Explaining Oilers’ 3 Most Confusing Summer Contracts: Kane, Keith, Smith

The Edmonton Oilers, specifically Ken Holland, have a lot of work to do this summer. If the plan is to keep as much of this team together as possible, Holland needs to get to work on figuring out what to do about three players whose contract situations aren’t exactly clear.

Sign up for our regular 'Oilers Newsletter' for all the latest.

Having a clear direction for Evander Kane, Duncan Keith and Mike Smith would make Holland’s job a lot easier. Unfortunately, there are still a number of balls in the air when it comes to all three players and I’ll do my best to offer a rundown for fans who find their respective situations a tad confusing.

Evander Kane’s Grievance

Evander Kane will become an unrestricted free agent on July 13th. He doesn’t have a contract with the Oilers after this season and did extremely well on a “show me” contract that helped make him one of the more coveted free agent forwards on the open market. The Oilers definitely want him back, but he was so productive, that his value on an extension has shot through the roof.

Evander Kane Edmonton Oilers
Evander Kane, Edmonton Oilers (Photo by David Kirouac/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

The issue for Edmonton is that they don’t have the cap space to give Kane the rumored $7 million per season he might be asking for a longer-term deal, at least not without sacrificing other players to make it work. In the background lurks Kane’s arbitration hearing with the San Jose Sharks. He’s filed a grievance that the Sharks wrongfully terminated his previous contract and he’s seeking the full balance of that contract. If he’s successful, the Sharks will be on the hook for the remainder of that deal (three more seasons at $7 million per season).

Related: Evander Kane’s Grievance Delay Could Equal Big Oilers and Sharks Trade

The problem for the Oilers is that San Jose could take the player back if Kane is successful and the arbitrator sides with the player. That would make any deal the Oilers sign with Kane as a free agent void, leaving Edmonton to go another direction or work out a trade. That is, unless, the Oilers sign him to a lucrative contract big enough to convince him to drop his grievance.

Needless to say, this is all kind of messy, and the Oilers, Sharks, and Kane are waiting for the arbitrator to have time in his schedule to meet again.

Duncan Keith’s Recapture Situation

The Oilers have asked veteran defenseman Duncan Keith to decide if he’ll be back next season or will choose to retire. It’s likely Keith comes back, but if he does hang up his skates, the Oilers will see over $5.5 million come off the books, a salary they can use to do other things.

Duncan Keith Edmonton Oilers
Duncan Keith, Edmonton Oilers (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

There’s some debate about what else might come the Oilers’ way if Keith retires. Written into the CBA is a clause that requires a team who signed players to deals similar to Keith’s to pay out the remainder of his contract if he quits early. The Chicago Blackhawks signed him to what is deemed an illegal contract now, getting a huge cap benefit in the early seasons of that incredibly long-term deal. As per the CBA, the Oilers should get the benefit of Chicago having to pay out a $7 million penalty.

Unfortunately, the NHL has said the Oilers will not receive the $3.4 million cap credit they should get if Keith retires. Holland was told this when he traded for Keith, but the NHLPA might have something to say about that because it’s an arbitrary decision by the league that the players ultimately won’t love and affects escrow and the allotted salary cap per team. Will there be a fight with the league over this if Keith retires? Probably not. More likely, the Oilers will just take the extra salary cap space and move on.

Keep in mind, this is all only if Keith quits this offseason, which he’s not likely to do.

Mike Smith’s Injury Situation

Mike Smith was also asked by Ken Holland to decide what his future will hold. Unlike Keith, there’s a lot more speculation that the veteran netminder might actually retire. He’s older, he’s not in the type of physical shape he needs to be to play a full season and reports are that he left the 2021-22 campaign with a lot of nagging injury issues.

Mike Smith Edmonton Oilers
Mike Smith, Edmonton Oilers (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

In fact, there’s chatter that even if Smith chooses to play out his final season under contract with the Oilers, he’ll go on LTIR. If either thing happens, the Oilers have cap space to work with, but will need to make signing a starting goaltender priority No. 1 this offseason. The only issue the Oilers would face is finding the room to activate him when healthy if he’s part of the roster. The NHL doesn’t allow for players to stay on LTIR if they are deemed healthy enough to play. Obviously this isn’t a situation the league has closely monitored (see Tampa and Vegas as examples) but Smith is a competitive guy. He’ll want to play if he can.

Smith could still be on the roster next season and might not retire. All that said, he might not play and the Oilers need to find a partner for Stuart Skinner between the pipes. There’s no way the Oilers rest a full season on Skinner’s shoulders.