First off, I know I will get ripped for this, and that's fine with me, but please remember this is just one Oilers fans opinion.
Looking back over the years I have been heart broken time and time again when my favorite Oilers got traded away for prospects or left for nothing in return. Oiler fans have been wanting / needing an even ground to compete on. We are finally seeing this come into fruition. In the past two off seasons we have seen a lot of high contracts. Gomez, Chara, Gerber, Elias, Kubina, Bertuzzi (and more) can all be argued that they are being overpaid. I am not here to say who is and who isn't.
While people out there will agree and disagree about what the Oilers management have been doing I for one am quite happy with the offseason. We have been able to solidfy our goaltending for the upcoming season, we have a defensive core that looks (on paper) to be formitable filled with veterns, good young defenders and deep in prospects. The forward lines however.... need some improvement for this upcoming season and for the next couple of years while we wait for our prospects to mature. We now have a farm system in place to hopefully guide these young men into the players that the Oilers organization feel they can be.
This year at the draft the Oilers tried to move some of their picks to help now rather than in a few years. Once UFA's hit the market the Oilers tried to get the players we felt would improve our team and were not able to obtain them for various reasons. I am sure that Kevin Lowe has tried to make a trade or two to help, but this has not happened yet. What is next for the Oilers to do? In comes the RFA sheets. I have heard all the arguements on if these are bad or good... from Kevin Lowe is wrecking the game to him being a great GM.
The Oilers have obviously thought that Vanek was worth throwing a ton of money at, and Buffalo obviously felt that Vanek was worth more than 4 1st round picks. The Oilers brass also must see a lot of good things in Penner to offer him the kind of money that they have offered him, and it still remains to be seen in Anaheim feel like a 1st, 2nd and 3rd round pick is enough to let Penner go.
For years now the Oilers have watched numerous teams offer HUGE amounts of money at a player and they have not been able to compete. Now they can, and rather than offering these contracts just to older players the Oilers are also looking at younger guys who have yet to hit their prime. For this upcoming season and the following I do think that Penner and Vanek will be overpaid. In two or three years they could be a good price. Is a player who will help you now, in four years from now worth overpaying for a season or two? If you really think they can make a difference it probably is.
There is no science to putting together a competitive hockey team, and every team is willing to take risks. Thats all Kevin Lowe is doing, he is taking risks that he feels is right. If it does not work out we still have a bunch of good prospects that in a two or three years will help the team, but rather than sit idely by Kevin Lowe has taken a few risks to try and improve the team for the right now. The fans in Edmonton love their team so rather than using the same old thing that we as fans have been hearing for over a decade "We have a lot of good up and comers, be patient" we are finally trying to do something about it.
The NHL has always had its fair share of overpaid players so Kevin Lowe is not wrecking the salary structure, if we get Penner there will be one less team that can compete for UFA's next season and then the other 29 teams can compete to pay 7 - 8 million dollars for a 32 year old player.