Photo Credit: Bruce Bennett

On the Cheap

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.

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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.

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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.


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.

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Previously by Robin Brownlee

  • Spydyr

    Overpaying on pretty well every contract is death by a thousand cuts. Which brings us to the Nurse contract. There should be money available to sign him but alas it is all frittered away a few hundred grand here a few hundred grand there. The Gryba buyout is a perfect example. Just bad management.

  • CalOil

    The cap issue with the Oilers “today” is the McDavid contract. His $12.5M is massive, we have for 8 years so the value will work itself out, just like Crosby. We have a generational player with a generational cap investment.

    AAV comparison
    2nd in scoring was $8.250M
    3rd in scoring is $9.0M next year

    MVP of the league $6.0M

    Ever GM in the league would have signed Connor for that contract. We need wait for the cap to catch up with that contract.

    “The GM/Coach is blowing it” is a tired smallville story line.

    • Serious Gord

      Mcd isn’t the issue.

      SEkera and maybe Klefbom (both okay signings if they had stayed healthy)

      They Are the issue.

      And Robin the over-riding point is the big bet losses ruined your chances of coming home with fat stacks. Likewise chias big bets may cost the oil a few cup runs.

      • FISTO Siltanen

        When the Oilers were the league’s punching bag and everyone wished we had a Milan Lucic he made $6M per season. He came to the Oilers after a strong season and signed for $6M a season.

        I hate the term on Russell and will cross that bridge when time comes but he signed for $4M. Brendan Smith signed for $4.3M…and was sent to the minors this year.

        Draisaitl is fine.

        Kostkinen is a heavy bet that could blow up. I’ll admit that. It’s risky and I hope it pays off for Chiarelli.

        But everyone is overpaid? Please.

          • OilerForLife

            McDavid – he left money on the table. This season will answer all our questions and some players will be a huge bargain. If Rattie fits with on the first line, there will be massive bargain. He played extremely well in the AHL, got his chance and didn’t blow it. It’s the Oilers turn to receive a player out of nowhere.

      • Arfguy

        @Jordan88 I hear you. People sometimes try to make points using stupid examples. The MVP of the last year league made…maybe a maximum of $3.8 million. The Art Ross trophy winner made maybe another $3.8 million this year, because of performance bonuses. People forget that Connor McDavid has been making his ELC money and getting extra for performance bonuses. But sure, Taylor Hall made $6 million and won the Hart trophy, so obviously he’s better value than the $12.5 million that Connor hasn’t made yet. #sarcasm

  • ComeAtMeDog

    If upshall can keep his nose clean he will be a good addition. Our back up is crazy expensive. We will see I always have a ton of hope but the years of basement dwelling have pounded that out. Playoffs or mcdavid wants out

  • CalOil

    Russell is an overpay, but the context is;
    the Sekera injury and the options available. If PC went to UFA to find a Sekera replacement we would have paid the about the same as we got for a known Russell.

    Koskinen is an overpay, the context is Talbot game is a big gamble.

    PC couldn’t chance another Prospect as backup. The list of UFA goalies is an uninspired lot of ok ish backups for predictability about $1M AAV. If Talbot stumbles for 20 games do you really want Johnson as our next best option?

    • CMG30

      I think you should re-evaluate your context. Sekera was simply never replaced and russell had no other offers. There were other options that could have been had for cheaper but Chirelli chose to overpay. Koskinen is a real head scratcher as there were several solid cheaper backups on the market when we went prospecting in europe. Hopefully this guy is some kind of goaltending savant, because chirelli is currently spending way to much at the goal position.

  • Squishin

    Get rid of Chiarelli! He has singlehandedly screwed over the Oilers franchise for years to come. Why he hasn’t been fired yet is beyond me. Haven’t you all been screaming for his job for the past three years? And if you haven’t, why not?

    a frustrated Flames fan who just wants the BOA to be good again

  • Soccer Steve

    Not to mention a power play that was basically non-existent. If we even see a minor improvement there we’ll win more games. With the new staff it better be a major improvement though.

  • OilCan2

    Camp starts this month. PC got Sekera & Lucic as the best UFAs available when they were signed. The cliff that they fell off is not his fault. Giving credit where its due we made the Dance. I know he wants the two picks back from the Reinhart deal but oh well. Draft picks under his watch include Bear, Yamamoto and a gaggle of goalies. This year could see some of them play into our success. Robin, you got it right that low key additions, PTOs and coaches added will be a chapter of this season’s storyline.

    • huey

      Totally agree – remember how we got pushed around so easily in the Western Conference? everyone was excited to get Lucic – yes we paid top dollar, but I remember how easily pushed around we were … still think it’s better to see if Looch can find his place, get his game back.

      • BobbyCanuck

        We were horrible last year, but we did not get pushed around, I do not think I could have handled it if we were horrible AND got pushed around…you know, like most of the last 10 yrs or so

  • CalOil

    RB – McDavid is 15.7% of our cap, that is a lot is that an overpay? No, but it effects who plays around him.

    Pittsburgh signed Sid (and Malkin) to huge contracts and it took a few years of cap growth to put quality around them.
    Crosby’s salary

    Capfriendly only goes to 2014

    Year, Sid salary rank, Stanley cup winner
    2014 #4 LAK
    2015 #6 CBH
    2016 #7 Pittsburgh
    2017 #8 Pittsburgh
    2018 #12 Washington

    • FlamesFanOtherCity

      Sid and Gino signed in a different era, where you could sign a 12 year deal and stretch it out over his declining years. Sid will be 37 at the end. Prime years he gets paid 10-12m. McDavid was always going to get paid. That’s not the issue. Paying Draisaitl $8.5m after one good season is crazy. That’s #1C money and he played most of the season as McDavid’s winger. End result is nothing done last year to help, knowing Sekera was out and nothing done this year knowing Sekera is out. TBH, this year isn’t even dire straights for cap management compare to next year. $62m for 8 forwards, 5 defense and zero goalies. Does not include Nurse or Puljujarvi’s next deal. Welcome to Cap H-E Double Hockeysticks. We’ve all been there.

  • Arfguy

    Personally, I liked the additions Chiarelli made. I kept hoping that he’d bring Nail Yakupov back in the fold, as I really think that McDavid could have used the kind of speed and skills Yakupov had, but alas…it didn’t come to pass.

    Brodziak, Rieder, Gravel, Jerabek…I think these small additions will pay off well for the Oilers.

  • A big personnel issue last season was the fact that the Oilers were abysmal in defensive scoring. When Nurse is on your top pair and becomes your top scoring defensman ranked 69th in league d-man points (with Benning, Klefbom, and Russell at 92nd, 93rd, and 94th) there is no blue line threat and teams learned to collapse more against them making it more difficult for the forwards to score around the net.

    With the Sekera injury, expecting the same d-pairs to produce more without them having proved it before is the biggest risk on the team. Chiarelli hasn’t really done much here to solve it the past two years other than waiting for Bear and now Bouchard to save them on that front, and plugging in some unproven depth