SUN Hockey Pool

Current salaries weigh down Oilers

Derek Van Diest, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 10:49 PM ET

There are many reasons the Edmonton Oilers pursued Dany Heatley with such vigour.

His obvious scoring ability aside, it's unlikely the Oilers would have been able to land a high-scoring winger through free agency. At least not without dumping a load of salary first.

“We have a full roster of signed players,” said Oilers general manager Steve Tambellini. “So unless we’re making a trade and players are going out, it’s hard right now to bring people in. That’s why a lot of our discussion leading up to the draft and free agency period revolved around some sort of player movement. But it’s very hard as you can see, there is still not a lot of movement out there.”

The Oilers already have roughly over $51-million committed in salary for the upcoming season. And that’s without having re-signed defencemen Denis Grebeshkov and Ladislav Smid yet.

The NHL salary cap is $56.8-million this season, up just $100,000 from the past year. That doesn’t give the Oilers a lot of money to work with.

“We’re trying to improve our hockey club and we’re trying to find different ways to do that,” Tambellini said. “It’s obvious that we’ve shown some interest (in Heatley), but where this goes at this point, I’m not sure.

"That’s up to (Senators GM) Bryan (Murray) and Dany Heatley.”

Bringing in Heatley, would have cost the Oilers $7.5-million toward the cap.

But with supposedly Dustin Penner, Andrew Cogliano and Ladislav Smid going the other way, they would have freed up close to $6-million making the transition possible.

But Heatley refusing to waive his no movement clause, twice, and now the Oilers are forced to explore other options. At the moment, however, there are not a lot of options available.

“It may happen over the summer, there may be an easier time once teams start assessing what they have and they may start moving as far as trade opportunities go,” Tambellini said. “We have a lot of players under contract that are signed. That’s just the reality of the situation here.”

With the Senators being forced to pay a $4-million bonus to their disgruntled star, it’s likely terms of the original deal — which the Tambellini refused to confirm — will likely change if Heatley does decide to waive his clause.

Without him in the mix, the Oilers are still in the market for a scoring winger.

The majority of the big-name free agents have already been scooped up, although there are a number of second-tier forwards still looking for contracts.

Some of those players include Alex Tanguay, Saku Koivu, Alexei Kovalev, Maxim Afinogenov, Radek Bonk, and Ales Kotalik.

But even they may be too rich for the Oilers at the moment with all the salary they’re carrying.

The Oilers have most likely already made their biggest free agent splash in signing goaltender Nikolai Khabibulin to a four-year contract.

A goaltender became a priority when Dwayne Roloson turned down a one-year offer.

“We knew going into free agency that we needed a goaltender. It was obvious to us when we didn’t get a response with the offer that we made to Roloson that he wasn’t coming back,” Tambellini said. “Khabibulin was No. 1 on our list. I wasn’t sure if we were going to be able to get him, but listening to his response coming to Edmonton was fantastic, so we’re very excited. We felt that being able to attract Nik was huge. It solidified our goaltending for the next four years. We’ve got two young goaltenders that are promising and that kind of tutelage under a guy like Khabibulin is important.

“But that is totally separate from what we’ve been trying to do on the other

side.”

Another issue for the Oilers is leaving themselves some cap room heading into the season. Tambellini does not want to be right up against it heading into the year.

“You’d like a buffer there going into the season obviously,” he said. “The one year in Vancouver we went into the year just jammed against the cap and it’s hard to operate with any movement, as far as bringing minor leaguers to the big team. You don’t want to get too close.”

derek.vandiest@sunmedia.ca


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