6 big questions the Oilers must answer this summer

The HNIC panel breaks down the Anaheim Ducks Game 7 victory to eliminate the Edmonton Oilers, where John Gibson responded and proved he’s a world class goalie.

When the back-patting stops and the ice packs melt, these drought-quenching, slump-busting, oh-so-promising Edmonton Oilers will take a hard look at one of the NHL’s most exciting rosters and try to figure out how to make it better.

There is a significant chunk of free agents (restricted and unrestricted) to make decisions on, an expansion draft to prepare for, trades to swing, and one inevitable, massive contract extension that will not only set the salary bar for this team but the entire league.

Let’s take an early look at six major questions facing general manager Peter Chiarelli and his busy front office this off-season as they try to shape a championship franchise.

1. Does McDavid take all the money or just most of the money?
Connor McDavid is the NHL’s leading scorer, a 100-point man and likely Hart Trophy winner at the tender age of 20. Give him a running start, and he’s the fastest player whose skates ever touched frozen water.

As a restricted free agent come summer 2018, he can sign an extension as early as July 1.

Chiarelli needs to put a max-term, eight-year death grip on the face of the franchise swiftly so as to avoid questions and help set a budget for the rest of the roster.

McDavid’s average annual value should comfortably surpass that of Chicago stars Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane, who share the NHL’s highest cap hit at $10.5 million apiece. Under the CBA, the maximum McDavid could command per season is 20 per cent of the salary cap, or an estimated $15.2 million.

Because such a salary would make it difficult (impossible?) for Edmonton to surround him with a championship-calibre supporting cast, we don’t see McDavid’s agents, Jeff Jackson and Bobby Orr, going that aggressive.

But the cap era’s first $100 million contract — eight years times $12.5 million — doesn’t seem out of the question. (Though it’s been suggested he take $97 million to match his sweater number, the way Sidney Crosby settled on a $8.7 million cap hit.)

2. How hard of a line do you draw with Draisaitl at the negotiating table?
Edmonton has decisions to make on several of this summer’s restricted free agents.

A rejuvenated Zack Kassian passed his one-year, $1.5-million show-me test with flying colours and is in line for raise and a multi-year commitment. Slow-brewing defence prospect Griffin Reinhart is an intriguing one, but he has little leverage.

But no RFA is more critical than 21-year-old Leon Draisaitl, who exploded for 77 points (eighth most) in the regular season and then handily led all Oilers in goals (six), assists (10) and plus/minus (+8) in the post-season. His stock could not be higher.

Chiarelli may be cursing himself for not trying to extend the big, versatile German earlier. Draisaitl is still a year away from owning arbitration rights.

The term will be especially interesting here.

Chicago’s stud RFA, Artemi Panarin, signed a bonus-laden, two-year bridge deal worth $12 million.

Calgary centre Sean Monahan got seven years times $6.375 million last summer.

We imagine Draisaitl commands something closer to $7 million a year, especially when you consider Milan Lucic makes $6 million a year.

3. You’re selling low on Jordan Eberle, but you’re still selling, right?
Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (four more years on his contract) and Jordan Eberle (two more years) make $6 million apiece. You — yes, you with the Cool Ranch Doritos dust on your cheeks — scored as many playoff goals as both of them combined.

Nashville goaltender Pekka Rinne has more points (three) than Eberle (two) this post-season.

“You wait this long to get to a situation like this, and you don’t score. It really does suck,” Eberle told reporters after Wednesday’s Game 7 loss in Anaheim. “I feel like I’m a better player all-around.

“You don’t score—it is really frustrating. You feel like you let your team down.”

Chiarelli, we needn’t remind you, was not the guy who handed RNH and Eberle — now bottom sixers — those cushy contracts, and he will not blink at a trade that can help free cap space and improve his defence core.

Creativity will likely need to come in order to move Eberle and/or Nugent-Hopkins, but there are a few offence-starved teams that could be swayed into taking on a big contract to reach the cap floor. We’re looking at Carolina, Vegas, and Chiarelli’s blockbuster buddy Ray Shero in New Jersey.

4. Which of the many unrestricted free agents do you bring back?
Deadline rental David Desharnais scored just thrice in 31 games as an Oiler. Chances are they let him walk. Ditto 35-year-old Matt Hendricks. Former captain Andrew Ference and his $3.25 million will come off injured reserve and retirement is imminent.

On the flip side, winger Tyler Pitlick could be kept for a modest raise above his $750,000 cap hit.

Kris Russell is a fearless, durable shot-blocker who can log heavy minutes. He’s worth re-signing, though he’ll be looking for more years and money than the $3.1 million he made this season. How keen is he to hit the open market and risk sitting around for weeks of uncertainty as he did last summer? His negotiation will likely be the trickiest of this group.

Seventh D-man Eric Gryba and playmaking Bakersfield defence prospect Jordan Oesterle, 24, would be wise to keep for depth.

5. How much do you trust Brossoit as a backup?
Although Cam Talbot shone under his abnormally heavy workload this season, part of the reason he was given so many starts was due to the ineptitude of backup Jonas Gustavsson early.

Call-up Laurent Brossoit, 24, fared well in his eight appearances (.928 save percentage), but does Edmonton trust him for a full season?

One doesn’t have to look too far to see the value of an experienced, trustworthy No. 2. Anaheim, Pittsburgh and Ottawa all reached the conference finals with significant help from their backups at some point in the journey.

Several goalies with deeper resumes than Brossoit will be available. Do you grab one, or give the kid a chance?

6. How proactive do you want to be with the Vegas expansion draft?
The Oilers aren’t in danger of losing a significant contributor to the Golden Knights. So, Chiarelli can sit pat and let the chips fall.

Or: He can get aggressive, call George McPhee, and offer to throw in a pick or prospect if McPhee takes two years and $8 million worth of Benoit Pouliot off his hands.

The 30-year-old was barely visible this season, chipping in just 14 points to go with his minus-5 rating. He had a grand total of zero points in 13 playoff games. Four million is too steep for a checker.

Edmonton has already spent its second-round draft choice but holds extra picks in the third and fifth rounds to spend.