Are the Edmonton Oilers overvaluing their players?

Last night on Sportsnet, television analyst Mark Spector made a couple of claims. The first wasn’t surprising; according to him “people around the hockey world” think Edmonton overvalues its players. Further, he said that the Oilers should not expect to get more than a third round pick for pending free agent Ales Hemsky.

Here’s the full quote:

When you talk to people around the hockey world, what you find out is the Edmonton Oilers are overvaluing their players. That’s why Ales Hemsky has been on the trade block for I think the last three trade deadlines. He’ll be there again as a UFA this year; word on the street is the Oilers shouldn’t expect more than a third-round pick for Ales Hemsky. On the Sam Gagner front, there’s another guy that scouts say ‘what is he?’ He doesn’t win faceoffs very well, he’s a small centre, I’m not sure if he’s a third-line centre, maybe a second-line centre. $4.8 million the next two years for Sam Gagner; another tough trade for Craig MacTavish.

Overvaluing Players

“Overvaluing players” is something we hear a lot about these days. There are very few mid-season trades in the NHL for lots of reasons, but the biggest one is this: lots and lots of teams are in the playoff races, so the teams selling players off have a wide market and very little competition. Naturally, the 25-or-so teams that want to buy players complain that the market to add talent is just too expensive; they change their minds around the deadline as they run out of time to add personnel for their goal of ‘getting into the playoffs’ or ‘winning a round’ or ‘winning the Cup’.

Look at the Eastern Conference this year. The 15th-place New York Islanders and eight points out and sick of rebuilding, while Dale Tallon is managing for his job under a new owner in Florida. The 13 teams above them are all in the thick of the playoff hunt. The point is: nobody is selling. So the guys who sell can charge almost whatever they want; it’s how Buffalo managed to land a first-round draft pick for Paul Gaustad in a season where he had 17 points.

As for the specific idea that Edmonton overvalues its players, that doesn’t harmonize with reality. Since October 1, there have been 14 trades in the NHL. The Oilers have been involved in four of them, selling off Mike Brown and Ladislav Smid and Jason LaBarbera and Linus Omark. No team has had more success in moving players in a stalled market.

So “people around the hockey world” can whine and complain because they don’t want to pay deadline prices to add players. They always complain about that. Then they add the players anyway. So there’s almost certainly no reason for Oilers fans to be anything but happy when they hear rivals moaning about what a miser Craig MacTavish is.

Ales Hemsky

Does Spector’s claim about Hemsky’s value harmonize with trade deadlines past? Here’s a list of all forwards with expiring contracts moved solely for draft picks over the last three deadlines:

There are two players on this list who might be seen as relatively equivalent to Hemsky at the time of their trades. A 38-year-old Alexei Kovalev went to Pittsburgh for basically nothing. Andrei Kostitsyn cost Nashville a second round pick and a fifth round pick.

Hemsky’s a better player than either of those guys were at the time of the trade. He’s embraced a checking line role when it became clear that was where the coach wanted him, and he’s had some success there. He’s played through pain and injury, both this year and last year. Memorably last season, he played through a broken foot, and because the team didn’t want him to divulge that he kept his mouth shut about the specifics even as local columnists (hello again, Mark Spector) claimed he was “the epitome of poor leadership and professional indifference” and “an awful example for an impressionable core.”

Doubtless, there are teams out there that would be happy to take Hemsky off the Oilers’ hands for a third-round pick. But if MacTavish can’t get at least Kostitsyn value for Hemsky he isn’t doing his job.

Recently by Jonathan Willis

  • Oil Kings 'n' Pretty Things

    @JW

    Just Curious, what were Kovalev and Kostitsyn’s salaries when they were traded?

    Isn’t Hemsky’s $5m/year salary (even pro-rated for when the trade happens) going to be tough for many teams to fit him under the lowered salary cap this season??

  • Oil Kings 'n' Pretty Things

    I think Buffalo is the only seller in the East. The Islanders are playing in a weak division and they’ve dealt their 1st rd pick so why not go for it? I still think the Isles need a goalie and the Oil do have to UFA goalies. It’s just a matter if the Oil plan on keeping one or both of these guys.

    Big market for the Oilers to sell into, no reason they cannot get good value for some of their players.

  • Truth

    While I agree that he may actually be worth more than a 3rd round pick, and I like the player, perhaps Spector is onto something with respect to what the Oil want in return. After all, he seemed to be pronounced dead in the summer by Mac T, yet he remains on the team.

  • Old Retired Guy (A.K.A. Die-Nasty)

    A late first rounder or, an early second rounder combined with a mid-to-late second rounder……otherwise sign him to a one or two year deal at 2 million (assuming he’ll take the home town haircut)…..then you’ve got an affordable third line scoring winger who can move up and play PP when needed.

  • Jordan McNugent-Hallkins

    Great job of investigative reporting last year by Spector eh?

    Oh yeah, he’s a “columnist” not a reporter. Columnists write “opinions” so being factual is not one hundred percent necessary.

    -30-

    Mark, you did a better job when you were covering high school sports back at the journal. LOL

    • Johnnydapunk

      And I see a former print hack pretentiously signing in with “-30-” as if he’s Teh Editor, whining about the role of a long-time sports columnist in Edmonton. Who still happens to have a gig.
      And then a couple dozen deluded Oiler fans/blogos agreeing with you.
      As usual, Spector has it right. And the Oiler Nation has it wrong.
      No surprises here. As usual.
      Enjoy the lottery pick.

  • SRELIOFAN

    Spector hates Hemsky since Hemsky has never been a good quote for him. Many in the Edmonton media share his viewpoint. No surprises; nothing to see here.