January 12 2010 06:01PM
There's a big difference between getting bang for your buck and getting banged for your buck, as an embarrassingly unflattering comparison of the Nashville Predators and Edmonton Oilers clearly shows.
While the expansion Predators under GM David Poile are again providing hockey fans in Music City with bargain basement entertainment that's the epitome of bang for the buck, the Oilers aren't getting nearly the same value for their payroll and fans are being short-changed.
The Predators come calling at Rexall Place tonight 20 points better than the Oilers in the standings at 27-16-3 for 57 points. That puts Nashville eighth in overall points. The Predators are doing it with a payroll of $44.34 million, according to NHLnumbers.com, which ranks 28th in the NHL.
The Oilers, meanwhile, sit 29th overall in NHL standings with a record of 16-23-5 for 37 points. Owner Daryl Katz is endorsing cheques worth $59.830 million this season. That's the sixth highest payroll in the NHL.
So, given those numbers, whose fans are getting real bang for the buck and whose fans are getting screwed? That's a rhetorical question, folks. Grab your ankles.
HEARTLAND OF HOCKEY?
The Oilers continue to play in front of capacity crowds at Rexall Place despite offering a sub-standard product, while the Preds are engaged in a seemingly never-ending challenge of attracting fans.
The difference in value and results for money spent would be less of an indictment of management with Kevin Lowe and Steve Tambellini running the show if this season was a one-off.
The problem, dating back to the EIG long before Katz brought his billions into the equation under a new CBA -- the "level playing field" Oilers management promised time and again would make a difference -- is it isn't.
The Oilers have missed the playoffs four of the last five seasons, and are on the verge of missing for the fourth straight year despite bumping up against the salary cap. No bargains here.
The Predators, always nearer the cap floor than the ceiling and out-spent by the Oilers in every season since the lockout, have made the playoffs in four of the last five seasons.
Nashville 27-16-3 57 pts 5th Conference
Edmonton 16-23-5 37 pts 15th Conference
Nashville 40-34-8 88 pts 10th
Edmonton 38-35-9 85 pts 11th
Nashville 41-32-9 91 pts 8th
Edmonton 41-45-6 88 pts 9th
Nashville 51-23-8 110 pts 4th
Edmonton 32-43-7 71 pts 12th
Nashville 49-25-8 106 pts 4th
Edmonton 41-28-13 95 pts 8th
STEP RIGHT UP
The Oilers, of course, made some noise when they went to Game 7 of the 2006 Stanley Cup final in the only year they made the playoffs, while the Predators haven't made much of a mark, going out in the first round four times. But as for value for that season-ticket package fans plunk down their money for year after year? Not close.
Look no further than the drafting records of the teams over the past decade and some frugal free agent signings by the Predators in that span as the big difference, but dissecting that is a whole other story or three.
"David Poile is a terrific operator," Oilers coach Pat Quinn said. "He has been for a long time.
"It is an expansion team and expansion teams are supposed to get the good picks or the potential for good picks. They've made them . . . That, eventually, is supposed to pay off and it has been paying off for them now."
The question, and it's one bound to come home to roost on the doorstep of Lowe, Tambellini, president Patrick LaForge and Katz sooner or later despite the loyalty of Oilers fans, is this: how much longer will people put down their money? It's a fine line dividing fans from suckers.
-- Radio man Bob Stauffer spent today floating the trial balloon of having tough guy Georges Laraque return to the Oilers, should he have his contract bought out by the Montreal Canadiens. Don't discount either possibility.
Despite former Oilers coach Craig MacTavish having little or no use for Laraque, Katz wanted him back in Edmonton two summers ago before he accepted the deal from Montreal. The Oilers, in fact, offered Laraque an extra year at $1.5 million.
If the Habs did buy out Laraque, he could probably be had for something in the neighbourhood of $700,000.
-- The Oilers, looking for goaltending help in Springfield, have made inquiries with the St. Louis Blues about goaltender Hannu Toivonen.
Toivonen, 25, is in the minors splitting time with Ben Bishop with the Peoria Rivermen. He's 8-9-1 with a 2.76 goals against average and .909 saves percentage.
-- Listen to Robin Brownlee every Wednesday and Thursday from 4 to 6 p.m. on Just A Game with Jason Gregor on TEAM 1260.