Something Edmonton Should Be Doing

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?

The Targets

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.

  • John Chambers

    It doesn’t happen often because it costs too much money. Like, real money. $$$.

    You have to ask yourself, how much is a 3rd round draft pick worth in real dollars? Not Mike Commodore’s salary – that much is true. And teams would rather bury a player in the minors rather than sacrifice a 1st round pick to rid themselves of it. A GM who makes a trade like that may as well wear a “fire me” sign on his back.

    Bad-value contracts in the NHL typically either get traded for other bad contracts (Blake for Giguere) or for low-end prospects and late-round draft picks (Ryan Smyth).

    The concept that Willis is suggesting is more common in the NBA. The NHL doesn’t have lucrative enough tv contracts to support such gross expenditures for such a marginal return.

      • John Chambers

        It’s still all about marginal return. For $81M the Oilers felt they would be getting an elite NHL talent. Fine. Call it an overvaluation. A severe and rose-coloured overvaluation.

        Picking up Drury’s salary in exchange for a 2nd round pick? I dunno. What’s the likelihood that pick turns into an impact player in the NHL? 5%? Therefore the cost of getting a guaranteed impact player is $5M x 20 = $100M. Yikes!

        People talk all day about why Tambellini should be fired. I’ve managed a few businesses in my time … that would be a terminable offence.

        *EDIT* Of course, I suggested signing Tim Connolly a while back. I figure he’ll get about $2-3M on a short contract. I would say that Drury and Connolly are at this stage roughly the same calibre of player … for sake of argument anyway. So you’re only playing a marginal $2.5M for Drury, as in, there is some value consumed in obtaining the player.

        It’s not to say that these fanciful scenarios will never happen … they undoubtedly will to a lesser degree. But for The Rangers, The Devils, whomever suffering from cap problems my estimate is that they would have to pay dearly, I mean a top prospect or first round pick, to take the player off their hands. In that case they would prefer just sending the player down to the AHL rather than severely hamper the team’s competitiveness.

        • OB1 Team Yakopov - F.S.T.N.F

          Lets not forget that the 2nd rounder could be swaped for a useful NHL’er.

          I’ve seen the numbers, and you are in the right ballpark (5% for a 2nd rounder panning out), personally I thinnk any pick outside of the top 5 or so is overated, but for some reason GM’s do seem willing to trade decent players for late 1st’s – 2nd rounders.

  • While and interesting idea you should remember there is already $5 million (Souray) in the minors.

    Would you want to spend this kind of money on bad contracts for picks in the draft that might turn out ok if it was your own money? This is not monoply money we are dealing with here.

    Great idea when it is not your own money that is being flushed away and Katz already will have $200 million (two segments of $100 million if I recall correctly) in the arena already spoken for.

  • Quicksilver ballet

    Gonchar is one that would interest me, only two seasons left on that deal, we do need significant help on the blueline. Could be a bargaining chip to make a deal with the Sens and move up. The Oilers may find a welcomed trading partner if MacTavish finds employment there this week.

  • Quicksilver ballet

    Of course JW, you are forgetting that Tambellini has already expressed the opinion that the Oilers will challenge for a playoff spot next season.

    Although virtually every sane observer can see how preposterous that is, Tambellini obviously doesn’t.

    Same old, same old.

  • misfit

    The best part about taking back a bad contract like one of the above is that not only would you’d be getting something for just taking them off some other team’s hands, but most of those players would actually improve the on-ice product.

  • OB1 Team Yakopov - F.S.T.N.F

    I love how any mention of “bad contracts” always brings out all the forensic accountants.

    If Katz is willing to spend the $$’s, why on earth would any fan object?

    We could pick up a couple extra prospects/picks with the ADDED benifit of bringing in an NHL calibre player…. the team is so poor that anyone on that list would be a top 15 player on this team…. some a top 10.

    If he isn’t willing to spend then fine, but if he is lets get all the assets we can.

    This is a no-brainer people.

  • EasyOil

    I like this idea. I think a lot of the commenters here are undervaluing draft picks. You guys are correct in that the draft is a crapshoot, and the chances of getting impact players isn’t very high. That actually makes it all the more important to get as many bullets as possible. I think the C&B guys (or might have been Willis) did a study on this. Stocking up on 2nd-7th round picks is actually a great plan, because you never known who will turn out. Look at the number of Oilers picks in the last 2 years: we had 18 picks, and 11 of those so far look like legitimate prospective pro hockey players. Of course its extremely early on and they won’t all make it, but you never know who will, and even some of the remaining 7 players could turn out (Pelss for example), but in turn those drafted kids can be dealt for already established players, just as a pick can.

    So basically, more draft picks IS the way to go. Increase your chances of getting an impact player in the draft, or use said-picks to make trades (either before or after they’re drafted. Lets not forget, you can’t send money in trades anymore, meaning that draft picks have essentially taken on the role of cash in a trade.

    • Agreed and well explained. The team is more or less on the basement floor (hope the building isn’t too too tall) of a rebuild. If the owner wants to eat the money, and the term on the player comming to the team isn’t rediculous to avoid handcuffing you later, load up on the picks. A 2nd or even a 3 rounder in 2013, for example, just may be a piece of a trade that will tip the trade into being realized (how many trades die that we are not aware of because one team wanted that extra draft pick?).

      • OilFan

        The other option is to take a bad contract and a prospect (instead of a draft pick) from a cap limit team. In this scenario, we offer another team cap relief but they need to give up an already drafted, somewhat more predictable propsect. This remains a crapshoot but there is a greater chance of success as the prospect has seasoned for a year or two past his draft year.

  • John Chambers

    The concept is sound but it needs to be applied correctly. Taking a bad contract that Katz is willing to pay for and getting almost any additional asset makes sense. I would suggest any of the players you mentioned could have fit into the Oil last year and would not have been worse than what was on the ice.

    No trades could be a real issue as veterans with litlle or no shelf life will loathe to go the last place team.

  • Ogden Brother Jr. - Team Strudwick for coach

    This is an excellent article, Jonathan Willis. Do you think such a scenario would also work for our bad contracts, e.g. Sheldon Souray and Nikolai Khabibulin? Or is there actually no need to do that?

    • OilFan

      I’ve read talk of a Cam Barker buyout by Minnesota. Why not take a one year looksie – we’ll likely get something at the trade deadline even if he doesn’t have a great season. He’s still young enough that if he’s “reclaimed then he fits. AND it would allow the Oilers to make the Gilbert and something to Columbus for the 1st rounder trade that Matty has written about a couple times. Barker and Gilbert are similar players with similar experience.

  • Sheldon "Oilers Fan for Life!!!"

    I lean toward J.P. Dumont as any player in Nashville could bloom under a totally different style of play. I think he could be a surprise.

  • OilFan

    Good grief are you serious are any of those players upgrades ? It’s kinda funny that people think the best way to make a winning team it to get the worst players from other teams, taking there bad contracts. Not one of the players help this team know or ever. Who in the right mind would trde for Jeff Deslauriers rights? This makes no sense at all sorry Jonathan. If they help other teams with cap space doesn’t it hurt the Oilers chance down the road i.e the other team able to stay competitive ?

    • I’m not sure you’re following.

      The Oilers would trade nothing (i.e. the rights to Jeff Deslauriers) to, say, Nashville in exchange for J.P. Dumont and a second round pick.

      Nashville saves four million dollars, lets go of a good draft pick. Edmonton takes on a poor contract for a year in exchange for getting the pick.

      Given that we’re only talking one or two year deals, these teams we’re talking about aren’t going to be significantly better as a result down the road. The Oilers benefit from the draft pick or prospect they get.