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Make or Break for Edmonton Oilers in 2017-18

Make or Break for Edmonton Oilers in 2017-18 Dinur/via Flickr

Oilers facing potential cap problems after upcoming season


The Edmonton Oilers made a big splash in the 2016-17 season. After not reaching the playoffs since 2006, the Oilers were one win away from reaching the Western Conference Final this past spring. Led by captain Connor McDavid, Edmonton gave Oilers fans hope that a Cup could be finding its way back to oil country in the near future.

Not only did the Oilers almost reach the conference final in 2017, they also ended up just two points from winning the Pacific Division. Expectations will surely be high in Edmonton this upcoming season. Some people might even suggest that they will contend for the Stanley Cup in 2018.

Despite the optimism, though, there should be a bit of concern. Not for this season, but for the future.


Earlier this summer, the Oilers announced they signed McDavid to a massive eight-year, $100 million contract. Now, right now it’s not a big deal because that contract doesn’t go into effect until the 2018-19 season. Even if it had gone into effect this season, Edmonton currently has just under $17 million available in cap space.

You may ask, “why is McDavid’s contract a big deal?” I’ll explain.

The Oilers are currently trying to re-sign restricted free agent Leon Draisaitl. Draisaitl and McDavid formed one of the most potent offensive threats this past season in the NHL. The 21-year-old German native had a career year across the board, offensively.

He tallied 29 goals and 77 points in 82 games. He also added six goals and 16 points in 13 playoff games.

Because of that, Draisaitl is looking to get paid. Reports are that he’s asking for a long-term, $9 million per year deal. Again, with the amount of cap space the Oilers have right now, that would be no problem. It’s in 2018-19 where things would get interesting should Edmonton sign Draisaitl to that kind of amount.

The Oilers have 11 players on their NHL roster who are entering the final year of their contracts. Let’s suppose, for a moment, Edmonton chooses to not re-sign any of them. Then, the Oilers would have a whopping $32 million-plus in cap space.

McDavid’s contract will have a $12.5 million per season cap hit. So that would bring the cap space down to just under $20 million. If they give Draisaitl $9 million a year, then the cap space will go down to just under $11 million. That’s still a good amount of cap space.

Here’s the thing, though: we know the Oilers won’t let 11 players walk like that. They’ll be left with half a roster if they do. So that means Edmonton has to re-sign some of those players. And some of them may not come cheap.


Patrick Maroon is one of those players.

The 29-year-old is an unrestricted free agent in 2018. Acquired from the Anaheim Ducks late in the 2015-16 season, Maroon established some quick chemistry with McDavid. In 97 regular season games as an Oiler, the St. Louis native has tallied 35 goals. That makes up more than half of his 61 career goals in the NHL.

Despite cracking the 20-goal, 40-point plateau only once in his NHL career, Maroon is set to make $2 million this season. If he puts up similar, or better, numbers in 2017-18, he’ll more than likely look for a raise. He could ask from something around the $3-3.5 million range.

Another guy who could eat into that cap space is the recently acquired Ryan Strome. Strome was acquired from the New York Islanders in exchange for Jordan Eberle earlier this summer.

The 24-year-old was solid in his four seasons with the Islanders, tallying 45 goals and 126 points in 258 games with New York. His price tag isn’t too bad, either. Strome’s cap hit is $2.5 million, definitely better than Eberle’s $6 million cap hit. He becomes a restricted free agent in 2018.

The thing is if Strome succeeds in Edmonton, he may look for the same amount of money next summer, if not more. And if he benefits the Oilers, the team would have to consider bringing him back.

Anton Slepyshev, Drake Caggiula, and Darnell Nurse are other players that will become restricted free agents in 2018. All three are entering the final year of their entry-level contracts and may ask for at least $1 million per year when they hit free agency.

Of the three, Nurse may be the one more likely to get more than $1 million per season. If Edmonton brings those guys back, the cap space gets even smaller.

Current backup goalie Laurent Brossoit is also entering the final year of his deal. Whether it’s him or someone else, the Oilers will need a backup netminder in 2018 so they’ll have to pay for that, as well.


That is why this upcoming 2017-18 season is such a make-or-break season for Edmonton. There’s a chance they lose multiple guys that were important in their 2017 run. If they do and they are not properly replaced, the Oilers could go right back to missing the playoffs for a few seasons.

Now, some Edmonton fans may feel that I’m crazy. They’ll claim that they have McDavid and that alone will keep them contending. And it’s true, y’all do. But this isn’t basketball. A star player can only take you so far in hockey, especially with the parity in the NHL right now.

If you want to contend, you need to have a solid team around your star player(s). This past spring’s Stanley Cup Finalists are perfect examples of that, especially Pittsburgh.

While it’s been Crosby and Malkin leading the bus, the Penguins have had solid team guys around them to compliment them. That has helped Pittsburgh win back-to-back Stanley Cups.

Even though having a superstar like McDavid definitely helps, the Oilers and their fans can’t solely rely on him to take them to a Stanley Cup. He’ll need help.

But giving him such a big contract could, potentially, make it a bit difficult for Edmonton to get him some. It will be made even more difficult if Draisaitl gets what he’s asking for. So, there’s a chance the Oilers’ roster looks totally different in 2018-19 from the one that’ll step on the ice in 2017-18.


Now, I’m not suggesting Edmonton management won’t know how to manage their financial situation. Peter Chiarelli is a real good general manager and has plenty of experience that should help him. One thing that could help is moving some players that make some good money.

A player that has been rumored to be moved for a while now is center Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. The 24-year-old still has four years and $6 million a year left on his contract. If the Oilers could move him, and not retain salary, that will help.

While it’s unlikely, both Oscar Klefbom and Adam Larsson could become trade bait if the Oilers are tight against the cap. Both defensemen are 24-year-old and have roughly the same cap hit (Klefbom’s is $4.167 million, Larsson’s is $4.166 million).

Should Edmonton need cap relief in the near future, Kris Russell could be a more viable trade piece though. Russell has a cap hit of $4 million for the next four seasons. He is also six years older than Klefbom and Larsson.

While some may suggest it, Milan Lucic and Andrej Sekera can’t and won’t be getting moved. Both have full no-trade clauses in their deals. Sekera has it through the 2018-19 season, while Lucic’s is through the 2020-21 campaign.

Another thing that could help the Oilers is if the salary cap goes up again next summer. But that won’t be known until after this season starts.

You take all this financial stuff, combine it with the potential and expectations this team has in 2017-18 and it makes the Edmonton Oilers a team to keep your eye on this season. And Edmonton fans, enjoy it because who knows where this team will be next summer.