Edmonton - May 19, 2013 - When Craig MacTavish decided to take on the role of General Manager for the Edmonton Oilers, the four time Stanley Cup winner knew he would have some difficult decisions ahead of him.
With the NHL Entry Draft and Unrestricted Free Agency quickly approaching, many of those tough choices will be made over the next few weeks.
Like every other team in the National Hockey League, the Oilers will have the option of using two compliance buyouts at the end of this season or following the 2013-14 campaign.
The sole purpose of the buyouts were meant to help teams adjust from having to go from a $70.2 million salary cap, all the way down to a $64.3 million cap in one off-season.
Should MacTavish decide to use one or both of those buyouts this summer, the most obvious targets would appear to be Eric Belanger and Ben Eager.
Both players have one year remaining on their respective deals and both have fallen out of favour with Ralph Krueger and his coaching staff. Seems pretty cut and dry.
Having said that, one could easily make an argument for two more names to be included in the mix: Ryan Smyth and Shawn Horcoff.
There are those that have questioned the purpose of keeping Smyth around for the final year of his deal, myself being one them, but they really have no choice. The moment Steve Tambellini signed him to a two year extension, you knew Ryan wasn't going anywhere. It's unfortunate for the team, as he doesn't serve any real purpose on this roster but it is what it is. Plus MacT has already come out and stated that #94 would be back for the '13-14 campaign...albeit in a limited role. Safe to say, we can scratch Smytty off the list.
Which brings us to Mr. Horcoff. Ever since he signed his 6 year/ $33 million extension prior to the 2009-10 season, nothing but unrealistic expectations have been placed on the captain's shoulders. His $5.5 million cap hit is without question one of the worst "deals" in the NHL but that doesn't mean we should simply disregard his value as a player and importance to this roster.
All that being said, the chances of Edmonton using one of their buyouts on Horcoff is actually quite good...it just won't be this year.
For argument's sake, let's say the Oilers decide to buyout Horcoff this summer. The team still owes him a total of $7 million over the next two seasons, meaning Edmonton could get him off their books for just under $4.7 million. On the flip side, should they decide to buy him out prior to the 2014-15 season, they would owe him just $2 million but that would be on top of his salary of $4 million for the 2013-14 campaign.
Meaning it comes down to this. They either hand Horcoff $4.7 million to split town and get him off the books asp or give him $6 million but have him play one more season in Edmonton and continue to help with the transition.
Can anyone honestly tell me, with a straight face, that the Oilers could find better player than Shawn Horcoff for just over $1.3 million? Though some may not want to openly admit it, the answer to that question is pretty darn obvious.
Remember, Edmonton will likely be in no danger of going over the cap for the coming season but that will change in '14-'15. With the likes of Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Justin Schultz, and Jeff Petry all scheduled to become restricted free agents and netminder Devan Dubnyk staring at unrestricted free agency, the captain's number will need to be removed following next season.
Leaving one of Belanger or Eager as a no-go for a compliance buyout this summer. Though with teams now having the ability to keep up to fifty percent of a player's salary in a trade, moving either should not prove to be overly difficult for the Oilers new GM. As bad as both have been during their time in the Alberta Capital, there will be more than a few teams willing to take on Belanger for $875,000 or Eager at $550,000. Of that, there is no doubt.
This coming off-season will be a benchmark of sorts, in the history of the Edmonton Oilers. After languishing at or near the bottom of the league standings for much of the past decade, the Oilers look to be on the verge of taking some major steps forward with their current roster. Something which is not lost on Craig MacTavish. Whatever needs to be done for the long term benefit of this organization, you can bet on him doing it...including cutting ties with a player he has always held in very high esteem.