Veteran Edmonton Oilers defenseman Andrej Sekera has missed the entire NHL season thus far following an off-season Achilles tear, but he’s making his way back. Sekera finally returned to action with the AHL’s Bakersfield Condors last week on a conditioning loan and the initial reviews have been overwhelmingly positive, with some believing the 32-year-old looks ready to be dependable NHL defender once again. The Oilers would really like to call him up, but they’re finding that it’s easier said than done.
When Sekera takes the ice again for the Condors tonight, it will be the third game of his conditioning stint and in most cases the last. Sportsnet’s Mark Spector reports that Edmonton will file a request to Sekera and his representation that he extend his conditioning assignment for two more games and Spector expects that they will accept. Why? Because right now the Oilers have no way to call him up. Edmonton is currently right up against the salary cap ceiling and even this late in the season can only afford to add $4.27MM in salary to their roster, per CapFriendly. Sekera’s $5.5MM cap hit is thus problematic. The Oilers need to open up close to $1.25MM at the very least to bring Sekera up and there are no good options for demotion among players whose salaries exceed that value. The team is also restricted by their current roster structure; Edmonton is already carrying only 13 forwards compared to eight defensemen. Of the forwards making more than $1.25MM, only Tobias Rieder at $2MM is a trade candidate and his roster spot would need to be filled by another minor league forward which would still not open up much cap space.
So what do the Oilers do? Well, the team is known to be shopping goaltender Cam Talbot, whose $4.17MM cap hit is significant. While that drop-off, even offset by the recall of a new backup like Al Montoya ($1.06MM) or Shane Starrett ($818K), would open up enough cap space for Sekera, it wouldn’t open up an additional roster spot and the team would still be forced to put a defenseman on waivers. For that reason, it makes sense that TSN’s Bob McKenzie reports the team is trying to solve this situation by trading away a defenseman. Ironically, the two blue liners named are Brandon Manning and Alex Petrovic, both of whom were acquired by Edmonton earlier this season. Manning at $2.25MM and Petrovic at $1.95MM would both clear enough room for Sekera if traded away for a pick or prospect. However, McKenzie states that there has been little interest in the pair on the trade market. If the Oilers can’t find a taker by the time Sekera completes another two games on his conditioning stint, they will have no choice but to place one or the other on waivers. Should they trade Talbot or Rieder first, the team would likely prefer to either trade or waive Kevin Gravel instead, as his $700K cap hit is no help but his roster spot is.
One way or another, the clock is ticking for the Oilers and interim GM Keith Gretzky to figure this out. They are fortunate that Sekera’s camp is willing to extend the conditioning loan, but at most the team has through this weekend. It is hard to imagine a team being in this kind of scenario, the epitome of a cap crunch, but it’s especially tough to see a team below .500 likely being forced to give up assets for pennies on the dollar via trade or for free on waivers to add another inflated contract to their roster. This is yet another mark on Edmonton’s disappointing season.