Free agency: Let’s be realistic

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The lunacy known as free agency begins tomorrow. Million dollar contracts get handed out more freely and recklessly than pipes at a crack house.

Management and fans get addicted to the belief that the woes of their team will be solved via free agency, and many are willing to do it at any cost.

This year will be no different.

The 2014/2015 salary cap will be $69 million, and in 2012 teams knew the cap would be $70 million. Here is a quick look back at some of the insanity that was handed out back then.

Jason Garrison got $27.6 million over six years. Less than two years later he was given away for a 2nd round pick.

Aaron Rome, Jordin Tootoo and Greg Zanon got three, three and two years contracts, but all of them were bought out before the deals expired. Ray Whitney was 40 years old, but he got a two-year deal worth $9 million. He scored nine goals in the final year of that deal.

Chris Kelly got four years at $3 million and a partial NMC. A third liner gets a NMC. Insanity.

OIlers fans don’t need to re-live the horror of free agency in 2010, 2011 and 2012, but Eric Belanger, Ben Eager, Darcy Hordichuk, Nikolai Khabibulin and others give you a sense of how things can go wrong.

IT WILL NEVER CHANGE

I don’t expect this week to be any different. Teams have cap space and they want to use it. The NHL is very competitive, and GMs and owners get caught up in the competition of overspending and they can’t help themselves.

Matt Niskanen will likely get close to $5.5 million/year on a six or seven year contract. He is a good player, but he is not a franchise D-man. Anton Stralman possession numbers have some people drooling, but when a team signs him for $4.5+ they will increase his icetime and expect the same results. Usually that is a recipe for disappointment.

I constantly hear the phrase from media and fans, “the cap is going up,” as if it is some sort of built in excuse for the idiocy that will arrive tomorrow morning at 10 a.m. MST.

FYI, this year’s cap is lower than it was two years ago, so why are players suddenly worth more today? Hell, some people are already throwing out next year’s cap, projected to be $75 million due to the new TV contract, in advance of the overspending. “Don’t worry, we can over pay this player for seven years, because the cap is going up in 2015.” That sounds completely reasonable.

I’d rather overpay on a short term deal than get locked into a five, six or seven year deal, but rarely do we see shorter terms for the supposed impact UFAs.

WHAT ABOUT THE OILERS

We all know they need and want to sign a centre. Ideally they will sign two quality centres, but I don’t think that is realistic, or if they think it is even necessary. I get the sense Leon Draisaitl is penciled in to be one of the top-three centres. (More on that another day, but I don’t think it is a good plan to guarantee him a spot. At the very least have four other proven NHL centres in camp, and make him compete for a job.)

If Craig MacTavish doesn’t land Paul Stastny some will deem free agency a failure.

News flash: The Oilers have missed the playoffs for eight seasons. They aren’t the first choice for a 28 year-old UFA. Players want to win, and even if the Oilers are willing to pay $500,000 more per season, that likely isn’t enough to attract a player like Stastny.

The realistic centre options are more likely players like David Legwand, Mikhail Grabovski, Brian Boyle, Marcel Goc, Derek Roy, Vern Fiddler or Olli Jokinen.

They all have NHL experience, but none of them are superstars and they all have some warts in their game. The Oilers need improvements in many areas, so don’t should expect one centre to make the Oilers an instant contender.

I’d consider a one-year deal on Peter Mueller, but nothing more. I’d need to see if he matured playing in Europe.

The Oilers could also use another top-nine winger and at least one, possibly two veteran NHL defenceman.

Names like Nikolai Kulemin, Kyle Quincey, Mark Fayne or Andrej Meszaros have been tossed around. They are proven NHL players, but not franchise players. Signing them would help, but the Nation needs to maintain realistic expectations on their production, regardless of what type of contract they get.

If you are expecting the Oilers to land the best free agents, you will be grossly disappointed. I truly hope they do, and if they land a big fish I will be pleasantly surprised, but I won’t be shocked when they don’t.

If the Oilers can land two quality, serviceable forwards and two steady NHL defenders, then MacTavish will have done an outstanding job. Signing one of each seems more realistic.

PARTING SHOTS…

frustrated kit

I’ve read lately how some are down playing the Perron deal because it was for the #10 and the #33 pick, and somehow that means it was a bad trade.

Are you freaking serious. If you believe that you must be from the crowd who constantly overrates the value of a draft pick.

If a player was drafted at #10 five years ago, but hasn’t performed well, is he still valued as a 10th overall pick today? Umm, no. And now Ivan Barbashev is suddenly the guy the Oilers desperately need in their organization. Please.

Under that same delusional thinking the Oilers made a great trade when they dealt Ryan Smyth to the New York Islanders for three first round picks.

Or I guess the Oilers won the Chris Pronger trade because they got four 1st rounder for him. #facepalm

Perron has played 418 games and scored 112-143-255. They gave up Paajarvi, 218 GP and 32-38-70 and a draft pick who might be in the NHL in three years.

The Oilers have made many bad trades, but trying to argue that Perron deal was bad because they gave up a 10th and 33rd pick is asinine.

QUICK HITS…

  • Brian Sutherby has always maintained Dave Tippett was the best coach he ever had. He knows how to connect to players and he gets them to play how he wants them to. Tippett will be Sam Gagner’s 6th head coach in eighth season, but he might be the best thing for Gagner. He needs to improve his defensive play, and Tippett has a good track record of getting the most out of his players in both ends of the ice. Gagner has NHL talent, and sometimes players need a trade to realize they how hard they must work for that talent to appear. I’m curious to see how Gagner does in Phoenix. I believe he will do well.
  • The Coyotes are only paying Gagner $3.2 million (Tampa pays the other $1.6 mill), so the Coyotes expectations of him, and his production, will be more in line with his salary.
  • The Lightning are making room to add a free agent. They must have had good chat with some UFAs during the interview period, but of course they didn’t discuss real term or dollars, because that is not allowed. I chuckle when someone mentions teams, players and agents can’t discuss formal offers, and actually believes that they don’t.
  • Has any GM done a worse job of handling a goalie situation than Mike Gillis? A year ago Gillis had Cory Schneider and Roberto Luongo. Today, he is no longer with the Canucks and Jim Benning needs to sign Ryan Miller or Jonas Hiller to give his team a chance at getting back to the playoffs. Gillis’ handling of his goalie rivaled Steve Tambellini’s free agent signings.
  • I will never understand rating a draft the day after is happens. How can anyone say with certainty if a 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th, 6th or 7th round pick will pan out. I can understand if you break down first round picks, especially the top-10, but after that there is a lot of luck involved. Some players continue to develop, while others have reached their peak. Some get injured. Some lose their confidence when they go to the next level and don’t have instant success, while others simply don’t get a good opportunity within an organization.

    All I know is that getting drafted is a huge accomplishment. Only 210 players in the entire world heard their name called on Saturday, and I hope they are all proud of that. The majority of them won’t play in the NHL, because it is extremely hard to make it the Show, but that shouldn’t stop them from celebrating a very important first step in their dream to play in the NHL. Congrats to all the players drafted. You and your family should cherish the moment, and hopefully it inspires you to work even harder to take the next step.

  • Do you want to Volunteer? I’m been helping out the Great White North Triathlon for the past four years. It is a great event. The organizers have told me they are short 5-7 volunteers/course marshals to help out on race day. The race is this coming Sunday. It is in Stony Plain. If you are interested in helping out, it is a great time, send me an email to gregor@tsn1260.ca. Thanks.

Recently by Jason Gregor: 

  • Mo Playoffs Mo Problems

    MacT’s shopping list:

    -2nd line C
    -Top pairing D
    -Top 9 winger who can play physical

    My guess is we land another 4/5 D, a declining 3rd line LW, and throw Leon to the wolves as the team’s 2C this year.

  • ubermiguel

    The Todd Nelson extension is probably more important than any free-agent signing. He’s pretty good at turning AHLers into NHLers. Our high picks can fill the top of the roster, we need Todd to help with the bottom.

  • The Soup Fascist

    I would consider this free agency to be a success if we can sign Kulemin and Grabovski.

    Hall-Nuge Eberle, Perron-Grabovski-Yak, Kulemin-Drasaitl-Purcell, Hendricks-Gordon-Gazdic.

    When is the last time we had that many actual NHLers in our forward corps. I believe that would actually give us three lines that could all contribute. Drasaitl gets paired with two guys who are both bigger guys that can protect him and be defensive. That line would be very responsible defensively.

    Lastly if we can make one trade to bring in a guy like Boychuk, someone who can easily slot into a top role on this team and provide a couple years of solid play.

  • Talbot17

    Dave Boland would look good on this team as a 3rd line working with Gordon.

    Goc would also look solid. if you can get blue collar guys who’ve played in the Western Conference before it may work out this summer for the Oil.

    • Aitch

      Bolland on the 3rd line with Gordon? Really? So, which guy would you move over to LW? And considering that MacT wants Gordo on the 4th line and Bolland wants a $5M+ salary, I don’t agree that it’s a good fit.

  • vetinari

    I’m guessing we will add 2 to 3 marginal free agent role players (at centre and at defence) once UFA season opens but I think where MacT may actually make some progress with this team is in the trade market as teams line up to overpay Stastny and Niskanen and then need to off-load other salaries. Teams like Philly, Toronto and Boston hate to stand on the sidelines for the “next big thing” and that’s where we may be able to help them out– send us Boychuk and you’ll have money to go after Niskanen or whoever– win/win, right?

  • Lowe But Now High Expectations

    Good article on the hockey side. Could have done without the pipes at the crackhouse analogy. I have a friend who is fighting a battle with addiction and is winning for now, so I find the comparison to hockey management unnecessary.

    • Rob...

      I’m glad to hear that your friend is fighting the good fight. I would like to say that I find your comment as equally unnecessary. Don’t get me wrong I know how you feel, as alot of us have gone through similare situations, and I am one of the biggest Gregor haters on this website. But the guy was simply writing a metephor, its probably safe to say he has never mentioned crack before and probably won’t again. By commenting on it only brings more attention to the quote. I feel for you and your freind, but don’t make the guy feel guilty about it, just read it and move on.

  • Lowe But Now High Expectations

    Gregor, I. Am one who thinks we gave up too much for Perron. I do believe Perron is a better (or maybe just different) player than MP. But, the Blues were in a cap crunch and had 3 important FA’s to sign. I feel MP or pick should have been enough.

    • Clyde Frog

      In a 2 team league, sure.

      But when there are 20+ other teams that would jump at adding a Perron you don’t get to name your price.

      Unless you have an inside track on information and know Mac. T just threw in that second rounder because he is a “Good Guy”.

      Ps. If you are trading 2nd, 3rd, 4th, etc. rounders for actual NHL players then you are winning the trades 99% of the time. Those pics all have minuscule chances of becoming even marginal NHL players in 3 to 5 years.

      The only reason they have any value is that when you add a random selection bias (see slot machine theory) we have a terrible time with measuring value. You mean I get 6 pulls with a 1% chance to win $60!!! Or I only get 1 pull with a 40% chance to win $10…

      Look at the good teams, they always value NHL players over magic beans… Always

  • Lowe But Now High Expectations

    Free agent day should be changed and called “losing you mind day”! The biggest bust in UFA hunting has to be Brad Richards and for that matter any player that NYR acquire on this day!

    I for one hope and pray along with you Gregor, that Mac T very strategically acquires what this team needs in another veteran centre capable of moving up and down the line up………..oh yea we have one of those named Mark Arccabello.

    Never mind………just add another defenceman and let’s call it a day!

    • Zarny

      Mark Arcobello was a nice surprise last year but he’s an undersized player who was undrafted and has all of 42 NHL games experience while starting next season at 26 y/o.

      Realistic expectations starts with players like Arcobello. He should be given props for persistence but undrafted players who don’t make the NHL till 25 y/o typically have a 3-5 years window while they are in their prime and that’s it. Marty St. Louis is still the extreme exception to the rule.

      • Zarny

        I could care less if a player is drafted or not………all I care about is, can the player play?

        MA has proven that he can play, he hits, he competes, and he makes smart plays……..he will never look great on a fourth line like he was forced to do last year under Eakins. Ditto for Lander.

        Playing players out of position and in roles they are not designed for is the definition of stupid. I know that players have to ear their keep, but NOT putting the players in a position to succeed benefits no one.

        If MA is played in a top six role on a consistent basis he will out produce Gagner on his best day!

        • Zarny

          I agree the bottom line is can a player play; and when you’re talking about players like Arcobello and Purcell whether they were drafted is irrelevant to whether they can play now.

          It does however, have bearing on what kind of progression/trajectory they will likely have in their career. Undrafted players almost universally don’t make the NHL until they are 25 ish, have a nice 4-6 year window when they are in their prime and then are out of the league when their game drops off.

          I would also disagree with the sentiment that Arcobello has proven he can play. He has all of 42 NHL games experience with 18 PT. I really like how Arcobello plays the game but he has proven nothing yet. The league is littered with players who had a decent half a year.

          On Gagner’s best day he was 48 games into a 65 PT season. Sorry, but Arcobello will never produce like that. He’s simply not that good.

  • Reds

    I’m glad you posted this Gregor.

    I completely agree with the Stastny point. It would take a severe overpayment for him to come here because it reflects where the team currently stands.

    It isn’t a great destination right now. I’m also all for the secondary free agents, such as Grabovski (personally, I have #1 priority.) and Mark Fayne.Hopefully that changes when the team becomes more competitive.

    Also will be interesting via the trade route. If anything MacT has shown is that he is not afraid to make a move. Trade wise, he looks pretty decent on that front (besides the Smid trade).

    • Andy7190

      Yeah, but that Smid trade now makes more sense. It looks more like a salary dump by EDM and a salary pick up by CGY at a time when Giordano was hurt and they had a severe lack of experienced D-men.

      The Flames took on the entire salary, and still are below the salary floor assuming Cammy goes elsewhere.

      Actually, Edmonton could use a guy like him right now. Seriously.

    • The Soup Fascist

      I am not asking to be a smart a$$, I just honestly am not sure why. Why all the love for Grabovski? Everyone seems to think he is the elixir the Oilers need as a 2C to right the ship and I just don’t get it.

      He is a small, semi-productive center who has a spotty record of getting along with teammates and coaches. I think he will get absolutely owned going against the big teams in the west as a 2C.

      I think David Legwand, warts and all, is a better fit, IF (big if) MacT could sign him.

      P.S. Add Kulemin to the same wtf? list. He is big but does not play that way. He and Grabo are always lumped together as “fixes”.

      • The Last Big Bear

        Grabovski gets props from fans because a) he works hard, b) he can bang in 20 goals, c) he passes the eyeball test with flying colours, and d) his advanced stats back it all up and validate him as being a solid player.

        He fits with the Oilers because he is a veteran, he plays a skill game, he drives offence, and while he’s not exactly leading the way with physicality he can take a hit like a champ (after all, Brian Burke is the guy who gave him his payday).

        Off-ice issues with coaches,, attitude, etc? I have no idea. Never met the guy. The fact that he took a 1-year fairly cheap contract from Washington is not really in line with his on-ice performance, so there may be some truth to this.

        But on-ice he seems like the Oilers’ realistic best-case-scenario in terms of UFA centres.

        Him and Derek Roy are about the only UFA centres available you can describe as 2nd line centres while keeping a straight face.

        Although to be honest, I haven’t been able to keep a straight face since Gagner’s trade value was clearly established three times in the same day, once being traded for a buyout candidate, once when his new team said they were going to buy him out, and once when a team wouldn’t give up a 6th rounder for him unless he had retained salary and another NHLer was included.

        Hey Zarny, do you like apples?