As much as any fan-base can, fans in Edmonton have accepted the Oilers’ rebuild. Nobody likes losing, but even with some questionable decisions and no real answers as to why the team got to this point, people in Edmonton seem to have embraced the idea of pain today for gain tomorrow.
While I’m less enthused about the likelihood of a successful conclusion to the rebuild than many, I do think that the Oilers are committed to at least one more season in the basement regardless of what they do, and because of that there’s at least one thing they should be doing that they have not done so far.
Before I identify the action that I’d like to see the Oilers take, I’d like to reference a post that recently appeared on Speeds’ Hockey Symposium. In that post, the author suggested that a complete rebuild would see the Oilers send away players like Hemsky, Whitney and Gilbert for draft picks and bad contracts. While I don’t much care to think about an Oilers’ team without those three players, that post did make me ask a question – why haven’t the Oilers traded for bad contracts?
Last season, this team was certainly going nowhere. They’re likely in a similar scenario for this coming season. Yet, aside from a swap of one bad contract for another (Patrick O’Sullivan for Jim Vandermeer) the Oilers haven’t leveraged a commodity they have and aren’t using (cap space) to acquire building blocks like draft picks and prospects. I think they should – at this point, there’s no downside in taking on a year or two of bad contract in exchange for a piece that might be useful down the line.
Who might the Oilers target if they decided to pursue that sort of strategy?
Mike Commodore – Two seasons, $3.75 million cap hit/year, $3.5 and $3.35 million contract. Old friend Scott Howson in Columbus is facing difficult times – he needs to show performance, and he needs to do it without breaking the bank. Dumping Mike Commodore, lately of the Springfield Falcons, would go a long ways toward helping in the latter category, and as a former Flame one presumes he doesn’t mind Alberta winters.
Chris Drury – One season, $7.05 million cap hit, $5.0 million contract. Frequently the subject of buyout rumours over the past few days, Drury will still cost the Rangers more than $3.0 million in cap space next season even if they buy him out. A trade would undoubtedly be a more appealing option, though Drury does possess a no-movement clause.
J.P. Dumont – One season, $4.0 million cap hit and contract. Dumont plays for the Nashville Predators, one of the league’s poorer franchises. Even coming off a season that saw them play two playoff rounds, money will be tight, and burning four million on a guy who contributed just 19 points and was a healthy scratch in the post-season has to sting. Dumont’s no-movement clause could make a deal difficult.
Sergei Gonchar – Two seasons, $5.5 million/year cap hit and contract. A disappointing season has Gonchar’s stock way down in Ottawa, and it is possible that they would love to get out from under his current contract. He has a no-movement clause.
Ales Kotalik – One season, $3.0 million cap hit and contract. Yes, he plays for the Flames (and more recently, Abbotsford). Yes, he has a no-trade clause. Given that he’s played for Edmonton before, hopefully the latter wouldn’t be an issue and the former is less of an issue when it’s not really a hockey trade.
Filip Kuba – One season, $3.7 million cap hit and contract. Kuba’s in the third year of a three-season deal, and has dealt with health issues and an offensive decline. This season was particularly bad – in 64 games, Kuba managed just 16 points along with a minus-26 rating.
Brian Rolston – One season, $5.06 million cap hit, $5.0 million contract. Rolston does possess a no-trade clause, but he was also waived earlier this year and because he signed an over-35 contract, a buyout isn’t really an option.
These wouldn’t be hockey trades. The Oilers would part with a bit piece of some sort or other – say Jean-Francois Jacques, Colin Fraser, Zack Stortini, the rights to Jeff Deslauriers, a seventh-round draft pick or some combination of the above in exchange for one of the players, the impact of the contract, and something good – a nice prospect or a higher draft pick. If they were opposed to that sort of trade on principle, something else could be worked out – for instance, Columbus always needs offensive defensemen, so something like Kurtis Foster and ______ for Mike Commodore and a second could give any potential deal a bit of window dressing.
This is one area where Daryl Katz’s money can buy a competitive advantage, and it fits in well with a rebuilding team. Besides, a bunch of the players listed above could probably find regular roles on the Oilers based on merit, and by only acquiring players with less than two years left, one ensures they’ll be gone when Taylor Hall needs a new contract.