; Edmonton Oilers center Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (93) and defenseman Justin Schultz Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

Can the Oilers Afford to Keep Their Stars?

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With the recent signing of Ryan Nugent-Hopkins to a contract extension matching the cap hits of Taylor Hall and Jordan Eberle, there has been a lot of speculation that there isn’t enough money left to sign the other stars and keep quality depth on the roster as well.

Justin Schultz is a restricted free agent this summer. Nail Yakupov is up the year after. Outside of that, there is the issue of depth and goaltending, which is impossible to speculate what the cost might be. A few key ingredients have been locked up for another couple years, those being Sam Gagner, David Perron, Boyd Gordon, Andrew Ference and Ladislav Smid. Gagner and Perron are clear cut second line players on any team in the league. Gordon is your prototypical third line centre. Smid & Ference are your top 3 & 4 defenseman on this team and every other team. Pretty good depth if you ask me.

The RNH extension as Craig MacTavish stated, was a no brainer. The people screaming bloody murder and pulling out their hair come from the usual sources: Calgary, Toronto & Vancouver. Ignore their opinions, they are not important. A majority of the Oilers fans would agree that it is a fair value contract. The argument against the contact is that you are paying for 22 goals in 104 games, an oft-injured player who hasn’t ever played a full season and is too frail to compete with the big bad teams in the Western Conference. A bridge contract would have been the way to go. The argument in favour of the deal is that the term is equal to Hall & Eberle which is good for cost certainty and harmony in the locker room.

As a fan, I obviously like the idea of our first line centre being locked up for 7 years. Being an objective established writer with good looks and a charming personality, I’m still of the opinion that this is a good contract for the Oilers. The precedent for the $6 million per year deal has already been set, which is good. If there is one thing Steve Tambellini did, it was the value contracts given to Hall, Eberle & Smid. At $6 million per, that’s a steal compared to what’s being thrown around to other comparable players. A quick look around at the most recent contracts signed in the past two summers clearly indicate that it is at the very least the going rate for top line forwards. Good on MacT for having the foresight to sign RNH a year ahead of free agency. It was either pay now or pay more later. The negotiations would start at the $6 mill benchmark, so the only way to go was up. Ask Montreal if that bridge contract idea for PK Subban looks so great right now.

This past summer, MacT was showing a lot of leg to David Clarkson trying to woo him to Edmonton. Reports are that he offered somewhere in the neighborhood of 7 years @ $5.5 mill per season. Clarkson opted to sign with his hometown Leafs for a marginal discount, and it was a blessing in disguise that he did so. I can’t begin to explain how overhyped the need for grit and size is. Sure it’s great to have, but are you going to substitute a 70 point guy who weighs 185 lbs for a guy who will produce 50 points and weigh in at 220? Unless you’re stupid or from Vancouver, the answer is no. Scoring goals wins games. Crashers and bangers who chip in the odd time do not. If you can make the playoffs based on hits, then by all means trade everyone and bring in Matt Cooke and Jordan Tootoo as your first line players. I’ll take Hall and Yaks any day of the week.

The most crying about skill being a secondary citizen to size comes from Toronto. For the life of me I will never be able to figure out why those fans are hell-bent on running Phil Kessel out of town. He is consistently a top 10 scorer, a clutch performer and a true game breaker by any stretch of the imagination. You build around a guy like him. Clarkson is a nice piece for sure. Don’t get me wrong, I would love to have him but he is not going to be the difference maker that everyone thinks he will be. The fact he was the most sought after free agent speaks more to the piss poor quality of players available this year than it does to his value on the ice. Don’t confuse size with wins. Personally, I would love to see Kessel leave town this summer and Leafs ask Tyler Bozak to replace his 30 goals and 80 points.

The question now for Edmonton is not ‘can we afford to pay them’, but ‘can we afford to keep them and stay under the cap?’ No matter what you hear, the answer is yes. With an increasing cap next year and possibly more increases down the road, the Oilers easily can re-sign their players at market value and also afford to put the necessary pieces around them to compete every season. You only need to take a look around the league to see how other teams can afford to keep their top players.

Below are the current salaries for the top 7 players on each of the last 4 Stanley cup winners. Obviously you have to have good players to win, and need quality depth around them. I’ve listed the Oilers highest paid players and given healthy raises to Yakupov and Justin Schultz to be on the safe side. The comparables around the league show that Edmonton will have no issue resigning these guys and adding quality pieces around them to be a contender for the next decade.

Pittsburgh
Crosby $8.7 M
Malkin $8.7 M
Letang $7.25 M
Neal $5 M
Martin $5 M
Fleury $5M
Kunitz $3.85M

Chicago
Toews $6.3M
Kane $6.3M
Hossa $5.275M
Sharp $5.9M
Keith $5.5M
Seabrook $5.8M
Crawford $6M

Boston
Bergeron $6.5M
Lucic $6M
Chara $6.9M
Marchand $4.5M
Eriksson $4.25M
Rask $7M
Krejci $5.25M

LA Kings
Kopitar $6.8M
Richards $5.75M
Carter $5.25M
Brown $5.8M
Doughty $7M
Quick $5.8M
Voynov $4.2M

Edmonton
Hall $6M
Eberle $6M
Gagner $4.8M
RNH $6M
Schultz* $6M
Yakupov* $7M
Perron $3.8M

Total top 7 salaries:

Pittsburgh: $43.5M
Chicago: $41.1M
LA: $40.6M
Boston: $40.4M
Edmonton: $39.6M

Unless my math is wrong (it never is most of the time), the Oilers will have less tied up in their top 7 players than any of those other teams. I highly doubt that Schultz would get anything higher than $5.5 million unless he goes all Erik Karlsson on us (which would be super). Yakupov is the guy I figure who might eclipse them all in salary. There is a good point to make that the Oilers are too top heavy with forwards. All of those teams have a high end goalie in their top seven salaries (for Marc Andre-Fleury, I use the term ‘high end’ loosely). If somehow Devan Dubnyk plays his way into a $5M plus salary, then that means we have solved our goalie dilemma. If he doesn’t, MacTavish will have to spend as much on a new goalie. Regardless, there is no reason to worry in Oil Country. With a number of big money contracts off the books this summer, signing Schultz and Yakupov should be the least of your concerns.

On a side note, after arguing with my cat Mango all week about bills and how he spends our money foolishly, I went downtown to the clubs to let off some steam. On a nice warm Saturday night in Vancouver, the eye-candy was breathtaking. Being an actual Jedi Knight, I decided I would use a Jedi mind trick on some of the lovely single ladies on the dance floor. No matter how hard I channeled my inner Yoda and said ‘turned on you are, want me you do’, nothing happened. I think these women may have been from the dark side of the force.

Anyways I saw a wonderful marriage material-esque girl who ignored me from across the room for 2 solid hours. I imagined what a perfect date with her would be: passing out in a sleazy bar while she flirted with seedy old drunks, followed by an embarrassing screaming match. I couldn’t decide between an unsatisfying fling that leaves me filled with regret and dread or a long-term, soul crushing descent into booze and pills. Either way, she seemed like the type to have a problem with single guys who have cats so it’s a good thing that I ended it before it started and spare her cold, lonely heart.

Next 10 twitter followers get free 2014 kitten calendars and expired packets of mayonnaise. Follow me @Yaseen_AC.

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Tags: Featured Popular Jordan Eberle Nail Yakupov Ryan Nugent-Hopkins Sam Gagner Taylor Hall

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