Take a load off, Annie

Jonathan Willis
November 08 2012 10:08AM

Ever since Bob Stauffer broke out his “wow factor” trade rumour the other day, there’s been a thought that has stuck with me, and it’s about the summer of 2013. It will be an important one for the Oilers, and while many fans will be untroubled by a date so far in the future, the guys in the front office had better have it marked in red.

The Oilers have a long list of salary cap obligations coming to a conclusion that summer. Here’s the list of $1.0 million and up ticket items coming off the books:

Player Cap Hit Expiry
Ryan Whitney $4.00 million UFA
Nikolai Khabibulin $3.75 million UFA
Sam Gagner $3.20 million RFA
Ladislav Smid $2.25 million RFA
Andy Sutton $1.75 million UFA
Magnus Paajarvi $1.53 million RFA
Sheldon Souray $1.5 million LOL
Ryan Jones $1.50 million UFA
Theo Peckham $1.08 million RFA

Put it all together and that’s a little under $21 million in cap space being cleared.

And (and) (and) you put the load right on me

A bunch of that money is already spent.

Jordan Eberle and Taylor Hall go from a combined cap hit a shade under $5 million annually to an even $12 million. Three key players on the expiry list – Ladislav Smid, Sam Gagner and Ryan Whitney – will either need to be re-upped or replaced.

If the Oilers have a big trade in the works, a guy like Gagner, Whitney or Nick Schultz ($3.5 million annual cap hit) might be integral to the deal, playing the role Eric Brewer played in the summer of 2005.

Even without assuming a trade that brings in a big contract – we’re talking about a Schultz+ for Jay Bouwmeester or Gagner+ for Patrick Marleau style of swap (hypothetical names; feel free to substitute a Luongo or Wisniewski or Tyutin) – Smid’s getting a raise for sure and the combination of Gagner and Whitney/Whitney-caliber defenceman aren’t likely to be all that much cheaper next year than they were this year.

That’s not all of it, either. The salary cap seems likely to be dipping in time for the 2013-14 season (assuming the talk of a transition year before the players’ share of hockey revenue hits 50/50 has merit) and guys like Nugent-Hopkins and Yakupov will start getting paid around that time too. Nugent-Hopkins’ entry-level deal expires in the summer of 2014; Yakupov’s will probably be finished the year after.

Wait a minute, Chester, you know I’m a peaceful man

When Bob Stauffer talks about an NBA-style buyout clause – where a team could conceivably buyout a current contract in the summer of 2013 to be compliant with the dropping 2013-14 salary cap rather than being forced to make a decision now – it doesn’t take any insight at all to know who he’s talking about.

We have looked at the structure of Shawn Horcoff’s contract with a buyout in mind previously. The cap hit won’t be awful if he’s bought out in the summer of 2013, but in concert with the other salary cap pressures on the Oilers at that time it will be decidedly unwelcome. With an amnesty clause the Oilers could spend less than $5 million in actual money and clear away $11 million in cap hit.

She’s the only one who sent me here with regards for everyone

Photo: Resolute/Wikimedia/CC BY-SA 3.0

Assuming that the lockout leads to flat revenue growth (or whatever flat revenue growth would be, minus money lost to missed games) and that 2012-13 is the lone transition year, we should be looking at a 2013-14 salary cap in the $61.5 million range (this year’s cap, minus the 12 percent lost by the players in a drop in their share from 57 percent to 50 percent HRR).

The way I figure the roster – Smid making about $4 million, Gagner/Whitney or their replacements making the same as they do now, some small money changes to players in depth roles up front, on defence, and in net – the Oilers are going to have trouble making that 2013-14 salary cap even if they are allowed to send Horcoff down the line without cap hit ramifications.

There are ways around that – cheaping out on the backup goalie or the depth forwards, for instance – but it is too be hoped that the Oilers have a long-term salary cap plan thought through before they pull the trigger on a big deal. Chicago won the Stanley Cup in 2009-10, but that summer they had to send away a lot of useful guys because of items like the Brian Campbell contract.

It’s a dangerous time, and there are going to be temptations along the way. The right moves will help the Oilers build a contender sooner rather than later. The wrong ones will just add weight.

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Jonathan Willis is a freelance writer. He currently works for Oilers Nation, Sportsnet and Bleacher Report. He's co-written three books and worked for myriad websites, including the Edmonton Journal, Grantland, ESPN, The Score, and Hockey Prospectus. He was previously the founder and managing editor of Copper & Blue.