Ten Points: Would the Oilers have been better off waiting?

1. Would the Oilers have been better off signing Taylor Hall and Jordan Eberle in the new CBA? This is a question I ask myself all the time, and we won’t really have an answer for it until we see the new agreement and players comparable to Hall and Eberle start signing new deals.

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As talks have gone on, however, we’ve seen two items emerge that we can be relatively certain about:

  • The player’s share of revenue is going down, and consequently the cap is likely to drop in the short- to mid-term.
  • There will be no rollback.

Early in August, I highlighted both of those points in a piece that argued the Oilers would be better off financially if they waited until after the CBA was resolved to get Eberle and Hall under contract.

I still think that’s likely the case. My guess is that the Oilers end up having paid a bit of a premium for their young stars in exchange for the certainty of getting them under contract under the old system.

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2. Albertans tend to link hockey to national pride more than any other group in the country. There was an interesting report in the National Post on Monday that quoted a Leger Marketing poll on how Canadians perceive hockey. From the article:

The survey, which also probed the levels of pride Canadians feel when it comes to hockey, showed Albertans are most likely to consider the sport a “very important” source of that heart-swelling emotion. More than one-quarter of residents from the stomping grounds of the Calgary Flames and Edmonton Oilers conveyed a strong sense of attachment to the game, while respondents from Quebec — home of the Montreal Canadiens and, perhaps someday again soon, the Quebec Nordiques — were at the low end of the pride scale.

Just 16% of Quebecers surveyed considered hockey a “very important” source of national pride, with another 21% calling it “somewhat important” for a total of 37%. Along with the 26% of Albertans who consider the sport a “very important” source of pride, another 24 said it was “somewhat important,” for a total of 50%.

I wouldn’t read too much into the Quebec numbers without knowing exactly how the question was phrased – polling for “national pride” in a province where a significant minority is in favour of secession is pretty difficult, after all – but it is interesting to see how closely Albertans connect hockey to national pride.

3. The NHL is just trying to pin down Donald Fehr. It is by now common knowledge that the NHL is asking the NHLPA to offer a complete, written CBA proposal for their next meeting, and it’s interesting to see the explanation for that provided by CBC’s Elliotte Friedman:

There are a few reasons for this. The obvious one is it will allow the league to know where Fehr and the players stand on each of these critical areas. It also gives the NHL a better idea of where it is willing to concede to bridge the gaps. (Despite what it says, there is some room for compromise. How much is the question.) And finally, Fehr has kept his written proposals limited in scope at various points in the process — in at least one case, just a few written lines.

Whether one agrees with Donald Fehr’s tactics or not, it’s hard to argue the point that he’s managed to get the league to move off their rather draconian initial offers and into the realm of possibility without letting them know exactly where the player’s bottom line is. The time for such things is now in the past (and arguably has been for some time) and if the NHLPA brings a solid proposal to the next meeting maybe that’s the key to getting down to the final dickering that will close the gaps between the league and the players. It’s worth hoping, anyway.

4. The matchup game in Oklahoma. Todd Nelson was on Oilers Now yesterday, and made no secret of what the opposition was trying to do. “Other teams are basically getting the matchup against Nugent-Hopkins,” he told Bob Stauffer.

Now, the related point is that with Hall, Eberle and Nugent-Hopkins drawing tough opposition, the opponents facing secondary players will be lesser ones – in this case the second line is Paajarvi, Lander and Hartikainen. That’s true to an extent, but it’s worth remembering that the AHL is a much tougher league this year than it normally is. I’d guess that facing second-tier opposition this season is probably pretty comparable to facing top opposition in a non-lockout year.

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5. Toni Rajala to play with Mark Arcobello, Curtis Hamilton. While I have some concerns about combining the pint-sized Rajala with the pint-sized Arcobello, Barons head coach Todd Nelson revealed yesterday that these guys would form the third line for Oklahoma early, allowing Anton Lander to keep playing with Paajarvi and Hartikainen, where he’s finally starting to have some success. Apparently Philippe Cornet is also a little under the weather and is thus doubtful for Wednesday’s game.

6. Does Stu MacGregor like Ryan Pulock? It was interesting listening to Stu MacGregor on Oilers Now yesterday for a bunch of reasons, but one in particular was his take on the gap between Seth Jones (widely seen as the 2013 Draft’s second-best prospect) and Ryan Pulock, one of the draft’s top eligible defenders (the NHL Numbers consensus list has him currently slated for the seventh overall slot). Host Bob Stauffer mentioned that ISS has Pulock ranked 15th and Jones ranked second, and while MacGregor acknowledged Jones’ size and skating he seemed to express doubt that the gap was that large. The 6’1” Pulock is currently scoring at a point-per-game pace in the WHL and is coming off a 60-point, plus-33 season a year ago.

7. More MacGregor, this time on Nathan MacKinnon. MacGregor was also asked about the greatest strength of Nathan MacKinnon, widely seen as the best available prospect in this year’s draft:

He’s ultra-competitive. He’s a guy who almost engages too much and gets him into these situations where he’s battling back physically. He’s not the biggest guy in the world, he’s about 5’11”, 185lbs or so, but he plays so hard, he’s in your face. If somebody goes and does something to him he’s going back to get them. He’s got the long memory like an elephant. He doesn’t forget and he pays back. I think that’s the biggest thing. That and he’s just an unbelievable skater, great balance and power. That combination, his pace of the game is very high and it’s difficult to defend players who play at that pace.

8. ”Puck Gary” hats. In Montreal players have been wearing “Puck Gary” hats, the latest in a slew of recent juvenile commentary from NHL players on the commissioner. While I understand the anger, expressing it that way is childish, does not help make the players sympathetic to the public in general, and if it has any impact on negotiations it’s likely a negative one. One of the things the NHL has the ability to do is fine its executives when they do things like, say, comparing players to cattle. That is not practical for the NHLPA, so the leadership basically has to sit idly by while individual players make their side of the negotiation look foolish.

9. I had the pleasure of going on Hockey Night in Canada radio yesterday. It was fun to get on the show – even if the topic of conversation had more to do with the lack of NHL hockey than NHL hockey – and I have great respect for all of the show’s hosts. But I have to admit it felt a little strange talking to Kelly Hrudey. The first playoff series I can vividly remember watching was Los Angeles vs. Toronto in the Conference Finals in 1993, when Hrudey was tending net for the Kings. I was in Grade Two at the time and we played ball hockey in the halls of my elementary school; I would pretend to be Hrudey while my classmate down the hall would be Felix “the Cat” Potvin. Good times.

10. Shameless self-promotion! And since we’re on me… I wanted to mention that the second book I’ve co-authored is now in print and available to be ordered. Hockey Prospectus 2012-13 has a bunch of general interest articles, great prospect breakdowns (including a top-100 prospects list, complete with scouting reports) and comprehensive coverage of every team. I wrote a bunch of chapters, including the one on the Edmonton Oilers, and the digital download of the monstrosity (this year’s copy came in at just under 500 pages) is less than $10.00. The book is available for order here.

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Recently by Jonathan Willis

  • Jamie B.

    The Oilers have to get away from being seen as a frugal “small market” team somehow, so I say they traded good will with their young stars instead of appearing like they were trying to cheap them out of some salary. Something like that could get remembered when it’s time to negotiate the next contract. I’m okay with it.

    People complain about young stars who “haven’t proven anything” getting big bucks, but if (please oh please) Hall goes off and has a Stamkos type of year, for example, I’d rather be showing him the money when he has the potential to earn it than when he’s hitting free agency at age 33 and about to start declining, cashing in on his best years that are behind him, ie. the system before 2004. I just think it’s a lot more likely to talk guys into a Sedin-esque contract, with a pseudo team salary cap (“no one gets paid more than Lidstrom”), if they don’t feel like you used what power you had over them previously and now’s their chance to really hit a home run.

    • DSF

      What if Hall doesn’t have a “Stamkos type year”?

      Considering Stamkos scored 51 goals and 95 points in his second NHL season, it’s highly unlikely Hall will match that.

      If the Oilers are still paying for “good will” like they did when they signed Horcoff, Souray and Khabibulin, they will be in a world of hurt.

      Signing Hall and Eberle to those contracts a year before necessary when the CBA was about to suffer a sea change was a mistake.

      • Boourns99

        We now have the line in the sand: No further than this. Every other contract will now come in under Halls $6M.

        I agree, they could have waited, but there was always the threat that it could have been even MORE expensive. We have some large hit contracts coming off the books soon (See Horcoff, S. and Khabibulin, N.), and this gives them the ability to say to RNH, Yak and Top 5 pick this year – this is the Max. While at a premium, it eats up UFA years, which is a good thing.

        That said, God help us if the league revenues shrink and the salary cap drops significantly. $12M to two players could put us in a world of hurt.

        • DSF

          I doubt that line in the sand would be very effective if Hopkins and/or Yakupov outscore Hall or Eberle by a wide margin and that is certainly possible.

          Jim Matheson wrote a column on the weekend indicating the Oilers will be in cap trouble even if the cap is at $60M (it could be less)

          The bottom line:

          “That’s nine forwards, four defencemen and one goalie with $22.5 million tied up in four forwards. They would have $11.55 million to sign, say, 10 players. How is that going to work?”


          While I expect a Horcoff buyout would ease the pain, new contracts for Hopkins, Yakupov and Schultz will eat that up pretty quickly.

      • Rocknrolla

        Hate to say it but DSF is right. We should have waited. Nothing was accomplished by early signing. Also, I am guessing they both would have been cool with the ” let’s wait and see what the CBA is so we have as much flexibility in signing a great team around you”

        They don’t strike me as selfish kids. We could have waited the 6 months, made an informed decision, and not lost any face.

    • In my experience, it’s generally a bad idea to give something away in negotiations and hope the other party reciprocates down the road.

      Besides which, the whole reason a guy like Schultz signs in Edmonton is the prospect of winning in the future. I think there’s a big difference between cheaping out on Hall/Eberle and saying, ‘Look, we love you guys, but we want to see what the next CBA looks like before signing our most important contract extensions – the extensions that are going to shape our team long-term.’

  • smiliegirl15

    On point #2 – I think more than just Albertans think hockey = Canada. Ask anyone Gen X and older what the second Canadian National Anthem is (maybe even Gen Ys). It is the original Hockey Night in Canada theme – yes the proper one with the trumpets. I grew up in Saskatchewan and in the days before cable and 100s of channels we had 2. HNIC was on every Saturday, right after Mr. Chips and Howie Meeker Hockey School.

  • The contracts might have been a little premature but so were a lot of deals this summer.

    As for Poluck, how many 17 year odds have a 102 mph slap shot! Good grief.
    If the season is payed the Oilers will have a shot at Monahan , Barkov or Lazar I find it hard to think the Oilers take a defensmen over a center at this point.

  • DieHard

    Those contracts looked bad at the time and if the NHL ends up being successful and changing contract rights under the new CBA they will become dreadful. They will have paid a premium to get UFA years that are no longer UFA years.

    Combine that with a lower salary cap and you have a mediocre team that is already at the cap and not only doesn’t have the money to add players but is going to have to say trade away its stars before their prime.

    This is the tragedy of the salary cap. It’s going to break up this team before we ever get to find out what it could be.

  • Not to jump in on your point DSF, I tend to agree with a lot of what you said in this matter of the new CBA, the Oilers needed to understand that the land scape would change.

    This is why no matter what kind of argument the rest of these fans make the Oilers will not keep or trade these players.

    Hemsky 5 – Gagner 4 – Whitney 4 – Horcoff 5 – Khabibulin 3.5

    17 that HAS to come off to keep or sign players

    Now ask Stauffer if a defensmen still makes sense?

    • Huddy's Mustache

      Once again you are way off Wes Mandouche. Oilers are paying too much money for unproven talent already. Ditch at least one of Ebbs, Hall, and RNH while they have some value. History shows that maybe, MAYBE, one of these guys will grow into a perennial 30-goal asset. If these guys do develop into franchise players then you’ll only be able to afford one of them anyways, and with the new CBA and market horizon, no one will be trading for big salaries (Luongo anyone?).

      Keep Whitney and Gagner, ditch Hall (injury prone).

  • Signing Eberle and Hall helped land Schulz. enough said.

    Next year (barring a trade) they will have to replace or re-sign Whitney, Gagner, Khabi, Jones and Smid, 1 more defence (could come from within) and 1 more forwards (could come from within). They will have approx. $12 mil. to do this if the cap is 60 mil. and no adjustment to salary.

    Worst case scenario it will be tough. There are alot of teams in worse shape than the oilers though which makes me believe there will be salary adjustments and we see the young guys for many years to come.

    • DieHard

      Nice thought but he was signed long before the extensions to Eberle and Hall.

      The Oilers can probably find a way to make it work but right now it looks like a mistake if the league gets their way with the CBA. It could come back and bite them in the ass if either they cant afford to keep all their good young guys or if they cant afford to bring in the support pieces you need to be a contender.

    • DSF

      The Oilers currently are the 13th highest cap team.

      Problem is they are the 29th most successful team.

      If you look at another unsuccessful team, the Toronto Maple Leafs, they have $41M committed cap hit in 13/14 while the Oilers have $48M committed and that’s before any extnesions for Hopkins, Yakupov and Schultz.

    • Rocknrolla

      Hall signed Aug 22, Ebs Aug 30.

      Schultz signed way before on June 30.

      They had nothing to do with Schultz signing. Also both were under contract for another full year so could have been extended in say February with nothing lost and information on the cba gained.

      The oilers were not obligated to make those deals.

  • Hair bag

    On point 3:

    ‘Whether one agrees with Donald Fehr’s tactics or not, it’s hard to argue the point that he’s managed to get the league to move off their rather draconian initial offers and into the realm of possibility without letting them know exactly where the player’s bottom line is.’

    How naive are you Willis – Fehr has done nothing but drag out the process, the league is exactly where they want to be 50-50. They started at 43% because the half way point from 57% is 50-50 which is exactly where they intended to be from the beginning – Fehr had nothing to do with getting to that number. If they had started anywhere else the players would have negotiated to split the difference between that number and 57%. The rhetoric about it being Draconian, etc is nonsense – if the players were interested in negotiating in good faith they would have come back with an offer of of 55% and worked from there. The fact of the matter is that the owners have the hammer in that players don’t play – they don’t get paid – and the players window to get paid is a lot smaller than that of the owners. Why else do you think the Fehr bros and guys like Schneider have been yapping about still playing while negotiating in good faith – because then they would have the hammer. The same way they did in MLB when the players (led by Fehr) went on strike right before the playoffs. The NHL is going to get to where they want to get to and all the NHLPA can do is delay the process because at the end of the day 500players are still not playing and collecting their cheques…their window is small and some may never collect another NHL paycheque ever!

  • DSF

    Interesting to see that the NHL is trying to pin down the NHLPA to a written proposal………..oh the many analogies that come to mind, too many to count.

    Slippery very slippery on the part of the NHLPA………I don’t expect their proposal will have any substance but be a copy of their last proposal with the old date crossed out, and a new hand written date.

    For those who are optimistic about the recent proceedings, buy a lottery ticket because those odds are better than the union coming up with a realistic counter proposal.

  • 1.) Who cares.? There is no way to know what the new CBA will be and what exactly will be a part of it.

    2.) Pride is the best friend of the brain and the worst enemy of the heart. National Pride is pretty tribal and simple, kind of like its followers.

    3.) The players don’t have a bottom line that Fehr is keeping away from the league. The players don’t have a bottom line, Fehr does. The league don’t really care for Fehrs bottom line and that is why they are forcing it to the surface. The sooner that Fehrs true colours and interests are shown the quicker that the lock-out is over.

    8.) I’ve always said that the NHL players are a bunch of spoiled whinning manginas, their actions and statements continue to prove me right.

    9.) Good for you.;-‘)

    10.) *same as 9

  • T__Bone88

    The oilers cap situation is not as bad as a lot of other teams. Since rookie bonuses are included in the cap, Hall basically is getting a 2.25 million raise from his 3.75 million cap. The big increase is Eberle going from 1.1 million to 6 mill. For next year since Sutton, Khabibulin cap + Souray buyout ($7 million cap space) comes off the books the Oilers are just allocating that cap space towards Hall & Eberle. If rookie bonues are not included against the cap then next year the oilers save themselves around 8.5 million in cap space.

    I also had a thought what if in the new CBA the remaining salary and years left from this season make the cap hits:

    Ie. Horcoff remaining salary is 13 million over 3 years 13/3 = $4.33 million cap space. Loungo is 47.284/10 = $4.7284 million cap space

    This would solve a lot of teams that need to get under a 60 million cap ceiling.

  • The Oilers Shot Clock

    Minnesota should be nervous. Lots of young talent and 4 contracts already over 6.75, ouch. Even teams that thought they had cap space could be in trouble like Pittsburgh who wont have any significant contracts coming off the books before Letang needs to be resigned.Or Boston who still have Savard on the books for another 5 years. Every team has issues a lower cap will affect. I dont think the Oilers are in any worse shape than most, and worst case scenario, one of the kids get traded for good value. We cant be close minded to the idea anyways.

      • SLAM


        Does Minnesota have some sort of magic salary cap wand? Let’s do the Matheson math shall we?

        For 2013-2014, Minnesota has:

        Parise, Zach » $7,538,462
        Heatley, Dany » $7,500,000

        Koivu, Mikko » $6,750,000
        Setoguchi, Devin » $3,000,000
        Brodziak, Kyle » $2,833,333
        Granlund, Mikael » $2,100,000
        Mitchell, Torrey » $1,900,000
        Powe, Darroll » $1,066,667
        Konopka, Zenon » $925,000
        Dowell, Jake » $700,000
        Kassian, Matt » $575,000

        Suter, Ryan » $7,538,462
        Gilbert, Tom » $4,000,000
        Stoner, Clayton » $1,050,000
        Prosser, Nate » $825,000

        Josh Harding: $1,900,000

        Mark Parrish: $927,778

        That’s 11 F, 4D, 1G for $51,129,702 which would leave a theoretical $8,870,298 to sign 8 players.

        I don’t see how they are really any better off than the Oilers are in terms of cap space. Why couldn’t “have a huge number of cheap prospects on the way up” apply to the Oilers.

        BTW, Minnesota is #2 in cap space and finished #24 in the league. But I’m sure it’s better in your “Anybody but the Oilers” world.

        • DSF

          Minnesota finished 24th before signing Parise, Suter and bringing Granlund over.

          I would guess, if there’s an amnesty they will buy out Heatley, freeing up 7.5 million in cap space.

          They can plug holes with:

          Charlie Coyle – $975K

          Zack Phillips – $975K

          Johann Larsson – $875K

          Jason Zucker $875K

          Nick Palmieri – RFA

          Jonas Brodin – $1.4M

          Matt Dumba $1.6M

          Tyler Cuma – $970K

          The difference you’ll notice is that the Oilers are paying huge dollars to unproven kids while the Wild are spending big bucks on players like Parise, Suter and Koivu but their young talent is abundant and cheap.

  • Muji


    Congrats. You are definitely and deservingly moving on up in the hockey world. I still remember reading your Oilers rants on your Copper and Blue blog.

    I also really like these types of articles with 10 (or so) unrelated bite-sized pieces of info.

    Keep up the great work.

  • Muji

    1. I called into one if the radio shows when the hall and eberle deals were going down and made that very point – it was all upside for the players and very little potential upside for the team.

    In the time tambelini has been GM has he ever made a good deal that didn’t fall in his lap?

    3. The written terms is an attempt to pin down fehr to specifics that the owners can them point to by comparison to how little the PA have moved since the lock-out began. The very Steep initial owners revenue sharing offer was done in order for this very moment – they look like they have come miles from where they started while the players haven’t budged.

    Fehr is too smart to stick his head in that noose.

    And thus it seems very unlikely that the current meetings will be successful and there is precious little time to make a deal before Xmas. The season if happens now will be maybe 40% of a regular one with no allstar game and likely a shorter playoffs. But even that seems very remote. Depending on how it goes now it would appear that after the deal is signed either fehr resigns in humiliation or bettman gets shuffled off.

  • Max Powers - Team HME Evans

    @ JW

    Tried buying you’re magazine there, but it required a sign up to baseball prospectus website… Which I signed up for but never got an email confirming my account.

    I tried, harder than I normally would. Making something that difficult to buy is going to make your sales plummet.

    Or I’m just dumb and can’t buy things online, which is good too.