March 12 2008 12:58PM
So, OilersNation fans, if you were Kevin Lowe and you could only sign Joni Pitkanen or Denis Grebeshkov—not both—to a new contract this summer, who'd get the ink and who'd get a ticket out of town? Had you asked that question in October, you'd deserve to get raked upside the melon with the Stupid Stick.
It didn't take MENSA membership to figure out Pitkanen, the lanky Finn Lowe got from Philadelphia by unloading man-about-town Joffrey Lupul and sweetening the pot with captain Jason Smith, was the guy. Pitkanen's pedigree, not to mention seasons of 46 and 43 points with a couple of lame Flyer teams in 2005-06 and 2006-07, made it a no-brainer. Even reporters could figure it out.
At the same time, Grebeshkov, obtained from the New York Islanders for butter-fingered Marc-Andre Bergeron, might as well have been in the FBI's Witness Protection Program. He played all of eight games with the Los Angeles Kings and 21 more with the Islanders, managing a combined five points. The rest of his time was spent in Manchester and Bridgeport of the AHL and with Jaroslavl in Russia—without distinction, I might add.
Zip ahead to today, after a 4-3 overtime win over the St. Louis Blues, and the question doesn't seem so dim, now does it, Mr. Big Forehead? What about right now? Based on this last stretch, in which the Oilers have won seven of their last eight games, which one of the 24-year-old blue liners gets the deal?
As of today, Pitkanen has scored 7-13-20 and is a minus-7 in the 52 games he's played. Grebeshkov has tallied 2-11-13 and is minus-2 in 59 games. Pitkanen had been logging an average of 24:17 in ice time a game before being cut back to 19:01 against the Blues. Grebeshkov's numbers had come with just 15:47 a night before Craig MacTavish bumped him up to 27:01 against St. Louis.
Keep in mind, Pitkanen will be coming off a season in which he is earning $2.4 million. Grebeshkov's deal pays him $950,000 this season. Bang for the buck, especially in a salary cap world, plays into it.
You've still got to sign Tom Gilbert, who is also a RFA this summer. Up front, Jarret Stoll and Robert Nilsson need contracts. Likewise, how big a splash to you want to make in the unrestricted free agent market?
So, who gets the deal, and why?
By the way, if you want to read David Staples' take on this, you can read him the Cult of Hockey in today's Edmonton Journal.
—Listen to Robin Brownlee every Thursday from 4 to 5pm on Total Sports with Bob Stauffer on Team 1260.