Two lessons we learned at the 2019 NHL Draft:
One, perhaps the draft isn’t hockey’s new trade deadline after all. Draft picks have increased in value, as they accrue the young, cheap players that every organization needs to survive.
And two, if it cost the Toronto Maple Leafs a first-round draft pick to move one year of Patrick Marleau, how on earth do you trade a Milan Lucic, a Loui Eriksson, a James Neal or a Nikita Zaitsev?
The cap has taken over the game, and all transactions therein. The boss wants parity, and Gary Bettman’s cap has produced a system where teams that successfully develop players over time — like Winnipeg — are literally forced to share them with the weaker teams, once it becomes contract time for stars like Patrik Laine or Kyle Connor.
Why does a player of P.K. Subban’s value get moved for two second rounders and two players who make a combined $2.34-million? Because if Nashville is going to improve itself up front — not to mention re-sign Roman Josi after next season — it needed to clear cap space.
New Jersey benefits, and really it’s a shortcut that the Devils have not earned through organizational competency.
Which brings us the Edmonton Oilers, a team that sits somewhere in the middle. They’ve got some nice young players coming, a couple of superstars under long-term deals, but the prospects are too far away to help next season and they’re almost capped out.
The needs here are clear: A third-line centre, some help on the wings and a goalie to share the load with Mikko Koskinen. So, how does GM Ken Holland go about that, with only $8.3-million in cap space?
Let’s break it down:
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The Lucic buy-out would provide Edmonton $2.4-million in cap savings in the 2019-20 season, but after that it is an anchor, with about $125,000 combined savings in the final seven seasons of the buy-out.
Andrej Sekera is a different story, however. He has two seasons remaining at $5.5-million, and the cap savings would be $3-million in each of the next two seasons, according to Capfriendly.com.
With Caleb Jones and Joel Persson both pushing to make the lineup next year, a Sekera buy-out before the first buy-out window ends on June 30, could be Holland’s best cap relief.
Kadri absolutely fits the bill of the player the Oilers require to play centre behind Connor McDavid and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins.
Does Holland have a defenceman to trade as the starting point to a trade with Toronto? If you buy out Sekera, it gets harder. If you don’t, could you move Adam Larsson in a deal for Kadri?
In Edmonton, Larsson is forced to play No. 2 minutes. In Toronto, as a No. 4, we predict that Leafs fans would fall in love with his game. Larsson has two years left at $4.16-million while Kadri has three remaining at $4.5-million. The guts of a deal are there.
Wingers for centres
It’s a forgone conclusion that Leon Draisaitl will go down in Oilers history as Connor McDavid’s left-winger. Sure, he’ll get some starts at centre. But when the chips are down, or the roster matures into something far closer to a finished product, Draisaitl and McDavid will play together on the first line in Edmonton.
So the Oilers need some wingers. A cheap, quick one for the first line, and a couple of guys who can work with Nugent-Hopkins on line two to produce some complimentary offence.
They’re not even looking at the Mats Zuccarellos or Ryan Dzingels due to their cap situation. They enter the UFA class at about the Brett Connolly, Jonas Donskoi plateau.
With Jesse Puljujarvi’s agent saying he’ll choose Europe over another season with the Oilers, and promising farmhands Tyler Benson and Kailer Yamamoto likely a year away, Edmonton needs some help for their centremen, and they need it now.
Our prediction? Mike Smith, who played for Dave Tippett in both Dallas and Arizona, takes his pads up Highway 2 and signs with the Oilers. The only fly in that ointment would be if Smith decides to re-sign with the Flames, a team he says he enjoyed being with for the past two seasons.
Failing that scenario, how about either of the UFA tandem from Carolina: Petr Mrazek or Curtis McElhinney?
It’s hard to see a tight-spending outfit like the Hurricanes re-upping both players. We’re betting one is looking for work after July 1.