With Ryan McLeod participating with the rest of the Edmonton Oilers in the informal skates, it’s got most Oilers fans pretty confident that, one way or another, general manager Ken Holland will find a way to get a deal done. So what’s the holdup?
The answer to that question is the salary cap and the Oilers’ roster construction. Holland signed most of his high-priority expiring contracts between July and August, and it didn’t take long for him to burn up available cap space. The Oilers are now almost $7 million over the cap before LTIR subtractions.
McLeod is the last restricted free agent on the team still in need of a new contract before the start of the season. This has many pundits and fans alike wondering how a deal gets done and what are the options for the Oilers?
McLeod’s 2020–21 season performance
Looking at McLeod’s 2020–21 season stats, we can see it was split between playing for EV Zug in the Swiss-A league, the American Hockey League (AHL) with the Bakersfield Condors, and even a small stint in the NHL with the Oilers.
During his time with EV Zug, McLeod put up four goals and seven assists for 11 points in 15 games. I would say these are okay numbers considering he was playing on a new team with new linemates, not to mention playing in a new country entirely. However, he wouldn’t stay in Sweden long before the AHL season started after being delayed due to the pandemic.
With the Bakersfield Condors, McLeod became a point-per-game player, racking up 14 goals and 14 assists for 28 points in 28 games. He seemed to be playing with confidence, using his incredible speed to get past defenders and capitalize on his chances. Generally, he outscored the opposition, finishing the regular season with a plus-minus of 23.
Although it was not long, McLeod’s speed translated well into his short 10-game stint with the Oilers, but it was clear he was not yet ready for the jump in intensity and skill at the NHL level.
McLeod’s improvements in 2021–22
McLeod’s 2021–22 season started with a brief stint in the AHL, playing seven games, scoring one goal, and posting four assists before being called up to the big leagues in Edmonton. While in Edmonton, he used his size, speed and high hockey IQ to snag a regular spot in the Oilers’ bottom-six as their fourth line centre, where he played with consistency and poise.
He would remain in this spot for the rest of the season. During the 71 games he played in the regular season, McLeod scored nine goals and 12 assists for a total of 21 points.
How does Ken Holland fit in McLeod’s contract?
Although the Oiler’s cap situation is more than tight, there are still ways that Holland can make a deal happen for the budding prospect.
Making a trade
The first way the Oilers can create the cap space to sign McLeod is by making a trade. When we look at the roster, there are a couple players who would be prime candidates for this.
The first is Tyson Barrie; this trade makes sense for the Oilers because I believe the value he provides the team as an offensive-minded defenceman will quickly be replaced by Evan Bouchard. Looking at the upcoming season, it is clear that Bouchard can quarterback a power play just as well, if not better than Barrie.
If the Oilers could move away from Barrie’s $4.5M average annual value contract, they would be left with more than enough money against the cap to get a deal done. If a trade does come to fruition, the Oilers will most likely look to find a cheaper replacement on the right side unless someone like Slater Koekkoek or Markus Niemeläinen steps up to fill those minutes and keep a clean sheet.
Another move that could make sense for the Oilers is trading Warren Foegele. Foegele’s lacklustre point production (26 points in 82 games) does not justify his contract ($2.75M until the end of the season) and he unfortunately provides little value to the team. Trading him can provide an opportunity for cheaper wingers like Dylan Holloway or Xavier Bourgault if they show well in training camp.
Foegele’s fit with Edmonton was just not as seamless as many had hoped, and if the Oilers want to shed his contract, there would likely be multiple suitors seeking his services.
The last move that could make sense for the Oilers would be trading Jesse Puljujärvi and his $3M contract. This would create enough cap room to sign McLeod, but with Puljujarvi’s currently low market value, the Oilers would not yield much in return for their 2016 first-round pick.
Shorting the Oilers roster
Another option for the Oilers would be to go into the 2022–23 season with less than a 23-man roster. This would help ease the Oiler’s cap situation merely because there are fewer players eating up the salary cap.
The main concern with this option would be injuries; it would only take a few all at once for the Oilers to be looking at a situation where they may be starting a game shorthanded simply because they don’t have enough healthy players to ice a full bench. Other NHL teams have done similar when up against the cap, such as the Vegas Golden Knights doing so in various combinations in past seasons.
With the Oilers AHL farm team—the Bakersfield Condors—being located in California about a three hours drive north of Los Angeles, it could mean it may take a day or two before they can call up a replacement player, especially there are hardships or restrictions in travel this year.
The other concern with this option is the workload would be increased for the players on the team simply because fewer players are playing the same 60 minutes; this could make for a greater chance of injuries. On the contrary, when you have elite players like Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl, more time on ice could be beneficial as they have the ability to dominate third and fourth line competition.
Putting ink onto the contract
All in all, there are ways for Holland to get McLeod signed, and I expect him to sign sometime soon before training camp starts in a few weeks. My guess would be a sorter deal similar deal to Kailer Yamamoto and Jesse Puljujärvi in term length and coming in around $1M per season. Get it done, Ken, get it done.
Photo by Curtis Comeau/Icon Sportswire