The Edmonton Oilers have had a rough year. They lost Chis Pronger (arguably the games best defensemen), Michael Peca, Joffrey Lupul, long time captain Jason Smith, and of course one of the all time fan favorites, Ryan Smyth (who signed with divisional rival Colorado thus adding salt to the wound). Then they signed Michael Nylander, oh wait, nevermind, he signed with…Washington? For $12 million less than what the Oilers offered…All of this after losing in game 7 of the Stanley Cup finals while their starting goalie watched from the press box (not to blame Jussi Markkanen, he filled in admirably).
All of this has caused the fans in Edmonton to be going bonkers. "Fire Lowe! Fire MacTavish! We need new owners! We love our owners! All hail Lowe! MacTavish forever! Fire and trade everybody!"
It is getting ridiculous. So needless to say, Kevin Lowe had to do something not only to improve his roster, but to keep his fans from rioting on Whyte Ave. (and for a different reason than during the 06 playoffs). So he did something. He shook up his roster. He traded his captain Jason Smith and future superstar Joffery Lupul (that’s right Oilers fans, that’s what I said – future superstar) for young stud blue-liner Joni Pitkanen and the aging Geoff Sanderson. Depending on how Pitkanen does, it could end up being an ok deal. But also depending on how Lupul does, it could turn out to be a total bust. So just in case, Lowe went out and spent the big bucks on offensive defenseman Sheldon Souray, an Alberta native. Pretty good move, maybe a tad pricey considering his occasional defensive meltdowns, but he will definitely be a threat from the point.
So ok, Lowe has done decent considering what he has to work with, and the fact that nobody seems to want to play in Edmonton. But most of his moves were on the blue line (aside from Geoff Sanderson and resigning Raffi Torres). The Oilers are still in dire need of a top tier left winger to play with Ales Hemsky. Enter…...Dustin Penner?
Ok, so he maybe isn’t the games best player, but he did score 29 goals and 45 points in his rookie year while only averaging 14 minutes per game. So there is some definite potential there. And he is a monsterous 6’-4” 245 lbs. Sounds like a good pickup right? The only thing is, not only do the Oilers have to pay him $4.25 million for each of the next 5 seasons, they had to give up a 1st, 2nd, and 3rd round draft pick in next years draft – one of the deepest in years – just for the privilege. Now I understand why so few RFA offer sheets are thrown around, there is a huge cost to it. Brian Burke is acting like he is outraged, but deep down I bet he is thanking Kevin Lowe, now he can afford to sign both Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf next year, and he got three great draft picks.
So huge cost, got it. But with that in mind, did Kevin Lowe really have any other options? There are no top six forwards still available as UFA’s, and there aren’t really any available on the trade front. So what else was he supposed to do? He decided that an RFA offer sheet was his best chance to improve his club, which was in dire need of improvement...
And why Dustin Penner? Well the Ducks are a very deep team, and are right up against the cap. If ever there was a team that would not match a big offer sheet it was the Ducks. So with that in mind, and the Oilers desperate for a scorer, Kevin Lowe took a chance in an effort to level the playing field, get his guy and keep his team competitive.
And that is what the new CBA is all about. Evening up the playing field. Allowing all teams to be competitive. Teams like the Oilers who have a lot of really solid prospects, but not much in terms of NHL ready players, can afford to give RFA’s offer sheets and improve their teams. They can spare the compensatory draft picks. And teams like the Ducks who are up against the cap, can’t horde all of the star players anymore with their extra cash (see the NY Rangers of 5 years ago). In a sense it is almost like profit sharing, except with players instead of cash. Take from the rich and give to the poor.
Was it the right move by Kevin Lowe? We will have to wait until at least October to find out. He may have just become the first GM to utilize a brilliant new managing tactic. Or he may have just made a $21 million fool of himself. Oilers fans have to hope the latter isn’t the case. But either way, Lowe has made his statement not only to the league, but to his fans. He is not going to stand idly by and watch his club not make the playoffs again this season. He is going to do whatever it takes to improve the team. Mistake or not, he did something, he is doing everything he can. It should be at least a couple months now until crazed Oiler fans are screaming for his head again...