Matthew Benning

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Draisaitl and other key situations for Oilers’ future with McDavid locked up

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It might not look like it with that $100 million price tag, but the Edmonton Oilers got a bargain in landing Connor McDavid‘s prime years for $12.5 million per season.

Once that became official, questions naturally pivoted to RFA Leon Draisaitl, and reasonably so. Also reasonably, Oilers GM Peter Chiarelli deflected questions regarding those negotiations.

Now, while McDavid and Draisaitl stand as the Oilers’ most important – and expensive – considerations, other moves are likely to determine Edmonton’s ceiling. So let’s look at some of those key situations.

MORE: Edmonton’s cap challenges are arguably even tougher than what Penguins, Blackhawks faced

Draisaitl a mystery

The range of possibilities are truly wild for what Draisaitl might make.

Sportsnet’s Jonathan Willis stated in May that a $6-$6.5 million cap hit would be appropriate, yet plenty of estimates place Draisaitl at making far, far more. Chiarelli has stated that the Oilers would match any offer sheet, which inspired some gloomy thoughts.

The slight bright side: if that $9.8 million poison pill happened now, it would go down to … $22.3 million.

Luckily for the Oilers, that worst-case scenario is also an unlikely situation. Either way, Draisaitl seems almost certain to be Edmonton’s second-most expensive player. Chiarelli’s job is to keep him closer to third place than to first.

Potentially elite goalie for cheap (but not for long)

Whether you believe that he deserved a Vezina nomination or not in 2016-17, the bottom line is that Cam Talbot presented glorious value while carrying the league’s biggest workload.

No one played in more games (73), faced as many shots (2,117) or stopped as many pucks (1,946) as Talbot did last season, and he did that all at a bargain rate of $4.167 million.

That cap hit runs out after 2018-19, so the Oilers will need to determine if Talbot’s worth a raise (because he’s highly likely to get one, in Edmonton or somewhere else).

Fork in the road

They might not be headline-grabbers, but some of the more intriguing situations involve Oilers with a lot to prove, and possibly a ton of money to earn.

Ryan Strome is the easiest example. Edmonton provides a clean slate – and possibly some stellar linemates – as the fifth pick of the 2011 NHL Draft tries to show that he’s worth more than $2.5 million per year.

He’s followed what seemed like a 50-point breakout in 2014-15 with two seasons around 30, so next season could have a huge impact on his back account. Even as an RFA.

Many joke that Patrick Maroon ($1.5M) provided many of the same benefits as Milan Lucic ($6) at less than a third of the price. Maroon should narrow that gap after that contract expires following 2017-18. The big-money question is whether he could meet or even exceed last season’s 27 goals.

There are some interesting questions on defense, too. Matthew Benning will be an RFA after this coming campaign, yet Darnell Nurse stands as the blueliner with the most to gain.

Nurse has work to do to justify being the seventh pick of 2013, so what better time to show that he’s more than just a solid player than in his contract year?

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These aren’t the only factors to consider. Chiarelli must continue to search for supporting cast members, and potentially people could be part of the core in Edmonton. By the same logic, he’ll need to determine if anyone else is expendable, with Ryan Nugent-Hopkins‘ $6M being the glaring question.

He’ll also root for Kris Russell and Lucic to be the kind of players that … well, aren’t punchlines across the league.

As this post mentions, the Oilers face unprecedented challenges. For outsiders looking in – particular those who love to get nerdy about building teams – it should be a fascinating process; even smaller names make for some pivotal narratives.

Gryba sticks with Edmonton on two-year, $1.8 million deal

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After spending the last two seasons with the Oilers, Eric Gryba has signed on for two more.

Gryba, the veteran blueliner that was set to go unrestricted on Saturday, has signed a two-year, $1.8 million extension with Edmonton, per TSN. The deal comes after the 29-year-old appeared in 40 games for the Oilers last year, and three during the club’s playoff run.

Gryba is the second UFA blueliner Edmonton has re-upped with, having previously inked Kris Russell to a four-year, $16 million pact. It’s the byproduct of available cap space GM Peter Chiarelli created by shipping out Jordan Eberle to the Islanders in exchange for Ryan Strome.

It’s likely Gryba will continue to play his existing role in Edmonton — a physical, hard-nosed depth defenseman that won’t play every night, but can jump into the lineup in case of injury or when the Oilers face a particular matchup.

This move also gives the Oilers seven defensemen under contract for next season: Gryba, Russell, Andrej Sekera (who could miss extensive time with a torn ACL), Oscar Klefbom, Adam Larsson, Matthew Benning and Darnell Nurse.

So, perhaps Chiarelli isn’t done signing blueliners.

 

 

Oilers lose Nurse (ankle surgery) for three months

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Edmonton’s defense was dealt a major blow on Monday, as GM Peter Chiarelli announced Darnell Nurse would miss the next 12 weeks after undergoing surgery to repair ligament and bone damage in his ankle.

Nurse, 21, was the seventh overall pick in 2013 and had been a mainstay on the club’s blueline. He averaged just under 18 minutes a night through 25 games this year — scoring three goals and five points — while racking up 60 hits, which was second among all Oilers d-men.

Nurse is a big, physical presence that head coach Todd McLellan referred to as “a very important part of our group.” Whether it’s coincidence or not, it should be mentioned that — after Nurse was knocked out of the lineup on Dec. 3 against Winnipeg — the Oilers surrendered 14 goals over their next four games.

This injury, along with the one suffered by Brandon Davidson earlier in the year, has thinned out the Edmonton blueline. McLellan used a six-man unit comprised of Adam Larsson, Oscar Klefbom, Kris Russell, Andrej Sekera, Matthew Benning and Dillon Simpson in last night’s win over the Jets, with Russell and Sekera the high minute-men (each with over 24:00 TOI).