How Will An $81.5 Million Cap Impact Oilers?

Oil Holland

The NHL’s salary cap was supposed to go up in advance of the 2020-21 season. That will no longer be the case. The league is in danger of losing the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs, and boatloads of revenue with it.

As a result, the NHL’s salary cap is expected to remain stagnant. That means that the upper-limit will once again be $81.5 million for 2020-21.

Andy Strickland reported that fact on Friday via Twitter.

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A quick glance at Cap Friendly shows that the Oilers will need to get creative this summer. This news impacts them a great deal. If the club is going to improve the roster, Ken Holland will need to move some expensive assets off the roster.

As currently constructed, the Oilers have $70,436,165 committed to the 2020-21 roster. Included in that is the following.

Forwards: Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, James Neal, Alex Chiasson, Zack Kassian, Jujhar Khaira, Josh Archibald, Joakim Nygard and Kailer Yamamoto

Defensemen: Oscar Klefbom, Adam Larson, Darnell Nurse, Kris Russell and Caleb Jones

Goaltenders: Mikko Koskinen

Buyouts: Benoit Pouliot ($1,333,333) and Andrej Sekera ($2,500,000)

Salary Retention: Milan Lucic ($750,000)

The Oilers will get some relief when the season is over. Eric Gryba’s $300,000 buyout charge officially comes off the books, as does Sam Gagner’s retained salary of $315,000. The buried salary for both Markus Granlund ($225,000) and Brandon Manning ($1,175,000) also is gone after the season.

Here’s a look at Edmonton’s projected depth chart with only the players under contract.

Neal – McDavid – Kassian
Nugent-Hopkins – Draisaitl – Yamamoto
Nygard – XXX – Archibald
XXX – Khaira – Chiasson

Klefbom – Larsson
Nurse – Russell
Jones – XXX


The Oilers will have roughly $11 million to sign four forwards, two defensemen and a goaltender. They’ll need to re-sign RFA’s Andreas Athanasiou, William Lagesson and Ethan Bear, and will need to make decisions on UFA’s Tyler Ennis, Mike Green, Riley Sheahan, Mike Smith, Gaetan Haas and Patrick Russell.

How To Create Cap Space:

There have been rumors floating around regarding another compliance buyout. Although nothing concrete has come from those discussions, it is a possibility. The cap was projected to jump to $84 million, meaning teams are missing out on $2.5 million of expected cap space. Compliance buyouts could help boost the free agent market.

In the event that is an option, the Oilers have two potential compliance buyouts on the roster. James Neal and Mikko Koskinen.

Neal has three seasons remaining on his contract at $5,750,000 per season, while Koskinen has two seasons left at $4,500,000. Although both players are overpaid, the easy choice here would be to use the compliance buyout on Neal.

Although he had 19 goals at the pause, Neal looked washed during 2020. He was strong on the powerplay for Edmonton early in the season, but the five-on-five numbers simply have not turned around. There is no regretting the trade that brought him to Edmonton, but he simply is not worth the contract. A free way out would make life easier for Edmonton.

Even a regular buyout would make a lot of sense. Neal would cost Edmonton $1,916,667 per for each of the next six seasons. For the next three years, that would be a savings of $3,833,333. It isn’t ideal, but that is a palatable buyout.

A trade is also a possibility, especially on defense. The Oilers currently have two veteran defensemen that have seen their roles decrease. Both Adam Larsson and Kris Russell have bloated contracts, are entering contract years, and have attracted interest around the league.

Larsson ($4,166,666 cap hit) has drawn interest from the Toronto Maple Leafs and Winnipeg Jets in the past, while Russell ($4,000,000 cap hit) could be a target for the Florida Panthers. Both are potential trade chips as cheaper, younger and quite frankly better defensemen emerge.

The club could also try to trade or buyout both Chiasson and Khaira.

Final Thoughts:

The Oilers didn’t pay two second-round picks to just let Andreas Athanasiou walk. He, along with Bear and likely Lagesson, will be brought back next season. The club is also very interested in signing veteran Tyler Ennis, but he likely won’t cost more than $1,750,000.

If the Oilers are going to make any kind of improvements after that, they’ll need to get creative. A compliance buyout would help, but the club will likely need to shed a contract or two via trade to make things work.

An interesting off-season just got a little more difficult for Ken Holland and friends.

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