Lowetide: How the Edmonton Oilers’ Connor Brown contract could impact roster decisions

The Edmonton Oilers signing winger Connor Brown over the summer showed high risk along with some real inspiration.

A wrinkle in the CBA allowed general manager Ken Holland to sign Brown to a bonus-laden deal. Per PuckPedia, “players with a minimum of 400 NHL Games Played signing a 1 year contract after having a long-term injury. A long-term injury is defined as a player on Injured Reserve for a minimum of 100 days in the last year. While performance bonuses count against the salary cap, teams are permitted to exceed the salary cap due to performance bonuses, to a maximum of 7.5% of the Salary Cap.”

Brown’s $775,000 salary counts toward the 2023-24 cap. The bonus dollars, $3,225,000 and easily attainable, will be kicked on to the 2024-25 cap.

For the Oilers, it was the only way to get a player of Brown’s quality (a top-six winger with a wide range of skills) on the roster. The cap hit next season will be worth it if Oilers management delivers a Stanley Cup parade as the reward.

This week, in his 32 Thoughts column, Elliotte Friedman reported that “in the aftermath of the Board of Governors’ meeting, it appears the very-early, very-preliminary cap number for next season is $87.7 million,” which means the cap for 2024-25 may increase by $4.2 million.

The Brown contract will likely bite all but $1 million of that total.

What kind of impact could that have on next year’s roster moves? Here’s a look.

Unrestricted free agents

Brown is playing on the No. 1 line with Connor McDavid and Evander Kane. Chances are, if he stays healthy, his offensive numbers will be impressive. Re-signing Brown will be a priority for the organization. Will $4.5 million get it done? Should Brown score 30 goals this season, that might not be close. The Brown contract this season was an astute move. Signing him next year might not be possible if he fashions a strong performance.

Warren Foegele and Vincent Desharnais are also free agents next summer. Both have done enough to be considered long-term options. It’s unlikely the club could afford both players. Push comes to shove, the defenceman likely takes precedent.

Mattias Janmark would seem unlikely to return, but could be signed to another value deal should he perform well in 2023-24.

Restricted free agents

Philip Broberg and Dylan Holloway are the key RFA contracts for next summer.

Holland’s patented slow-playing of young prospects should result in affordable second contracts.

On the other hand, Holloway is looking especially dynamic in his third-line role. His line (with Ryan McLeod and Warren Foegele) was the best Edmonton had to offer in Vancouver on Wednesday night. If he posts some strong offensive numbers this season, the contract could be costly. The team would be wise to keep him off the power play and away from both McDavid and Leon Draisaitl for the entire campaign.

Broberg’s next contract is extremely likely to be cap-friendly. He won’t get power-play minutes and most of his value will come in shot and goal suppression. Those things have high value but aren’t as sexy as goals and points. He did not impress in the first game of the regular season.

Other RFAs who may get contracts in the summer include Markus Niemelainen and Raphael Lavoie. No restricted player past Holloway or Broberg has the potential to break the bank next summer.

Leon Draisaitl

The summer of 2024 will be a major pressure point for the Oilers organization. At that point, the club could sign Draisaitl to another long-term contract. The two sides can begin negotiating after July 1, 2024 (his current deal ends after the 2024-25 season).

On that date, the team will have either won or lost the Stanley Cup, McDavid’s contract negotiation will be a year away and one of the biggest pressure points in team history will have arrived.

The Oilers top-10 all-time point-getters are all elite names from the past or present.

Wayne Gretzky, Mark Messier, Jari Kurri, Glenn Anderson, Paul Coffey, Ryan Smyth and Doug Weight are all famous Oilers who had an enormous impact on the franchise.

McDavid, Draisaitl and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins also populate the top-10 all-time points list for Edmonton.

None of the retirees played their entire career with the Oilers.

Among the current group, Nugent-Hopkins has the best chance (signed through 2028-29) of making it happen.

Will Draisaitl sign next summer? When asked the question, the big centre gives an understandably vague answer. A Stanley Cup would certainly help the negotiation.

What would the money and term look like? Auston Matthews’ new deal takes $11.634 million from the cap annually and is five years in length. One could argue Draisaitl’s worth being more or less, but it’s a reasonable estimate from here. The cap going up probably means erring on the strong side of Matthew’s deal is a wise bet.

If it costs $12 million for Draisaitl, does that impact Brown’s contract?

A quick look at the 2024-25 Oilers

The Oilers are heading for a tough ride next summer. All but $1 million (or so) of the cap increase Friedman suggests is coming will be eaten up by the Brown bonus in this year’s deal.

That means a tough decision.

Assuming Holloway and Broberg are signed as RFAs, and the club can get Desharnais under contract to a reasonable deal (just over $1 million), money remains tight.

Elevating Xavier Bourgault and Raphael Lavoie will help.

Signing Brown to around $4 million for one season might be a squeeze, but could happen.

Holland or his replacement would need to walk Foegele or trade/buyout Jack Campbell.

It’s possible this scenario would see a repeat of the 21-man roster Oilers fans see today in 2024-25.

A quick look at the 2025-26 Oilers

The cap for the 2025-26 season is unknown, and the Draisaitl contract (should he sign with Edmonton) is also a mystery.

Evan Bouchard will be due a massive increase in the summer of 2025.

What becomes apparent with each passing season in this exercise: The long-term deals signed by Campbell, Nugent-Hopkins, Darnell Nurse, Zach Hyman and Kane will act as a barrier to staying competitive.

That could mean Draisaitl and McDavid sign short-term deals or leave via free agency.

Considering that owner Daryl Katz would view that result as competitive Armageddon, it’s more likely fans see an aggressive offloading of several veterans.

Campbell might face a buyout as soon as next offseason. Nugent-Hopkins, Hyman and Kane could also be dealt.

Perhaps most impactful, the club may have to move Nurse shortly after his no-movement clause eases in June 2027.

Finally, it is possible the Oilers are unable to find the cap room to sign Bouchard to a long-term deal.

The Holland era, should it end next summer, will leave much work for his successor. Expect a Vegas Golden Knights-style slashing of veteran contracts should this come to pass.

If the cap increases massively, this can be avoided.

Winning the Stanley Cup in 2024 is the goal. After that, things may get dicey in Edmonton.

(Photo of Samuel Honzek and Connor Brown: Perry Nelson / USA Today)

Originally Appeared Here

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