It has been reported and posted on the New York Rangers website that the team has walked away from the arbitration awarded amount of $3.9mil for Nicky Zherdev. This makes him an unrestricted free agent, free to sign with any team. Jim Matheson of the Edmonton Journal is reporting that the Oilers are not interested in trying to sign Zherdev. He played under Coach Tom Renney in New York before, and Renney was frustrated with Zherdev's lack of drive and determination. The Oilers were not willing to move a significant asset for Zherdev, nor were they willing to spend over-cap to bring him in. Betting is that Zherdev will end up signing with the KHL.
It's hard to say if this is a wise move for Edmonton. Perhaps the last thing the team needs is another player with questionable work ethic and desire to win. On the other hand, Zherdev's 58 points last season would have placed him second on the Oilers in team scoring. With few changes to the line-up occurring this off-season, some of the Oilers braintrust must be concerned about the offensive potential of this team.
So where do we go from here? Are the Oilers content to see if Dustin Penner can turn into the 30-goal man they hoped he could be when they signed him? Will Cogliano and Gagner be moved into the Top 6 forwards, and be given every opportunity to contribute offensively? Will Shawn Horcoff improve on his 50+ point season? Will young players like Jordan Eberle crack the line-up and be able to contribute significantly? Can the Oilers Top 4 defensemen, Souray, Visnovsky, Gilbert and Grebeshkov stay healthy all season, and be able to spark the offense to success? Questions, questions, questions.
Some pundits are suggesting that the Oilers will finish 12th in the Western Conference this season. I am not so pessimistic, but still, I see the Oilers being out of the playoffs with this current line-up. Unless Cogliano or Gagner can turn into a fully-contributing top line center this year, the Oilers are starting the season short two of three needed top line forwards. Their only go-to guy is Hemsky, and he is more of a play maker than a finisher.
Oilers GM Steve Tambellini stated after the Heatley fiasco that the team is content to go into training camp with the players currently on the roster. Considering their non-activity in respect to Zherdev, Tambellini’s statement should be considered accurate. Confusing, yet accurate. There are a number of teams facing roster issues in relation to the salary cap. Boston, San Jose, Philadelphia, Ottawa and Chicago are all teams that need to move a significant salary before training camp begins. The Oilers depth of young talent puts them at the front of the line in terms of having assets that could be moved to acquire an established forward. The question is, are the Oilers willing to be patient and intentionally miss the 2010 playoffs in order to keep their core of young players together for the future?
In the upcoming days, look for the following names to be associated with potential trades with Edmonton: Phil Kessel and Patrice Bergeron from Boston; Johnathan Cheechoo and Patrick Marleau from San Jose; Daniel Briere and Simon Gagne from Philadelphia; Jason Spezza from Ottawa; and Patrick Sharp from Chicago. Other names that could come up in conversation would be Brandon Dubinsky and another asset to Edmonton in a three-way deal for Dany Heatley, or Cheechoo and other asset being moved to Edmonton from San Jose for Heatley – Most likely if Edmonton enters into a three-team deal involving Heatley, it will be Cogliano, Smid and Penner being moved as was the original plan. Also, look for their to be talk about the Oilers moving one of their top 4 defenseman to either Columbus or the LA Kings. Would the Oilers be looking to reacquire Jarrett Stoll? Not likely. Dustin Brown and Alex Frolov are the more likely suspects to be sought by Edmonton. In respect to Columbus, an Oiler deal would be to acquire either a first-round pick or a young prospect like Jakub Voracek, whom the Oilers think highly of.
Should the Oilers look to free-agency, no one could be signed due to the Oilers present position against the camp. Both Brule and Smid are left to be signed, and the Oil have roughly $3mil in cap room to work with. Should the Oilers look to free agency, they might consider Mike Grier, Petr Sykora or Maxim Afinogenov.
Considering their non-activity in respect to Zherdev, Oiler fans should be prepared to see a season that looks remarkably like the last one.