Within one month of the off-season, the Edmonton Oilers extended stars Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl for a combined 16 years and $168 million. Their contracts will eat almost 30% of the team’s salary cap next year. Yet, for once-maligned president of hockey operations Peter Chiarelli, these two foregone conclusions received almost no negative attention.
Edmonton Oilers Cap Troubles on The Horizon
Is it possible two of the easiest moves Chiarelli will ever make may come to roost far sooner than we thought?
The cost of Edmonton re-signing arguably their two biggest stars will plunge them into an annual purge known as cap hell, as they’re forced to build a contender while competing with the toughest monetary restrictions in sports. How Chiarelli plays his next hand will determine how many Stanley Cups this group can deliver, and early signs are tenuous.
On the young season, the Oilers are currently 2-5, while missing one of their pre-mentioned stars (Draisaitl). They’ve only just sticky-taped their defense, and their 2.0 goals per game is second-last in the League. For a team with this sort of talent, these are not good marks.
McDavid cannot do it all, and Draisaitl is now day-to-day, but most concerning is the rate of production of the team’s other high-paid stars, most notably Milan Lucic.
Lucic’s 1.54 scoring chances per game last season has dropped to 1.14, and he is one of a number of forwards slumping, including Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Mark Letestu, and the newly-acquired Ryan Strome. Draisaitl’s return cannot plug all these holes.
Lucic is currently in year two of a seven-year, $42 million deal, and is the second-highest paid player on the team. If this power forward’s decline has begun already, it’s going to be a long wait for 2023 until he comes off their books.
While the Oils seems to have sorted their defensive issues (5-2 loss vs the Winnipeg Jets, 6-1 vs Ottawa Senators, 5-3 vs Carolina Hurricanes), their depth is more than being tested during the absence of 31-year-old Andrej Sekera, their most productive defenseman from last season. The Slovak tore his acl in Game 5 of the Western Conference Semifinals against the Anaheim Ducks, and with the departure of Brandon Davidson, the team’s blue line is experiencing a rough adjustment period.
Re-signed in the offseason, Kris Russell is party to this, through no fault of his own. The numbers may have only been $16 million over four years, but they’ve stretched the defensive corps to its limits. At age 30, all Edmonton can do is hope Russell does not experience a similar decline to other stay-at-home defenders.
With 17 blocked shots through seven games, they’ll need more than good luck for him to maintain this level through to the end of his contract.
The pressure to win
While this is all speculatory, it is based off what we have seen from many NHL teams over the past few seasons (see, the Chicago Blackhawks). Off the back of mightily successful (perhaps too successful) 2016-17, the Oilers tried to stay ahead of the curve, preemptively re-signing McDavid and betting on Draisaitl’s massive post-season.
While they had little other choice, this now puts a duo aged 20 and 21 respectively under massive pressure to win, and win now. The age profile of many of their other stars (Letestu, 32, Sekera, 31, Jussi Jokinen, 34) only increases this pressure, as does expensive deals paid to Lucic and Russell.
The angel of death delivering all into cap hell is slowly arriving, and as of now, the Oilers are not winning.
We’re not ruling them out of this season – in fact, I still have them winning the West ahead of Anaheim. However, every year in which they fail to salute, the pressure valves tighten a little more.
I’ll leave you with some parting thoughts to contextualize what you’ve read.
Edmonton are paying their superstar duo a combined $21 million for the next seven years. Chicago, who annually navigate the River Styx on their route through cap hell, are paying the same amount to their star forwards Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane, and already have three Cups under their belt.
Time to start winning.
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