Six Degrees of Separation

Earlier this week, I was listening to NHL radio on XM/Sirius. They’re running old playoff series during the summer, and this particular day it was G1 SCF 2006. I turned the radio so quickly it startled the passengers. I don’t know that I’ll ever be able to watch or listen to G1 SCF 2006. However, there are some things to be learned from that hockey club.

The 2006 Edmonton Oilers had a lot of very good players before the trade deadline. Pronger and Peca arrived in summer, and they had an immediate impact on the team. The deadline (adding Roloson, Spacek, Tarnstrom, Samsonov) marked Oiler management’s high water mark for the decade and we all enjoyed that wonderful team and their terrific run to the Stanley cup finals. Many look back on that team’s regular season (barely won 8th in the conference) and suggest it was a weak team that got hot at the right time. Rubbish. It was an outstanding team in search of goaltending until the deadline. Anyone who watched that spring knew this team could win a playoff round or more.

It would be a mistake to give too much credit to the hired guns that season. The 2005-06 Edmonton Oilers were blessed with 6 stunning "value contracts" and their presence gave the team exceptional depth (especially up front) and more than one line capable of outscoring the best opposition. Here are the players, their contracts and their accomplishments that season (in alpha order):

  • Marc Andre Bergeron ($931k). Bergeron played 1600 minutes in the 05-06 season, 350 of that on the powerplay. He delivered 2.74/60 with the man advantage but was pretty solid at EVs (1/60) and his 15-20-35 for the season was exceptional for the price.
  • Ales Hemsky ($901,740). Hemsky played 1375 minutes in the 05-06 season, slightly over 400 of them on the powerplay. His PP/60 number (6.17) was very nice, his EV number 2.25 was a little better than he managed this past season (2.09); that PP number helped him lead the team in scoring (19-58-77) and he delivered 6-11-17 in the playoffs too. A wonderful payoff for less than a million, a season to remember.
  • Shawn Horcoff ($1M). Horcoff played almost 1600 minutes, almost 300 on the PP and 225 on the PK. In 05-06 he went 3-3-6 on the PK (about 1.6/60), went 4.82/60 on the PP and then 2.44 at EVs and this was against the other team’s good players. A very underrated season when all was said and done.
  • Fernando Pisani ($611,800). In 05-06 he was excellent in the regular year and ridiculous in the postseason. Pisani played 1100 minutes in 05-06, 150 on the PP. He did a lot of heavy lifting at EVs and still managed to score 1.84/60 and 3.59 on the PP. Pisani was Guy Lafleur in the post season, 14-4-18 in a run I will never forget. At $611,800 he was ridiculous value.
  • Jarret Stoll ($501,600). Stoll played 1500 minutes in 05-06, 410 on the PP and 200 on the PK. He was a pretty valuable hockey player. On the PP he was 4.53 and at EVs he was 2.35 on the way to 82gp, 22-46-68 totals. At the price, he was extremely valuable.
  • Raffi Torres ($875,000). Raffi played 1100 minutes in 05-06, 224 of them on the PP. He’s pretty famous for wandering out there but his results have always been solid. His EV number in 05-06 (2.07) and his PP number (2.95) were very good considering he spent little time on the club’s top line or #1 PP. Torres’ biggest moments in the season came during the playoffs when he made some massive hits (one of which had an impact on the SJS series). At this price, he was a bargain.

Taylor Hall is a huge part of the Edmonton Oilers future, but his entry level contract (with bonuses) is $3.75 million dollars a year. Since the club will no doubt start burning that entry level deal this fall, chances are that Hall won’t over-deliver on that contract based on expectations for a teenager in the NHL. A young man like Tyler Pitlick–should he stay in junior and sign at age 20–has an excellent chance of being a "value contract" at a time when the Oilers should be pushing for a deep run into the playoffs (2012, 2013, 2014).

Which players could deliver the most value this season? Colin Fraser (.825M); Smid (1.3M); Dubnyk (.800M). RFA’s Sam Gagner, Andrew Cogliano and Gilbert Brule could also deliver more than their contracts, but we don’t know their cap number yet. The rookies mentioned here are unlikely to outperform their cap hits as rookies, but in year two and three it is entirely possible.

With Pääjärvi (1.525M), Eberle (1.158M) and Linus Omark (.875M) joining Hall as possible rookies, years two and three of their entry-level contracts offer a real opportunity for creating a list similar to the 2006 group above (although Hall will have his work cut out for him). Add Vande Velde, Peckham, Lander, Plante, Petry and a host of young pro level kids, plus Pitlick, Marincin and a few other quality picks (should they develop) and this team should have a nice group of value contracts in the next few seasons. We can only hope for a group as strong as the 2006 six.

This is the most important area for the team. Big name free agents, high cost offer sheets, even #1 overall picks bring their own cap hits and a team must pay 100 cents on the dollar. Those value contracts–like the ones we saw in 2006–will allow the Edmonton Oilers some separation from the rest of the NW division.