Great NHL teams do it. So do good teams. Bad teams see it occur the most.
What is it?
Roster changes. From the end of one season to the beginning of the next. It is inevitable in sports, and while I watch tonight’s game I’ll be wondering how many players will play their final home game in an Edmonton Oilers jersey, and how many are playing their final home game in the NHL? But also, how many season seat holders will be doing the same?
The reality of sports is tonight will be the final time many of the current 26-man roster will play a home game as a member of the Oilers.
Even if this team was good there would be off-season changes, but sitting in 25th place means many changes if the Oilers want to improve next season.
It is difficult to accurately say how many changes there will be, but out of the 26 players currently here, I’d say at least ten won’t be on the opening night roster next season.
They have five UFAs in Alex Chiasson, Anthony Stolarz, Alex Petrovic, Kevin Gravel and Brad Malone, and five RFAs in Jesse Puljujarvi, Jujhar Khaira, Ty Rattie, Tobias Rieder and Joe Gambardella. I expect they will try to re-sign Chiasson, and Puljujarvi, Khaira and Gambardella will for sure receive qualifying offers.
That leaves 16 players under contract, but some will be traded. Where and for whom will unfold over the summer.
There has been much discussion over potential buyouts, but no matter how often I crunch the numbers, I don’t see how buying out Milan Lucic helps the Oilers.
They would save $2.375 million in year one, $1.875 million in year three, but only $375, 000 in years two and four. Considering they have to replace his spot on the roster, even at the league minimum of $750,000, they would actually lose cap space in years two and four.
The day he signed his contract I felt there was a good chance the cost-per-point in the final three years of the deal would be tough to swallow. If he doesn’t improve, it will be the final five years. That hurts, no question, but unlike the second half of last season, Lucic wasn’t an emotional drain on the team this year. He’s played hard, he just hasn’t produced much.
The Oilers are likely better off to just keep him on the roster, play him in a bottom six role and hope he produces 20-25 points. The Tampa Bay Lightning are the best team in the NHL and they have Ryan Callahan and his $5.75 million contract on the books. He has 17 points compared to Lucic’s 21. I realize the Oilers aren’t close in overall talent to the Lightning, but my point is even the best teams have an unbalanced contract or two.
What the Oilers need is to have a few forwards on cheap contracts put up 35-40 points, and that will balance out the Lucic deal. Maybe there will be a compliance buyout for the expansion draft, although I doubt it, or maybe a trade is possible in the future. We’ve seen other players, with hefty contracts deemed untradeable, get moved.
I’m hesitant of any buyout because it leaves dead cap space at the end. The Oilers could buyout Andrej Sekera and save $3 million in cap space in each of the next two seasons, but then they would have $1.5 million of dead cap space in 2022 and 2023. Sekera can play in the NHL. He is a very good third pairing defender, he is just overpriced at this point. This summer the Oilers can trade him to 15 teams, and maybe a deal can be had where the Oilers retain some salary, and still save some cap space.
The Benoit Pouliot and Eric Gryba buyouts combine for $1.633 million of dead cap space next year and $1.3 million the following year. Adding to that is far from ideal, and if I’m the new GM, I’d look at trades and retaining salary before adding more dead cap space.
What is very unique about this off-season, is that it just won’t be the organization making tough decisions. Many season ticket holders (STH) have told me they aren’t renewing their seats. That isn’t as easy of a decision as some think. If you’ve been a season seat holder for 40, 30, 20, 10 or even three to five years, walking away isn’t easy. Being a season seat holder is a financial and emotional investment.
It is much easier to switch the channel at home, or only watch games when you feel like. Being a STH is a big commitment. Not only are you buying the seat, but you are also driving to the games and usually buying food or merchandise, or even 50/50 tickets. Some STH commute anywhere from 30 minutes to five hours depending on where they live. And that is one-way.
To give up the seats now is tough, because most fans still want to believe the team will be good. If you paid for seats since 2007, there have been very few positive emotional returns. You give up your seats now, and then next season the Oilers make the playoffs, some STH might feel like they gave up too early.
It might not sound rational, but I’ve spoken with many STH over the past decade and that internal battle goes on. Those who watch every game and read every article, have the same doubt, but if the Oilers are suddenly competitive next season, it is much easier to turn the TV back on, than it is to get your season seats back.
Many people have gotten to know the people in their section. They have bonded. They have become friends or the familiar face you see 40+ times a year and you share the same passion for the team. And there is the excitement, anger, frustration and jubilation that you share with 18,000 people every night.
To give that up isn’t easy, but many STH have reached their boiling point, and that should be a major wake up call to the Oilers organization.
LONG TIME STH SAYS GOODBYE
Every year a few people don’t renew for various reasons, but not very many. This year I’m hearing it could be upwards of 20%, if those who say they are going to cancel follow through. That is a massive number and it illustrates how frustrated fans are. It is not a spur-of-the-moment decision. The individuals or corporations who make the decision to walk away have thought about it for a long time. It has been building.
My last game as a STH after 40 years. I suspect there will be tears #OilCountryLovesYouMcDavid
— HugSpecialist (@OilersAlbMom) April 3, 2019
That is Cheryl Stuart. She and her husband, Brian, have been loyal season tickets holders for 40 years, but tonight is their last game. I reached out to find out what prompted them to walk away?
“We have watched the good, the bad and the ugly over the years…sadly the ugly part is dragging on. At the beginning of the season we talked about it (not renewing) a little, but as the season went on we were more and more upset by management decisions and their lack of commitment to the fans and players. Hearing Bob Nicholson blame the water in Edmonton, the culture in the dressing room (even though he helped put those players there) and then ultimately Tobias Reider was really a sign that the management has lost all vision of what this team can be. And even sadder knowing these same people are now going to be responsible for hiring new folks to take over really has given us no hope,” said Cheryl
In speaking with her I could sense her disappointment. Walking away isn’t easy, but the frustration with the organization goes beyond losing on the ice.
“I personally hate the whole “Loilty” tag the Oilers have attached to their fans,” said Stuart. We’ve been more than loyal, and let me be clear even though we’re giving up our tickets we are still staunch fans. We did not have a dedicated ticket manager for almost a year. We never heard from anyone until I was vocal on social media a few months ago; we did get a new rep and he’s very nice and brand new.
“But as someone who has paid my dues over 40 years I feel this is sad. In fact, I feel sorry for all these reps, as I’m sure their job has not been pleasant this year. As a STH, we get a discount at the Oilers store, but no other discounts in the arena – for food or drinks etc. The Oiler bucks are nice but everything is so costly, be it merchandise or food etc. It doesn’t go far.
“The last few years the opportunity to meet the players has been so limited and restricted. The “rules” around each of these event has become almost silly at times. I love Connor and the boys, but we had easier access to Wayne & Mark than we do now. In the past, we had regular contact with reps and even management who would wander around Rexall and chat with fans. There were more breakfasts, dinners and the like to share information and bonuses when you renewed like jackets etc.
“At the most recent STH dog and pony show there were many angry comments made by ticket holders which were mostly ignored and any comments made about our absentee owner was met with anger. We were told they have lots of plans -at least 50 to involve STH more next season…Seriously that should have been a continued practice and not something they are now dangling in an effort to entice us us to stay.”
She added one last thought.
“The year the Oilers started their wait list was the year they seemed to end caring about the fans. They don’t care I’m giving up my seats as they, supposedly, have a lineup of people behind me. They have no incentive to try and keep me or others. I understand this is a money making corporation, but it saddens me to think that after all this time I don’t matter. I love those boys on the ice and I hope they realize that the fans support them. I just see no hope for things getting better. I know there will be tears tonight watching my final game as a season seat holder, but we felt it was time to say no more,” she said.
The Stuarts are only one couple, but I sense they aren’t alone in their sentiments.
The Edmonton Oilers need to improve both on and off the ice.
Stolarz gets the start. His knee, which I’m told had swelled up, is good to go, but I suspect this is also a mental break for Koskinen.
The Sharks will finish second in the Pacific and open up at home against Vegas in round one. Earlier this week Erik Karlsson told Kevin Kurz from the Athletic, “Like I said before when I spoke to you about a month ago, I said I was going to be ready for the playoffs, and that’s still the case.” Karlsson’s return would be a huge boost for the Sharks.
Currently, Pavelski, Thornton, Karlsson, Nyquist and Donskoi are UFAs. I fully expect them to re-sign Pavelski, and if Thornton wants to play again he likely signs another one-year deal. If they don’t re-sign Karlsson they will have lots of room to renew both Nyquist and Donskoi if they want. If Donskoi goes to free agency, he’s a player the Oilers should look at. He did play most of the season with Kane and Hertl, and he has 37 points, after scoring 32 last year and 36 in 2016. Three out of the past four seasons he has been a decent point-producer.
I wouldn’t break the bank on him. He currently makes $1.9 million and will be 27 next season. He is a solid complementary right winger who can play up or down the lineup.
GAME DAY PREDICTION: The STH who sit in their seats for the final time don’t get the victory they want. Sharks win 4-3.
OBVIOUS GAME DAY PREDICTION: Joe Pavelski picks up a point and maintains his point-per-game pace against the Oilers. He entered the game with 53 points in 53 games against the Oil.
NOT-SO-OBVIOUS GAME DAY PREDICTION: Lucic scores a goal in consecutive games for the first time since he scored on April 1st, 4th and 6th in 2017.
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Source: NHL, Official Game Page, 4/4/2019 – 12:00 pm MT