Kailer Yamamoto Deal Opens Up Interesting Options for the Oilers

The Edmonton Oilers got their deal with forward Kailer Yamamoto signed on Saturday. It might not be the extension many thought the two sides would sign, but it’s an interesting deal for a number of reasons, and it’s one that actually helps the organization in a variety of ways.

While the contract gives Yamamoto a chance to bounce back and prove himself, it also opens up the option for general manager Ken Holland to get creative with the salary cap, create some internal competition and get a better sense of what Yamamoto is without any real sense of commitment.

This is a deal that represents an opportunity for both sides.

The One-Year Deal Works For Yamamoto

$1.175 million is not a high number and likely not nearly what Yamamoto was hoping to be paid this season. Unfortunately, that’s what happens when you’re an RFA coming off a down season, you have no arbitration rights and the NHL is dealing with a flat salary cap. Yamamoto was never going to get rich on this deal by NHL standards. In fact, he was never going to get the $2-$2.5 million some fans figured he might.

Still, it’s not all bad.

He’s bet on himself and he’s got the chance to up his numbers in 2021-22. He’s likely still pegged to start the season in the Oilers top-six (some might disagree) and if the chips all fall in a positive way, Yamamoto can go back to the negotiating table with Holland and try this again. He’ll have better production totals to use as leverage and the Oilers will be one season more comfortable in evaluating what this player actually is. While Yamamoto doesn’t have arbitration rights and he’ll still be an RFA when this new deal expires, he’ll be in a better position to ask for more than he was this summer.

At best, signing a two-year deal now would have meant $1.5-$1.75 million per season. If he signs another bridge deal next season and does so on the heels of a much better season, those numbers should see a sizeable jump.

The One-Year Deal Works for the Oilers

One-year bridge deals aren’t terribly common. It was believed Edmonton and Yamamoto might settle on a two-year contract, one that would allow the player to work himself into a much more favorable position. For the Oilers, a two-year deal would have provided some cost certainty in the event Yamamoto exploded offensively and got his scoring touch back. At the same time, a two-year deal carries a little risk if Yamamoto shows he’s not the player the Oilers are hoping he is.

Kailer Yamamoto
Kailer Yamamoto (Photo by Andy Devlin/NHLI via Getty Images)

A one-year pact doesn’t hurt Edmonton. It’s one year the Oilers didn’t have to spend much to keep the player in the lineup. He’ll be back for camp, hopefully getting a good start and gaining confidence. It’s the same money that Jesse Puljujarvi is making and both players will see their current deals expire at the same time. In a way, it’s like a bit of friendly internal competition because the Oilers will certainly have to make one of these players a priority.

This is a big year for the Oilers. Everyone on the roster will be accountable for making sure this team not only gets into the playoffs but goes deep. If Yamomoto is not part of that equation, the Oilers aren’t committed and his deal is extremely attractive to other teams.

Oilers Cap Flexibility

Jonathan Willis of The Athletic points out that this Yamamoto deal opens up an interesting scenario for the team. He suggests the Oilers can start the season with defenseman Oscar Klefbom on the active roster rather than LTIR, which gives them much more flexibility and allows them to get nearly the full benefit of the room opened up by his contract.

In other words, through some paper transactions and by moving around players that are waiver eligible and can be demoted to the AHL, Edmonton has a lot more room to work with during the season when it comes to the $4.167 million salary cap hit that Klefbom represents. As Willis writes: “The key thing is that there’s room to maneuver.”

If you’ve heard the Holland speech on LTI (it’s quite amusing), you know he was thinking about how to use Klefbom’s contract to his benefit throughout this season. Yamamoto’s deal gives the Oilers more room to do more later.