Free agency: Let's be realistic

Jason Gregor
June 30 2014 09:54AM

ed4

The lunacy known as free agency begins tomorrow. Million dollar contracts get handed out more freely and recklessly than pipes at a crack house.

Management and fans get addicted to the belief that the woes of their team will be solved via free agency, and many are willing to do it at any cost.

This year will be no different.

The 2014/2015 salary cap will be $69 million, and in 2012 teams knew the cap would be $70 million. Here is a quick look back at some of the insanity that was handed out back then.

Jason Garrison got $27.6 million over six years. Less than two years later he was given away for a 2nd round pick.

Aaron Rome, Jordin Tootoo and Greg Zanon got three, three and two years contracts, but all of them were bought out before the deals expired. Ray Whitney was 40 years old, but he got a two-year deal worth $9 million. He scored nine goals in the final year of that deal.

Chris Kelly got four years at $3 million and a partial NMC. A third liner gets a NMC. Insanity.

OIlers fans don't need to re-live the horror of free agency in 2010, 2011 and 2012, but Eric Belanger, Ben Eager, Darcy Hordichuk, Nikolai Khabibulin and others give you a sense of how things can go wrong.

IT WILL NEVER CHANGE

I don't expect this week to be any different. Teams have cap space and they want to use it. The NHL is very competitive, and GMs and owners get caught up in the competition of overspending and they can't help themselves.

Matt Niskanen will likely get close to $5.5 million/year on a six or seven year contract. He is a good player, but he is not a franchise D-man. Anton Stralman possession numbers have some people drooling, but when a team signs him for $4.5+ they will increase his icetime and expect the same results. Usually that is a recipe for disappointment.

I constantly hear the phrase from media and fans, "the cap is going up," as if it is some sort of built in excuse for the idiocy that will arrive tomorrow morning at 10 a.m. MST.

FYI, this year's cap is lower than it was two years ago, so why are players suddenly worth more today? Hell, some people are already throwing out next year's cap, projected to be $75 million due to the new TV contract, in advance of the overspending. "Don't worry, we can over pay this player for seven years, because the cap is going up in 2015." That sounds completely reasonable.

I'd rather overpay on a short term deal than get locked into a five, six or seven year deal, but rarely do we see shorter terms for the supposed impact UFAs.

WHAT ABOUT THE OILERS

We all know they need and want to sign a centre. Ideally they will sign two quality centres, but I don't think that is realistic, or if they think it is even necessary. I get the sense Leon Draisaitl is penciled in to be one of the top-three centres. (More on that another day, but I don't think it is a good plan to guarantee him a spot. At the very least have four other proven NHL centres in camp, and make him compete for a job.)

If Craig MacTavish doesn't land Paul Stastny some will deem free agency a failure.

News flash: The Oilers have missed the playoffs for eight seasons. They aren't the first choice for a 28 year-old UFA. Players want to win, and even if the Oilers are willing to pay $500,000 more per season, that likely isn't enough to attract a player like Stastny.

The realistic centre options are more likely players like David Legwand, Mikhail Grabovski, Brian Boyle, Marcel Goc, Derek Roy, Vern Fiddler or Olli Jokinen.

They all have NHL experience, but none of them are superstars and they all have some warts in their game. The Oilers need improvements in many areas, so don't should expect one centre to make the Oilers an instant contender.

I'd consider a one-year deal on Peter Mueller, but nothing more. I'd need to see if he matured playing in Europe.

The Oilers could also use another top-nine winger and at least one, possibly two veteran NHL defenceman.

Names like Nikolai Kulemin, Kyle Quincey, Mark Fayne or Andrej Meszaros have been tossed around. They are proven NHL players, but not franchise players. Signing them would help, but the Nation needs to maintain realistic expectations on their production, regardless of what type of contract they get.

If you are expecting the Oilers to land the best free agents, you will be grossly disappointed. I truly hope they do, and if they land a big fish I will be pleasantly surprised, but I won't be shocked when they don't.

If the Oilers can land two quality, serviceable forwards and two steady NHL defenders, then MacTavish will have done an outstanding job. Signing one of each seems more realistic.

PARTING SHOTS...

frustrated kit

I've read lately how some are down playing the Perron deal because it was for the #10 and the #33 pick, and somehow that means it was a bad trade.

Are you freaking serious. If you believe that you must be from the crowd who constantly overrates the value of a draft pick.

If a player was drafted at #10 five years ago, but hasn't performed well, is he still valued as a 10th overall pick today? Umm, no. And now Ivan Barbashev is suddenly the guy the Oilers desperately need in their organization. Please.

Under that same delusional thinking the Oilers made a great trade when they dealt Ryan Smyth to the New York Islanders for three first round picks.

Or I guess the Oilers won the Chris Pronger trade because they got four 1st rounder for him. #facepalm

Perron has played 418 games and scored 112-143-255. They gave up Paajarvi, 218 GP and 32-38-70 and a draft pick who might be in the NHL in three years.

The Oilers have made many bad trades, but trying to argue that Perron deal was bad because they gave up a 10th and 33rd pick is asinine.

QUICK HITS...

  • Brian Sutherby has always maintained Dave Tippett was the best coach he ever had. He knows how to connect to players and he gets them to play how he wants them to. Tippett will be Sam Gagner's 6th head coach in eighth season, but he might be the best thing for Gagner. He needs to improve his defensive play, and Tippett has a good track record of getting the most out of his players in both ends of the ice. Gagner has NHL talent, and sometimes players need a trade to realize they how hard they must work for that talent to appear. I'm curious to see how Gagner does in Phoenix. I believe he will do well.

  • The Coyotes are only paying Gagner $3.2 million (Tampa pays the other $1.6 mill), so the Coyotes expectations of him, and his production, will be more in line with his salary.

  • The Lightning are making room to add a free agent. They must have had good chat with some UFAs during the interview period, but of course they didn't discuss real term or dollars, because that is not allowed. I chuckle when someone mentions teams, players and agents can't discuss formal offers, and actually believes that they don't.

  • Has any GM done a worse job of handling a goalie situation than Mike Gillis? A year ago Gillis had Cory Schneider and Roberto Luongo. Today, he is no longer with the Canucks and Jim Benning needs to sign Ryan Miller or Jonas Hiller to give his team a chance at getting back to the playoffs. Gillis' handling of his goalie rivaled Steve Tambellini's free agent signings.

  • I will never understand rating a draft the day after is happens. How can anyone say with certainty if a 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th, 6th or 7th round pick will pan out. I can understand if you break down first round picks, especially the top-10, but after that there is a lot of luck involved. Some players continue to develop, while others have reached their peak. Some get injured. Some lose their confidence when they go to the next level and don't have instant success, while others simply don't get a good opportunity within an organization.

    All I know is that getting drafted is a huge accomplishment. Only 210 players in the entire world heard their name called on Saturday, and I hope they are all proud of that. The majority of them won't play in the NHL, because it is extremely hard to make it the Show, but that shouldn't stop them from celebrating a very important first step in their dream to play in the NHL. Congrats to all the players drafted. You and your family should cherish the moment, and hopefully it inspires you to work even harder to take the next step.

  • Do you want to Volunteer? I'm been helping out the Great White North Triathlon for the past four years. It is a great event. The organizers have told me they are short 5-7 volunteers/course marshals to help out on race day. The race is this coming Sunday. It is in Stony Plain. If you are interested in helping out, it is a great time, send me an email to gregor@tsn1260.ca. Thanks.

Recently by Jason Gregor: 

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One of Canada's most versatile sports personalities. Jason hosts The Jason Gregor Show, weekdays from 2 to 6 p.m., on TSN 1260, and he writes a column every Monday in the Edmonton Journal. You can follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/JasonGregor
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#51 Mo Playoffs Mo Problems
June 30 2014, 12:15PM
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Zarny wrote:

@The Soup Fascist

No worries...I don't think it can be stated enough that judging players by where there were drafted 5-10 years ago is absolutely ridiculous.

That's like saying a team should draft a certain player at 18 y/o because he went higher in the bantam draft at 14.

While I agree with you, I feel that the point being made earlier was more to judge the organization on how they handle their players (assets) rather than judging the players directly. Naturally, both go hand in hand though.

As a general trend, it seems Edmonton has done a terrible job over the past few years of managing assets. They've consistently taken talented kids, ruined their confindence, put them in over their head (often overpaying them), before eventually trading them away for magic beans.

Some of the blame goes to the player for not rounding out their game effectively. But I think most of the blame goes to the organization for making them play for a new coach every year and turning the asset into a liability with a bad contract.

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#52 R U Kidding Me!
June 30 2014, 12:16PM
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Sam's Gagner. In MacT we trust.

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#53 Fresh Mess
June 30 2014, 12:20PM
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4.5 for Nikitin is looking dumber by the hour. MacT/Howson must really think he has another gear. Volchenkov now ufa.

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#54 rickithebear
June 30 2014, 12:21PM
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Hall and Yak were most Successful with linear defecnsive Centers. Horcoff and Belanger. Best offensive production and goal differential. they won faceoffs.

Gagners 46% FO and RNH 41.4% causes such a pocession disadvantage.

Been hoping for Boyle 53%; can center Hall-Boyle-Yak or go on the wing for Boyle-RNH-Eberle

with 1300 faceoffs per line. a switch to boyle is 90 more pocessions in a season and boyle with Rnh is 150 more pocessions per season.

one that is interesting is Boghdan Yakimov. With the elite 18 year old season in russia. a linear center who talkes a tough XZone start role in KHL and WJC. had a 59% FO % in KHL against men. How long is he in AHL before that skill and size is called up!

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#55 The Last Big Bear
June 30 2014, 12:26PM
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The Soup Fascist wrote:

I am not asking to be a smart a$$, I just honestly am not sure why. Why all the love for Grabovski? Everyone seems to think he is the elixir the Oilers need as a 2C to right the ship and I just don't get it.

He is a small, semi-productive center who has a spotty record of getting along with teammates and coaches. I think he will get absolutely owned going against the big teams in the west as a 2C.

I think David Legwand, warts and all, is a better fit, IF (big if) MacT could sign him.

P.S. Add Kulemin to the same wtf? list. He is big but does not play that way. He and Grabo are always lumped together as "fixes".

Grabovski gets props from fans because a) he works hard, b) he can bang in 20 goals, c) he passes the eyeball test with flying colours, and d) his advanced stats back it all up and validate him as being a solid player.

He fits with the Oilers because he is a veteran, he plays a skill game, he drives offence, and while he's not exactly leading the way with physicality he can take a hit like a champ (after all, Brian Burke is the guy who gave him his payday).

Off-ice issues with coaches,, attitude, etc? I have no idea. Never met the guy. The fact that he took a 1-year fairly cheap contract from Washington is not really in line with his on-ice performance, so there may be some truth to this.

But on-ice he seems like the Oilers' realistic best-case-scenario in terms of UFA centres.

Him and Derek Roy are about the only UFA centres available you can describe as 2nd line centres while keeping a straight face.

Although to be honest, I haven't been able to keep a straight face since Gagner's trade value was clearly established three times in the same day, once being traded for a buyout candidate, once when his new team said they were going to buy him out, and once when a team wouldn't give up a 6th rounder for him unless he had retained salary and another NHLer was included.

Hey Zarny, do you like apples?

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#56 bwar
June 30 2014, 12:28PM
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If we could get Legwand hat would be incredible. A consistent NHL commodity that is fully capable of being the 2C? Yes please.

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#57 rickithebear
June 30 2014, 12:42PM
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Fresh Mess wrote:

4.5 for Nikitin is looking dumber by the hour. MacT/Howson must really think he has another gear. Volchenkov now ufa.

Fresh Buddy:

LAK have 5 of 10 best EVGA/60 Dmen. Quick is #7 save% versus chance/box shots.

Scrivens was #4 last 3 years.

Nikitin versus 2nd comp last 3 years. 1.31 EVGA/60 best in league.

Dumber by the Hour.

Nice insight Buddy!

In journalism they say write to a grade5 level. I understand why!

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#58 Gary Stene
June 30 2014, 12:43PM
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I think I signed up as "coal miner" can verify that? My ame is Gary Stene and my email is stene70@shaw.ca. Thanks

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#59 RexHolez
June 30 2014, 01:06PM
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Is this really an article telling the fans of the worst team in the league this decade to be "Realistic"? Dont worry Gregor, I have absolutely no delusions that this management has any clue how to build a winning team, or even to slightly improve it. I imagine they'll sign a 4th line centre to big money and play him over his head. Is that realistic?

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#60 MessyEH
June 30 2014, 01:23PM
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@Zarny

Your killing it today.

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#61 KozyMel
June 30 2014, 01:28PM
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Peter Mueller has never had a "Plus" season in the NHL.

The Oilers just dumped a second line center that's defensive liability for a 3rd line winger.

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#62 MessyEH
June 30 2014, 01:35PM
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KozyMel wrote:

Peter Mueller has never had a "Plus" season in the NHL.

The Oilers just dumped a second line center that's defensive liability for a 3rd line winger.

The Oilers just dumped a 3rd line winger, for a bigger 3rd line winger.Who scores more and cost less.

Gagner wasn't going to be playing center this year. He was going to take up our mandatory 5 million per season 3rd line winger position. Hemsky. Smyth. Gagner. Uh...well ..Purcell.

(Smyth was 6 million when acquired from the kings.)

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#63 v4ance
June 30 2014, 01:40PM
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Fans say Oilers should sign this guy or that guy but the reality is that it's not a level playing field for wooing UFAs or other players.

Due to management gaffes & incompetence and the stalled rebuild, the franchise has garnered a bad reputation. Add to that, the long winters, long travel and uncertainity of near-term success of the team, there's lots of reasons for players not to want to be here.

SO when fans criticize the overpay on Nikitin or other possible incoming UFAs, what did you want the Oilers to do? Sit on their hands and say we didn't want to overpay, so we'll just go into next year with more rookies and AHLers?

If they don't do anything, they get hit for not improving the team. Give overpriced contacts to actual players and get venom for using cap room that we can afford to use?

We're in a bad state but we need to take some pain in the form of inflated contracts if we want to improve the depth and experience on the team.

Instead of suggesting viable alternatives like not overpaying anyone the UFA market and saving ALL that cap room looking for bargains amongst the cap strained teams looking to do salary dumps, too many "fans" here are happier just doing endless, pointless, tedious, moaning and groaning about the team.

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#64 Old time oil fan
June 30 2014, 01:47PM
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Dman09 wrote:

Here's a question,

WHY THE HELL DID EDM TRADE GAGNER FOR PURCELL WHEN IN REALITY THEY COULD HAVE GOT HIM FOR A 6TH ROUND PICK?

Great question. I'm sure Tampa would have been up for that because we all know that Edm 6th round pick is probably going to be 20 selections better than Arizona's 6th round pick!

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#65 Fresh Mess
June 30 2014, 02:09PM
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rickithebear wrote:

Fresh Buddy:

LAK have 5 of 10 best EVGA/60 Dmen. Quick is #7 save% versus chance/box shots.

Scrivens was #4 last 3 years.

Nikitin versus 2nd comp last 3 years. 1.31 EVGA/60 best in league.

Dumber by the Hour.

Nice insight Buddy!

In journalism they say write to a grade5 level. I understand why!

I'm sure you intended to make a point. Keep drinking your milk. You'll get there some day.

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#66 Zarny
June 30 2014, 02:41PM
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Rama Lama wrote:

I could care less if a player is drafted or not.........all I care about is, can the player play?

MA has proven that he can play, he hits, he competes, and he makes smart plays........he will never look great on a fourth line like he was forced to do last year under Eakins. Ditto for Lander.

Playing players out of position and in roles they are not designed for is the definition of stupid. I know that players have to ear their keep, but NOT putting the players in a position to succeed benefits no one.

If MA is played in a top six role on a consistent basis he will out produce Gagner on his best day!

I agree the bottom line is can a player play; and when you're talking about players like Arcobello and Purcell whether they were drafted is irrelevant to whether they can play now.

It does however, have bearing on what kind of progression/trajectory they will likely have in their career. Undrafted players almost universally don't make the NHL until they are 25 ish, have a nice 4-6 year window when they are in their prime and then are out of the league when their game drops off.

I would also disagree with the sentiment that Arcobello has proven he can play. He has all of 42 NHL games experience with 18 PT. I really like how Arcobello plays the game but he has proven nothing yet. The league is littered with players who had a decent half a year.

On Gagner's best day he was 48 games into a 65 PT season. Sorry, but Arcobello will never produce like that. He's simply not that good.

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#67 Zarny
June 30 2014, 03:03PM
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Mo Playoffs Mo Problems wrote:

While I agree with you, I feel that the point being made earlier was more to judge the organization on how they handle their players (assets) rather than judging the players directly. Naturally, both go hand in hand though.

As a general trend, it seems Edmonton has done a terrible job over the past few years of managing assets. They've consistently taken talented kids, ruined their confindence, put them in over their head (often overpaying them), before eventually trading them away for magic beans.

Some of the blame goes to the player for not rounding out their game effectively. But I think most of the blame goes to the organization for making them play for a new coach every year and turning the asset into a liability with a bad contract.

I absolutely agree the Oilers have been terrible at developing players. Poor minor league system, bad amateur scouting and bad pro scouting. They have also chronically rushed prospects to the NHL before they were ready.

The point I was addressing was assigning a player's value based on draft position 3+ years after the draft. It's irrelevant. Draft positon is a best guess snapshot in time before 98% of prospects need to shave.

Once they play pro hockey it's irrelevant. No GM cares where Martin Marincin or Oscar Klefbom were drafted. Their value now is determined by how they are playing. When you are talking about players like Gagner and Purcell it's even more irrelevant when/if they were drafted.

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#68 Oilbaron
June 30 2014, 06:56PM
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Hey Gregor, its Purse-ul, not Pur-sell

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