NHL, Oilers

Building For the Cup – Part 3

March 1, 2016

In Parts 1 & 2 of this series I looked at how a depressed salary cap and a number of high value contracts, particularly those belonging to Connor McDavid and Darnell Nurse, have positioned the Edmonton Oilers to be in prime shape to make a run to the Stanley Cup in 2018. Both were posted at the start of the 2015-2016 regular season, and with a sample size of just over three quarters of the first season of the Connor McDavid era, the quality of our predictions varied.

On the positive side, our salary cap estimate looks to be right on. The sagging Canadian dollar will likely keep NHL revenues flat, meaning that any salary cap increases will need to come from the NHLPA triggering the 5% escalator. If the escalator is used both for 2016-2017 and 2017-2018, the salary cap will in fact be about $79M dollars.

We also have a little more certainty in our goaltending, as Cam Talbot signed a three year deal at $4.167 AAV through 2019, so it appears the starting goaltender position is locked up (and at a cool $1.33M lower than I predicted). Anders Nilsson has been shipped off, and Brossoit’s contract extension (at a very team-friendly $750K per year through ’17-’18) confirms his status as the heir apparent.

With the conclusion of the trade deadline, we also have a better idea of how our question marks up front are working out. Leon Draisaitl looks to be well on his way to earning that Brandon Saad-like contract1, and while development has been frustratingly slow for fans that saw a 1st and 2nd round pick get traded for him, Griffin Reinhart will probably earn at $2M bridge deal. On the other side of the performance spectrum, Justin Schultz found himself shipped out of town as the fanbase cheered his demise, and Anton Lander’s performance has taken a severe downturn. At this point, he might be spending most of his time in the press box with Letestu getting the majority of starts on the 4th line.

It remains to be seen what will happen with Nail Yakupov. He benefited enormously from playing on a line with McDavid to start the year, but his play after McDavid broke his clavicle has been…suspect. Odds are he’ll be traded to shore up areas need…on the other hand, he’s still got a relatively small cap hit, and many believe he hasn’t come close to his potential. My gut feeling is that he’s going to stay around to start next season, and then end up traded at the deadline for defensive depth when the Oilers look like they’ll make the playoffs2

We also have seen that the defense is badly missing a top-4 right shot defenseman. As the Oilers don’t have that yet, we’re going to reserve that slot for a player to be named later, through trade or free agency3

The acquisitions of both Zack Kassian, Patrick Maroon and the Adams (Cracknell, Clendening and Pardy), as well as the cups of coffee from AHLers like Jujhar Khaira, Anton Slepyshev, Jordan Oesterle and Brad Hunt, also help us to have a better idea of what the roster can look like. With that in mind, here’s an updated prediction of the 2017-2018 roster.

Left WingCenterRight Wing
Benoit Pouliot
Connor McDavid
Jordan Eberle
Taylor Hall
Leon Draisaitl
Zack Kassian
Nail Yakupov
Ryan Nugent-Hopkins
Patrick Maroon
Jujhar Khaira
Mark Letestu
Iiro Pakarinen
Anton Slepyshev
Anton Lander
Andrej Sekera
Mystery Player
Cam Talbot
Oscar Klefbom
Mark Fayne
Laurent Brossoit
Darnell Nurse
Griffin Reinhart
Brandon Davidson

There’s actually a ton of cap room to work with, even giving a decent $5M allotment for a top 4 RHD. The Oilers could easily fit a contract like Travis Hamonic’s, and could accommodate up to $8M if they needed to.

And that number could increase if one or more of Nugent-Hopkins, Eberle, or Hall find themselves on the way out of town. I was confident at the beginning of the season that Chiarelli wouldn’t trade any of them, but now…well, now I’m not so sure. The trade chatter around these has been even more deafening than usual, with trusted names like Bob McKenzie and Elliotte Friedman chiming in.

Chiarelli has had no qualms about blowing up a roster before, so mark me down as far less sure that the big three will find themselves in Oilers colours next October.

In Part 4, following the completion of the regular season, we’ll dive into the stats and see how the individual performance varied this year, and get an idea of what we can expect in the next two years.

  1. Draisaitl’s insane start to the year was fueled by an unsustainable shooting percentage that regressed pretty hard, but he’s looked really good playing with Hall, and is capable of playing center or wing. He’s probably worth a similar deal to Eberle, Hall and Nugent-Hopkins, but will Chiarelli follow that model? Or will he go even further, like $6.5 for 7 years?
  2. I still think Yak’s production will improve, and his underlying possession numbers have been surprisingly great this season despite getting stuck with bottom line centers for much of his time on ice. Eventually he’ll get some bounces, and his promotion up the depth chart due to Pouliot’s injury has already paid dividends for his point totals.
  3. As late as a couple weeks ago it was assumed that there were two holes at the right side, but Brandon Davidson’s coming-out party may be changing that thinking. He’s been nothing short of spectacular, taking on every challenge the coach sends his way, and exceeding everyone’s expectations. The only thing, it seems, that can stop him Dustin Byfuglien…after a collision with the bruising Jet, Davidson’s year appears to be over.

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