A few days ago, well July 25th to be exact, the New Jersey Devils re-signed young defenseman Adam Larsson to a six-year contract extension with a 4.16 million dollar cap hit. Why am I telling you something that 95% of NHL fans already know about? First because this is roughly the deal that I see Oscar Klefbom signing between now and next July 1st. Larsson has a slightly better draft pedigree but has had a hard time making the NHL as a full-time player. Klefbom appears to be the real deal and should again take a big step forward in his development this year under new coaching and with less pressure to be the best defenseman on the team. With slightly less minutes at evens and roughly the same zone starts that he was gifted last year Klefbom should be effective and improve on last season. The second reason that I mentioned the Larsson contract is because with the idea of re-signing Klefbom long-term before next summer it got me thinking about the Oilers cap position moving forward.
It is a little tricky when discussing the Oilers salary cap situation, currently nhlnumbers.com, brought to you by our good friends over at OilersNation, shows that there is 3.144 million in available space. That is not a lot of space to begin with and when we factor in bonuses we are possibly up to two million dollars over the cap this year. That is two million over with Darnell Nurse and Leon Draisaitl playing all or some of the season in the AHL this year as well. The bonuses that I am including are only for McDavid, Klefbom, and Reinhart. I am not saying that I think Reinhart makes the team but just going by what the Nation network has on their site. The inclusion of Reinhart is besides the point this year anyways. The issue is going over the cap with bonus dollars.
When a team goes over the cap with their player bonuses that amount is deducted from the cap total the next season as a penalty. Normally that isn’t a big deal but with the cap likely staying at roughly the same level or rising only very slightly every dollar will count in the 2016/17 season. It will be the first year in the new building and playoffs are damn sure expected at that point. We will need to bring in whatever players we will need to be competitive in the new building. In reality though it sure would have been nice to go on one last playoff run in Rexall before they close the old barn down.
When we enter the off-season next summer we will see a fair amount of dollars come off the books just through contracts expiring that will likely not be renewed. We all know who isn’t going to be in Oilers blue when Rogers Place opens their doors. Teddy Purcell and his 4.5 million dollar cap hit will likely either be moved to another team at some point this season or will walk as a free agent come July 1st. Another 4.5 million will come off the books when the Oilers will say good-bye to Nikita Nikitin next summer as well. I know that Ron MacLean seems to think Nikitin will bounce back and be a stud defenseman for the Oilers, he said so yesterday on Oilers Now, but I don’t see it happening and even if he does I think he would need to take a massive cut to his salary in order for that to happen. The other two free agents that are both likely going to be allowed to hit the open market are Rob Klinkhammer (love that name!) and Eric Gryba. At $725,000, Rob Klinkhammer isn’t going to free up a ton of space but will likely be moved to bring up an internal option. Gryba will go if for no other reason than Griffin Reinhart will likely take his spot in the very near future and $1.3 million is a decent chunk of change to tie up in a number 7 or 8 D-man. The final free agent that will more than likely not be returning after the upcoming season is the Professor, Ben Scrivens. If Cam Talbot, who we will get to later takes the starting job and runs with it then we will likely see Mr. and Mrs. Scrivens move on down the road. On the plus side if Scrivs is moved or allowed to leave upon contract expiration that will add another $2.3 million to the pot.
We may also be able to remove the $3.9 million cap penalty that is Justin Schultz should the team finally decide that what he brings to the team isn’t even close to be worth what he is paid. If I am Peter Chiarelli I would have Jultz on a very short leash this season and would feel no remorse at all for stapling his ass to the bench when warranted. I could see a scenario where Justin could spend a few games in the press box observing early on if he doesn’t appear to have made some sort of step forward with his defensive game. The one thing to keep in mind is that Todd McLellan is a wizard with the power-play so we can hopefully expect at least a return to his former levels in that aspect.
For the sake of argument lets say that all these players are either moved at the deadline or allowed to leave via free agency this summer. Returns from trades we will consider as all being futures for this exercise. So with these six gentlemen removed from the roster for the grand opening of the new joint we would have a little bit of walking around money to throw around come July 1st. With roughly $17.2 million in cap space being opened up there is the possibility to go big game hunting next summer. This is where we need to bring up Oscar Klefbom and his new deal. Like I said I would like to see him signed to roughly the same deal as Larsson, five or six-year term with around 4 million as the sticker price. With his current deal paying him only 1.244 million, if he hits his bonuses, we would still see an increase of 2.56 million year over year. So when we remove that amount we are left with roughly 14.64 million in space.
There is other people who will need to be included in next years line-up that are currently unaccounted for as well. At some point both Leon Draisaitl and Darnell Nurse are going to force their way onto this team and will need to be included in the cap hit as well. So out of that 14.64 million we can take 5.1 million, again assuming all bonuses met, and we are left with 9.54 million in cap space. Not a bad amount to find a top pairing defenseman but unfortunately there is one more player internally that will be looking to take a big bought out of our free agency dollars.
Cam Talbot has one year on his deal and has the possibility of being the biggest value deal in the league should he perform as expected. If Cam comes to camp takes over the starter position and never looks back we could be getting one hell of a bargain this year. Next year not so much. Just because I am in an optimistic kind of mood today lets say that Talbot is everything that the stats folks say he is and a little more. Lets say he finishes the season top ten in adjusted save percentage and goals against average. What does that do to our goalie with the 1.45 million dollar price tag? Well since he is an unrestricted free agent next summer we know that it will not be cheap to get him locked up should his season go well. Would $5 million be a realistic number to ask for a top ten starter in the league? I don’t think so. Dubnyk re-signed with Minnesota to a 4.33 million dollar cap hit deal after his Phoenix-like performance last season, so should Talbot be able to have a year like Duby did last season or even close to it we are looking at a decent wage increase for sure. So we take the 1.45 off the 5 and are left with a 3.55 million dollar increase to Talbot’s salary. That would still leave the team with roughly six million in cap space to use come free agency and big game hunting.
Obviously what I wrote doesn’t take into account possible trades and other roster moves that can free up space but we are not in quite as rosy a position next summer as some seem to think. The big name free agent defensemen that are possible to be available next year are going to be to rich for our blood I fear. Mark Giordano, the Flames captain, is rumoured to be asking 9 million per year over a long-term deal so that is a dead issue for sure. No way in hell can Edmonton afford that kind of hit or term. We may need to move out some more salary next summer if we really want to acquire a top pairing defenseman. Who knows how the year will shake out though.
What do you think? Do we the cap space that we will need next summer to bring in a real number one defenseman or are we going to be waiting to see what Nurse, Klefbom, and Reinhart are going to be? Let me know in the comments or on twitter, @cooke_rob.
Thanks very much for reading and be sure to come back next time Beer Leaguers! And As always make sure to visit the best little Beer League T-Shirt shop on the great wide web for all your Beer League Heroes and 16-Bit NHL Superstars shirt needs.