Making some good small bets after losing your shirt on a bunch of bad big ones doesn’t necessarily mean you’re going to break even, but it damn sure beats the alternative. I got a sobering taste of that back in the 1970’s when I brought more money than brains with me in my first trip to Las Vegas.
Having dumped my luggage in my room, I hit the casino certain I was going to bring Las Vegas to its knees. It took me less than two hours, from what I recall, to burn through most of what I budgeted for three days of gambling. I blew my brains out playing roulette with $100 a throw on red or black. Bet big, win big was the plan. Sure. Short of waking up in the drunk tank with puke on my shoes and a face tattoo, it couldn’t have gone much worse.
Near broke and facing another 70 hours in Sin City, it was either play the big shot one more time or make some smart small bets. I opted for the latter. I called it a night. I went and saw a show. I headed to the outlet mall and actually got something back for the money I spent. I rented a car and toured around. It wasn’t flashy, but it beat the hell out of sitting in the hotel lobby with a watered down drink in my hand waiting for the shuttle to the airport.
All of which brings me around to Edmonton Oilers’ GM Pete Chiarelli and what I consider his best work this off-season – the small bets he’s made with the budget signings of Jakub Jerabek, Kyle Brodziak and Tobias Rieder and with PTO’s for Scottie Upshall and Jason Garrison. While they aren’t win-big wagers on the coming season and don’t make up for the money he’s thrown around elsewhere, they make a lot of sense to me.
With Chiarelli having painted himself into a cap corner with other moves he’s made, don’t mistake credit offered for the bargain bin diving he’s done with lauding his overall performance during his tenure. He’s put himself in this spot, just as I settled for seeing the sites of Las Vegas rather than trying without success to play high-roller at the tables all those years ago. It’s a Plan B necessitated by some big swings that haven’t paid off.
Milan Lucic is one of those, and has been discussed to death, so say no more. Chiarelli has also overpaid for others, even if it’s “only” $500,000 here or $1 million there – I don’t care how you frame it, $2.5 million for a back-up goaltender in the market that existed this off-season is too steep. Pick a contract, there’s more than one these past three years that has looked a bit rich.
Add it all up you’re where Chiarelli found himself this summer. I don’t mind bridging Darnell Nurse because I’d like to see more from him before making a long-term commitment at top dollar, but Chiarelli’s not talking to agent Anton Thun about a bridge because of that. He’s talking about two years because he doesn’t have the cap room to play with right now.
Framed in that, it looks from where I sit like Chiarelli has made some astute moves by bringing in the players I mentioned. None of them are going to be game-breakers, of course, but they could be difference-makers on value contracts in roles that need to be filled if they perform as they have in the past, or even close to it.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Brodziak, 34, returns to Edmonton for an encore with a two-year deal worth $2.3 million. He’s going to help on the penalty kill and on face-offs. Rieder, 25, originally an Oiler draft pick, can play all three forward positions. He has some speed. He has some offensive ability. His career-high of 37 points is considerably better than the 22 points one outfit pegged Lucic at for this season, but I digress. Might he fit alongside countryman Leon Draisaitl?
At 34, Upshall has made a living converting PTO’s to contracts the last couple of seasons and doesn’t looked used up from what I saw of him last season. He’s got some jam. He played with Brodziak in St. Louis and I could see him on a line with him here with Zack Kassian on the right side. As I recall, the Oilers liked Upshall at the 2002 Entry draft, but he was gone sixth to Nashville and the Oilers were in the 15th slot, taking Jesse Niinimaki. He’s a different player now, but certainly worth a PTO.
Jerabek, 27, arrives on a one-year deal at $1 million. Not much of a track record in the NHL (36 games), but he comes in having earned a Stanley Cup ring with Washington. Is there more? Some people think so. If he’s nothing more than a third-pairing guy, that’s fine, especially with Andrej Sekera out for several months, maybe the entire season. As for Garrison, 33, he might be nothing more than camp fodder on a PTO, but there’s no risk here. If he proves to be more than that, it’s a bonus. If not, cut him loose.
The bottom line for me is I see Brodziak, Rieder, Upshall and Jerabek as smart bets that provide substance over sizzle at bargain prices – sort of like stretching that last couple hundy over 70 hours instead of kissing it off in 70 seconds at the tables when you’re on a bum run to end all bum runs. Yes, this has been Plan B, but I like these moves. No face tattoo.