OK so maybe I am carrying a grudge.
Maybe I'm a little confused as to how Kevin Lowe Obi-Waned Sheldon St-Laurent into the chasm of boredom that is the city of Edmonton. Maybe I'm a bit stumped that Baywatch went West Edmonton Mall over anything else this 30 team mosaic of choices has to offer.
Maybe my thoughts have dissolved into mangled confusion over the reality that a small marbles team like the Edmonton Oilers can have the adverse effect on the market that almost left them for dead in the first place in the baroque years (pre-lockout, of course).
Whatever the case, in an off-season so dull that I would chose to watch a documentary about skin disorders affecting armadillos over anything hockey related, Kevin Lowe has, for the least, kept my summer hockey pulse beating the faint sounds of ambivalence. He's been the headline grabber all summer.
The Oilers are the team that went from getting screwed, to screwing back, to not getting what they wanted, then getting what they wanted, to screwing back, and finally to getting what they wanted so there.
In hockey terms, the last sentence translates to Nylander, Vanek, Regier, Souray, Penner, Burke and back to Penner. And in between, the Oilers have managed to conjure up more reaction from the league than any other team. Go figure, Little Edmonton, Disturber of Shit.
This long sentence commands some attention.
Nylander - Getting Screwed
At first the Oilers announced that forward Michael Nylander had signed with the team, and were therefore shocked to learn that he agreed to a US$19.5-million, four-year contract with the Capitals the next day.
This was Lowe's first inflationary penchant of the summer. Nylander did have a career season setting career highs in goals (26), assists (57) and points (83) with the New York Rangers last season. But one can't discount the Jaromir Jagr factor. In short, if I'm painting a sky with my crayola crayons and Pablo Picasso happens to drop in for a few pointers, well let's just say I wont be tucking a quarter sun in the upper right corner of my canvass anymore.
But Lowe is aware that the team is short on offensive prowess and that he needs to save face with the fans after the Ryan Smyth, "no, I won't throw in a bag of Doritos you for" debacle. Smyth goes to Colorado while he could have remained the Oiler poster boy for years, for far less than what he wound up signing for in Denver.
The team sent Nylander's agent, Mike Gillis, the NHL Standard Players Contract and waited for the formality, that is, the signed agreement. Shaft ensues. Camp Le Screw publicly announced that Nylander had subsequently entered into a long-term contract with the Capitals.
A dismayed Oilers team warned of legal repercussions:
“The Oilers can find no precedent for such conduct in our history. The Oilers are examining and pursuing every course of action available in the best interest of the team and our fans." That was the official word out of Edmonton while backstage the team must have been resigned to the fact that it was going to be impossible to get Nylander back. Besides, this was no way to inaugurate a player-management relationship.
Although Kevin Lowe has surely instructed team lawyers to seek out all legal routes available, the hockey branch of this equation is a dead issue.
As the dust settled (and it had to quickly amidst the UFA signing frenzy) Lowe was armed with a new tool: a sense of entitlement. And so began Mission OK, now I'm pissed.
Vanek - Screwing Back
Lowe set his sights on a move that would put a GM on the fence. He needed to target RFAs, who de facto are young and mostly unproven talents. The gamble required here is to make a kid who has shown significant promise an offer bordering on insanity. It has to be a hefty one and because of the cap restrictions it may only be so if it is a long term offer. Like 7 years long, like 7 years and 50 million ways to say I love you.
Lowe preyed on the Buffalo Buffaloes (I'm sorry, if the focal point of your uniform is a Buffalo, then you play for the Buffaloes - and until the Sabre on the crest appears a tad larger than a hamster foetus' penis, I will refuse to call them the Sabres).
Darcy - Not Getting What They Wanted
Lowe went after the right player, but he stalked the wrong man at the helm of the wrong team. Since Dany Briere and Chris Drury pulled the old Sayonara Choochoo on Darcy, the GM was left with very little wiggle room in his decision to keep Vanek and a ton of cap room to effectuate the reverse Go Screw Yourself on Lowe. He should have known better. I guess the plethora of lawyers counseling the Oilers were too busy trying to pull a rabbit out their asses with the Nylander situation to stop Lowe from jacking up the market value for every sophomore in the NHL. How soon they forget.
Bad moves dot com. Kevin. Bad moves dot com. Look it up.
Sheldon St-Laurent - Getting What They Wanted
This falls into the Julia Roberts married Lyle Lovett?! category. Are you totally shitting me!! OK, that's enough.
Penner - Screwing Back
The Vanek move redux. This time, Lowe learns from mistakes from days before (and maybe one lawyer stopped milking the Nylander file to guide Lowe in the right direction). He angles in on a team that is so cap tight that it becomes mathematically impossible for them to match the offer without shedding a body, and a Stanley Cup winning body at that. Brilliant move for some. One of asswipic proportions for others.
Burke - Getting What They Wanted, So There
Rumor has it that Burke knew of this move in advance and actually approved it because it would force management in Anaheim into making a decision about the unsigned Penner. If that's true, Burkie pulled off a great acting job, which isn't totally impossible considering his proximity to Hollywood.
Duck management (that sounds funny) decided against the match, making Penner an Oiler in the process. For 21 million over 5 years. The money Lowe refused to give to Smyth, which in retrospect was a bargain, he gave to Penner. And through it all, he catapulted the RFA offer sheet out of irrelevance.
The impact on the NHL
The rule of precedent bows to the art of distinguishing. GMs can subtract Lowe's move out of the equation by agreeing that the signing which results form a third party offer sheet presented to an RFA may not be used as a comparable. This segregation would minimize the eruptive effect on player salaries that Lowe's antics have yielded.
However, escalating salaries aside, if the purpose is to land the player, then Lowe orchestrated the right sequence of events. He showed that it works, and for a talent hungry team, it's food for fodder.
Lowe played by the rules. Fair enough. But in so doing, he rejected the notion that the lockout meant something to small market teams. He trivialized the wiping out of an entire season. He turned. Once at the head of a team at risk, Lowe allows for clouds to gather in the distance and slowly hover over a league that may again be haunted by the spectre of a devastating shutdown as the life of the current CBA eventually draws to a close.
But upon further reflection, what really matters throughout all of this is that not since Ishtar has anyone overpaid this much for a Dustin.