UFA Decisions considers the unrestricted free agents on the Oilers’ roster, starting with the most expensive and working down. Today’s subject is Fernando Pisani.
Hometown boy Fernando Pisani took the long road to the NHL. The former St. Albert Saint was drafted quite late in 1996, and then spent four years at Providence College, where he scored 153 points in 147 games. Then he spent two and half years in the AHL, where he showed some offensive touch; he was on pace for 34 goals in his final season in the minors.
Altogether, Pisani spent nearly seven years in the system before he made his NHL debut, but once he got his chance, he stayed.
Over his first three seasons with the Oilers – interrupted by the lockout – Pisani proved himself a stalwart defensive player who could score a bit as well. He was looking at a decent raise in the 2006 off-season, after scoring 18 goals and managing 37 points.
Then the 2006 playoffs intervened. Edmonton went on a miraculous run which was fuelled in part by Pisani, who scored 14 goals while firing pucks in at a 28.6 shooting percentage, more than double his career rate, and more than double what he’d shot in the regular season (his best goal-scoring year in the NHL, both at the time and to date). The Oilers decided to lock him up anyway – $10.0 million over four years – hoping that while he might cool off he could still be an offensive player.
It was a lousy bet to begin with, but it got worse as Pisani’s colitis – he’d been diagnosed in 2005 but the symptoms had been minor and the Oilers were apparently unaware of that issue when they signed him – flared up in the summer of 2007.
Pisani has struggled through repeated bouts of the illness (and was robbed of the Masterton Trophy last year and not even nominated this year) and hasn’t been the player he was prior to the disease impacting his career. His massive four year contract expires this summer, and he finds himself an unrestricted free agent.
What I’d Do As G.M.
I’ve always liked Pisani, partially because of his playoff heroics but mostly because of the player he is: he’s a capable two-way guy who doesn’t cheat for offence, plays wherever he’s told to and puts in the effort every night. He was instant chemistry for a while, bouncing from line to line and stabilizing whichever group he played with; one of the best things he’s done as an Oiler is act as a responsible steward for younger line-mates.
He can’t be relied on in that role any more, and with his health the way it is I wouldn’t count on him to play more than a fourth line role. As Oilers’ G.M., that’s the contract I’d offer him – a one- or two-year pact in the $750,000 range. I’d pencil him in as a fourth line player, and if he were healthy enough to play a bigger role on the roster I’d have found myself a bargain.
What I Expect To Happen
Steve Tambellini has made it clear repeatedly that he’s rebuilding the team from the ground up, and I don’t expect him to share my view that Fernando Pisani could be a useful veteran mentor to younger players. I suspect that the Oilers will let Pisani go in the off-season, and that someone else will sign him on the cheap or bring him in on a training camp tryout in the fall.