Tomorrow the free agent frenzy begins, and once again we will see some GMs lose their marbles and overpay a first liner, a 4th D-man or even a 3rd line plugger with the hopes that player will put his team over the top.
Rarely does that happen, but that won’t stop teams from opening up the vault and fans from believing that an Ilya Kovalchuk or Colby Armstrong or Paul Kariya will put their team over the top.
For the past two Julys the Oilers and their fans chased the superstar dream, but this summer sanity has replaced fantasy and Steve Tambellini will focus more on role players than a big-ticket-over-priced superstar.
Of course there is only one superstar available this summer, Kovalchuk, but let’s assume the Oilers search for role players is more strategy than circumstance.
Up until this past weekend many wondered if Tambellini would ever make a move, or if he’d continue to be indecisive and slow moving. In the past four days, Tambellini has added Colin Fraser and Jim Vandermeer and said goodbye to six players: Ethan Moreau, Patrick O’Sullivan, Robert Nilsson, Marc Pouliot, Ryan Potulny and Riley Nash and in the process he might have shed his “Tentative Tambellini” moniker.
It will take more than a few decent decisions to erase past blunders, but Tambellini could earn more love amongst Oilernation if he can add a few more pieces to the puzzle starting Thursday.
With Sheldon Souray halfway out the door, Jason Strudwick and Mike Comrie uncertain to return, only Shawn Horcoff (31) and Nikolai Khabibulin (37) are older than 27. It is clear Tambellini needs to add a few veterans to this youthful rebuild, and he should do so by adding at least one or possibly two defenders and a solid 3rd liner. One physical defender and one puck mover would be ideal, and Tambellini needs to find a forward with some size.
The list of candidates that fit the Oilers’ needs isn’t that long. Keep in mind these suggestions are for a team that is still rebuilding, not looking to make a deep run in the playoffs.
Aaron Ward: He’s won a Cup, is outspoken and won’t cost more than $1.8 million.
Nick Boynton: Tough, physical but not a great skater. He just won a Cup in Chicago, and might stay in the Windy City, but for $1.5 million he’d help.
Brett Clark: He was overpaid in Colorado last year raking in $3.5 million, but the 33-year-old will take a pay cut, and for $2 million the Oilers might look at him.
John Scott: Brownlee has been pumping his tires for months, so I’m guessing the Oilers will be talking with him. He’s big and could play 50 games.
Denis Grebeshkov: Kidding. Seriously the Oilers should just keep moving along. Rarely does re-kindling the fire with your ex work out, and I feel the same way about bringing players back for a second tour of duty. It’s comfortable, but you regret it quickly.
Derek Morris: He is physical, can move the puck and has a good reputation in the room.
Daryl Sydor: He’d love to play in his hometown, but if Strudwick comes back he doesn’t think there will be room for both of them.
Willie Mitchell: If no playoff contender calls his agent, Mitchell could help on the backend. He struck it rich a few years ago in free agency, and I don’t see him coming close to another $3.5 million salary.
Henrik Tallinder: He’d be a great signing, but playing in the east for so long, I’m guessing he stays there. He will be in high demand and will probably end up outside the Oilers spending range.
Kurtis Foster: He recovered nicely from his gruesome leg injury a few years ago. He has a bomb of a shot, is a decent passer and is big enough to get in the way.
Zenon Konopka: I can’t believe the Lightning hasn’t re-signed him yet. He is a great team player, willing to fight anyone and has worked hard on improving his game. He can’t be a 3rd liner, but he would help protect the young guns.
Arron Asham: He played in the top-nine on a deep Philadelphia team. He is physical, tough and not a defensive liability. He only made $640,000 last year, so if the Oilers offered him one million they might land him.
Adam Mair: He won’t cost a lot of money, and plays with a bit of grit. He is a veteran who can kill penalties and can play wing and centre.
Colby Armstrong: Is exactly what the Oilers need, but he’ll be a hot commodity and command Steve Ott money, $2.9 million. Would you pay him that much? I would.
Saku Koivu: He’s a great leader who competes hard, but I doubt he wants to be part of a rebuild. He’ll probably sign with his brother in Minnesota.
Eric Nystrom: He’s only 27, and could be looking for an expanded role. The former 10th pick overall in 2002 might flourish with a change of scenery. Moreau was the 14th pick his draft year, and realized he’d be more productive as a checker/energy guy. Could Nystrom replace Moreau?
Owen Nolan: The 38-year-old potted 16 goals last year in Minnesota. He has Old Man strength, and Kyle Brodziak told me he was an incredible leader. He was a two time 40-goal man so he could give the offensive guys scoring tips, and he is still tough enough to earn the respect of the opposition. I’d sign him for one-year in a heartbeat.
Raffi Torres: Is the type of forward the Oilers need, but that goes against my “don’t date your ex” philosophy. Torres isn’t old or mature enough to be a leader, but his physical play combined with 20-goal potential is the exact type of player the Oilers need. Too bad there isn’t another UFA similar to him.
Mike Modano: It might be a pipe dream, but Modano can play offence and is decent defensively. He can still skate, and would take some pressure off the young kids. He probably has no interest on being part of a rebuild, but if I’m Tambellini it can’t hurt to make a call.
Derek Boogaard: He won’t give you any offence, but if you believe you need the Oilers need a bodyguard for their kids he fits the bill.
Raitis Ivanans: Read Boogaard
Eric Boulton: Read Boogaard, except Boulton isn’t as tough, but he skates a bit better.
A REBUILD IS THE ONLY OPTION
After seeing the list of available free agents, it is obvious that Tambellini will have a hard time deviating from his plan to rebuild. If he can land one or even two of the aforementioned players, he’ll be happy. It’s possible he might have to dip to the C or D pool of free agents to fill the voids on the roster.
I suspect he will re-sign Jason Strudwick and Mike Comrie. Strudwick will be a good influence on the young guys, and can fill in for 40-50 games. Comrie is a competitor and he will ensure the young kids earn their icetime. He liked it in Edmonton last season, and told me before he left he’d love to come back. He has talked with the Oilers, and I suspect he’ll be back, especially if Tambellini can’t land a free agent.
Moreau speaks: UPDATE COLUMBUS CLAIMS HIM
Moreau returned my call last night when he landed in Vernon. He didn’t have to, but showed his class in doing so.
“I think it was time to part ways. I’m happy to get a fresh start, but it’s also a sad day because I’m leaving a great city. My kids were raised here, went to school here and our family has met a lot of great people. I will miss Edmonton,” he said about how he felt after speaking to Tambellini.
Tambellini actually gave him some leads on some teams his agent should call starting July 1st based on conversation he had had at the draft. Moreau didn’t have any hard feelings, and he was happy that he got a buyout rather than being traded in the last week. Now he can chose choose where he gets to play.
I’m guessing this is a major surprise for Moreau. As of last night he sounded like a guy who was going to be a free agent. This helps the Oilers in a big way cap wise, because Columbus claimed him on waivers, not re-entry waivers, the Oilers are free of Moreau’s salary. It is clear that Scott Howson thought Moreau wouldn’t sign in Columbus so he claimed him rather than wait until tomorrow to sign him as a free agent for less money.
It was clear it was the right time for Moreau to leave, but my only question is why the Oilers didn’t let him have a press conference to say goodbye. It is clear that both sides were okay with the decision, so why not let him speak? Unless they were worried he would follow in Pat Quinn’s footsteps and not tow the company line.
UPDATE ON POS TRADE
The Oilers have traded Patrick O’Sullivan to the Phoenix Coyotes for Jim Vandermeer. Vandermeer is a $2.3 million cap hit for next season. I’m going to guess that Phoenix might end up buying out O’Sullivan and saving money. The Oilers get Vandermeer for this season, but won’t have his salary (at least not at $2.3 million) or the O’Sullivan’s buyout salary for next season. Plus it gives the Oilers some added toughness on the backend and solid #5 D-man.