UFA Decisions considers the unrestricted free agents on the Oilers’ roster, starting with the most expensive and working down. Today we consider Mike Comrie.
We’re all familiar with the Comrie saga: how he was drafted by the team, made the jump halfway through the 2000-01 season, signed a fair-sized contract and was promptly relied on to be the Oilers’ first line centre (with Doug Weight sent away for Jochen Hecht, Marty Reasoner, and Jan Horacek). Comrie provided some good offensive seasons in the role, but then wanted to leave town in the summer of 2003.
After a lengthy holdout, the Oilers arranged a trade with the Anaheim Ducks which would see Comrie go to Anaheim in exchange for Corey Perry and a first round draft pick. Unfortunately, Kevin Lowe felt that the trade didn’t reflect “fair market value” and reportedly asked Comrie to write a cheque to the Oilers for $2.5 MM. When Comrie declined, the trade fell through, and the Oilers instead sent him to Philadelphia for Jeff Woywitka, a first round pick and a third round pick.
The relationship between Comrie, a native son, and the Oilers organization was bitter at this point and fans almost unanimously sided with the organization. Comrie quickly became one of the most despised players in the league for Oilers fans (and all sorts of baseless rumours made the rounds), and though subsequent incidents (Nylander, Pronger) knocked him down the list he remained unpopular.
After the holdout, Comrie’s career stalled; he was flipped to Phoenix (where he had a fine season in 2005-06) then to Ottawa, then to the Islanders, then back to Ottawa again. Injuries intervened. Comrie was still mostly regarded as a top-nine forward (at wing, rather than centre) but the lustre had disappeared.
Comrie went unsigned for a good length of time this past summer, rumours started floating that he might be coming back to Edmonton. They didn’t make sense on the surface, but at the end of August our very own Baron Wanye Von Gretz IV pulled himself away from watching the Cornell Big Red performing ‘Bye Bye Bye’ long enough to report that Comrie had been signed to a one-year deal by Daryl Katz.
It wasn’t a bad move for the Oilers, but it was a great move for Comrie. Once ostracized, Comrie had won fans back over before the end of training camp with a fantastic preseason performance (including a fight) and we all wondered how well he might perform for the Oilers. Illness would de-rail his season, though he still scored 13 goals over just 43 games. Perhaps more importantly, his reputation within the city was largely repaired.
What I’d Do As G.M.
I liked the Comrie signing last September, simply because I felt the Oilers were short of actual NHL players and he signed on the cheap. That said, with incoming forwards like Jordan Eberle, Linus Omark and possibly Magnus Paajarvi-Svensson fighting for time, it doesn’t make sense to re-sign Comrie; they’ll all be competing for the same kind of job (scoring forward with defensive deficiencies). I think Comrie will latch on somewhere else, but I don’t think I’d be interested in him if I were the Oilers’ G.M.
What I Expect To Happen
Comments that Pat Quinn made about Comrie over the course of the season may have indicated some strain in their relationship, and I wonder if that will be a factor in the forward returning. If the Oilers buy out players like Nilsson and O’Sullivan, and if they’re determined to force Eberle and Omark to fight for a roster spot, there’s a possibility they re-sign Comrie. I’d be surprised if they do; I expect Steve Tambellini to let the veteran forward walk.