Thursday, February 25, 2010

A Preliminary Look at the 2010/11 Oilers Roster: An Overview and the Defence

One of the benefits to managing a rebuilding team is the lack of immediate expectations. If the team performs poorly, one can suggest that was the plan. If the team surprises and makes the playoffs, even better. Talk about a no-lose situation!

I've mentioned earlier that the Oilers should clear as much cap room as possible in any case. Tambellini has two potential avenues before him. One, he can plan for a longer term rebuild, which would involve positioning the team for another* top 3 pick in the 2011 draft. Two, he can attempt to "reload" and make the playoffs next season. Both plans would likely involve shedding a ton of payroll, if possible, this summer. I like the second alternative, because I think it's possible for the Oilers to make the playoffs, but also because once you've cleared as much salary as possible, if it looks like the UFA markets won't allow you to make the moves you need to be a playoff team, you can always just go with what you've got and say that you're rebuilding.

Monday, February 22, 2010

A Preliminary Look at the 2010/11 Oilers Roster: Goaltending

I will be assuming the Oilers are trying to make the playoffs next season in projecting their roster. This may be an erroneous assumption, but it's what I would be doing if I were in charge, for a couple of reasons. Firstly, I think it's attainable. With a few solid moves I think the Oilers are at least in the hunt for a playoff spot. Secondly, I'm not convinced the Oilers are likely to be as bad next year as they have been this year. "Tanking" makes more sense when you are a projecting to be an awful team, worse than I would guess the Oilers are projecting to be next season anyways. Admittedly, that prediction for the team might change, depending on the deadline and early offseason moves. If the team can't get any UFA's to sign, except on longer term and higher priced contracts, maybe it makes sense to use what you have and let things play out. But, at this point, I don't think the Oilers should be planning to be awful again next season.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

The Power of the One Way Contract

One approach the Oilers might take to determine whether they can expect to qualify for the playoffs next season would be to slot their players into the hypothetical positions they would fill on a true playoff team. Take a realistic view of their team and players, and designate those players into the role they might fill on a current Cup contender - not a borderline playoff team. Don't base the assignment upon vastly improved projections, or how good the player was 5 years ago. I plan to go through the roster in this fashion over the Olympic break, to see if it's reasonable to expect the Oilers can become a playoff team for next season.

For now, I want to examine the end of the roster in terms of forwards. Just one man's opinion, but I think if your 12-14 forwards are three of Potulny, Stortini, Stone, Pouliot, you aren't eliminating yourself from playoff contention. As such, if they can be signed for reasonable, or better yet cheap, terms, I don't think it would be a horrible plan to lock a couple of these players up for 2 or 3 years. This idea isn't new, in fact YK Oil wrote about this general idea in a fantastic article about a year ago*. Maybe there's an argument to be made that the Oilers would be better off to clear out the one-way contracts and let players battle for the spots. Or that they should bring in some veterans for at least one of those roster spots. I think it depends how much money the above players are willing to sign for (Stortini excepted, as he's already under contract for a 700K cap hit next season).

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Kovalchuk’s Next Contract and the Max Salary Debate

There has been considerable discussion regarding what exactly might have led to Kovalchuk turning down Atlanta's 12 year, $101 million offer. Some have hypothesized that he was more than willing to play in Atlanta, but not without making as much as he could over as long a term as possible to compensate for the team's lack of projected near-future competitiveness. Others have suggested that he simply didn't want to play for the Thrashers any longer, but also didn't want to unnecessarily burn any bridges. Instead, he simply asked for a number Atlanta wouldn’t pay so he could turn around and say “I wanted to stay, but we couldn’t make the money work." I like option "C", the “I’d like to play for a winner, but I’d also like to make as much money as possible so why sign with ATL now before I hear whatever other options might exist. I can probably go back to ATL if I don’t receive a better offer from some other team, and if some team in the KHL throws $15 million per year at me I wouldn't mind living back home either.”, but then again I’m not a mind reader.

I'm not sure what I'd be willing to pay Kovalchuk if I were an NHL GM, but I'll suggest that Kovalchuk* would not necessarily be overpaid if he signs for more money than Crosby or Ovechkin. To be fair, I’m not really arguing that Kovalchuk is worth $11 million per season (maybe he is, maybe he isn’t, but I’m ignoring that discussion here), but more for the general case that a player can, in theory, be paid more than Crosby or Ovechkin and still be worth his money. Being worth that money would only require that Crosby and Ovechkin are underpaid at their current salaries. My guess would be that they are. That said, how much are they “really” worth? Is Ovechkin worth $13 million/season? $15 million/season? Even more?

Elliot Friedman, in discussing Atlanta's options when it came to Kovalchuk**, wrote " Plus, it’s borderline impossible to win with one guy taking that much of your space." This bit of conventional wisdom has been circulating for awhile now, probably since the lockout, and I'm not really sure why. In fact, I think the suggestion is kind of bizarre when you consider how easily it can be dismissed with a simple look to the top of the NHL's standings. The 1st overall team in the NHL, the Washington Capitals, have the highest cap hit player (Ovechkin at ~9.6 mil) in the league. True, he's isn't making the max, but the Capitals aren't spending to the cap either. If Ovechkin were paid 2 mil more per season to bring him up to the current maximum salary, the Caps still wouldn't be over the cap. If Friedman meant Kovalchuk specifically when he wrote "one guy", maybe that's fair enough, but don't the 2009/10 Capitals "prove" that a team can be competitive paying one player the 20% maximum?

I don't know exactly how to quantify the worth of the superstar class player, if such a thing is possible. I also don't know how many players in the league (if any) may be worth the 20% max. All this Kovalchuk contract talk did lead me to wonder about the following questions, none of which I see any easy answers for.

What compensation is appropriate for a star player?

How much do they have to be paid before it's too much?

What factors, besides on ice production, affect "reasonable compensation" for a star player?

Can a truly elite forward be overpaid in this CBA?

*Kovalchuk is probably a poor example because I don’t think he’s as good a player as Crosby, Ovechkin, or Malkin at making his linemates better.

** This article was, I believe, written just before Kovalchuk was traded to the New Jersey Devils.

Saturday, February 06, 2010

Waivers prior to the Olympic break


I don't expect to see the Oilers to make much use of the waiver wire before the Olympic break, but I think it would be an interesting approach for the Oilers nearing the deadline. Maybe they can get ahead of the trading and move a player through waivers while not having to pay them over the Olympic break.

The two players I'm looking at are Staios and Moreau. Obviously if Tambellini has heard that there's a positive trade market for either of these players, waiving them doesn't make much sense, so I'm assuming there may not appear to be much interest in either player. I'm not sure either player would be claimed on waivers, but I think it's worth it to find out. Who knows, maybe there's a team out there that would claim one of them, but are just trying to get as good a deal as possible and don't think EDM would waive one/either of them. If EDM management is concerned about public perception, maybe it wouldn't hurt to send the message to fans that the Oilers are serious about remaking the roster, by waivers if necessary.


Depending how bad the trade offers are for Moreau, re-entry waivers might be a decent option. I'm not sure it makes as much sense with Staios, but with Moreau perhaps re-entry waivers, prior to this season's deadline, makes sense when compared to buying the player out this summer or keeping him for next season?

It would probably make more cap and financial sense to lose him on re-entry waivers than with a buy-out. It would cost an extra 333K in cap room next season, vs. a buyout, but the cost in actual cash is lower and there would be no 667K buyout cap charge in 11/12. That assumes that someone would claim him on re-entry, but if they don't you could always buy him out come the summer.

Before it gets to that stage, Edmonton will likely consider the option brought up by Darren Dreger of TSN, but they should be considering the options in their back pocket (buyout, re-entry waivers in the summer)

I would guess, financially, it probably makes sense to deal Moreau and a 3rd for Exelby and a 7th; the value of moving 4 rounds down in the draft is likely not worth keeping Moreau for another season if he can be replaced with a player making 700K for 10/11. But it may be a tough sell for the fans if they are giving up a third round pick, roughly 61st-65th, while a big chunk of fans are antsy for a rebuild. If the best offer they receive for Moreau were something like Moreau and 2nd/3rd for Exelby and 7th, I'm not sure the Oilers would make that deal even if it makes marginal financial sense, preferring to keep the pick for drafting. In that case, the decision to buyout, place on re-entry waivers, or keep Moreau for another season becomes more relevant.

* - Does anyone have a link to an article that monetizes the value of each draft pick?

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Oilers at the Deadline: Part 4 - The Rest of the Roster/Summary

In parts 1, 2 and 3, I assessed the majority of the Oilers roster with respect to classes of "tradeability" for the upcoming deadline. This brief, final section will feature those who are not easily tradeable (for one reason or another) along with players who have little trade value coupled with a low cap hit. I'd be pretty surprised to see the Oilers move any of them.

Horcoff and Khabibulin are players that probably generate no interest on the trade market, due to their cap hits and health. Hemsky is out for the year and therefore unlikely to be of interest at the deadline.

The remaining roster players (Stone, Potulny, Pouliot, Jacques, Deslauriers, Dubnyk) group fairly similarly, in that none of them seem like players you'd really expect to see a contender pick up, and aren't the kind of guy you expect to see moved at the deadline. I suppose it's possible that one of them might be a body moving back in some sort of deal, but they are unlikely candidates for a move since they are probably more valuable to the Oilers going forward than they would be to an aspiring Cup contender at the deadline.

To summarize all 4 parts, it would be in the best interests of the Oilers to discover whether they can re-sign Pisani and Comrie to reasonable extensions. If they can, great, if not move them at the deadline along with whichever of Moreau, Souray, O'Sullivan, Staios, and Nilsson prove movable. Moving all 7 would be a difficult, if not impossible, task (as MC suggests here), even if it were management's goal, but doing so would open up ~17.5 mil in cap room heading into the summer.