Oilers May Have to Sacrifice One Of Three Key Forwards Next Season

Fellow THW contributor Rob Couch took a very optimistic approach to the questions surrounding the Edmonton Oilers’ forward corps next season. Suggesting there was enough room on the salary cap — providing the Oilers make some other changes — to sign Kailer Yamamoto, Jesse Puljujarvi, Ryan McLeod, and Evander Kane to extensions, he believed there was a way for the Oilers to have their cake and eat it too.

As much as I’d like to say that’s doable, I’m not as convinced.

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With Kane on an incredible run, Yamamoto playing the best hockey of his NHL career, and Puljujarvi being a player the Oilers were extremely patient on and know they want on this team long term, only McLeod is someone the Oilers can likely extend at a bargain price tag. As good as McLeod could (and maybe will) be, his run in the NHL hasn’t been long enough to warrant a hefty raise.

Unfortunately, if the Oilers are going to make re-signing Kane a priority this summer, one of Puljujarvi or Yamamoto might have to go.

Moving Salary Isn’t As Easy As It Sounds

Couch suggested the Oilers trade Tyson Barrie, Zack Kassian, and Mike Smith. That’s a lot easier said than done, especially if the plan isn’t to take money back in any of those three deals. Theoretically, moving close to $10 million from next season’s salary cap would give you close to enough space to make up the differences in what the three forwards are making now versus what they might make next season, but few teams are simply going to take on any of these three players for free. Even if the team only takes $1 million back in each of those deals, that $9.9 million in additional cap space drops quickly.

Related: Oilers Can Maximize Value by Trading Barrie This Offseason

While they should, there’s also no guarantee the sum of the raises dished out to Yamamoto, Puljujarvi, and Kane will stay under $8-$9 million. Not to mention, if the Oilers move Barrie, they’ll need another right-shot defenseman. It won’t cost a fortune to go out and acquire a No. 6 guy, but that’s also $1-$2 million removed from that available pool of money you have to spend.

Zack Kassian Edmonton Oilers
Zack Kassian, Edmonton Oilers (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Couch also suggests buying out the contract of Duncan Keith. The Oilers aren’t going to do so. Not only does the team still have Milan Lucic, James Neal, and Andrej Sekera on dead cap space buyouts next season, don’t be surprised if the plan is to talk to Keith about an extension next season and see if he’ll close out his career with the Oilers on lower-cost, one-year deals. No doubt Keith is overpaid (at least as far as his salary cap is concerned), but he’s been as good as the Oilers could have hoped or expected.

The Oilers Still Need A Goaltender

If the plan is to extend Mikko Koskinen, it will cost more than $2.5 million to do so. He’s often a whipping post for Oilers Nation, but he’s still a better goaltender than many give him credit for. If the plan is to move on and bring in someone else, the Oilers likely aren’t trading Smith. Should they, any goaltender the team might go after in free agency is going to cost at least $3.5-$6 million per season if the plan is to play him with the inexperienced Stuart Skinner.

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Names on the list of available free agents include Darcy Kuemper, Braden Holtby, Jack Campbell, among others. The Oilers will need to swing big because another summer where the Oilers don’t land a bonafide starter won’t go over well. The organization should allow at least $5-$7 million for the position (combined between the two goalies) before spending all of their available space on forwards. If the team trades for someone like John Gibson or Jordan Binnington, a good chunk of the cap space is gone.

Keeping Their Forward Depth Won’t Be Cheap

If the Oilers want to buy years of Puljujarvi’s unrestricted free agency, they’ll need to pay up now. That likely means $4-$5 million per season over five or six seasons. Yamamoto might get another bridge deal, but he’ll be around $3 million and there’s no telling what the free-agent market for Kane might command.

Evander Kane Edmonton Oilers
Evander Kane, Edmonton Oilers (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Kane did exactly as he needed to and has used a small window to showcase himself to 31 other teams. As Kevin Weekes pointed out on Oilers Now with Bob Stauffer, he’s already heard from many organizations who are now regretting they didn’t make a pitch for him when he shook loose from the San Jose Sharks. These teams won’t make the same mistake again and it could easily cost the Oilers $5 million per season to retain Kane.

The question becomes if the Oilers have to lose someone, who do they let go? And, if they’re not willing to give up on any of those three players, does the team try to trade a player like Ryan Nugent-Hopkins? He’s a serviceable player and he offers a lot to this team, but his $5.125 million salary off the books — along with some of the above-mentioned players being moved — solves a lot of money problems for the team.

In the end, Kane might actually price himself out of the Oilers’ plans for next season. It’s certainly not ideal, but it means the Oilers need to make their run now. Otherwise, they have to cross their fingers Kane has no desire to go anywhere else and will sign a deal at $4 million by four years.