Each day in the month of August we’ll be examining a different NHL team — from looking back at last season to discussing a player under pressure to focusing on a player coming off a breakthrough year to asking questions about the future. Today we look at the Edmonton Oilers.
For even more analysis of the Oilers, check out the rest of PHT’s offerings:
1. How is general manager Peter Chiarelli going to manage the Oilers salary cap?
On Aug. 12 — today — the Oilers have just under $5 million in cap room to play with. They still need to pay Darnell Nurse, who will almost assuredly get a bridge deal, and they could still use a couple of improvements, which are unlikely to come given their financial situation. Of that nearly $5 million, $2.5 million of that is also reserved for Jesse Puljujarvi‘s ELC bonuses, if he hits them. That doesn’t leave a lot of money kicking around. Nurse is the last RFA the Oilers have to sign, and they can do so, but depending on the money involved, will have to move something out before the season starts.
Next season, they’re not trimming much off that cap either, and will have several new RFAs looking for raises, a starting goalie that could bounce back and demand a bigger chunk of change and further improvements to their roster.
2. Will Milan Lucic figure out how to play hockey again?
It’s the $42 million question, isn’t it? Lucic, a bruising power forward who used to combine his massive size with the ability to produce points found a way to score just as a single goal in the final 46 games he played with the Oilers last season. That’s a whole lot of nothing for $6 million per season. Lucic played each and every game the Oilers were scheduled for in the regular season and produced just 34 points, his lowest total (not including the lockout season) since he played 50 games in 2009-10.
Lucic was a disaster last season, one illuminated by the fact that he still has five years to go on that deal. Chiarelli, who signed Lucic to the deal, reportedly has been trying to shop his once-coveted star. No team in their right mind wants that deal, and Lucic holds all the card with his no-movement clause, so the Oilers can only hope last season was the exception and not the rule going forward.
3. Can the Oilers resist the urge to rush their youth to the Show?
It’s something Edmonton has fallen victim to in the past. But with guys like Evan Bouchard and Ethan Bear, two quality defensive prospects on the team that has been notoriously underserved at the position, there’s got to be that temptation to make things better immediately. And that would be a mistake. Bouchard, while he might be “NHL-ready,” could benefit from further seasoning in junior and perhaps even the American Hockey League. Bear is already playing big minutes and in big situations for the Bakersfield Condors and coming up to play a lesser role with the club would do unneeded stunting to his growth at the moment.
The same can be said for Kailer Yamamoto. He appears destined for the roster this season with no top-six help added thus far this summer. Ready or not, the benefits of playing one year of pro hockey in the American league seems much more beneficial rather than asking him to come in and try to keep up with Connor McDavid or Leon Draisaitl.
The problem here, and it ties into the cap space problem, is that ready or not, it looks like the Oilers might have to tap into that youth too soon.