UFA Decisions: Fernando Pisani

Edmonton Oilers v Ottawa Senators 

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.

  • Rick:

    My reasoning is mostly that if you rely on him in a fourth line role he’ll be good at it when healthy, and when he’s unhealthy there’s bound to be an AHL candidate who can step in without too much lost.

    He should be an above-average fourth line guy when healthy and that’s the one place on the depth chart I’m comfortable taking that kind of injury risk, though I can see the argument that it isn’t worthwhile.

    • misfit

      Yeah that’s fair in isolation but in reality you have to expect injuries and time missed for unforseen reasons. That AHL call up will be required elsewhere and if the last few years have told us anything it will be multiple AHL call ups that are needed.

      Introducing predictable lost time (games, not timing) just puts you in a position to tax the organization’s depth even further. Depth that so far hasn’t shown is good enough.

      I like Pisani’s game so I don’t question if, when healthy, he could be a player however I do question if it’s good planning on the Oilers part to include him at this point.

  • I don’t get the connection between Pisani being unreliable health wise and that being ok if he’s the 12th or 13th forward.

    If his pattern of battling colitis continues then you can expect him to be unavailable for 20, 30 or 40 games a year. That’s unavailable for the 3rd, 4th, or pressbox. Anyway you slice it, it muddies the depth chart.

    I almost get the sense that he is being viewed as a 40 year old grizzled veteran that signs on for one last year. Available when you need him, easy to assign to the press box when you don’t.

    That’s not the case here, his availability is based on his own uncontrollable terms.

    This has nothing to do with Pisani as a player but it would be a mistake to bring him back to a team that just experienced over 500 man games lost to injury and illness.

    • OB1 Team Yakopov - F.S.T.N.F

      Agreed 100%, he should be an option of last resort, theirs only so many roster spots, giving one away for 20 – 60 games (assuming) doesn’t make alot of sense.

  • Dan the Man:

    That’s the big question, isn’t it? Pisani, like Pouliot, Jacques, Khabibulin, and Souray is going to be an injury risk for the rest of his career.

    The way I figure it, as long as he’s making a salary a fair bit south from the $1.0 MM mark, it makes sense for the team to gamble on him (as long as they don’t rely on him to play more than a fourth line role). If he isn’t healthy, no big deal; the 13th forward slides into the lineup and Liam Reddox gets called up to sit in the press box. If he can play a third line role, the Oilers just got a bargain.

    I think it’s a risk worth taking, at that price, but I’ll acknowledge that I like the player a ton and that may be factoring in as well.

    • Dan the Man

      I like Fernando the player as well but I guess another thing to consider is what are the other options available for that type of role?

      If you slot in Pisani as a 4th liner then is your 4th line maybe Stotini – Pouliot – Pisani? I’m not crazy about that as a 4th line.

      Is Ryan Jones or JFJ maybe more suited for that 4th line role?

    • With a guy like Pisani I would have said he would be a good candidate to coach after his playing career (it may end sooner than he hoped), but his Colitis could prevent him from doing that in a Head or Assistant coaching role just as much as it hurt him as a player.

      My guess is that when his career is done he’ll be part time video coach/pro scout or take a position in the front office somewhere.

      I have a feeling that within the next 18 months he will be considering those options.

  • @ Ducey:

    Doesn’t this mean he wasn’t that good at it?

    If you’re arguing that Pisani had a rough season in the role, I agree with you completely.

    I’m picturing him moving into a fourth line role and possibly moving up the depth chart if his health/play warrants it.

  • Dan the Man

    I find it pretty disturbing that he signed a 10 million dollar contract knowing he had health issues and chose not to disclose them to the team.

    Given that this team has had so much bad luck with injuries and health I’d be really hesitant to re-sign a guy with his health history even at a bargain price.

    He’s a useful player when healthy but is it worth signing a guy who will very likely only be able to play half of a season?

    • Yeah, he should have probably rejected a 10 million dollar contract, on the basis of a health issue that he didn’t know the full extent of. Good call. Do you know how much money 10 million dollars is? Lottery ticket man, lottery ticket.

    • This is disturbing. Don’t they have to do physicals each year and declare (written?) any health issues they may have? Assuming this is true, I wonder if his agent knew.

      Something is off here. From an organization/business perspective, could they (should they) have filed some sort of “grievance” toward the player for lack of disclosure about his health? (ASSUMING he/agent deliberately didn’t make this known).

      I think most would agree this would have influenced the amount – 2.5M per, and the term of 4 years given by the Oilers, 14 goals or not during playoffs.

      That said, I like the idea JW presents, FP as an extra forward, mentor role for minimal salary.

  • Ogden Brother Jr. - Team Strudwick for coach

    Give him league min., if he takes it fine if not look for someone else that doesn’t miss significant time every year.

  • @ David Staples:

    I see your point; I just figure there’s a decent chance that someone (Columbus, maybe) offers Pisani a guaranteed contract, and for the right dollar figure it wouldn’t bother me at all if it were the Oilers.

  • Ducey

    Willis,

    I see Pisani played the toughest competition with the 2nd worst team mates last year, but he wound up with an adjusted 5×5 +/- rating of -.80. Doesn’t this mean he wasn’t that good at it?

    I’d like to see Pisani as the 13th forward, able to slip into any number of roles when others get hurt/ underperform.

    Aside from health, he has another strike against him in that he doesn’t bring the kind of grit I think they are looking for in the bottom 6.

  • It’s too bad but if the Oilers don’t sign him I just can’t see any other NHL team giving him a shot.

    JW if he were to sign for 750k would you think he would be willing to sign a 2 way for about 250-300k when he is assigned to Oklahoma? Probably wishful thinking on my part but at least the guy will have a contract.

  • Couldnt agree more JW. Pisani WAS robbed of the Masterton.

    I’m also all for Pisani being the 12th or 13th forward at the league minimum. If he can find a team to take a gamble on him for more then I wish him the best of luck