A story that broke on Twitter late yesterday has now officially been confirmed by the Edmonton Oilers: defenseman Corey Potter has signed a contract extension for two more seasons.
As per the Oilers official site, Potter’s contract extension will see him earn $750,000 next season and $800,000 the year after, for an average annual cap hit of $775,000. While those dollar figures represent a non-trivial raise from the $525,000 Potter will earn for his work this season, they still represent pretty marginal payment for even a bottom-pairing NHL defenseman and will put Potter’s salary below that of most of the highly-touted defense prospects in the Oilers’ system.
Given that Corey Potter has five years of being a minor-leaguer under his belt as opposed to just 27 games of being an NHL’er in Edmonton, was it wise to sign him to a two-year, one-way contract? Absolutely it was.
This is an exceedingly low-risk contract. Potter will earn less money over the whole of it than Cam Barker was given to come play in Edmonton in 2011-12. In the absolute worst-case scenario, where Potter turns out to be an AHL’er riding a hot streak, the Oilers can send him down to the minors for both years and still waste less money in doing so than a single season of Gilbert Brule in the AHL would burn through.
That’s under the worst-case scenario. There are a range of other scenarios, ranging from a long-term spot as seventh defenseman to regular top-four work, and in all of them Potter is either reasonably compensated or significantly underpaid.
Depending on perspective, Potter has been anything from Edmonton’s third-best defenseman this year to a number five/six guy. Only Tom Gilbert and Ladislav Smid have received more ice-time per game than Potter. Only Gilbert has put up more points than Potter’s 14, as Renney has turned to the long-time journeyman to be his top power play defenseman. On a blue line full of problems – from injury to ineffectiveness to disciplinary issues, Potter has been the rare pleasant surprise.
Personally, I’ve long regarded the gap between being a high-end AHL defenseman and a third-pairing guy in the NHL as being rather small. Potter has been the former for a long time, doing it all at the minor league level: putting up offense, running up garish plus/minus totals, and slowly refining his play to a more disciplined level. Given that long track record, I’m willing to believe that his play this season is more than a fluke, that he’s legitimately capable of being an average to above-average third-pairing NHL’er.
Certainly, Potter has distinguished himself from the crowd. He’s more polished defensively than virtually any of the young defensemen fighting for a spot, and he can move the puck out of his own end in a way that Andy Sutton and Theo Peckham can only dream of. He’s steady, he’s multi-faceted, and in a third-pairing role it makes a lot more sense to pay a pittance for a capable jack of all trades than to spend big money on a reclamation project like Barker or a suspension waiting to happen like Sutton.
This was a no-brainer for the Oilers. Nevertheless, after watching players like Jan Hejda slip through the cracks in the past, it’s still something of a relief to see it done. Additionally, after watching the Oilers spend big on guys like Barker, Sutton, Foster, Vandermeer, it’s nice to see a third-pairing guy get paid the way a third-pairing guy should.
P.S. Over at Cult of Hockey, David Staples has his take up on the Potter extension, and goes into some of the scoring chance numbers Potter has recorded this season.