Thursday, August 26, 2010

What is the Plan? A Prelude

Over the next week or so, I’ll be posting a two or three part series titled “What is the Plan?”, trying to discover exactly what Edmonton is trying to accomplish this coming season. I had planned to have the first part posted earlier this week, but decided to wait upon hearing Edmonton’s GM was going to be appearing on “Oilers Lunch”, with host Bob Stauffer. That interview occurred yesterday, with Bob having Steve Tambellini on for an 18 minute interview, always a welcome event for ravenous Oilers fans looking for tidbits of additional information regarding the team. The entire interview is worth a listen, but being the self-important guy I am, I was most interested with a question near the end of the interview, since it (sort of) came from me. Bob was kind enough to ask a question paraphrased from an e-mail I had sent earlier in the day, and I thank him for that.

Bob paraphrased (1) my question as follows:

"How do you, do you have goals for this season coming up? And is there a concern that maybe goals for this season might be short term when you've got a long term vision planned for the organization?"

Tambellini’s response was:

"No, I think that you have to be aggressive and the fact that we were obviously, we've made numerous changes on and off the ice, and I really believe this has just, this has given the organization a chance to start again. And, will we be young in some places? Yes. Do we want to make the playoffs? Absolutely, that should be your goal every year. So, our goals are to be better at developing, more consistently obviously throughout the year, and we're going to demand a lot more of our people. And young people are going to be put into spots that maybe they will not be ready for, but maybe they will be by Christmastime. It's going to be exciting. I kind of wish it was a little closer to the start of camp, but I guess maybe I should relax and just wait."

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Pining for Pisani

Yesterday, Fernando Pisani signed with the Chicago Blackhawks, crushing the (perhaps unwarranted?) hopes of many, myself included, that would see Pisani return for another season with the Oilers. Other than a need for change, it’s kind of hard to figure out why management wouldn’t have re-signed him. He seemed like a great fit for many of Edmonton’s current needs at forward. Pisani is able to kill penalties, would improve the RW depth, and provide a veteran who can handle top opposition players. Further, he’s a player that, by all accounts, is well liked and considered a good teammate - he doesn’t really seem like someone management might consider a locker room problem.

I think it would be hard to argue he’s not a better player than some of Edmonton’s current top 14F, so what exactly is going on here? Was he not willing to sign in Edmonton for 700K or so? Or did the Oilers simply decide they didn’t want to have him back? I have a hard time believing he wouldn’t have been willing to play in Edmonton – he’s from here, he’s used to the organization. If the Oilers offer him $700,000 on a one year, one way deal on August 1st, I’d have been kind of surprised if Pisani passed on it given the apparent lack of interest in him on the UFA market. But, maybe he felt he’d be able to get the type of deal he did from someone, so no rush to sign that hypothetical offer from Edmonton?

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

What Counts as "Circumvention"?

According to the arbitration decision arbitrated by Richard I. Bloch, it was the position of the NHL that the last 6 years of the voided Kovalchuk deal constituted a circumvention of the salary cap, even though according to the letter of the CBA there was no single part of the contract that specifically contradicted the agreement. This is interesting, to me, as it might suggest the NHL was arguably more worried about the structure of the deal than it was with the length. What I mean is, they specifically mention the last 6 years, not just the 2 years that takes this deal beyond the Hossa contract. The arbitrator noted that all the factors (length, structure, NMC/NTC) combined to allow him to reject the deal, but in reading the document it seemed to me that the structure was his biggest problem with the deal. I could be mistaken on that, but that was my sense in reading the decision.

The NHL may be able to pick and choose what they pursue as far as circumvention goes, going forward. I'm not exactly sure what they will, or even should, do as far as somewhat similar contracts like those mentioned in footnote 23 of the brief, but it doesn't feel quite "right", to me, to allow the Savard deal after having pointed out that it wasn't only the last year or two of the Kovalchuk deal that bothered you, but the last six years.

I’m also interested in exactly how “competitive fairness” or “competitive balance” factors into circumvention - I don’t know how I feel about Bloch potentially opening that Pandora’s Box. Who is to judge which cap manipulating manoeuvres qualify as “circumvention”, and which ones don’t, if contracts that act in opposition to “competitive balance” and reduce a player’s cap hit are deemed to be circumvention? If a player and team agree to sign a contract for far less than market value in an effort to give the team more cap room, does this represent “circumvention”? Suppose it’s a certainty that the other 29 teams would have offered Sidney Crosby a max contract if he went RFA in the summer of 2008. Does that mean, based on the NHL’s rationale - with which the arbitrator apparently agreed, Crosby and the Penguins are both equally guilty of cap circumvention since they signed Crosby for less than his market worth in an effort to “artificially” create more cap room for the Penguins to fill out their roster?

Are teams guilty of circumventing the salary cap when they send a waiver-ineligible player on an ELC to the AHL 30 times in a season to avoid having their full salary count against the cap? Sure, that team might have followed the letter of the CBA by moving a player between the AHL and NHL 50+ times in a season, as they have that right under the current waiver system., but why did they do it? I think it’s reasonable to suggest they did so with the intention of reducing their cap hit, keeping them below an upper limit they would have otherwise exceeded. Is this not somewhat analogous to the NHL’s position with Kovalchuk? That they followed the letter of the law, but they did so while trying to game/circumvent the upper limit of the Salary Cap?

What other moves affecting "competitive balance" could be looked at as circumvention in this way? Does the Malakhov trade count as an "artificial" reduction meant to circumvent the Upper Limit?