a·cu·men [ak-yuh-muhn] noun: keen insight; shrewdness

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Thursday, 30 August 2012

08/30/12 Top Heavy: New Contracts for the Big Four

Jordan Eberle's new contract shows that a standard has indeed been set for the Oilers' big four forwards. What could things look like if the Oilers spend $24 million on four players up front?

It all depends on the size of the cap. If the salary cap continues to rise incrementally then the Oilers are in good shape. Even if it were to stay at $70.2 million they should be able to fit all of their players into the spending structure.

By the time both Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Nail Yakupov are being paid $6 million per season (the earliest that can happen is in 2015-16) the Oilers will potentially look very different than they do now. As of this writing, Hall and Eberle are the only players under contract that far into the future, and the Oilers will have the money to remake the roster around the Big Four.

If the cap stays the same then management would have $46.2 million to sign nine forwards, seven defensemen and two goalies; or an average of roughly $2.56 million each for those 18 players. Currently the Oilers are spending  $17,832,000 in cap hits on their four highest paid forwards, and $43,601,333 in cap hits on another ten forwards, eight defensemen and two goalies. That's an average of about $2.18 million per player after the four highest paid forwards.

But if the cap comes down, as NHL owners would apparently like to see happen, the Oilers will be in murkier water. The NHL's latest offer to the NHLPA included a fixed $58 million salary cap for the 2012-13 season, and did not include an across-the-board rollback to existing contract values. That means that Taylor Hall, Jordan Eberle and all the rest will keep their current cap hits.

The Oilers are already spending almost $63 million on cap hits for the 2012-13 season, which means there would have to be some movement just to get under the cap. The NHL proposal would see the cap rise to $60 million in 2013-14, but the Oilers are already committed to more than $48 million in cap hits for that season and only 14 players are under contract. That means the Oilers could have a hard time getting better in the next couple of years unless they can do it on the cheap.

It does get a little better, however. The cap for the 2015-16 season (when all of the Big Four should be making $6 million) is set to be $64.2 million under the NHL proposal. That would leave the Oilers with $40.2 million to sign 18 players, which works out to about $2.23 million per player. It would require the team to be pressed right up against the ceiling, but there's just barely enough money there to slot in a competitive roster around four extremely high-end forwards.

Of course, if the league gets its way on the salary cap issue then the Oilers will be much more inclined to trade one of their forwards for a more balanced roster makeup. Even if that happens the return should be able to impact the team's fortunes in a significant way. There are worse problems to have than too much of a good thing, as Oilers fans of the last two decades know well.

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