Monday, July 03, 2006

 

Whither?

Similar to what I did with "Be The GM" Part I, II, and III, I am going to spend some time looking at what the Oilers can and need to do now that they have traded Chris Pronger. I see that Pleasure Motors has done the same over at Covered In Oil. I haven't read it yet, but will do so after I post this. I am sure we are thinking many of the same things. This beast is going to be huge, and could be pointless by this time tomorrow. But what the hell, right? Oh, wait. Matt has that evaluation-of-Jarmoe-post that he promised us way back in April coming, so I may be hogging the page here. I hope he will forgive me.

Preliminary Thoughts
• I'm going to assume that Lowe will sign all his RFA's. Other than that, I'm not going to speculate much on who we should sign, but rather focus on what strategies we might want to explore to fill out the rosters.

• It's interesting to me that not a single Oilers UFA has signed anywhere else. Asking for a tad too much, perhaps?

• I hadn't even thought of it until now, but we got Joffrey Lupul, Ladislav Smid, a 2007 first-round pick, a conditional first-round pick and a 2008 second-round pick, as well as a year of Chris Pronger in his prime, for Eric Brewer, Jeff Woywitka and Doug Lynch. In essence, that is all it really cost us. I'm practically giddy after thinking of it in that manner.

• We are all in a panic, because right now the Oilers aren't very deep on the blueline. But taking a look at the type of money that has been thrown at free agent defencemen since July 1, I'm sure glad Kevin Lowe hasn't panicked. There is no other word for some of those contracts than ridiculous. There is no way I would be happy with Lowe throwing that kind of money around. I was mad enough at him for giving Roloson $4 million a year. The Oilers defence is now pretty much the same defence they had two years ago, and while it isn't amazing, it isn't awful. Since Matt loves the word so much, I'll say it again. It's "serviceable."

• In his telephone conference today, Lowe made a passing comment to Terry Jones about a two-tier system developing in the NHL. He never brought it up again, but I'm curious as to what he was thinking. It is obvious that he isn't impressed with the type of money being spent on unrestricted free agents, especially the defencemen. I wonder if we could get him on here to do an interview, like Billy Beane does with Athletics Nation. I am going to try and eliminate my inflamatory and foul language for awhile, in the hopes of making it a reality. First question: "Kevin, have you read Moneyball?"

• A year ago, Oilers fans were freaked that Lowe hadn't made any big moves. The phone lines were filled with people expressing their frustration. Well, Lowe came through. We got more than our fair share of trades and signings this year. I am going to try and keep reminding myself of this fact over the next few days. I may even turn it into a Zen Koan: "what is the sound of one GM waiting?"

• Jaroslav Spacek is going to soon become a very well-compensated man.

• Lost in the debate over the Pronger trade is the fact that Joffrey Lupul is actually a restricted free agent. We still have to sign the kid, if you can believe it. And I have no idea about Ladislav Smid. Can anyone give me his status?

• I believe Lupul's grandparents are also part of the ownership group. I think he should have to negotiate his deal with his Grandpappy.

• Getting Lupul also means that the Oilers now have three solid right wingers in Ales Hemsky, Fernando Pisani, and Lupul. One of them is likely going to have to move positions.

• Most Edmontonians are mad at Chris Pronger. But can you imagine if you made the grave error of buying a Chris Pronger jersey over the past two months? If you bought it at the beginning of the season, at least you got some wear and tear out of it. But I can totally imagine some poor old lady deciding six weeks ago that she was finally going to cave and buy a Pronger jersey. I mean, why not? He's gonna be here for four more years, right? Wrong. I expect to read in the Edmonton Sun about someone suing Chris and Lauren within the next eight to ten days.

• Teams that have been very silent: Buffalo, Montreal, San Jose, Dallas, Philadelphia and Chicago.

• Martin Biron is still in Buffalo, J.S. Giguere is still in Anaheim, David Aebischer is still in Montreal, and Evgeni Nabokov is still in San Jose.

• If Dominek Hasek were smart, he would stay in game shape, and just sit until next year's trading deadline. Someone will certainly call him, and he'll get a nice paycheck for two-three months work.

Oilers Lineup As Of July 3rd, 2006 (Salary)

Player2006-2007 Salary (US$)
Dwayne Roloson
$4 million
Ryan Smyth
$3.5 million
Fernando Pisani
$2.5 million
Jason Smith
$1.976 million
Steve Staios
$1.615 million
Ethan Moreau
$1.026 million
Marc-Andre Bergeron
$969,000
Marc-Antoine Pouliot
$942,400
Raffi Torres
$925,000
Robbie Schremp
$860,000
Matt Greene
$855,000
Jussi Markkanen
$850,000
Jeff DesLauriers
$554,000
Total
$20,572,400


Oilers Lineup As Of July 3rd, 2006 (Depth Chart)
(click image to enlarge)


Oilers Free Agents As Of July 3, 2006*

PlayerTypeAge2005-2006 Salary (US$)
Mike Peca
Group III UFA
32
$3.99 million
Sergei Samsonov
UFA
27
$2.77 million
Jaroslav Spacek
Group III UFA
32
$2.25 million
Dick Tarnstrom
Group III UFA
31
$1.6 million
Radek Dvorak
Group III UFA
29
$1.596 million
Ty Conklin
UFA
29
$1.14 million
Georges Laraque
Group III UFA
29
$1.083 million
Shawn Horcoff
Group II RFA
27
$1 million
Ales Hemsky
Group II RFA
22
$901,740
Joffrey Lupul
Group II RFA
22
$900,600
Igor Ulanov
Group III UFA
36
$900,000
Jarret Stoll
Group II RFA
24
$501,600
Rem Murray
Group III UFA
33
$450,000

*I did not place minor league players in this list.

Unrestricted Free Agents Who Are Still Available

Defencemen: Danny Markov (Nas), Tom Poti (NYR), Aki Berg (Tor)

Forwards: Jeff Friesen (Ana), Marty Reasoner (Bos), Mark Recchi (Car), Eric Daze (Chi), Brendan Shanahan (Det), Jeremy Roenick (LA), Jan Bulis (Mon), Yanic Perreault (Nas), Viktor Kozlov (NJ), Martin Rucinsky (NYR), Petr Sykora (NYR), Vaclav Varada (Ott), Oleg Kvasha (Pho), Geoff Sanderson (Pho), Petr Cajanek (STL), Scott Young (STL), Jason Allison (Tor), Eric Lindros (Tor), Anson Carter (Van), Richard Park (Van), Jarkko Ruutu (Van), Jeff Halpern (Was)

I should note that there are other UFA players available. I just didn't list them. You can see the complete list here.

What To Do, Option I: Raid The RFA Market
This one was floated around today. I have never really understood why General Managers shy away from trying out the restricted free agent route. As Matt has noted, it doesn't cost the pursuing GM very much, and the defending GM always has the option to match. The existence of the salary cap actualy makes me think that it should be used more, as a specific tactic to harm irresponsible General Managers or force General Managers in your own division to waste money. I only remember two times in recent memory that teams have tried the RFA route: when the Rangers went after Joe Sakic, and when the Canes went after Sergei Fedorov. They failed both times, as the offers were matched. The difference now, of course, is that some teams just won't be able to match, because of the cap issue. The most famous RFA signing is likely the Scott Stevens/Brendan Shanahan deal. Interestingly, Curtis Joseph and Rod Brind'Amour were the original compensation offer made to the Devils for Shanahan. The Oilers also lost someone through restricted free agency in the early 90's, if I remember correctly, but I don't remember which players were involved. I do remember that we were robbed. And I want to say it involved the Devils, but I can't be sure.

I actually don't have a limitless amount of time, so I can't go through each NHL team roster and determine their current payroll commitments. If TSN would take the time to put a total at the bottom of their payroll commitments, we would know for sure, but I am going to guess that at least four teams are pressed up against the cap wall: Vancouver, Philadelphia, New Jersey, and Boston. Buffalo will likely also be, if they sign all their RFA's. And Toronto might be too, since they have spent around 50% of their cap room on four defencemen and Mats Sundin. If Lowe were to look at grabbing a restricted free agent, these would be the places to go. The problem, of course, is that an opposing General Manager can also decide to go after your restricted free agents. It may make sense from an aggressive management perspective to go after a Eric Staal, Jay Bouwmeester, Patrice Bergeron or Joni Pikanen. From a defensive standpoint, however, you have just opened up your flank to a bunch of GM's who all of a sudden decide they would very much like to get their hands on Ales Hemsky or Shawn Horcoff.

If Lowe does go after a restricted free agent, I hope it is Joni Pitkanen of the Philadelphia Flyers. Like I said in the comments section today, I like this idea for four reasons:

a) Pitkanen is a fantastic young player, and could immediately become our number one defenceman.

b) Philly is close to the cap, and will be hard-pressed to match.

c) I hate Bobby Clarke.

d) I have little qualms about poaching players from Clarke and Ed Snider. They have signed players to ridiculous contracts for years, and it led to a preposterous escalation of NHL salaries that ultimately led to the lockout. It would be poetic justice to see the small-market Edmonton Oilers steal a player from them.

Which Restricted Free Agents Are Still Available?*

Defencemen: Paul Mara (Bos), Dmitri Kalinin (Buf), Mike Commodore (Car), John-Michael Liles (Col), Marek Svatos (Col), Jay Bouwmeester (Fla), Mike Van Ryn (Fla), Bryan Allen (Fla) Joni Pitkanen (Phi), Brooks Orpik (Pit), Christian Ehrhoff (SJ)

Forwards: Andy McDonald (Ana), Patrice Bergeron (Bos), Brad Boyes (Bos), Maxim Afinogenov (Buf), Daniel Briere (Buf), Tim Connolly (Buf), Erik Cole (Car), Mark Bell (Chi), Kyle Calder (Chi), Tuomo Ruutu (Chi), Nikolai Zherdev (CBJ), Nathan Horton (Fla), Stephen Weiss (Fla), Marian Gaborik (Min), Mike Ribeiro (Mon), Michael Ryder (Mon), Martin Erat (Nas), Scott Hartnell (Nas), Scottie Upshall (Nas), Brian Gionta (NJ), Scott Gomez (NJ), Mike York (NYI), Martin Havlat (Ott), Peter Schaefer (Ott), Antoine Vermette (Ott), Simon Gagne (Phi), Ladislav Nagy (Pho), Oleg Saprykin (Pho), Ruslan Fedotenko (TB), Nik Antropov (Tor), Matt Stajan (Tor), Ryan Kesler (Van)

* I left goalies off this list.


What To Do, Option II: Make Trades
This one makes more sense, although we may have to give up young talent in return. Then again, looking at what we gave up for Pronger, and looking at what we got back for him when we traded him, it might cost us very little. Teams that have no choice but to make a trade, whether it is due to cap problems or bizarre trade requests, can ultimately ask for little in return. That is what happened when we acquired Pronger from the Blues, and Lowe may indeed be thinking of doing it again. I agree with Tyler that Lowe is much better with trades than strict negotiations. Like I said earlier, I don't know for sure who is up against the cap wall, but there are probably several teams who have to move players as part of their short-term or long-term plans. All of the free agent defencemen signings had to have pushed more than a few teams up against the cap wall, and some of them may be planning on moving others to offset the cost. Then again, it might have just been the usual General Manager stupidity prevalent in every professional sport. Either way, whether intentional or not, some players have to be on the trading block. One example would be New Jersey, who likely can't keep both Brian Gionta and Scott Gomez.

By the way, if you haven't done so already, go out and buy a copy of Michael Lewis' Moneyball. Don't even continue reading the rest of this post. It'll be here when you are done. Go. Now. Go.


What To Do, Option III: Save The Money For Next Season
People won't like it, but I'll ask it anyways: do we really have to spend all of our money now? Is there anything wrong with having a pretty good set of of forwards, pretty good goaltending, and an average defence? Does every single thing about our team need to be awesome? And do we have to spend all of our money to do so? I don't have any answers to these questions, mind you, but I do think they need to at least be asked. Can we go a year without making the playoffs, if it means we get to go back again for the five-year period after that?

Thanks to Chris McMurty, who ripped the list off of the HF Boards for me, we can all have a look at who will be available at the end of next season.

UFA & RFA For The 2007-2008 Season

Centers: David Legwand*, Peter Forsberg, Joe Sakic, Daniel Briere*, Pavel Datsyuk, Scott Gomez, Petr Nedved, Marty Murray, Tyler Arnason, Michal Handzus, Andy McDonald*, Ian Laperriere (player/team option for `07-08), Martin Straka, Radek Bonk, Pierre Turgeon, Sammie Pahlsson, Bryan Smolinski, Scott Nichol

Wingers: Marian Gaborik, Martin Havlat, Alex Tanguay*, Simon Gagne*, Shane Doan, Todd Bertuzzi, Teemu Selanne, Paul Kariya, Brendan Morrow, Erik Cole, Mike Knuble, Fred Modin, Kyle Calder*, Ales Kotalik*, JP Dumont*, Maxim Afinogenov*, Darcy Tucker, Ladislav Nagy*,Brian Gionta*, Steve Konowalchuk, Mike Johnson, Tomas Holmstrom, Richard Zednik, Sami Kapanen, Brad Tapper, Brad May, Adam Mair*, Antti Laaksonen, Andrew Brunette, Scott Mellanby, Aaron Downey

Defencemen: Brad Stuart, Chris Phillips, Sheldon Souray, Andrei Markov, Brian Campbell*, Toni Lydman*, Henrik Tallinder*, Dave Tanabe*, Craig Rivet, Sean O'Donnell, Joe Dipenta, Anders Eriksson, Patrice Brisebois, Lars Jonsson

*Guys who are eligible for UFA status next season but are RFAs right now; meaning, their status could change


What To Do, Option IV: Build
An idea that will draw even more ire than the last one. I am going to suggest that the best strategy for the Oilers might be to slow down, and possibly start from scratch. The Oilers now have a fairly young and talented offensive core. We have a couple young defencemen who have played all the way to the Stanley Cup Finals. But we also have a fairly old defensive core, and an old goaltender. It seems to me, and Kevin Lowe hinted at it today during his telephone conference, that the teams most likely to succeed in the "new NHL" are those who can grow most of their talent themselves, sign those players to lengthy deals at a cheaper rate than what the free agent market is dictating, and then fill out the roster with some older, more experienced but less talented players. I don't know if Cosh would remember this, but I articulated a belief in starting from scratch to him over an email exchange a year ago, before Lowe had signed Pronger and Peca. My belief then was that Lowe should hold a press conference wherein he would tell Oilers fans the plan was to watch and learn what kind of formula for success the new CBA dictated, and respond accordingly. That it would take at least 3-5 years to build a highly competitive and successful franchise, and to ask for patience. Well, a year later, after being one good performance away from winning the Stanley Cup, we have some idea of what the new CBA and rule changes are demanding. Personally, I wouldn't mind if we slowed it down a bit, built up a stable of high-level prospects through the draft and trades, and did things right from the start. All I ask is that I get told about it, and am given some deadlines.

Comments:

Personally, I wouldn't mind if we slowed it down a bit, built up a stable of high-level prospects through the draft and trades, and did things right from the start.

I guess the ownership group doesn't have to invent excuses to run the team on the cheap. Andy is here to do it for them.

What I'd tell everybody else is to keep their eyes on the ball--that is, the payroll. Kevin Lowe should be smart enough to ice a competitive team for the $40M that Calgary is going to spend this year. I have little interest in second-guessing his decisions as long as the budget is there.
 


I merely suggested it as one strategy, grumpy pants. And the idea wouldn't be to run the team on the cheap forever. It would be to run it cheap for awhile with young talent, and then fill it out when all those kids became expemsive stars. Like San Jose is doing, for example.

What exactly is your point, by the way? Do you think none of us are watching the payroll? And are you suggesting I'm being disloyal to Lowe? He went out of his way today to suggest that the free agency market was inflated. How the hell else do you avoid spending that money than by developing your own young core of players?
 


You've got Jan Bulis as a defenceman on the UFA list.
 


The problem with pursuing Restricted Free Agents is that their current team has a period of time where they can decide whether or not to match the offer. I believe that period is one week, but I'm not certain.

Point is, if you're going to pursue a RFA, you better be damn certain that you're going to get him. With the speed at which the unrestricted free agent market normally resolves itself, if you wait a few days, only to have your offer matched, you're going to be miss out on the chance to sign your second (or third) choice.
 


Well, I don't think the sky has really fallen or anything of that nature. The Western Conference hasn't suddenly become a battle of Goliaths where the Oilers are desperately searching for a sling.

We need to resign Spaceck that much is clear. We're also in a good place if we can resign Samsanov. Hell I start to like our chances if we can sign Markov.

A forward line up of Smyth-Horcoff-Hemskey Samsanov-Shremp-Loupal Torres-Stoll-Pisani Moureau-Pouliot-Winchester/Miknov? would give us four scoring lines we could rather happily roll. And our defense would be servicable. And as long as Rolli continues to play like all those years as a backup let him rest alot keeping him younger and fresher we can make some noise and the playoffs the same way Buffalo did last year.

Beyond Anahiem and San Jose and Nashville sitting pretty right now, I don't really see anyone else looking terribly impressive. I think we still have what it takes to be in the mix for a playoff spots as we're fotunate enough to have some young players who can fill in the holes in the roster and hopefully help carry us forward. I don't see why the oilers couldn't finish as the 6th seed in the west.
 


And the idea wouldn't be to run the team on the cheap forever. It would be to run it cheap for awhile with young talent, and then fill it out when all those kids became expemsive stars.

For more details, see Edmonton Oilers Strategy Guide, eds. 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 1997, 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, and 2003, passim.

The UFA market is all but dead as far as the Oilers go anyway, isn't it? I don't know that the extra week is a big problem at this point.
 


I don't think rebuilding is really the best option unless we're talking about a murder-suicide scenario here. There's no better way to alienate your fanbase than to start throwing around words like "re-building" after just going to game 7 of the stanley cup finals...

Also I'm not really sure what everyone sees in this Spacek-guy. I can appreciate why the Oil should sign him, given the lack of depth on D and the few remaining options out there. If the Oil were to add him and another mid-level d-man, I would consider the blueline serviceable.
 


I actually don't have a limitless amount of time

I'll call bullshit on this.
 


I wonder if we could get him on here to do an interview, like Billy Beane does with Athletics Nation. I am going to try and eliminate my inflamatory and foul language for awhile, in the hopes of making it a reality. First question: "Kevin, have you read Moneyball?"

Should this come to pass, try to refrain from blowing him for three hours on AN - you'd almost think that he's interviewing Billy Bean. It's fantastic that they get that access but when it comes at the cost of checking any credibility at the door, what's the point?

As for your comment on Lowe, for all my complaints, the man knows defencemen, I think. He's great at picking through the slag heap and finding guys who can play. Even Cross and Ulanov, this years whipping boys, gave the Oilers useful minutes in the past. D aren't worth the price that they're getting.
 


Obviously, the defence is nowhere near last year. But recall that they made it 50 games with Cross/Ulanov as the 3rd pair. They spent most of those 50 games doing OK and obviously barely scrambled into the playoffs.

That was with a forward corps with Radek, Peca, Moreau, Reasoner, Laraque
delivering lower than their normal offensive output.

Obviously, the Oiler's Power play improved greatly over the prior season -- and is in danger of slipping without the confident puck distribution of Prong(ed).

Are they much worse than the team that gutted out 24 games in April- June? Yes.

Are they much worse than the team that scrambled to 8th place over 82 games? I don't think so.

re: your strategies AG

Lowe has room in the budget, and can still play a pretty decent long-term chess game. Assuming he can find a solution to the defence by trade or by signing. Best case scenario is a less arduous run to get into the playoffs (let say clinch by Game 72).

If the D can be shaped a little better, we may be better off than we might have been in a likely injury season for Pronger. (remember he had a year off to recuperate before this past season -- this time he gets two months).

Within the Division -- Minnesota is decidedly better up front, but maybe not as good in back. Calgary certainly has a missing piece, so are a good chance to do well. Maybe Kipper's due for a bad year. The Avs are not the same team -- and I doubt Theodore regains form. The Canucks will do their best Panthers impression in front of Luongo.

Div standings -- my prediction:
1 Calgary
2 Edmonton
3 Minnesota
4 Vancouver
5 Avalanche
 


Sheeeit, your problem at Center looks about as bad as the Canucks at Right Wing
 


I should probably point out that Bulis is actually a centre, not a D-man.
 


As I recall the 90's RFA deal the oilers in involved in, it had something to do with St.Louis signing Shane Corson, then us getting two 1st roounders as compensation which we then traded back to St.Louis for Joseph and Grier.

I'd take that deal again.

I may have the details a little mixed up, but it seems like it was some combination of those guys.
 


Man, I actually go to bed at a decent hour for once, and all this stuff happens. Okay, let me try to address as much as I can,now.

You've got Jan Bulis as a defenceman on the UFA list.

Oops. Okay. I'll fix.

The problem with pursuing Restricted Free Agents is that their current team has a period of time where they can decide whether or not to match the offer.

Did you even read the post, Alex? That's exactly what I said.

I'll call bullshit on this.

Fine. I do have almost limitless time. But this took me long enough. And TSN should be doing it, themselves.

As I recall the 90's RFA deal the oilers in involved in, it had something to do with St.Louis signing Shane Corson, then us getting two 1st roounders as compensation which we then traded back to St.Louis for Joseph and Grier.

That 90's deal for Corson sounds right, but didn't we have something involving Scott Mellanby or Luke Richardson or something, too?
 


I want to press Cosh some more on this stuff, if I can. Given what has happened with the free agent market over the past few days, Cosh, and given that Pronger's trade demand totally undermined any bargaining power Lowe had, how could this roster be any different right now? You seem completely unsatisfied with anything other than raiding other teams RFA's to make up for our "losses", but the fact is that it rarely happens. The most we can probably hope for is that we sign Spacek, and that Lowe flips some of our talent and picks for other talent. Other than that, it is going to be a year going with the guys we have right now, and a couple Bob Boughner-like defencemen. But I am willing to hear other options, if you have them. I just threw these out as the four scenarios we would likely have to follow. What exactly would you like to see the Oilers do?
 


Granting that the RFA scenario is a longshot and that the UFA cupboard is looking increasingly bare, there's always the exotic technique that we used to get a guy named Chris Pronger: trading raw meat to some team that's being crushed against the cap. This is not only my preference, I imagine it's what Lowe is actively planning. And if you do believe that the other GMs in the league are acting irrationally on entrenched biases a la Moneyball, there's no sense in not punishing them for it immediately just because you're "rebuilding". If anything you want to hit them before they lay hands on the book, surely?

The difficulty is that the Oilers don't have the ostensibly attractive trading chips they used in the prior offseason (York and Brewer). On the plus side, we've refilled the future draft pipeline, you could argue at this point for moving Schremp or Pouliot, and Smid presumably makes one of our existing D prospects superfluous. Given the slightly anomalous RW situation, I wouldn't bet the farm against (or denounce on principle) a sign-and-trade involving Hemsky.
 


I did indeed read your post, Andy, though I suspect that you didn't bother reading my entire commentary. If you did, you'd notice that I actually attempt to explain in detail why it's problematic, beyond the 'current team can match scheme'.

Also, while I'm here, were you one of the people touting the 'draft picks are devalued in the new economic system' argument? I can't remember for sure if you were, but I seem to remember this being big, especially around the time of the Roloson trade. If you were, how would you feel about option 4 going ahead at full steam, especially since the returns that the Oilers got for Pronger would fit perfectly into that plan?
 


Going after UFAs is a bad strategy unless you are a team that is a piece or two away - fill in your team with it.

Seriously how many reasonable UFA contracts have been done so far? Really?

I can think of one. Redden. The rest are too much money or too much term.

Lowe is going to do what he did last summer. He may resign Spacek but I'm not on board with that, even though I like Jaro, because I don't want to pay a 32 year old Dman 3.5 M per for four years.

Lowe is going the trade route. He will pick up one, maybe two guys, I think, veterans from teams bumping up against the Cap. Of which there already are some. Lowetide already gave the formula - find teams with Dmen who are a year away from UFA and who are high in Cap money already. Write down those guys. We will have one or two by September 1.
 


You can throw Marty "Handsome Man" Reasoner into the mix: http://www.tsn.ca/nhl/news_story/?ID=170481&hubname=nhl
 


I believe Chris Gratton is the only successful RFA signing after the 1st lockout.

Philly signed him from Tampa and lost 4 1st rounders as a result. Clarke and Esposito however worked out a deal whereby Philly ended up getting their 1st rounders back in exchange for Mikael Renberg and Karl Dykuis. So in essence it ended up being a Gratton for Renberg and Dykhuis trade.
 

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