How To Fix The Edmonton Oilers

Continuing with my theme of fixing broken teams, my next challenge I’ve decided to tackle is the Edmonton Oilers. The team that’s been broken for ages. The last time the Oilers made the playoffs was before Connor McDavid’s 10th birthday and now he’s the best player on the team.

Some rules of this series I’m operating under: All the trades and signings are purely speculation, but I try my best to make them as realistic as possible. When signing free agents who in real life have signed with other teams by this point, by default I take on whatever contract they ended up signing with their actual team. I don’t know these players personally so I can’t say which ones would or wouldn’t want to sign in Edmonton for real. For the purposes of this exercise I’m assuming all players would be willing to sign with the Oilers for market value.

 

Just like last time, I’m hopping in my time machine and going to the start of the off-season, where I take over for Peter Chiarelli who was fired for asking if he could trade Taylor Hall for Adam Larsson. When I take over my roster looks like this:

 

Taylor Hall

Connor McDavid Jordan Eberle

Benoit Pouliot

Ryan Nugent-Hopkins Nail Yakupov

Patrick Maroon

Leon Draisaitl

Zack Kassian

Matt Hendricks Mark Letestu

Liro Pakarinen

Anton Lander

 

Oscar Klefbom

Mark Fayne

Andrej Sekera

Andrew Ference
Brandon Davidson

Darnell Nurse

 

Cam Talbot

Laurent Brossoit

 

Without further ado let’s jump into step one.

 

Step One: Get Rid of Dead Weight

 

It seems as though Andrew Ference’s career might be over due to injury. Losing Ference as a player isn’t bad for Oilers, in fact it’s quite good. It does however present some cap complications. If he is in fact too injured to play this season, the Oilers could place him on long term injury reserve, and they will be allowed to go over the cap by the amount of his cap hit, which in this case is $3,250,000. However, if the Oilers go this route, that means any performance bonuses will count as overages. In other words, if Connor McDavid, Jesse Puljujarvi, or Darnell Nurse light the lamp next year, all their bonuses will count against the cap next season which could cost them as much as $6,175,000. This is a very undesirable situation, and would be nice to avoid. Because of this it doesn’t make sense to place Ference on LTIR simply to clear $3.25M. This leaves the Oilers will the option of keeping him for the final year of his contract and having him count against the cap, or trading him, likely with some sort of pick or prospect for some team to take his contract, or burying him in the minors assuming he agrees to waive his no movement clause. I’m going to do all I can to stay $3.25M below the cap so I don’t have to give up any assets to get him off the books. This means I’ll essentially be working with a cap of $69,750,000.

 

There’s really isn’t any dead weight which can be easily cleared without sacrificing assets, or buying players out. I don’t want to do either, but I will likely end up burying Mark Letestu and or Matt Hendricks which gives me an extra $950,000- $1,900,000 to work with if necessary. Since teams are allowed to exceed the salary cap by 10% during the offseason, this is money I can use.

 

Heading into free agency I have $12,855,084 in cap space to spend, and the extra $950,000- $1,900,000 on top of that if I need to use it. That’s certainly enough to add some key players and plug some holes.

 

Step Two: Identify Areas of Need

 

My main priority this offseason is shoring up this defense. I’d like to add enough defensemen so that both Darnell Nurse and Griffin Reinhart can start the year in the AHL. Also, as it currently stands the only right handed defenseman on the roster is Mark Fayne. This isn’t necessarily a huge deal, but it would be preferable to get some more righties on the team.

 

Going into next season, I’d like to be able to roll three threatening lines. One centred around Connor McDavid, one featuring Hall and Leon Draisaitl, and a third with Nugent-Hopkins and Eberle. Spreading out these talented players allows us to get more from all the players individually. Also it would allow me to limit the ice time of this fourth line which likely won’t be great. I’m fine keeping McDavid with Pouliot and Yakupov, where they found success last season, but adding a right winger to the second line would mean I don’t have to play Zack Kassian in the top six which is obviously preferable.

 

I’d like to redo the fourth line, but I want to keep the cost as low as possible. If I can find good players coming at or under the amount that I’ll save by burying current fourth liners ($950,000 each) then I could improve the depth of the forwards without racking up huge cap hits.

 

Last but not least I’d like to add a competent backup goalie who can ideally take some games from Cam Talbot who isn’t the strongest of netminders. As always, the cheaper the better.

 

In summary I want: 1 top six right winger, 3 cheap fourth liners, 2-3 defensemen and 1 backup goalie. I probably won’t be able to accomplish all this with my cap restraints. Some financial footwork might become necessary. Also I need to remember that McDavid, Draisaitl, Puljujarvi and others will need contracts in the next few years so I can’t rack up huge dollars for long-term. I need to spend responsibly.

 

Step Three: July 1st

 

My first addition is signing Jason Demers ($4.5M x 5 years). Demers is capable of playing on our first pair, and he is right handed. Klefbom and Demers up front gives us a legitimate top pairing which can play in any situation. Demers is better than Adam Larsson by the way.

 

Next up is David Schlemko ($2.1M x 4 years). Schlemko brings a tremendous ability to drive possession, a skill the Oilers desperately need from the blueline, and does it for cheap. He is a lefty but can play on any one of our three pairings without looking out of place. He’s probably best suited to a second or third pair role though.

 

The final addition I’ll make to this blue line is adding righty David Rundblad for $750,000 on a one year deal. He is an analytics darling who has never been given a fair shot. This one year deal allows him to prove if he’s the real deal and very low cost to the team. It’s a win-win. If he doesn’t work out he can be buried or fill in as seventh defenseman.

 

Next for my forwards I’m bringing back Teddy Purcell for $1,600,000 to play on my second line with Hall and Draisaitl. He drives play nicely while chipping in a decent amount of offense. Playing with two dynamic offensive players will likely boost his point totals and increase his trade value. He’ll probably also be getting first line minutes on this line, similar to Evgeni Malkin in Pittsburgh. I’m going to run two first lines.

 

Kris Versteeg, who was brought in on a PTO in real life, will make a great addition to our forward group. He’ll take Hendricks roster spot but will probably end up playing on the Nuge/Eberle line. He comes cheap off of a PTO, so I’ll give him $1,000,000 for one year. Almost all of that money will come from burying Hendricks and both contracts come off the books after this season.

 

Brad Boyes is a nice depth forward who will make our fourth line look instantly better. I’d rather have him than Zack Kassian, so Kassian will make his way to Bakersfield to make room for Boyes.

 

The last piece to my new and improved fourth line comes in the form of Jonathan Marchessault. This undersized forward is really underrated and is a cheap depth forward. Two years at $750,000 is a steal for a player this good. He pushes Anton Lander out of the lineup, but I’ll keep Lander with the big club because he’s cheap and versatile (can play all three forward positions) so he’ll be useful to replace injured players.

 

My last move is signing goalie Jhonas Enroth to a one year deal worth $750,000. He’s undersized but skilled and has played 40 games in a season before. I can see him playing 30-35 games in a relief role behind Cam Talbot.

 

As it turns out I filled all my needs with $7,806,750 left in cap space after burying unwanted players. That’s even with Ference remaining on the roster and Mark Fayne in the press box as our seventh defenseman.

 

Summer isn’t over yet though. I’m going to extend Leon Draisaitl for eight years at $4.75M. Because he only has one successful season he has very little bargaining power, but his underlying numbers were good, as were his point totals. I’m not concerned about Draisaitl long-term as he’s probably already better than Ryan Nugent-Hopkins.

 

End Result:

 

After all my moves, my roster will look something like this heading into next season.

 

Benoit Pouliot

Connor McDavid Nail Yakupov

Taylor Hall

Leon Draisaitl Teddy Purcell

Kris Versteeg

Ryan Nugent-Hopkins Jordan Eberle
Patrick Maroon Jonathan Marchessault

Brad Boyes

 

Oscar Klefbom

Jason Demers

Andrej Sekera

David Schlemko
Brandon Davidson

David Rundblad

Andrew Ference (Injured)

Mark Fayne (spare)

 

Cam Talbot

Jhonas Enroth

 

I like this lineup because it spreads out the talent of our high end players while still giving them useful linemates who won’t hold them down. Throughout the lineup we have players who drive possession, so even out fourth line won’t get flattened when thrown out. We have four lines we can trust to help us shoot more than the other team which gives us a solid chance in any game. We accomplished this with $7,806,750 in cap space which will cover any potential performance bonuses and still leaves us with some roster flexibilty for trade deadline moves or bringing up AHL players. We didn’t sign any players long-term to contracts we’ll regret, so there will be money to sign Connor McDavid and other when the time comes. Leon Draisaitl is locked up long term at a reasonable rate and can play with Taylor Hall for the better part of the next decade.

 

What do you think? Better than Chiarelli? In my opinion, the fact that I still have Taylor Hall on my team proves I’m a better GM than he.

How To Fix The Canucks

 

It is a secret to nobody that the Vancouver Canucks are in a little bit of a pickle. They have a General Manager who thinks they are a playoff team and consistently trades away young players and picks for older players who, well aren’t very good. They’ve got years worth of contracts tied up in sub-NHL level players and a prospect group, which not that long ago looked as if it were one of the better groups in the league, now looks much less promising.

 

Not all of this is Jim Benning’s fault. The second he was hired he was put in an awkward position. The Sedin’s are still really good. They also still make a lot of money. This is not bad for the Canucks, but it certainly puts them in an uncomfortable position. They can’t trade Daniel and Henrik because no team in a position to make such a trade would be able to take on the combined $14,000,000 cap hits. Also the twins both have full no movement clauses, so even if a trade were possible, they would have final say in whether or not they’d want to go.

 

At the end of the day, the Sedin’s are Canucks and it will stay that way most likely until their current contracts expire (summer of 2018) at least. This left Canucks management with two options. Waste the last few productive years of the best players in the history of the team, and start a rebuild, or try and cobble together whatever pieces they could and make a run for the playoffs every year.

 

For that reason I don’t fault Benning for his efforts to make the playoffs (though I do fault him greatly for his methods of attempting to do so). Because of the Sedins and subsequent binding contracts Benning signed in order to achieve his goal, the only option the Canucks have is to at least be as good as possible. For the purposes of this exercise I am hopping in my time machine and going back to the start of the summer and filling in for the Jim Benning who was rightfully fired in this hypothetical timeline.

 

At this point in time the roster I am stuck with looks like this:

 

Daniel Sedin

Henrik Sedin Alexandre Burrows

Chris Higgins

Brandon Sutter Derek Dorsett

Sven Baertschi

Bo Horvat

Jannik Hansen

Emerson Etem Markus Granlund

Jake Virtanen

Jared McCann

 

Alexander Edler

Chris Tanev

Luca Sbisa

Nikita Tryamkin
Ben Hutton

Alex Biega

 

Ryan Miller

Jacob Markstrom

 

With this roster I have $11,906,249 in cap space to work with. That is a good amount of space, of which much will have to be wasted in clearing out some of the bad players and contracts.

 

Step One: Get Rid of Dead Weight

 

My first day on the job, I buy out Luca Sbisa straight away. Luca isn’t an NHL caliber player and makes the Canucks a far worse team. This buyout will cost the Canucks $1,517,667 the first two seasons, but opens up some cap space. We have Philip Larsen to replace his roster spot, and I think he deserves a shot in training camp to earn a spot on the starting squad.

 

I assume there would be a team who would take on Brandon Sutter. This is purely speculation, as with all the trades and signings to come in this piece, but I will try my best to make things as realistic is possible. The Bruins were a team this offseason who were aggressive in their pursuit of centre’s, including signing David Backes for $6,000,000. Sutter seems like the type of player the Bruins would appreciate, and they trade for him in exchange for Colin Miller and a second round pick.

 

In this reality I don’t buy out Chris Higgins, opting to keep him for the remaining year of his contract. He is still capable of playing a depth role and we can afford to absorb his $2,500,000 cap hit in order to get it off the books a year earlier.

 

Unfortunately this is all the trimming which I can somewhat realistically do. This exercise is being performed under the assumption the team is being pressure by ownership to make the playoffs, so I need to add some players through free agency or trade who can help us achieve that goal.

 

Step Two: Identify Areas Of Need

Presently this team is in need of a number two centre, as Brandon Sutter was traded and Bo Horvat probably isn’t ready yet. I don’t want a player I’ll need to commit to long-term because Horvat and McCann are both in the system and won’t be far away from taking on larger roles.

 

Left-wing is another weak point, as outside of Daniel Sedin, our left-wingers are Baertschi, Higgins and Etem, and that simply won’t cut it. I’m okay going longer term on this player because there’s no significant young players to step in and take this role anytime soon.

 

Last but not least I need to beef up this D-Core. Outside of our top pair of Edler and Tanev, there isn’t a lot to inspire confidence. Colin Miller looked good in Boston last year so I’ll start him on the second pair. This means ideally I’d like to add another top four defenseman and maybe someone to play on the third pair as well.

 

These are the most important areas to improve and I can do so using my $16,414,582 in cap space. Things are already looking up.

 

Step Three: Add Some Free Agents

 

It’s now July 1st and I have a pocket full of cash to spend. First thing’s first, I want to add my second line centre. My chosen player is Eric Staal. He’s not the same player offensively as he used be, but he’s very versatile, he’s a great two-way player and he signed a fairly cheap, short term contract with the Wild. I’ve signed him to an identical contract ($3.5M x 3 years), which has a low enough cap hit that I needn’t worry about having him on my third line should Horvat pass him in the next three years.

 

Next up I sign Jason Demers to the same five year contract he signed with the Panthers. He can play on our second or first pair depending on injuries and is a massive upgrade to any in-house replacements. At $4,500,000 he comes at a pretty reasonable price and I didn’t even need to give up Taylor Hall to get him!

 

A top six left winger will be hard to come by in this year’s free agency crop, so I decide to sign someone to a short term contract instead of tying my hands to a long-term deal that’ll end up looking bad down the road. David Perron suits our needs just fine for these purposes. He’ll fit in nicely on the second line with Eric Staal, and comes at a reasonable cap hit, $3,750,000 for two years. We can re-evaluate our need at left-wing two years down the road when Perron is off the books, and in the meantime we don’t need to worry about looking like idiots for signing a player way over market value well into their 30’s.

I now have $6,339,582 left in cap space and have filled all of my key weak points and sent some unneeded players to the AHL to get a more accurate reflection of what my cap will be. With my extra spending money, I’d like to shore up the D a bit and maybe add a depth forward if there’s any money left.

 

I sign David Rundblad to a two year contract at one million per year. Rundblad could just be a diamond in the rough and is well worth the risk. Worst case scenario we have a solid 3rd pair guy who contributes some offense.

 

In other moves, I brought in Kris Versteeg on a one year contract worth $1,500,000 to bring some much needed depth on the wing and signed Teddy Purcell to the same contract he signed with the Kings (one year, $1.6M). If we make the playoffs these guys will help tremendously and add some much needed offense. If not, they have very tradable contracts and can be swapped for picks/prospects at the deadline. Very low-risk contracts.

 

Step Four: Roster Moves

 

I don’t have too many trades to make in this world. I don’t have any need for Emerson Etem anymore, so I’ll trade him away for a 3rd round pick to the Devils who always could use forwards. I’ll also trade Markus Granlund for a third round pick to the Ducks who could use some cheap depth at centre until Nate Thompson returns.

 

Both Higgins and Dorsett will end up starting the year in the AHL which will not only free up roster spots for better players, but will give us some additional cap savings as well. Other notables who will be starting the year in Utica include Nikita Tryamkin who was clearly not ready for the NHL game, Alex Biega who is morbidly meh, and Jordan Subban who was not made the leap yet.

 

End Result:

 

After all these moves I can’t help but feel as though this version of the Canucks is much better. Here’s what my final roster looks like:

 

Daniel Sedin

Henrik Sedin Jannik Hansen

Kris Versteeg

Eric Staal David Perron
Teddy Purcell Bo Horvat

Jake Virtanen

Sven Baertschi Jared McCann

Alexandre Burrows

 

Alexander Edler

Chris Tanev

Colin Miller

Jason Demers

Ben Hutton

David Rundblad

Philip Larsen

 

Ryan Miller

Jacob Markstrom

 

Philip Larsen and Ben Hutton will likely rotate in and out of the lineup. So, is this a playoff team? I doubt it, but they are certainly a way better team than Jim Benning scrapped together. We also have $5,814,582 in cap space which we can use as a trade asset in order to do deals like the Bolland/Crouse trade between the Panthers and the Coyotes. Most importantly all of the additions I made were signed at or below $4.5M, there’s no contracts that stick out as potentially being burdens in the future. Whether or not you agree with the team I assembled, there’s one thing we can all agree on: pretty much anybody could have done better than Jim Benning.

Sean Couturier and His Secretly Elite Season

 

At first blush, Sean Couturier might not seem like anything special. He’s never hit 40 points in an NHL season and his career high for goals is 15. This seems underwhelming for a former 8th overall pick, ahead of players like Dougie Hamilton, Oscar Klefbom and J.T Miller. But what if I told you that Couturier was the best player on the Philadelphia Flyers already?

 

When you think of the Flyers best players, names like Claude Giroux, Jakub Voracek and Wayne Simmonds surely come to mind. These are all really good players of course, but last season, Sean Couturier was better than all of them. This is not a statement I make lightly. Let me explain.

 

When most fans think Couturier, surely they think of a player who is strong defensively, if a little weak offensively. It’s true that Couturier is strong defensively. Very strong. Only two players did a better job at reducing quality shots against last season, Vernon Fiddler and Nick Shore. The ‘catch’ for Vernon Fiddler is that he does so while suffocating offensive results. He hinders almost as many goals for his team as he does their opponent. Nick Shore is rather inconsequential offensively and is actually a pretty underrated analytics gem. What makes Couturier stand out among these fourth liners is that he does it playing first line minutes and driving offensive play as well.

 

To demonstrate just how great Couturier was last season, I’ve assembled this little exercise. Of the 4 players below, I want you to make a mental note of which you think is the best player.

 

Player:

Relative xGF%: Relative SCF%: Primary Points/60:

Player A

+1.91% +2.82% 1.23

Player B

+10.59% +11.61%

1.28

Player C

+12.47%

+17.52%

1.57

Player D +0.80% -1.47%

1.55

 

I’m sure from context you can guess that the player leading in all three of these categories is Sean Couturier (Player C). The other players? Player A is Jonathan Toews, Player B is Patrice Bergeron and Player D is Anze Kopitar. Those three players are pretty widely considered the best two-way players in the game. None of them do as good of a job generating scoring chances for, or preventing scoring chances against as Couturier. He does this while also providing more impact offense than any of them at even strength. I might also add that the only player on that list who makes less than double what Couturier does is Bergeron (the second best player on the list).

 

While Couturier isn’t a world beater in terms of individual offensive production, he isn’t exactly a slouch. His 2.07 points per hour are almost identical to Nikita Kucherov, Brad Marchand and Joe Pavelski.

 

In short, Couturier scores at a very high end level, while driving possession 1.88% better than Patrice Bergeron, the player almost unanimously considered the best two-way forward in the NHL. This was an injury shortened season, he played only 63 games, and it was somewhat of an outlier from his previous seasons. For these reasons, I’m not yet ready to declare him the best player in the NHL, but there is a very strong argument that he has one of the best seasons of any player in the league last season. This makes his current contract, six years at $4,333,333, which kicks in this season, look like one of the best bargains in the NHL.

 

Some of his strongest comparables last season include Patrice Bergeron, Pavel Datsyuk and Joe Thornton. Assuming he builds off, sustains or even comes close to last seasons level of excellence, he should be one of the top players in the game for a long time. Because he hasn’t won a cup, plays behind the overrated Claude Giroux and doesn’t put up flashy offensive totals, he’ll likely never get the credit he deserves.