Oilers face serious cap issues as they ponder rebuild

TSN.ca Staff
1/15/2010 7:00:31 PM
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There's no doubt things are bad in the short term for the Edmonton Oilers.

The team is sitting in last place in the Western Conference with a record of 16-26-5 and just 37 points. They've lost seven in a row, they're eight points below the next-lowest team in the Blue Jackets, and their playoff prospects are impossibly bleak.

Normally, a team mired in that bad of a situation can at least look forward to a brighter future - the idea being that they can really only go up. But when it comes to the Oilers, could things be looking equally shaky for the long term?

"I get the idea that they want to peddle hope - and they should - and there's a major rebuild that's going to go on here," says TSN Hockey Insider Bob McKenzie. "But this is a last-place hockey team with a first-place payroll, and they've got some serious financial issues they have to address."

Those financial issues are going to provide a major obstacle for a team whose immediate priority is simply to climb out of the NHL's basement. The first step?

"The Oilers have come to realize that they cannot win without a superstar," says TSN Hockey Insider Darren Dreger.

So how are the Oil supposed to acquire that superstar player?

"It's almost impossible in today's NHL to do it via trade so you have to do it via the draft," says Dreger. "The Oilers see great things in (potential No. 1 selections) Taylor Hall, Tyler Seguin, and defenceman Cam Fowler, so there's tons of promise looking ahead here in 2010 in the NHL Entry Draft. The Oilers say, foundationally speaking, that's exactly what they have to focus on regardless of what happens for the remainder of this regular season."

It will also be a matter of shipping out some of the players that are taking up the payroll.

"They've got to peddle some bodies, they've got to peddle some contracts, and they move them out," McKenzie says.

A quick glance at the financial obligations of the team reveals they've definitely got their work cut out for them when it comes to the cap hits of some of their bigger name players.

"Look at Nikolai Khabibulin, you've got the defencemen, lots of guys at $3.75 million," says McKenzie.

And that's not it.

Lubomir Visnovsky has three more years at $5.6 million, Sheldon Souray has another two at $5.4 million, and there is also Tom Gilbert ($4 million), Denis Grebeshkov ($3.15 million), Steve Staios ($2.7 million) and Ladislav Smid ($1.3 million).

That's more than $22 million committed to six defencemen.

Then there's the forwards: Shawn Horcoff at $5.5 million, Dustin Penner at $4.25 million, Ales Hemsky at $4.1 million and Patrick O'Sullivan at $2.925 million.

"The bottom line is you end up with almost half a roster for $44 million," says McKenzie. "And the you've got Sam Gagner, Andrew Cogliano, Ryan Potulny, Ryan Stone, Jeff Drouin-Deslauriers, Devan Dubynk - all these guys coming up as restricted free agents."

Unfortunately for Edmonton, those numbers simply don't add up.

"Most of these guys are coming out of entry-level and some of these guys are going to get some decent money," says McKenzie. "Gagner's not going to be a walk in the park. So when you sit there and look at, 'How are they going to find room for all these other guys?' and 'How are they going to make this work?', they've got to get rid of some of these guys under contract and, quite frankly right now, nobody wants them."

Dreger says the process will probably not be pretty.

"It could get ruthless, it could get cut-throat," he offers. "That's the reality, but the Oilers also agree that there needs to be a culture change within the organization so, sadly, we're talking about some of the veteran players who have been very good foot soldiers for this organization, but we're talking about players who potentially have hit the wall with Edmonton." 

Whether there will be demand for those players at their current price tags is also an important question.

"Souray - is he going to have terrific market value? Moreau? Staois? Not necessarily," says Dreger. "So there might have to be tough decision made involving those certain players, but it's all part of the evolution of this organization."

On a brighter note, the Oilers did put some additional manpower into looking for young talent this year, using their pro staff to scout at the World Junior tournament for the first time.

"Of course they're watching Jordan Eberle for Team Canada," says Dreger. "They looked at (Swedish players) Magnus Paajarvi-Svensson and and Anton Lander as well and they were overwhelmed. They said they were terrific."

No one can be certain what the future holds for the Edmonton Oilers, but it's clear they will have some very tough decisions to make in the short term so that the long term is a lot more pleasant that the current situation they find themselves in.

Things won't be getting any easier for the Oilers in the coming week, with their next three games coming against San Jose, Colorado and Vancouver.

Oilers looking dejected (Photo: Jimmy Jeong/NHLI via Getty Images)


(Photo: Jimmy Jeong/NHLI via Getty Images)
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