Can the Edmonton Oilers keep their young core together?

Jonathan Willis
July 12 2012 09:19AM

What will the Oilers look like once the entry-level deals Taylor Hall and Jordan Eberle are on expire? What about when Ryan Nugent-Hopkins’ contract ends? Is the team going to remain affordable?

To try and answer those questions, I decided to embark on an exercise this morning, projecting the Oilers’ roster and contracts into the future. Naturally, any such exercise involves a series of assumptions and gets less and less accurate the further ahead we project, but it’s still useful for planning purposes. As a result, the details on depth players aren’t that important – as long as the big pieces are in the ball park.


The first year is the easiest to project, because we’re making relatively few assumptions. My projected lineup is as follows (with players ordered by cap hit):

The total cap space remaining on this group is $7.7 million.

I’ve made a few assumptions here. I’ve assumed that Nail Yakupov will sign for the rookie maximum, and that Theo Peckham (if he returns) will be on a deal identical to his qualifying offer. I’ve also penciled in Gagner on a longish-term, $3.5 million/season deal. That’s based largely on this group of comparables; it seems reasonable to me that if the Oilers keep him he’s in that ballpark.

I’ve also assumed – based on Hartikainen getting a push in camp and Yakupov making the team – that Magnus Paajarvi and Anton Lander will start the year in Oklahoma City.


This is where things start getting interesting. First, my projected lineup:

The total cap space remaining on this group is $0.08 million, assuming the cap doesn’t rise. We’re also (for the sake of argument) assuming the current CBA continues, or that a new CBA featuring rollbacks and a reduced cap will work with more or less the same numbers (i.e. Horcoff may make X dollars less, but his cap hit against a reduced cap should be comparable to $5.5 million against a $70.2 million cap).

Hall and Eberle’s deals are based in large part on my work here. I can see their deals potentially falling anywhere from $6 - $7.5 million per season, and I’ve projected to the midpoint of that range.

I’ve also assumed that Paajarvi and Hartikainen won’t get huge raises; naturally it’s possible that either breaks out. Smid’s deal is based on the one just signed by Marc-Edouard Vlasic in San Jose, while I’ve assumed a slight raise for Whitney if he gets back on track. That player doesn’t have to be Whitney, of course, but if he struggles with injury again this season it seems logical that the Oilers will need to find another defender who will command significant dollars.


I haven’t projected totals for 2014-15, just highlighted expiring contracts in red. Here’s the lineup:

The logical assumption is that Hemsky is gone, and that his money helps to pay for Nugent-Hopkins’ new contract. Paajarvi may fit the bill as a cheap scoring line option, which would give the Oilers a complete top-six once Nugent-Hopkins deal is taken into account (in our extremely hypothetical scenario).

On the back-end, contracts to Dubnyk, Petry and the Schultzes will have expired at this point. That frees up a little over $12.5 million, but it also means the team is looking for a new starting goaltender and possibly two top-four defensemen. This is the year that the development of Klefbom and Marincin (and the rest of the young defenders) may start paying off if they’re capable of handling top minutes.

Still, everything looks pretty manageable – especially if the salary cap keeps going up. There’s not a lot of room to add extra parts without also shipping out equal salaries, but there’s no reason the team shouldn’t be able to survive the transition to paying the young stars, particularly if the current stable of defensive prospects produce one or two pieces capable of playing 2-3 years from now.

That’s the primary point, really. Personnel changes will happen – we don’t know what shape they’ll take, but we know trades and free agency will alter the face of the team. A hypothetical exercise like this will always be hopelessly outdated one year down the line. But what it shows us is that as long as the Oilers make prudent contract decisions from here on out, it seems entirely plausible that they will be able to keep the core of the team intact.


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.