For the first time since the 2020–21 COVID-19 shortened season, the Edmonton Oilers will not be relying on long term injury reserve (LTIR) to solve their cap issues. Since Oscar Klefbom has been permanently sidelined with shoulder issues, the Oilers have been operating at or near the salary cap ceiling, limited roster flexibility.
That won’t be the case this season, with the Oilers not having eligible players to place on LTIR. Depending how the roster rounds out, this will also allow the Oilers to accrue cap space. The NHL salary cap is not an absolute maximum of $83.5M on any given day, but is rather an accumulation of the daily cap hits throughout the season. As such, any cap space when the season opens is magnified in terms of buying power later in the season. The Evan Bouchard extension is still to come, but this is how the Oilers cap situation currently looks per CapFriendly.
Oilers current cap situation
Based on the players currently signed and the reported two-year deal with a $3.9M AAV for Bouchard, this is likely how the Oilers will look to open the season. With this set up and before injuries, the Oilers would have $2.715M in cap space at the trade deadline.
However, if the Oilers were to sign a seventh defenceman and 12th forward at league minimum, the Oilers would give themselves even more flexibility. For the sake of this example, I’ll use Drake Caggulia for the extra forward and Mark Pysyk as the defenceman. However, this would only result in marginally more cap space at the deadline with $2.763M.
Spending that cap space effectively is going to be an entirely different challenge. The Oilers would effectively be able to add a player with a $2.763M AAV with the cap space they had accrued to that point in the season season.
The last time the Oilers were in a spot with room to the cap ceiling, Evander Kane fell into their laps after his contract was terminated by San Jose. It’s unlikely that a player of that calibre will suddenly become available again. Looking at the trade market will be a definite option, but the Oilers will have limited assets to spend and will likely want to keep some futures that can eventually fill the bottom of the lineup for cheap as Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl enter their next contract.
This could leave GM Ken Holland looking at players that currently don’t have contracts that would be looking to sign mid-season. There will be other options, but the players on this list will all likely be signing contracts late as they recovery from injuries. This doesn’t come without risk, as we’ve seen mid-season roster additions be slow out of the gate, whether it be William Nylander coming back from his contract dispute with the Toronto Maple Leafs or Kane joining the Oilers.
Nevertheless, here are three players that project to be available into the winter months that could have an impact in the Oilers’ lineup.
There might be bigger improvements that need to be made on the roster, but the biggest hole that currently exists is at the fourth line centre position. The Oilers are reportedly bringing in Brandon Sutter and potentially Sam Gagner for professional tryouts for the spot, along with the likes of Lane Pederson, James Hamblin, and company also competing for the job.
Former Blackhawk Jonathan Toews recently posted on Instagram and did a follow up with TheAthletic’s Mark Lazerus about his future, saying he was stepping away from hockey this season, although he was not fully retiring. This largely has to do with the Hawks’ former captain battling ongoing long COVID symptoms. He didn’t specify when, but depending on his recovery, Toews could look to return to an NHL lineup later in the 2023–24 season. The Blackhawks have apparently closed the door on a return, so it would be for a new team for the 2006 third overall pick.
Toews’ play suffered hard last year, as the Blackhawks were tanking in effort to eventually secure Connor Bedard. Looking at just his results from last year, Toews doesn’t have much left in the tank, but there’s multiple people inside hockey that believe he could contribute in a depth role, playing bottom six minutes and killing penalties.
There’s also the leadership components that Toews would bring to a locker room, playing a key part in three Stanley Cups in Chicago along with two Olympic Gold Medals for Team Canada. However, that is all tainted as the Kyle Beach incident occurred during his tenure as captain of the Blackhawks.
One of the major reasons for the Oilers’ defeat at the hands of the Golden Knights in Round 2 was that their scoring completely dried up at 5v5. McDavid and Draisaitl were still able to do their thing and the powerplay produced at unprecedented levels, but the $5M men and the bottom six weren’t able to carry their weight against Vegas—adding Patrick Kane could help change that.
Kane had double hip resurfacing surgery during June, with a projected recovery timeline of four to six months, putting his recovery somewhere between October and December. He’ll likely need some time to get up to speed, but the payoff could be worth it.
Kane has long been one of the league’s premier set up men in addition to having a finishing touch himself. His on ice proxy metrics have fallen dramatically over the past few seasons, but his production and finishing remains strong. With the surgery opening up his hips, Kane’s skating could recover, allowing him to drive play at a higher rate. Kane was also specifically linked to the Oilers by Rangers beat writer Arthur Staple, providing some potential hope to Oil Country.
A lot of Kane’s cons as a target are similar to Toews. He was a major part of the recent string of Hawks’ cups, but was also an assistant captain while the Beach incident occurred. Additionally, Kane has never been known as a defensive player, meaning he would have to be deployed on a scoring line with minimal responsibilities in his own zone for him to be effective.
The Ethan Bear–Warren Foegele trade was contreversial among Oiler fans right from it’s inception. The Oilers have gotten solid contributions from Foegele, but have still been searching for more in a Darnell Nurse partner. Meanwhile, Bear was flushed out of Carolina due to disputes with the coach and had rebounded nicely in Vancouver before re-injuring a pre-existing shoulder injury. This ultimately led to the Canucks opting not to qualify the right-handed defenceman after he had surgery. The latest report from Postmedia’s Patrick Johnston states that Bear’s recovery is progressing well but likely won’t be ready until December.
The stretch from when Coach Jay Woodcroft took over was likely the best of Cody Ceci’s career, where together with Nurse, he was able to form a legitimate first pair for Dave Manson to deploy against the opponent’s best competition. This past season was a lot more of a struggle, Ceci struggled by the eye test and the stat sheet, and the pair that was once key to the Oilers 2022 spring success helped lead to their defeat in the 2023 playoffs. There had been reports Ceci battled a core injury throughout last season which could lead to the struggles, but looking at his career as a whole, the 2022 segment down the stretch stands out as more of an outlier than the norm.
If the Oilers see that the Nurse-Ceci pair is still struggling through the first part of the season, Holland could look to sign Bear to a cheap contract and see if he and Nurse can rekindle the chemistry that saw them have success in the 2019–20 season in Edmonton. Quality right-handed defencemen are rare on the open market, and expensive to acquire. Returning to a pair that had previous success without giving up any assets could be a smart way to test drive a potential fit while still having enough runway to change course before the deadline if things go poorly.[An earlier version of this post incorrectly listed that the Oilers would have an effective $12.85M in cap space based on the 21.5% of the season remaining on deadline day]