One of the more intriguing elements of the new collective bargaining agreement that was agreed to in principle on Sunday by the NHL and NHLPA is that teams will be allowed to
take two mulligans on contracts they screwed up on buy out two contracts as a means of helping get the team under the salary cap before the start of the 2013-2014 season. These buyouts cannot happen any earlier than June, but if you are an Edmonton Oilers fan this is an absolutely fantastic clause which will help the Oilers remain competitive for years to come.
You have to think that despite the hard work he has put in these past few seasons, good soldier/Captain Shawn Horcoff will have his contract bought out on the first day the Oilers organization will be allowed to do such things. His cap hit–$5.5M for three more seasons–is simply too high for what he is able to bring to the table (only 97 points in three seasons, minus-53, terrible in the faceoff circle, dreadful in front of the net when he has a chance to score).
With the Oilers having just signed Taylor Hall and Jordan Eberle to rich extensions last season, and with players like Ladislav Smid, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Justin Schultz due significant raises in the coming years, a large chunk of Edmonton’s cap space will be devoted to a handful of players (like that Nail Yakupov guy) going forward, and Horcoff’s contract is simply too cost-prohibitive for him to be kept around, so he’ll be gone.
The big question, however, is who will be the second buyout if the Oilers choose to use their second one. A few names jump out. Miraculously, Nikolai Khabibulin is not one of them. This is his final season as an Oiler and unless he gets dealt at the deadline (which is rumored to be sometime during the first week of April this year), he will actually play out the length of his ridiculous contract. Ben Eager was an absolute waste of a roster spot last season and his $1.1M cap hit, though not exactly egregious, could be spent on a different role player who might actually do what he was expected to do (hit, bring toughness to the team, score some points).
But I would put my money on the other buyout coming from one of two places: Eric Belanger or Ales Hemsky. Oilers fans bemoaned Belanger’s lack of production almost from day one as it took him 28 games to score his first goal and 15 games to register his second point of the season. But hey, he could win faceoffs–something Edmonton has struggled mightily with over the years especially after trading away faceoff demons like Jarret Stoll or allowing Marty Reasoner to walk–so there was that. At this point however, that’s the only thing the Oilers are sure he knows how to do, so the likelihood of them wanting to digest his $1.75M cap hit next season isn’t great.
And as for Hemsky? I throw this out there because I haven’t seen it suggested anywhere before and I wonder if it might be a shocker move for the organization that might make sense. Yes, the club re-signed him to a two-year deal last season at $5M a year, and he has scored 32 points in 27 games for Pardubice HC of the Czech Extraliga, but he has been injury-prone and the contract renegotiation situation was contentious at best last season. Even with a chance to finally start winning again, is Hemsky really happy in Edmonton? And do they really think he’ll be healthy enough to make use of his prodigious talent for holding on to the puck and never shooting it?
The Oilers will definitely benefit from cutting ties with Horcoff and I’m going to guess they’ll use the other buyout on Belanger simply because they have enough young talent at center (Nugent-Hopkins, Sam Gagner, Teemu Hartikainen, Anton Lander) to justify getting rid of him. Even if they only use one buyout however, the Oilers will be in much better cap shape after Horcoff is sent packing.