Wednesday, August 15, 2007

A Sentence in Edmonton

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.


HabsFan29 said...

Jordi is ether gonna love or hate this post

salary cap said...

Lawyers, eh?
tsk tsk
Navel gazing inside the old CBA won't enlighten you on cause and effect in a capped environment. Do some research, unless you like exposing your limitations.

Big T said...


Lowe's moves are definately inflationary for RFA's. But agree or disagree with the price - and I agree with the price on both offer sheets, but just barely - your final conclusion is dead wrong.

This isn't about making all players salaries higher. These moves didn't change the market in that way. What they did was force teams into paying for high quality talents earlier in their careers rather than later.

The cap prevents the total amount to be spent on player salaries from rising above 54% of league wide revenues. It's impossible for every player's salary to rise unless the league increases its revenues. That's the only way. One guy gets a raise it has to come out of some other guys pocket.

What Lowe has changed is now older players and lower skill players will be the ones that will be squeezed - and squeezed mightily. This is where the increases for younger skilled players salaries will come from. There just hasn't been enought time for this to be worked through the entire league's salary structure.


Mark said...

I think you've taken the wrong spin here in a couple ways:

1) What constitutes a small market team now? The Oilers are clearly in the top 10 of revenue and were coming of a prolonged playoff run. They had money to spend. The small market concept is dead. What is alive is the "high revenue vs. low revenue" teams. American teams in non-traditional markets are now the low income earners, and should be up against the bottom line in the next few years just as the Canadian teams were in the last CBA.

2) The money "not" spent on Ryan Smyth was a good move by many here in Edmonton. Ales Hemsky is one of the best young playmaking forwards in the game, he just has not played with a high end finisher yet. While Smyth was a productive goal scorer, his style did not compliment Hemsky. He did not find open ice and did not have a strong "one-timer". Petr Sykora was this person for the Oilers, and in the first 25 games he had 18 goals. But his footspeed was suspect and his defensive game was even more suspect (a no-no on a Mac T team). The bottom line is that Smyth did not make the players around him better at all. With Penner, you have a big guy who can dig pucks out of the corner, get them to the play maker, find open ice and score. All of Smyth's goals came from the crease.

2A) Everyone thinks that Ryan Smyth was the leader or "heart and soul" of the team. Not one player, although dismayed by his trade, claimed they would miss his leadership. Outside of Edmonton, he's the player that everyone knows, but here, the leaders are Staios and Moreau.

3) The money was also refused to Smyth because he's six years older than Penner. The abuse that Smyth takes to do his work takes a toll later on in a guy's career. Ask the person who invented that role for the Oilers, former assistant Craig Simpson. I can see Smyth have two more productive years before he becomes a Bertuzzi and his back craps out. He's already had both of his knees rebuilt.

The bottom line here is this ... what would you rather, your GM do nothing except maybe sign Hamerlik? The Oilers have money, and have to get the word out there that they are now willing to spend it. It's like Utah of the NBA. Sometimes you have to overpay because of the other circumstances of the city.

HabsFan33 said...

Edmonton Fans! Welcome to the party!

Primo: I agree wholeheartedly about the low revenue vs. high revenue divide that now strikes at the core of the NHL (see previous post

Segundo: HOWEVER!!!: The idea of paying for young talent sooner rather than later equates to a jumping the gun tactic: you're telling me with a stright face that it makes sense TODAY to offer 50 million to Vanek? It may in 3 years from now when the cap rises and the kid is burning up the league, but what has he proven TODAY? If you are going to make an offer to an RFA it's because you know it has to be one that will give his team a hard time to match, or else why waste your time?

The point is that some teams will not be able to make these strides because if Vanek is now worth 7, then by that logic countless more are worth 8,9 and 10M. It doesn't make sense. And then the new have nots in the NHL will be forced to pay their second tier players top dollar, while a new elite of nouveau riche snatches up the real talent.

God bless Edmonton and their beloved fans. We shall meet again.

Jordi said...

Whoo yeah! Sheldon Souray! Who cares that I love Angelica Bridges like I love leprosy! I am still ready to welcome him with open arms so I can blame all defensive problems on him like Craig Simpson!

Nonetheless, RE: Ryan Smyth was worth a pack of pretzels and a cup of juice. Fucking hell. Projectile vomit. Seriously. If I ever hear that used to justify Dustin anything. Remember when Lupul was going to score goals, we thought we had that one in the bag. Fuck Dustin Penner. Literally. (well not in the literal you know - oh fuckit.)

No hating on the post, unless it's directed at the Oilers org. But if you say something nasty about that bad boy Torres I'm going to give a stern talking.