Whether we are ready to admit it or not, the Edmonton Oilers officially have a cap crunch on their horizon. With pending raises for Leon Draisaitl this coming season and Connor McDavid next season, they will be struggling to find a way to keep their core players, surround them with the proper support players, and compete for the Stanley Cup every year.
No matter what happens this season (Draisaitl contract, 7th defenseman signing, Puljujarvi making the team? etc.), with McDavid’s likely $10 million plus cap hit next year things are going to start to get really tight. It’s going to be imperative that contracts present high value to the Oilers for them to be able to succeed.
This is where Benoit Pouliot comes in. Whether you think he’s a terrible player (some do) or not, it’s hard to argue that he’s currently overpaid. He’s still definitely a serviceable NHL player, and if he had only 1 year left I don’t think it would be an issue; you could play him out this year and let him move on. I also think if he was a smaller cap hit, say $2.5 million, we wouldn’t be talking about him; unfortunately, that isn’t the case. However, his 2 years remaining at $4 million which will overlap McDavid’s first year of his contract is where the issue lies.
Buying Pouliot out would reduce the amount of damage his cap hit would do per year but would extend the “dead” cap space further into McDavid’s contract. As much as that can be a tool if required it’s best to stay away from it, as well as burying guys in the minors since you give up cap space to guys not even dressing on your team.
So, aside from packaging him up with draft picks to try to convince another team to take our problem (I am absolutely opposed to the idea of the Oilers throwing their draft picks away, especially carelessly), is there a way to move him out now so that the impact isn’t felt beyond this upcoming season (i.e. buying him out, which while it would give some cap relief now would cause the “dead” cap space to live on)? It turns out if Chiarelli can be creative, there is.
The Oilers can trade their future headache to another team for that team’s current headache. If they could take on a larger cap hit for 1 year, while clearing their obligations to Pouliot for the 2018-19 season, I think they would at the very least consider that. I am going to assume that after Draisaitl’s contract they have in the neighbourhood of $3.5 million in cap space remaining, so if you hold on to a million and a half for trade deadline acquisitions (the Oilers should regularly be bolstering their line-ups for the next 10-15 years) they’ll have about $2 million they could absorb this season.
So, are there any players in the league who would fit the following:
- Predominantly a left wing;
- 1 year left on their current contract;
- Have fallen out of favour with their team;
- Have a cap hit higher than $5 million (it’d have to be a significant enough impact this year to make it worth it for the other team, and at $5 million they would receive $1 million in cap space, the difference between that players contract and Benoit Pouliot’s $4 million);
- Have a cap hit no higher than $6 million (the $2 million the Oilers could absorb)?
Here is a list of players that might fit into that category (minus the “fallen out of favour with their team part”):
- Evander Kane – Buffalo Sabres – Left Wing – $5.25 Million Cap Hit for 1 year – Actual Salary of $6 Million for 1 year
- James Neal – Vegas Golden Knights – Left Wing – $5 Million Cap Hit for 1 year – Actual Salary of $5 Million for 1 year
I don’t see Vegas giving up James Neal 1 week after drafting him in their expansion draft, at least not in a deal like this. In my opinion, they have every intention of having James Neal on their top line in October unless someone knocks their socks off. They’re not trading him for Benoit Pouliot, and if they wanted Pouliot they would’ve drafted him in the expansion draft since he was available.
So, we take Evander Kane for a year and Buffalo gets $1.25 million in cap space? I’m not sure that the reputed locker room issues that Evander Kane presents are bad enough to warrant that on the Sabres’ end, and likely he has grown out of them for the most part. Also, Buffalo is not in a cap crunch so I’m not sure they’re desperate for the room. If that deal was to go down I would imagine it would be Edmonton throwing in some assets to entice Buffalo to consummate the deal, and as discussed before, this is a strategy the Oilers need to avoid.
I think Benoit Pouliot is here for two more years. He just doesn’t fit any other teams’ needs they won’t be able to fulfill through free agency for a better deal. He is, after all, struggling to be successful here as a third line winger while getting paid as a second line winger (on the expensive side at that). Maybe he comes in this season motivated to turn things around and increases his value enough to garner some interest, but at this point, he should probably be seen as a “learning opportunity”.