April 11 2008 04:18PM
(Are these new deals for other Oilers the pits for Joni?) The term "overpayment" is relative. When you've increased one player's pay stub almost 10-fold, as Edmonton Oilers GM Kevin Lowe did with his offer sheet to Dustin Penner, who's even going to blink at the 500 per cent raise Tom Gilbert got today with his six-year deal worth $24 million? If you read my off-season predictions three days ago, you know I'm not a bit surprised Lowe sees the 25-year-old Gilbert as the cornerstone of the Oilers defence for many years to come. I told you Gilbert, along with Robert Nilsson and Denis Grebeshkov, were the priorities among the restricted free agents Lowe has to sign. I am surprised, however, Lowe was willing to pay so handsomely to make it happen. Is the market under the new CBA such that a player like Gilbert, who scored 13-20-33 and led all NHL rookies with 159 blocked shots this season, gets a raise from $835,000 to $4 million? Apparently so. "It's a very important signing for the organization," Lowe told assembled media at Rexall Place this morning. "Tom has developed into an upper-echelon defenceman. This contract, particularly the length, gives me a great deal of satisfaction knowing he's going to be here for a lot of years. He's a real pillar of the franchise." With Lowe on the hook for four more years of Sheldon's Souray's five-year contract for $27 million, Gilbert had better be the real deal because the boss has $51 million tied up in two defenceman before talks even begin with future Norris Trophy candidate Joni Pitkanen. When I got word early this morning the deal with Gilbert was done, I was thinking three years for something in the neighbourhood of $9 million—maybe $2.5 million in year one, $3 million in year two and $3.5 million in year three. Lowe obviously had a more upscale neighbourhood in mind. "I can't begin to describe how excited I am," said Gilbert, who has played just 94 games in Oilers silks over two seasons. "You never would think you'd probably get this far. "You dream about it as a kid, but this has been first-class for me and I'm so excited... I wanted to be here. I couldn't ask for a better situation right now. Playing in Canada is awesome, especially playing in Edmonton. Being here for six more years is a thrill." In his 94 games with the Oilers, Gilbert has scored 14-25-39 with 20 penalty minutes and a minus-seven rating. Nothing in those numbers makes Gilbert worth $4 million a season, although he is giving up what amounts to four years as an unrestricted free agent. That said, when you consider the Oilers bent over Colorado by getting Gilbert for Tommy Salo, the former Wisconsin Badger is a find, to be sure. And there's definitely some upside with him. Gilbert could easily become a 50-point blueliner who eats up 28 minutes a night. An overpayment? Right now, yes. Down the road? We'll see. While all that has to play out, there's another aspect to all of this that can't be overlooked—nobody can accuse Lowe of not putting his money where his mouth is. When you look at long-term deals Lowe has done since the new CBA with Chris Pronger, Ales Hemsky, Shawn Horcoff, Souray and Gilbert, there's no questioning the Oilers willingness to make a financial commitment to the players they believe they can build around. Their choices? That's up to debate.
Lowe made it a daily-double today as he's inked Nilsson to a three-year contract worth $5.5 million (link).
Nilsson, 23, is coming off a contract that paid him $942,000 last season. He scored 10-31-41 in 71 games. Expect more on this as details become available.
Is this the pits for Joni?
The response to Gilbert's signing has a lot of Oilers fans looking at the numbers—even with the salary cap projected to go to $56 million—and waving goodbye to Pitkanen.
Souray gets $6.25 million next season. Gilbert gets $4 million. Steve Staios will earn $2.9 million. Matt Green will be paid $1.25 million. Ladislav Smid gets $952,000. Grebeshkov needs a new contract.
The Oilers can pay Pitkanen $5 million a season, but will they? We'll find out in coming months. The numbers aside, I said it three days ago and I'll say it again without repeating all the reasons why—Pitkanen is the Oiler most likely to be traded during the off-season.
—Listen to Robin Brownlee every Thursday from 4 to 5pm on Total Sports with Bob Stauffer on Team 1260.