Friday, 28 March 2008

Edmonton Oilers - A Treatment

Edmonton has some issues. Even if one thinks the roster is strong the salary grid is strained to the breaking point. By that I mean both Cap and budget.

Immediate Notes

The chart shows that Edmonton has, in 2008/09, ~ 36.88 mill of next years Cap space allocated to 8 forwards, 5 defensemen and 2 goalies. This leaves some 3 or 4 forwards and 3 or 4 defensemen left to be signed.

Let's deal with one of those spots right away - the 12th forward (Stortini) will automatically be slotted in at 650k /year. The new total is ~ 37.53 mill for 16 players.

If next years Cap rises the 4 million some are predicting then the new Cap is 54.30. The difference is ~ 16.77 mill.

The RFA's

Stoll, Nilsson, Pitkanen, Grebeshkov and Gilbert

Stoll has had, by many accounts, a very poor season. On the positive side, this will serve to stall the inflationary effect of his 2005-06 season and prevent any RFA sheets from coming his way. On the negative side, he already gets paid a lot. If he remains with the team look for him to get a short-term 'prove-it' contract in the 2.5 mill /year range.

Nilsson, on the other side of the spectrum, has had a great year. He has been put in a position to succeed and has done so. A lot of players don't. Look for his agent to keep him to a 3 year deal that earns him between 2.0 and 2.5 mill /year.

Pitkanen is, despite the questions swirling around his headspace, the most talented d-man we have. He wants the money but doesn't have the counting numbers on his side. Less than 4 million and this is a 2 year deal. I expect 4 years in the 4.25 mill range.

Grebeshkov has justified the trade Lowe made to get him. By a fair bit. Luckily, he isn't one to score a lot. I half expect to see a 3 or 4 year deal in the 2.0 range but wouldn't be surprised if a crafty agent kept it to a cheaper, and shorter deal.

Gilbert is the kind of player coaches can only dream about. Pitkanen might have more talent but Gilbert possesses superior presence of mind. I have him pegged for a Carle style contract but an RFA offer may be his future.

One of the keys for Lowe will be to keep inflationary effects out of the contracts he signs the players to. For example, a contract for Nilsson at 2.15 / 2.25 / 2.35 is much better for the Oilers than one at 1.75 / 2.25 / 2.75.

The UFA's

Glencross and Reasoner

Glencross is this years Hejda. Not the kind of player the Oilers should lose for nothing. I have to think that Lowe that Lowe won't make the same mistake twice. I have to. I fear a Pisani style overpay but have it pegged much lower.

Reasoner will be here if Stoll is not and, I suspect, vice-versa. Reasoner won't be a big money signing. I would offer him a long-term deal at lower dollars but I expect that Lowe will offer a quickie at par.

Cap Flex and Maneuvers

Add it all up and the Oilers sit at ~ 53.58 million in Cap salary next year. This leaves some 700k or so for Lowe to play with.

In terms of Cap flex... I don't see a lot. Who would you not want on the roster? Even if a player or two is sent to Springfield I hope you all noted that I don't have Brodziak on the roster. Nor do I have Pouliot. It's gonna be tight.

So I hope Lowe knows a few maneuvers. He can jerk the Falcon around all he wants but if he wants to make a move later in the season he needs to jettison someone. One of Stoll, Torres or Reasoner is probable. Roloson might be on the outs as well but that assumes JDD is ready.

Not to be too snarky about it but whatever happened to a 10% buffer hmmmm?

Danger Is My Middle Name

The Souray contract is a given. He had better have a great year next year and the next year and the next year and... well... you get the picture. Somewhere along the way his contract has to be worth more than hot press and hot flashes (so sayeth the Hot Oil girls).

How about that Gagner eh? Cogliano? The future IS BRIGHT! Gotta love rookies who outperform expectations! Right! Right? Well, wait until you have to pay them. Gagner better be something extra special because his next contract could cost us Pisani.

No question, the Oilers (and us fans) have a great team forming up. Keeping it together is what will be the problem. Call me a pessimist but Lowe's contract negotiations, to date, haven't led me to believe that this will be handled well.

The next big issue is that of goaltending. Sure, Roloson is done near future. How long, and for how much, will the team be keeping Garon around for? JDD is not tearing up the AHL and Dubnyk still needs a couple years full shot so the ride rests on Garon for now and in 2009-10 his price goes up - regardless of whether or not he can carry the load. And wants to do so here.

Lastly we come to the issue of depth. What issue you say?

Well. While it is true we have an embarrassment of riches on the forward lines right now, try thinking about AFTER we have purged all our proven veteran depth. I see Nash as probable and Vande Velde as mostly possible but after that the difference maker list gets a bit thin (Reddox?). That is a far cry from what we had happen this year.

Do not dismiss the issue of depth lightly. Having 3rd/4th line guys like Pisani, Stoll and Reasoner step up so that guys like Gagner and Cogliano can play against weak opposition is a gift not to be taken for granted.


The future looks bright. And scary. There are a LOT of good, smart decisions that will need to be made between now and 2010/11 and 2011/12 (the last two Hemsky years) to lock in the gains made this year and work a system that looks a lot more Detroit/New Jersey than it does... well... Edmonton Oilers post 1990.

Edmontons gains this year mean that the team build took a huge leap forward. Because of Cap issues however that leap may involve a rather awkward landing. The overpricing of certain contracts (Souray, Roloson, Penner and Moreau among others) means that Lowe has little or no flex to work with and to get that flex he will have to trade players (Torres, Reasoner and Stoll) he would actually be better off keeping.

It's a high price to pay. My hope is that that is as high as it goes.


Have a great evening everyone.

Thursday, 13 March 2008

More March Musings

I May Be Wrong?

Maybe. Maybe even probably. I didn't much like Grebeshkov and Nilsson at the start of the year and truth be told I was ready to trade the pair of them out post-haste if a decent trade offer had come up (like I have that power) but, I have to say, they may just prove me wrong yet.

Don't get me wrong. This isn't love.

Nilsson has only shown me that he can outscore weak opposition and that he can develop chemistry with good players, that normally doesn't hold much water with me. BUT, he is doing it consistently and I have to say I am starting to warm to that.

Grebeshkov has, this season, played some VERY soft opposition (his Desjardins QCOMP number is still a -0.07) BUT he looks to be picking up his game lately and if he can settle into a defensive defenseman role I will be happy with that.

Still. I'm not thinking it is a BAD thing when they are on the ice anymore and that is considerable progress made.

How Smart IS Lombardi?

If you want a good rebuild, either by year or by roster, the easiest and best way to do it is simply to have really, really bad goaltending.

Lombardi seems to have mastered the art form.

The LA Kings actually have a really good, really affordable, roster. The only bad contract I can find is that of Handzus. Otherwise the team has a whack of good, high quality, forward talent and only really lacks depth on defense.

Team needs include:

- two solid defensive defensemen to work with Preissing et al;
- a few, quality, character/veteran forwards in the 28-32 age range;
- Labarbera to stay healthy or Bernier to turn out

If Lombardi can get those in place the Kings are rocking the NHL sooner rather than later.

The Kings will be so bad again this year that, no matter the finish Lombardi will be able to pick up the EXACT piece he needs to continue this teams rebuild. Pick 1st and get Stamkos (allowing a Camalleri trade), pick 2nd and get Doughty (rounding out the d-corps), pick 3rd and get Filatov (scoring winger) or a cornerstone d-man.

So... why stop now? Play Cloutier as the #1 next year and take a good shot at Tavares. If Lombardi hadn't crapped the bed in the 2004 draft the future would look even better.

LA is going to come out of this rebuild in EXCELLENT shape. Makes me wonder - how smart is he? The rebuild is so good one would think it was planned.


Have a great evening everyone.

Saturday, 8 March 2008

NHL UFA Season - 2008 - First Look

PunjabiOil has been on top of the UFA signing list for a while now. I usually let this go for quite a while yet but given the stuff I have been reading on some fanboards I figured it was time I did an initial weigh in.

You may notice that this post is FAR less in-depth than the posts I made last year on the same subject. Yes, that was deliberate. When I took a look at what was available this year it just wasn't that special. Not a lot of value out there this year imo.


I will only list those players that I think are worth signing based on a combination of price and performance or price and upside.

I will exercise a slight Edmonton bias (Glencross) but the players listed are those I would recommend to any team.

If I have not listed a player it is because I think they are more trouble than they worth (Avery), more expensive that I can justify even though I like them otherwise (Demitra) or over-rated in my opinion (Campbell).

The Ratings

'*' = from '*' (take a flyer) to '*****' (well worth a contract)
'$' = from '$' (relatively cheap) to '$$$$$' (gonna hurt)
'?' = from '?' (death and taxes) to '?????' (like the weather)

The Rankings (in order)

F - Glencross .. (EDM) .. ***** .. $ ...... ???
D - Hejda ...... (CBJ) .. ***** .. $$$ .... ?
D - Hainsey .... (CBJ) .. ***** .. $$$$ ... ?
L - Williams ... (CHI) .. ***** .. $$$ .... ??
D - Salvador ... (NJD) .. **** ... $$$$ ... ??
D - Malik ...... (NYR) .. *** .... $$$ .... ?
D - Roszival ... (NYR) .. *** .... $$$$ ... ?
D - Commodore .. (OTT) .. *** .... $$$$ ... ?
L - Malone ..... (PIT) .. *** .... $$$$ ... ????
D - Modry ...... (PHI) .. ** ..... $$ ..... ?
L - Dupuis ..... (PIT) .. ** ..... $$$ .... ???
D - Janik ...... (TBL) .. ** ..... $ ...... ?????
D - Sauer ...... (COL) .. ** ..... $$$ .... ???
D - Weaver ..... (VAN) .. * ...... $ ...... ?????
L - Hagman ..... (DAL) .. * ...... $ ...... ??

Malone is the only player on my list who is both a high-risk and (I anticipate) an expensive signing. This breaks my own risk management rules and for that I am sorry. The gamble here is that he, as a long-time veteran, can now play to his potential. Sometimes you have to take a chance.

Unless his price has gone over the moon, Lowe should sign Glencross to a nice 4 year deal asap.

Final Notes

So if the players listed above are all gone there ARE still players a team should look to sign BUT they should be looked at as either:

- Rentals, or
- Cornerstones

Rentals (Nagy) are guys you sign to one year deals to fill a spot and both you and they know they are probably gone at the trade deadline if the team is not solidly in the play-off race.

Cornerstones (Campbell will want this kind of cash) are guys you sign to expensive long-term deals knowing that you might be overpaying them but they should be 50/50 to cover the bet.

Since cornerstone players are pretty rare this coming off-season it means everyone else is a rental.


Have a great evening everyone.

Thursday, 6 March 2008

Some March Musings

Would You Waive Good-bye? Could You?

Let's pretend you are Kevin Lowe for just a second.

1. If one of the better goaltenders, of one of the contenders, goes down to injury before the end of the season do you put Roloson on waivers to see if the 'contender' bites and picks him up?

2. If he has successfully passed through waivers do you then bring him back up and hope that the 'contender' has a change of heart?

3. Would this have to be something that you have okayed with Roloson from the get go?

4. Can you even do this at this point in the season?

Yes. Yes. Yes. I don't know.

Four More

Too often, when I read postings made about the Lowe contract extension, the move is characterized as a knee-jerk reaction on the part of the EIG to counter real or perceived signs of weakness in the organization given the state of the team. The premise being that, if one were to imagine what an EIG spokesperson might say:

"Of course management has a plan that we know of and support. In fact the plan is so good, and has been executed so well that we believe no one else could have done what he has done as well as he has done it."

As much as I agree with many aspects of that characterization I believe it shortchanges Lowe. Fact is that Lowe is a smart guy. My belief is that he saw an opportunity once Katz made his offer, factored in the leverage that he had and once the subject was broached he took full part and parcel of what he could extract from the negotiations.

None of that is a bad thing. He is due his due. I just get tired of people not giving credit where credit is... due (yeesh, time to get a thesaurus). Lowe got a four year extension for playing the role of good soldier and doing as he was told. When it came time to line up for the paymaster he knew where he stood and acted accordingly.

And good for him.


Have a great evening everyone.

Monday, 3 March 2008

Columbus Revisited

Per the comments in another post I said I would take a closer look at the Columbus Blue Jackets. That turned into this.

Immediate Notes

Columbus is, regarding Cap and budget issues, in great shape. I could not detect any real weaknesses in the team salary grid and the one guy who is a LTIR risk doesn't make so much that he would cripple the budget if he went down again next year.

The chart shows that the Blue Jackets have, in 2008/08, ~ 23.35 mill of next years Cap space allocated to 9 forwards, 4 defensemen and 1 goalie. This leaves some 3 or 4 forwards, 3 or 4 defensemen and 1 goalie left to be signed.

Let's deal with 1 of those spots right away - the 8th defenseman spot will automatically be slotted in at 550k /year. New total is ~ 23.90 mill for 15 players.

If next year's Cap rises the 4 million some are predicting then the new Cap is 54.30. The difference is ~ 30.40 mill.

If Columbus is a budget team and the projected full budget for last year, ~ 44 mill**, is a safe guideline to use then the difference is ~ 18.10 mill for 15 players.

Cap or budget - this team has some serious coin to spend.

** Start of year player salaries for 2007/08 were in the 41-42 million range. It is safe to assume that the overall budget had an extra couple of million in there for flex.

The RFA's

Leclaire and Picard

Leclaire has had a great season. Other than Hitchcock he is the single biggest factor in the team's success this year. At 24 years old he is closer to UFA status than the team would like and it is a sure bet he gets a long-term deal or an arbitrated deal.

If an aggressive team wanted to make an RFA raid they wouldn't be looking at a guy like Pitkanen (sorry to burst your bubble Oiler fans) - Leclaire is big game and he should attract offers.

Hence, to repeat, he will sign a long-term deal or an arbitrated deal. He doesn't strike me as a 'me me me' type so I expect to see a 4 year deal at $4.5 mill /year in his future. Anything cheaper than that, in excess of 3 years, is an outright steal for Howson.

Picard is still, really, a rookie. I expect that $1.25 mill /year will me more than enough to lock him up for another couple of years.

RFA signings should cost the Blue Jackets an easy $5.75 mill next year.


Hainsey, Hejda, Peca, Tarnstrom and Vyborny

Hainsey is the big money guy out of this group. He has finally matured into a dependable blueliner and at age 27 he will attract a LOT of attention if he is allowed to go UFA. I expect Hainsey to repay Hitchcock's mentoring in kind and sign a friendly 5 year deal in the $4.0+ mill /year range.

Hejda is a guy whould should attract scads of attention but won't. Howson should thank his lucky stars everyday that Lowe let this guy go and that, as a defensive defenseman, Hejda will be very cheap in a comparative sense. look for a $2.5 mill /year deal over 3 years.

Peca has had a decent year and as the Cap goes up so should his prospects of gainful employment. If he and Columbus continue working together (and they should given that Hitchcock's system maximizes Peca's declining skill base) look for a 2 year deal in the $2.0 mill /year range.

Tarnstrom and Vyborny are realists. If they stay in North America it will be for the money and neither guy will want to live life as a declining asset nomad. They will take less money to stay in Columbus if the deals are more than a year in length.

Howson needs the depth and the players need the employment. Look for both players to sign 2 year deals in the $1.75 mill /year range.

Cap Flex and Maneuvers

Howson doesn't need Cap flex. He has lots of room in regards to the Cap (~ $12.65 mill or so) and he even has some room in regards to his budget (~ $2.35 mill or so on a $44 mill budget).

Any maneuvers Howson may make are tempered by what he has to give up. Sure he can make a trade for a big money guy this off-season but that would probably mean giving up his 1st round pick or a prospect of value and he just doesn't have enough prospect depth to make that happen.

If Howson doesn't keep any of Peca, Tarnstrom or Vyborny it will be because he lowballs them or because he wants to make a splash (via trade or UFA offer) for someone a lot more expensive.
Note that I do not have Svitov listed because a) my chart is for 12 forwards and b) Svitov is interchangeable with any of number of players on that roster and c) he isn't anything special.

What Money problem?

Well under the Salary Cap the Blue Jackets have no Cap issues. Given the team made a legit play for Richards it seems that Howson can probably pull a budget of $48 mill or so if he can justify it.

Howson's problem isn't that of money. It is that of talent.

Talent and Depth Issues

The single most important elements of that team are Hitchcock and Leclaire. Because of the systems he teaches all Hitchcock needs is good goaltending and Leclaire is currently giving him that. Good for them. Get beyond that though and you have trouble.

Nash and Zherdev are legit talents but neither is a 'carry the team' kind of guy. Zherdev has rebounded nicely and Nash is learning to be more responsible defensively but this team is still crying out for a leader (hence, the interest in Richards).

From the veteran ranks, Peca, Modin and Vyborny are down to their last few years and so the only long-term mainstays are Chimera and Malhotra. Neither guy is a huge difference maker (Peca in his prime or Pisani now) and so the best that they can give is good steady play. Not a bad thing in and of itself but it won't get this team over the hump.

This means that Brule, Fritsche and Picard HAVE to make huge gains in their productivity for this team's forward ranks to improve over the near term.

From the prospect pool the team has a legit, future star in Voracek. Brassard may make waves and someone else might surprise but I won't hold my breath. If Voracek (next year) can progress a la Gagner (this year) then maybe, MAYBE, this team will be a play-off bound club. That is a really big 'IF'.

From the defense the legitimate talent is comprised of Hainsey, Hejda and Klesla. Tarnstrom is a stop-gap and Westcott is Mr. Glass. Russell and Tollefsen will probably progress but each one has a really, really, really long development curve ahead of them.

If Howson is to go shopping in the off-season it is here, on defense, where he needs to make a splash.

Danger! Danger!

There is so little quality depth on this team that if any one piece is not re-signed or replaced by equal value it will take a big step back. Hainsey, Hejda and Picard are must-signs while Peca, Tarnstrom and Vyborny are all should-signs (especially if they come cheaper than my projections).

Another danger the team faces is that of its own budget. One wrong UFA signing and the team is crippled going forward. The Souray signing hurts Edmonton, a lot, but at least Edmonton can easily go to the Cap. Columbus doesn't have that kind of flexibility.

Looking at the UFA list for this off-season I don't see much that would turn this team into something special. Even the decent fits aren't at a stage in their career where they will make this team into something special. I like Langkow, Rolston and Mara.

Zherdev looks to have turned it around. He becomes a RFA in 2009/10. If his maturity level has improved then maybe this won't be an issue but the last thing this team needs is for him to be pressing for a big payday based just on big counting numbers.

Special Note on Vyborny. I am a firm believer that players are motivated by (in order) winning, money, respect, tradition and stability. A guy like Vyborny, a long-time Blue Jacket who earned regard wearing the jersey, should be a guy who retires in that sweater.

If the traditions of a team cannot start with a guy like Vyborny who can they start with?


This team needs top-end talent in the worst way. I will go so far as to say that the single best thing that could happen to this team would be for it to tank itself into a lotto pick and get a sure bet like Stamkos or Schenn (yes, yes, I know - they could help everyone).

This is why I wasn't too thrilled with the returns Columbus gained on trade deadline day - impact prospects are better than picks.

i.e. Foote and a prospect FOR Shattenkirk is a far better trade than Foote FOR a 1st and a 4th.

I can respect the returns Howson got. I'm just not thrilled by them.

Columbus remains a slow-growth team. Barring a miracle (like Voracek being an out-of-the-box superstar) this team will require the blessings of the injury gods AND a GM who makes no mistakes for it to become a legit play-off contender by, imo, 2010/11.

Final note - kudos to Howson for making a real play for Richards. Picking him up WOULD have been the miracle this team needed. It was ballsy even to try and I hope Columbus fans appreciate it. Howson has made some good moves but it will take some time yet to erase the MacLean legacy.


Have a great evening everyone.