:
I’m told the Leafs could have signed Marner a year ago for eight years and $8 million a year but they thought it was too much at the time.
source – ‘SIMMONS: Racism in hockey needs to disappear at all levels of the game’ – The Toronto Sun – Steve Simmons – 08/31/2019
Dubas may also regret the Nylander deal, some say the Tavares deal could become a concern and the chances are, the Maple Leafs are going to let defenseman Jake Gardiner simply walk this summer because they don’t have the funds to keep him. Every team has a contract or two they can look back at and wish they’d done differently, but these are whoppers.
Are the Maple Leafs better than the Oilers? Yes. Is it nice to have such talented players you have to make difficult decisions? Of course.
All that said, if Oiler fans are looking for a silver lining and want to think glass half-full, Edmonton might squeak into the playoffs this season, but their long-term ability to round out a roster is not that bad. Further to that, one could argue there long-term outlook is arguably far better than Toronto’s.