Blast From The Past

Cleaning out my office the other day, I stumbled upon an old copy of The Hockey News – the publication’s 2002 Draft Preview edition. It didn’t take much reading to see that NHL hockey in Edmonton had changed dramatically over the decade since it came out.

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Long Term Need

(Twid/Wikimedia Commons/CC BY-SA 3.0)

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My favourite part of Rob Tychowski’s preview piece was under the heading “Long Term Need.” Here’s the quote:

As one of the youngest teams in the NHL, the Oilers aren’t in any danger of losing their depth to retirement or attrition. Defenseman Eric Brewer just turned 23 while Janne Niinimaa, the elder statesman on defense, is 27. Up front, offensive anchor Mike Comrie is 21, Mike York is 24, Ryan Smyth is 25 and Anson Carter 27. [Jussi] Markkanen, 27, gives them more depth in net than they’ve had in a decade. The problem will be finding the money to keep these young guns in Edmonton. If Brewer and Comrie keep improving at their current rate, they could soon be demanding the kind of money Edmonton simply doesn’t have.

The last line in particular was a nice reminder of what life used to be like in Edmonton. Some undoubtedly will suggest the ownership of Daryl Katz as the turning point – and there’s no question that in Katz, the Oilers have deeper pockets behind them than they ever have before – but the change started before that, with the last collective bargaining agreement. Brewer and York, mentioned above, were swapped coming into the new order of things for high-priced stars Chris Pronger and Michael Peca, respectively, and while Peca didn’t turn out that was the summer that Edmonton stopped worrying so much about affording players and showed that it could pay for talent.

True to Tychowski’s fears, there were more pains to go through before that happened, though. Anson Carter would be gone in less than a year, dealt to New York for the cheaper Radek Dvorak. Niinimaa too would depart, dealt to the New York Islanders in exchange for younger help in Brad Isbister and Raffi Torres. Mike Comrie had one more season in him before demanding a trade; a deal with Anaheim for Corey Perry would be kyboshed after the Oilers ridiculously insisted that Comrie refund bonus monies the team had paid to him.

Most painful of all was the departure of Smyth, over a reported difference of just $100,000 after the team left his signing to the last minute. Smyth would be dealt for a collection of magic beans (in order of NHL impact so far: Robert Nilsson, Ryan O’Marra, and the pick that became Alex Plante) before hitting it big on the free agent market. He returned to the Oilers last season, still highly competent but a shadow of what he once was.

Today, the Oilers core of young players – people like Hall, Eberle, Nugent-Hopkins, Yakupov, Petry, Smid, and Schultz – is better than it was in 2002, and there aren’t any fears of the team being unable to retain them. Hall and Eberle have linked long-term pacts, and anxiety over Nugent-Hopkins and Yakupov is highly limited.

The Prospect List

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Also included in the Draft Preview was a top-five list of current Oilers prospects. Here’s how THN ranked them:

  1. Jani Rita
  2. Alexei Semenov
  3. Ales Hemsky
  4. Jason Chimera
  5. Tony Salmelainen

At the time, that top-three looked awfully impressive, with Chimera a good prospect with a lower ceiling (and, if I remember correctly, the first case of people cursing a prospect with the “he’s like Todd Marchant, but with hands!” description).

It’s interesting to note that Rita – a goal-scoring forward with size and the 13th overall pick in 1999 – as well as Semenov – a 6’6” monster who had been a point-per-game OHL defenceman while recording more than 100 penalty minutes, as well as the 36th overall pick in 1999 – were both on the list on merit. Both players were as highly regarded as guys like Oscar Klefbom and Teemu Hartikainen (only more so, in Rita’s case) are now. Neither made the grade, and it just goes to show that no matter how can’t-miss a prospect looks that final hurdle to the NHL is a big one.

Looking at the Oilers’ current prospect riches – guys like Schultz and Klefbom and Gernat and Marincin and Rieder and Pitlick – it’s hard to tell which players will make the grade and which ones will fall along the way. The only thing we can know with certainty is that they aren’t all going to pan out.

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On the other hand, there are prospects like Ales Hemsky. Undersized, too prone to passing over shooting, and far away from being a complete player, Hemsky eventually evolved into a power-vs.-power winger who could flash and dash with the best of them. Injuries have chipped away at his career, and after a poor season it’s not hard to find fans willing to write the guy off, but he’s been a superb player for a long time and he’s carried the load on a lot of nights for some terrible teams. He was a major win and if there’s a prospect or two in the system with his sort of potential (beyond Yakupov, of course) than the Oilers can smile.

Recently by Jonathan Willis

  • vetinari

    Interesting look at the team in 2002. The big lesson here may be that not all highly regarded prospects will turn out to be regular players at the NHL level and the team may be better off to cash in some of these prospects for established help in other areas rather than having them walk away for nothing when everyone in the league figures out that they can’t deliver. In this category, I think of players like Schremp and Omark.

  • Hemsky deserves to be here if/when the Oilers win the cup.

    Hemsky carried the team and sacrificed his body through the tunnels with no forseeable light. Anyone who hates on Hemsky nowadays could be classified as a typical fair-weather human hypocrite. His injuries shouldn’t be held against him nor should they be a suprise to anyone. If they were facing the other teams top D-pairings for 6 years, and their linemates are good enough to be shut down or face 2-3 pairings, most of so called “superstars” in the NHL would have demanded a trade or probably had their careers fiinished due to a concussion.

    Its funny how simpletons hate on Hemsky for leaving the practise when practise ends but support the PA for wanting more money.

    • The NHLPA isn’t asking for more money.

      If the NHL agreed to extend the current CBA tomorrow, the NHLPA would sign on with a great big smile.

      The NHL owners want more money. The NHLPA just doesn’t want to give them much more than they’re already getting.

      • Dan the Man

        What other company gives their employees more money than the company itself gets? I can understand where the NHL owners are coming from with regard to the business side of things. The HRR is a complete gong show as well. If the players want the NHL teams to share the money from TV contract and such then the players should be sharing all the promotional offers they get from companies like Bauer and Nike. And while this is all going on the poor people that make this all possible are the ones losing out because there will be no NHL hockey But I’m perfectly fine watching AHL or my local AJHL team play

      • Of course they would sign with a big smile, they’re milking the league for all its worth. A large number of players under the current CBA are largely over payed and dont deserve the money that they are getting nor are there ways(that make sense) for them to be held accountable.

        The current CBA ends in a few weeks. The NHL presented the new argeement, the PA didn’t like the money they were going to get: sounds like they would like more money. Why are players like Paul Bissonnette(s?) at the meetings?

        The money they are getting is not deserved nor is it working out financially. It is insuting that the PA thinks of the people that give them a platform to showcase their talent as idiots.

        • MessyEH!

          The league is making record profits. Why should the players be forced to take a smaller piece of the pie? When the rich teams will not give more money to the money losing teams.

    • I disagree with you completely. There is no doubt Hemsky is creative and has some skill. I have never liked Hemsky’s style of play and have never been a Hemsky fan.

      I think his holding the puck too long and trying to do too much may very well be a bi-product of a skilled player having to play without complimentry players for too long. The fact that I am not a Hemsky fan does not say anything about me but the style of hockey I enjoy and the type of player that I cheer for.

      I will always hope he does well while wearing Oilers silks, but if they are able to get an upgrade at a position of need by getting rid of him I think it makes the team a more balanced team and makes room for some of our young talent in their proper positions.

      Yakupov is a natural on the right wing and should be ahead of Hemsky in the pecking order.

  • Dan the Man

    I remember I always used to say things like “If the Oilers didn’t have to worry about money they would be Stanley Cup contenders every year”.

    Ahhh the good old days…when we could blame not being able to compete on financial restraints instead of incompetence.

    • He never made the jump. He was fringe NHL’er in 2005-06 when Edmonton sent him away (along with Cory Cross) for Dick Tarnstrom. He went back to Finland after the season ended and has been a run of the mill SM-liiga forward ever since.

    • book¡e

      It’s a good discussion to have at some point though – the numbers side of things that is. If franchises are only viable when owners invest for emotional reasons or when they receive huge subsidies from municipalities and state/provincial governments and the owners take all of the risk, then the league is not viable.

      I don’t know what the overall profit/loss picture is for the league though, so if the owners are, on average, bringing in 20-30 million profit a year, then things are probably sustainable , though I suspect that downward pressures on government subsidies will mean increased costs for teams as arena contracts get renewed and/or new arenas are built.

    • justDOit

      No. It’s inaccurate to say it’s inaccurate. It’s in how you look at it. Differences in opinion are not inaccuracies. Equating wanting to extend the current CBA with not wanting more money is inaccurate. They were presented with a new CBA, and they didn’t think it was enough money for them, they wanted more. My opinion. Not accurate or inaccurate.

      • Reg Dunlop

        Steve – if you are asked to take a 24% cut and counter-propose that the cut only be 5 or 6% it is surely misleading to describe that as asking for more money, instead of asking to lose less money. If your boss said Steve I want to cut your salary in half and you said ”Please boss, just cut it by one quarter,” I doubt you would describe your response as asking for more money.

        FWIW taking a cut in the percentage of total revenue you get doesn’t necessarily mean you will get less money than you are currently getting, of course. That depends on the amount of revenue that is generated. The players took a 24 per cent cut in their share of revenue in the last CBA but over the course of the 7 years salaries went up because revenue went way up (and there was some inflation). Of course we do not know if that will happen this time or not, but likely it will.

        I would like to see a very long term CBA agreement at 50-50, based on the traditional definition of HRR. We could argue forever about the different kinds of risks both sides take, etc, but in the end both need each other and the best business model in this particular case is to be genuine partners and focus on growing the game for all, including us long suffering fans. IMHO of course.

        • OutDoorRink

          I’d go somewhere else. That’s the way it works in my world. If I had no place else to go, I’d take it. That’s a whole different discussion. My point in this is that everyone wants more money. To say anybody in this discussion doesn’t want more money – and I’ll say it again – is inaccurate. You want more money. I want more money. Owners want more money. Players want more money. They’re not in it for the children.

          • Reg Dunlop

            Most businesses are pleased with a 15% margin. Most businesses are pleased with 60-70% of revenue going to wages depending upon the industry. The discussion regarding owners being justified for seeking 50% of HHR is ludicrous – unless we can see behind the HHR numbers. Which we can’t.

            This is all smoke and mirrors. I don’t think the NHL has any desire to show the true numbers. But in the real world, 50/50 isn’t reasonable. Players (and staff) should be closer to 65-70% of gross revenue.

            Wages are always tied to profit in some fashion or another as the market drives them. Unfortunately, there are no competitors (i.e. rival professional leagues) in the world of NHL, NFL, MLB so there is no external market. All market forces in these leagues are ‘internal’ which makes it impossible to analyze accurately. Smoke and mirrors.

  • PrimeBane

    @Jonathan Willis

    For sure there were gems in the later rounds… it’s the 1st round bust after bust that was so very frustrating.

    Schremp, Pouliot, Niininmaki, Mikhnov, Henrich, Riesen along with Rita. 🙁

  • justDOit

    Coinciding with their poor draft record of the time, the Oilers were also bringing in quality veterans such as Adam Oates and Jiri Dopita.

    Edit: Just looked them up on Wiki, and Oates was actually fairly productive in his 40 yr old season with Anaheim the year before becoming an Oiler.

    • GiftedGregerius

      Not to mention that Oates basically taught Horcoff, Stoll and Reasoner how to take face-offs, which I would say was a huge boost to the young centermen at that time.

      • GiftedGregerius

        I guess if this story gets repeated enough it will become fact.

        Horcoff, Stoll & Reasoner all had about the same faceoff% in the 20 games prior to Oates that they did in the 60 games Oates was here.

        Reasoner and Stoll had always been fantastic on the dot (Reasoner was above 52% his whole career while Stoll was dominant in junior). Horcoff might be the only one you can credit Oates for, but even he was above %50 before Oates got to Edmonton that year.

  • Spydyr

    Rumer has it Corey Perry is on the trading block right now.

    Sure would be nice trading some smallness for some largeness.A bit of grit for a bit of cleaning the ice every shift.

    It might even help his buddy Ryan sway a bit this way when he becomes a UFA this summer.

  • Think about the CBA this way;

    Those of us who are not millionaires have a hard time grasping the numbers involved and it is easy enoguh to think that any athlete in the world that makes more then an average person to do what they love is being overpaid.

    The fact is your average professional athlete has dedicated more time practicing, playing, working out or cardio training then most of us realize and they are the elite .01% in their sport. If you look at your elite .01% of sales staff mamangement, entertainers, doctors, lawyers they are all making ludicrous amounts.

    Don’t look at the amounts. Imagine your emploer came to you tomorrow and said they have had record profits this year and would like you to take a salary decrease. How many people would be ok with this? Now say you agree to it in order to keep your job and then 5 yrs later they come in and tell you that they think they are paying you to much and would like you to take another salary decrease.

    I agree 100% with the players. I would be very hesistant to take any decrease in salary, and the only way I would agree to it is if they fixed the system not just adjusted my pay. If this is supposed to help the poor teams then they need to tax the rich teams more or do profit sharing or something else in order to make those poor teams viable. Otherwise you know that when the next CBA expires they are going to be asking you to take another paycut.

    • book¡e

      You are only focusing on the supply side of things. I agree that elite talent should be payed an elite salary IF there is market demand for their skills. What do you think the top 0.01% of beach volleyball players or scrabble players make – I bet it’s not millions per year.

      If owners are making record profits that are equal to or greater than what owners would make by investing in drug stores, hotel developments, car washes, etc. then its reasonable for players to seek more money. If they are not, then seeking more money will drive investors elsewhere and the league will end up owning more teams.

      I think the decline of public subsidies and the willingness for companies to buy luxury products like NHL tickets and boxes will be the most important factor in all of this.

      The players know this and that is why their initial offers have them giving up some of their salary.

      • The NHL is making the most it has ever made. Some teams are doing great financially including the Oilers which is pathetic considering how bad they have been and the lack of playoff income.

        The NHL decided to expand to non hockey markets to grow the game. A lot of those markets are the ones that are having trouble supporting teams. the players did not decide to put teams there the NHL did. If the NHL is making record money and those expansion teams or teams in non traditional hockey markets are not doing well the NHL needs to change the structure on how teams divy up league money, do profit sharing or a luxury tax.

        Obviously everyone pushes back on salary cuts. Who can blame them. The NHL clearly won the last CBA and agreed to percentages that worked for them. The problem is that they had record profits which stems primarily from the very rich teams. They either need to base it on the league median, remove the top 5 and bottom 5 teams to figure out income, or create some kind of system that makes the poor teams more lucrative.

        If that comes 100% from players salaries it is not really fair.

    • justDOit

      Sorry, but I have to look at the numbers. From a cap of $39M, to $70M next season, it’s pretty easy to see that NHL salaries have increased substantially – roughly about 50%, without getting into the details of it all.

      If someone had given me a 50% raise over the last 5 years, I would be much more inclined to accept a 15 – 20 % hit today – an ‘adjustment’, if you will.

  • RexLibris

    Hey Jonathan,

    That bit on Semenov has me thinking about Marincin. Knock on wood, but the description sounds eerily similar and it would be nice if our big Slovakian defenceman could exorcise that particular drafting demon by becoming at least a 2nd pairing blueliner.

    Looking over these prospect rankings helps to keep me grounded about the future. It is something that I have tried to convey to some of the commenters on other Nations sites in relation to prospect expectations.

    Sometimes it seems like we here in Edmonton have seen it all: the best to ever play the game, the most heartbreaking departures, fabulous days that we thought would never end, and more hope dashed on the rocks of draft busts than one could seemingly count.

    Then I remember that I don’t live in Calgary, and I feel better.


  • WOOWWHH ! Landescog just named Colorado captain , and following in Crosby’s footsteps . Will Oilers do the same this year ? Hopkins come to think of it has only one year . Whom might it be as torch is passed to the future ? Whom is mature beyond his years (age) ?

  • Just to clarify, the owners asked for a 24% cut in the players’ share of revenues, from 57 to 43%, although they have since dropped it to a 19% cut, or 46%. For clarity’s sake I am only using numbers based on the standing definition of HRR, which the owners wish to change.

    The players have offered a four year proposal based on a cut in their revenue share which shrinks and then step-by-step climbs back up to 57% in the final year. I have tried unsuccessfully to find the exact numbers for those first three years but if I recall correctly at the time of their release, August 14th, it was reported that they would amount to between a 5 or 6% cut from their current take over the length of the deal.

    I killed 40 minutes on Google last night trying to find the exact numbers on the Aug. 14th offer and if anyone else can find them and post them I would be grateful. I have rarely seen a more poorly covered story in my life, which just goes to show what happens when sports experts have to write about economics.

    Of course there are also the owners proposals on ending arbitration and extending both entry level contracts and the period before FA, as well as measures to deal with cap circumvention, none of which have really been addressed much apparently.

    I would only add that there are two separate discussions here. The first one is about power and leverage, to determine how this is likely to work out. The second far more difficult discussion is about fairness, in which arguments can be advanced but there is no formula, unless you subscribe to something like the labour theory of value, for what is a fair share for each side. That is the conversation which causes peoples’ heads to explode and is almost impossible to have without bad blood. Perhaps it is best avoided in this venue.

    The two things we can all agree on (I think) are that we are more interested in seeing a deal soon then worrying about which side is getting the best of it, and that we hope the damn deal is for as long as possible.

  • 2004Z06

    This was a totally different draft group.They were not first picks and this was a very dark time for oiler drafting.
    Rita scored 3 goals in his draft year.Semenov had 0 goals and 3 assists for Sudbury.
    During this same period we picked Riesen and Mikhenov who had way below average boxes for their draft number.
    Other than Hemsky the only thing this early 2000 group of prospects had going for them was they were all big.The were the original coke machines.
    We are just coming out of the hole that all that bad drafting got us in

  • 2004Z06

    An excellent review of the Oiler’s not so distant past. The only names that standout are Hemsky, Chimera, Smyth, Comry and Perry. Man do I remember those KLO bonehead moves.

    • OutDoorRink

      If someone asked you what a 50% reduction from 80 would result in, would you say 40 or 30? 24% of 57 is 14. 19% of 57 is 11. Rounded off in both cases of course. This is not subtraction.

  • OutDoorRink

    Times have certainly changed. The salary cap was originally designed to keep teams like Edmonton competitive. Now a high salary cap number would be to the benefit of the Oilers as they try to retain all of their young talent.

  • OutDoorRink

    “In this category, I think of players like Schremp and Omark.”

    The next time that someone tells me that the Oilers are looking at a prospect who scores magical shootout goals, and that I should look him up on youtube, I’m going to run screaming into the night.

  • Reg Dunlop

    Anyone thinking that the PA is not looking for more money ask yourself this: do you think they would ratify an agreement that saw a wage freeze, regardless of revenue,for it’s duration? Zero chance.

    • GiftedGregerius

      How long is the duration?

      10 years? No.

      3 years? Yes.

      The players are not looking for more money. They aren’t coming out and asking for a certain dollar amount that exceeds what they were paid this year.

      The players aren’t even asking for a % increase.

      So no, the PA is not looking for more money, they are looking to get a similar deal to the one they just had because for the most part it worked out quite well for the PA and the league as a whole.