The Edmonton Oilers have not had much playoff success in recent memory. However, it appears that could soon change. The team is off to a flying start to begin the 2021-22 season and looks to be a much more complete team than they were a season ago. With plenty of offseason additions making strong contributions early on in the season, the team surely has Stanley Cup aspirations in their sights. Even if the Oilers are unsuccessful in becoming Stanley Cup champions this season, there are three main reasons why the team’s Stanley Cup window is wide open.
Core Players Signed Long Term
Since Holland’s takeover as the team’s general manager, there have been several moves made to improve the team’s overall roster and set the team up for long-term success. While he wasn’t responsible for inking either Connor McDavid or Leon Draisaitl to their contracts, they are both signed for the foreseeable future and will be two pieces that allow the team to continuously attempt to make runs for the Stanley Cup.
Knowing the importance of building the team to win now, Holland took care of business over the offseason and inked both Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Darnell Nurse to new deals also, keeping them around for the long haul. Nugent-Hopkins signed a very team-friendly, eight-year deal as a pending unrestricted free agent.
Nurse, on the other hand, bet on himself on his previous contracts and cashed a big-ticket extension that will see him make $9.25 million per season over the next eight years. The Oilers also brought in UFA Zach Hyman from the Toronto Maple Leafs over the offseason, who will also be part of the core group moving forward.
The team will have a total of $40.875 million invested into their core (consisting of McDavid, Draisaitl, Nurse, Nugent-Hopkins, and Hyman) once the Nurse extension kicks in next season, which will account for approximately 50 percent of the teams’ cap hit (assuming an increase of $1 million to the current salary cap ceiling for next season). The Oilers will have both of their superstar centermen, two top-six wingers, and their number one defenseman all under contract together until the end of the 2024-25 season before Draisaitl becomes UFA.
Key Oilers Entering Their Prime
As mentioned above, the Oilers have their core locked up for the foreseeable future, which is significant, but the core of the team entering the prime of their careers also opens the Oilers’ Cup window even more. Although Nugent-Hopkins and Hyman will be entering the latter half of their careers at 28 and 29 years of age, respectively, there are young players on the rise that will be entering their primes and expect to be key contributors.
Despite McDavid being only 24 years old, he is in his seventh NHL season and is an experienced NHL superstar entering his prime years. Nurse is also an all-situations, minute-eating defenseman who will be relied upon as the team’s number one, and he’s only 26 years of age with over 400 games of NHL experience.
The team will also have young players like Jesse Puljujarvi, Kailer Yamamoto, and Evan Bouchard transitioning from the early stages of their careers into their primes. Although they are still young, they are expected to become crucial components of the team moving forward.
While it is good to have a core that is entering their prime as the Oilers have, the importance of having experienced veterans is also crucial when building a team for a playoff run. The Oilers have done a good job mixing veteran players like Kyle Turris, Duncan Keith, Kris Russell, and Mike Smith with their young core, which should also help their chances come playoff time.
Oilers’ Cap Space Available To Make Improvements
The Oilers currently have three players on long-term injured reserve this season, which complicates their ability to make any acquisitions at the trade deadline, as they are close to the salary cap limit. Unless the Oilers get creative in terms of how they move contracts or perhaps give up additional assets in deals to have salary retained transactions, trades may be hard to complete.
With that said, the Oilers appear well equipped with their current roster to make some noise in the playoffs and have the potential to make a deep playoff run. The real salary cap flexibility comes into play during the 2022-23 season when some of their expiring contracts that likely won’t return come off the books.
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With a total of eight players becoming restricted or unrestricted free agents at the end of the 2021-22 season, the Oilers will have a total of $12 million in cap space available to work with in the offseason. The only player of real significance that will command a good chunk of the available cap space would be Puljujarvi, considering his progression as a key cog on the team’s top line. Aside from Puljujarvi, the Oilers will likely need to sign a goaltender to replace Mikko Koskinen unless Stuart Skinner can prove he is ready to command a solid chunk of starts alongside Mike Smith (which is unlikely).
Other than those two positions, the Oilers would not need to spend much of the remaining cap space to bring back the other free agents or find replacements if they decide to move on from them. The emergence of Evan Bouchard’s strong play on the blue line will also mean the team will not have to worry about bringing anything more than a low-cost depth defenseman into the fold come the offseason.
Seize the Opportunity
The Oilers appear to be in a good place in terms of the organization’s system, team personnel, and the salary cap to be able to make several attempts at winning hockey’s ultimate prize. Despite all the optimism surrounding the team and their chances at the Stanley Cup, the Oilers and their fans need to remember how fast other teams have seen their playoff window open and close. The Oilers need to understand the task at hand and make the most of the opportunity they have over the next few seasons to bring the Cup back to Edmonton.
I am a graduate of Seneca Colleges Civil Engineering Technology Program and have turned my obsession for sports into a lifestyle. I cover the Edmonton Oilers and Los Angeles Kings here on The Hockey Writers but have been a diehard Maple Leafs fan since birth. I love fantasy sports, collecting sports memorabilia and when I’m not watching the Toronto Raptors, Blue Jays, or Pittsburgh Steelers; you can find me playing for my ball hockey team, playing video games, or listening to classic rock with a cold one or a coffee in my hand.