OBJECTS MAY BE CLOSER THAN THEY APPEAR

Although we’re still a few weeks away from the draft and what might be a wild summer of trading and free agency, NHL teams are beginning to tip their hands. What’s coming? A LOT of movement–buyouts, trades to save cap dollars, Euro contracts for NHLers no longer wanted–and for fans maybe a summer of activity the likes of which we’ve never seen before. In dear old Edmonton, the ‘waiting for the paint to dry’ approach of the previous administration appears to be a distant bell. There’s a new sheriff in town–and he’s impatient.

UFA ROUTE

The Oilers under owner Katz have spent to the cap in the past, overpaying (in dollars and term) men like Nikolai Khabibulin–which continued a trend that began in the shadow of the Pronger trade to the left coast and continued until the rebuild was put in place (finally) in the cold wintry days of 2010 January.

If we take the Oilers shopping list (top 4D, 2-way center, LW with size and skill, backup goalie) there are some interesting options: I’ll list Mark Streit, Boyd Gordon, Viktor Stalberg and Anton Khudobin, but your mileage may vary.

In the past, Edmonton had to overpay to the extreme in order to attract free agents, and there are still a couple of those contracts Craig MacTavish is going to have to deal with this summer (Eric Belanger, Ben Eager). However, with Ryan Whitney, Nikolai Khabibulin, Ryan Jones, Lennart Petrell, Andy Sutton and the last of the Souray buyout dollars all in the rear view, there is an opportunity for the Oilers to quickly turn this thing around–especially in areas badly in need like center, defense and the 3 and 4 lines.

I was encouraged by MacT’s words the other day in terms of free agency (approach free agency cautiously, players are often in decline stage when UFA is reached) and thought it might be a good idea to look at the "younger end" of this year’s free agents.

UNDER 30, READY TO ROCK

  • C-R Nathan Horton, Boston: $4M this season, 27-year old is a very nice option for the Oilers. He’ll have all kinds of options this summer, including a return to the Bruins if they can make the money work. I would rank this player as an ideal, but possibly unrealistic option. If MacT lands him, that should be considered a massive win.
  • R David Clarkson, New Jersey: $2.67M this season for the 29-year old. Although it is unlikely Edmonton would be his first option, I think he is pretty close to a ‘perfect fit’ for this team and perhaps worthy of an overpay. Should MacT get him, it should be considered in the same category as a Nathan Horton acquisition.
  • C-L Valtteri Filppula, Detroit: $3M this season, 29 years old and a famous Finn. He’d be an ideal solution for the Oilers, but Red Wings players are usually loyal to the team and this guy has enjoyed a lot of success in Motown.
  • L Viktor Stalberg, Chicago: $875,000 this season, he’ll get a raise for sure and Chicago is unlikely to re-sign (their system is producing players at a rapid clip). Rumor has Edmonton and Montreal very interested, you can see why the Oilers would be interested in this 27-year old with size and skill.
  • L Bryan Bickell, Chicago: $542,000 this season, 27 years old and listed below Stalberg only because he’s more likely to be signed by the Blackhawks before reaching free agency. A very nice option should he shake loose.
  • L Clarke MacArthur, Toronto: $3,250,000 this season, 29-years old and with some grit. Not the ideal option–the pricetag may be a little dear–but he’s certainly skill enough to chip in 20 goals on what should be a strong 2line.
  • C Boyd Gordon, Phoenix: $1.325M this season for the 29-year old, another ‘perfect fit’ option for an Oiler team that badly needs help at center. The Phoenix situation is somewhat in flux, there may be an opportunity to jump in and pick up this fine veteran.
  • G Anton Khudobin, Boston: $875,000 this season, effective backup and 27 years old. Bruins have a nice option in the AHL and may pass on signing him. He is young enough, and good enough to be an option for the Oilers.
  • L Guillaume Latandresse, Ottawa: $2M this season, 29-year old has lost much of his recent career to injuries but perhaps he’s turning a corner. Certainly brings size, and has scored well in the NHL when healthy.
  • L Patrick Bordeleau, Colorado: $525,000 this season, 27-year old is 6.06, 220 and looks and plays like an extra in Slap Shot! I don’t know if MacT will devote 2 roster spots to this type of player (Mike Brown is the current fighter, but not a heavyweight) but if that’s a priority this fellow fits the bill.

WHAT DOES IT ALL MEAN?

Craig MacTavish’s point about free agents is certainly true–often NHL teams overpay for players in their 30’s and end up waiting for the contract to expire so they can better use the sunk cost of a wayward contract. However, there are players–several players–who have shown well in the NHL and are some distance from their 30th birthdays.

When the opportunity to speak to these new free agents arrives, the Edmonton Oilers have a great story to tell these free agents. Objectives–playoffs, playoff wins, series victories, deep trips into the spring–are likely to happen with this Oiler team during the back half of the 2010’s.

Telling that story to Viktor Stalberg, to Anton Khudobin, to Boyd Gordon, may be enough in one or more cases to win the day.

  • I think most athletes and their families are accustommed to life in other cities , just like the military . Playing in ones home city not that attractive for many , if not most . Pressures playing in home city far exceed playing elsewhere . You go where your career is best suited for individual player even though occasionally this does not happen – but that is the exception , not the rule .

  • vetinari

    I SWEAR, I WILL PULL THIS BLOG OVER AND COME BACK THERE IF YOU ALL DON’T START TO BEHAVE AND TYPE IN LOWERCASE.*

    *in honour of father’s everywhere who reach the end of their rope

    As for actual hockey stuff– I would be surprised if we snag more than two or three players via free agency (mainly the goalies) and suspect that most of the guys that MacT will bring in will be via trades.

  • TwoSkidoos

    Jones will go number one. Sure Mckinnon was stellar in the memorial cup, but Jones single handily beat the Oil Kings. Colorado already has a great group of up and coming forwards, with a good mix of size and skill. Having a franchise – home town no less – defenceman whose ready to step in and make a difference right away, is something they can’t pass up.

    Furthermore, I think the only thing that might be more difficult than acquiring elite forward talent is getting a top five defenceman that can do it all. There are only so many Webers and Charas in the league. I know statistically the high drafted defencemen don’t tend to ever be the best player in the draft, or even the best defensmen, but Jones is a lock to be one of the greats.

    I really think a summer of buy outs all over the league is going to combine the deepest recent draft, with the deepest free agent market. It should be enough to ensure a team like ours can get the pieces it needs without excuses. A tough first summer for Mac T as a more experienced GM would likely be able to build an impressive team around the talent we already have.

    Terrified to here that Gagner is a priority resign. I envision a second line with a big centre, Yak, and a big LW power forward like the Russian kid in the draft. But, I guess if we score more goals than the other guys it doesn’t much matter.

    Finally, I hope Hall gets the C. He’s a little hot headed and maybe doesn’t have the respect of every player, but at the same time his on ice performance and work ethic is hard to argue with.

        • OilersBrass

          I think Jones is getting hyped up a little bit much here. I’m not saying he isn’t good, but he is a big kid playing smaller weaker competition, it’ll be very interesting to see how his game translates into the big leagues.

          • 2004Z06

            I also agree. So few, even highly touted rookie defencemen make huge impacts their first or even second year. Doughty maybe is one that comes to mind. Karlson was real good real quick.

            But, I mean he’s so young and already so good. He will fill into his size, and when that happens he will be elite.

      • Leipsic too. He was at least as good as Rattie in the WHL final, and a real thorn in the Oil Kings’ side.

        I’ll say that I wasn’t blown away by Seth Jones in that final round… but maybe it’s because I was surprised how a guy gifted with size like he is could lack a physical edge in his game. But he was solid/reliable.

        • OilersBrass

          Ya Leipsic was awesome to, that whole team works so well together. The CHL is going to have a very different look next year with so many of these young stars going pro.

          • Ya, I thought Portland would fall apart without Baertschi… he was really the straw that stirred the drink for them last year, but then Rattie and Leipsic and Petan really gelled together this year. I assume Rattie will be on to the St Louis Blues / Chicago Wolves for 2013/14, but Petan and Leipsic should still be around. Curious how they’ll do without Rattie.

          • OilersBrass

            I’m sure they’ll do just as well if not even better. With people like Rattie moving onto bigger better things it’ll give lots of other players opportunity to step up and prove themselves.

            I can’t wait to see how well Lazar plays next year with the Oil Kings top line moving on and their Captain most likely playing for the Isles.

  • 2004Z06

    Players follow the money and where they have the best chance to win. Build a contender and they will come.

    “These players have earned the right”…..Please! Greed is all that motivates these mercs….

    Did the lockout teach us nothing?

  • Rocket

    One thing that seems overlooked, is amongst other things Joe Sakic helped get Jones into hockey. And has some what of a relationship with him. Even if he was the concensus #2 he would go to Colorado.

  • OilersBrass

    Also, I just read an article in the Canucks Army “Trading Alex Edler: Who to target (part 2)” and it gave me a pretty good chuckle. They think they can get Eberle for Edler, or Gagner AND MPS for Edler.