Kane’s return from injured list raises cap questions for Oilers

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EDMONTON — It appears Edmonton Oilers forward Evander Kane is nearing the end of his lengthy stay on the injured list.

Kane’s wrist was lacerated in a freak accident Nov. 8 in Tampa, when he was knocked to the ice had his wrist stepped on by Lightning forward Patrick Maroon. 

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The Oilers power forward was on the ice with his team for practice Monday morning at Rogers Place, before he was scheduled to see if he would get clearance to return from the doctor.

Kane is in the first year of a four-year, US$20.5 million deal, and the salary-cap-strapped Oilers will need to make some roster decisions when he’s cleared to come back, whether it’s Tuesday’s game at home to Seattle, or in the days to come after that. 

Coach Jay Woodcroft says that if Kane gets the green light, the team still has 24 hours to make those decisions.

“This is something we say in the coaching room a lot, that when you have time, you want to use it,” Woodcroft said after practice. “So, nothing needs to be decided today, we don’t play till tomorrow. And, the mechanics of those things go beyond the coaching room, that happens a little bit higher up. But I think the first step in the process is to get word back from the trainers, and then see what happens.”

For Kane, it’s a bit of déjà vu. He was introduced as an Oilers player on Jan. 28, 2002, and he was seen as a potential spark for a team that was in a battle just to make the playoffs. He delivered, scoring 22 goals in 43 games, then added 13 goals in just 15 playoff games as Edmonton got all the way to the Western Conference Finals.

Now, he’s set to be reinjected into the Oilers lineup. It’s January. And, like this time last year, the Oilers are a team that’s fighting for its playoff life, currently clinging onto the final wild card spot in the Western Conference.

“It’s pretty similar that way,” Kane said. “I think last year it was a week or two later in January, right at the very end of January before the all-star break. It will be similar, and I hope I can repeat what I did last year, and hopefully be even better.

“I just want to play my game, to do what I do and bring that to the team, and that it will rub off in a positive way.”

Woodcroft replaced Dave Tippett as Oilers coach in February of 2022, so Kane was already an Oiler when he took over behind the bench. But he sees the parallels between 2022 and ’23.

“I think Evander had played six or seven games by that point,” said Woodcroft. “But, the question is valid. With his return on the horizon, for the team it’s a positive to add a player of his calibre. I think it’s a real positive thing for the organization. But, what I didn’t know till I was around him, is what a good teammate he is.”

To make room for Kane, the Oilers will need to get out the calculators. Kane’s cap hit is $5.125 million for a full season. The Oilers have 37 regular season games left, so there’s some pro-rating on what’s left, and what was spent for the first 13 games of the year, before Kane got hurt. 

The Oilers have some options, like sending down multiple players and going down to a 20-man roster, or waiving a veteran with a more significant cap hit. But general manager and president Ken Holland will need to perform major salary-cap surgery in order to put Kane back on the roster. On Monday, the Oilers loaned defenceman Markus Niemelainen to their AHL affiliate in Bakersfield, Calif. 

If the decisions are hard to make, Woodcroft said it reflects well on the organization as a whole.

“When you return a player of that calibre, it’s a huge positive. The side benefit of that is when the team that’s been performing well recently (the Oilers won two of three on a recent California road swing), when you return a player of that calibre, it means reshuffling. 

“It makes it more competitive to get into the lineup, it makes it more competitive to stay in the lineup. It forces the coaching staff and the management group to make hard decisions, I think those hard decisions are really good, and really healthy.” 

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