Here’s a question for the die hard fans of NHL hockey: Am I the only one who feels like trying to understand the undercurrents of the league is more like studying economics than following a sport? Since I am the unofficial wannabe Oilers blog writer guy, I will use my team as an example to illustrate my point.
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It is widely accepted and agreed upon that the Edmonton Oilers are not a threat to win the Stanley Cup in the 2009/2010 season. Oilers management, and perhaps more specifically team owner Daryl Katz, have expressed their dedication to developing a franchise capable of challenging for the cup every single year. Conventional wisdom suggests that the Oilers team, should they wish to challenge this season, need to make a few roster changes. And we’re not talking small, minor deals here folks. We’re talking about acquiring and/or establishing two star Top 6 forwards, a shutdown defensive pairing, and a shutdown forward line with a center that can consistently win defensive-zone face-offs.
Being able to trade for all of these players is one thing, but NHL Economics 101 dictates that every team must live within a salary cap. What this means in Oilerville is that if the team makes a bad signing, chances are they will be married to the player until the end of the contract, because other teams living under the cap will be unwilling or unable to trade for him. Meaning no disrespect to these players or the team, but Shawn Horcoff and Dustin Penner are two examples contract signings gone wrong.
What further complicates matters is that there are over 200 players in the league who have No Trade Clauses, or No Movement Clauses in their contract. Players, and we’re talking primarily about the best 200 in the league, have earned the right to determine their own fate. For the Oilers, this means that the majority of the top players will never agree to go to Edmonton because it is seen as the Siberia of the NHL. A great place to visit, but you wouldn’t want to live there.
There has been plenty-o-frustration this off-season expressed by fans in regards to the apparently lack of activity coming from team management. Khabibulin signing aside, not much has changed. Oilers brass must be aware of the discontent, and have began putting out the word that the team going into the season will likely be featuring the players currently on the roster. Translated: No cup and likely no playoffs in 2009/2010.
The Oilers roster could be broken into two groups: Players to keep, and players to move. I certainly am not the GM, but if I were, the list would be broken up as follows:
Players to keep: Hemsky, Gagner, Cogliano, O’Sullivan, Moreau, Storini, Paajarvi, Eberle, Plante, Petry, Nash, Brule, Chorney, Souray, Gilbert, Grebeshkov, Peckham, Khabibulin, DesLauriers
Players that could be moved: Horcoff, Penner, Nilsson, Jacques, MacIntyre, Pisani, Pouliot, Visnovsky, Smid, Strudwick, Staios, Schremp, other prospects and players not mentioned.
Out of those players on my “could be moved” list, I believe Horcoff, Penner, Pisani, and Staios are all players who could not be moved for much return due to their contracts. They simply get paid too much for what they can contribute to a team.
Nilsson has a reputation for being lazy and uncoachable, so his return would be small. Jacques, MacIntyre, Pouliot and Schremp are all questionable as NHL players, so their potential return would be small as well.
After all of that, what do we have left? Visnovksy, who could be moved to bring in a Top 6 forward, but the move would have to be with a team that had enough cap space to absorb his salary. Smid, who could bring an okay player, but nothing more. And prospect Linus Omark, who’s agent, for some reason, seems to have a hate for Edmonton. Linus has signed in the KHL, and won’t be in the NHL for at least two more seasons. That’s it, folks: Three moveable players, with only one capable bringing in a strong return. Hence the current gridlock situation. Management's hands are tied.
The conundrum Oilers management faces with immediately improving the team is that they would be forced to part with quality prospects or draft picks in order to do it. If the purpose of making deals is to improve the team’s long-term prognosis, it would be wiser to hold on to youth and potential. Once again, Oiler fans will given a bucket of magic beans, and be asked to be patient a little while longer.
This could be a long, frustrating season in Edmonton.
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