As the sun came up Monday morning, the Oilers found themselves 27th overall, after a 3-10 November. (Technically, they are tied with Anaheim and Florida, but those teams have two games in hand.) Only Minnesota, Toronto and Carolina looked up at Edmonton.
Toronto may not have a number one pick, but the Maple Leafs do have $18 million US coming off their cap; the Hurricanes, $15 million. You’re assuming both teams will spend that money well, but at least they can breathe.
The Oilers? Not so much.
Fact is Edmonton is in a kind of cap purgatory. Only two of their top 12 paid players are up for free agency this summer. One (Fernando Pisani, $2.5 million), is unrestricted. The other (Denis Grebeshkov, $3.15 million) is restricted. Most of the contracts that clear this season are either depth players or entry-level guys.
Right now, there is very little flexibility going forward. The Oilers have $45 million committed for next season and $33 million for 2011-12. The scary thing about the second figure: It’s for only seven players – Shawn Horcoff, Dustin Penner, Ales Hemsky, Sheldon Souray, Lubomir Visnovsky, Tom Gilbert and Nikolai Khabibulin. Let’s look at those contracts a little more closely.
That leaves three players. Each is signed for two more years, each is due between $8.5-$9.5 million. It’s very hard to make trades during the season, but, in the summer, I could see a situation where teams might be interested. Souray’s no-trade expires soon, and there are no restrictions on either Penner or Hemsky. (Penner might actually have value with the resurrection of his career.) Not sure of the Oilers’ willingness to trade any of these players – particularly considering how much money they’ve invested in Hemsky and aggravation in Penner – but, if the choice is made to revamp the roster, there aren’t a ton of options.
I still believe that hiring the Pat Quinn/Tom Renney combo was a great idea. And, bringing in Mike Sillinger for development is an underrated move. If anyone can help players reach their potential, it’s him. That’s where the Oilers’ must shine now.
It’s clear the team needs a new nucleus, and there isn’t a ton of flexibility to go out and buy one.
I didn't check the comments on last week's 30 thoughts until recently, but wanted to address something. A number of you asked how I wrote inexperience cost the 2006 Olympic Team.
Here's how: Four defencemen (Regehr, McCabe, Bouwmeester, Redden) and nine forwards (Bertuzzi, Doan, Draper, Heatley, Lecavalier, Nash, Richards, St. Louis and Thornton) were competing at that level for the first time. Wayne Gretzky felt that was too many to handle that pressure.
NON-HOCKEY TOPIC I: MAN OF THE YEAR
Roughrider special teams coach Kavis Reed. No fans care more about the CFL than Saskatchewan’s. About 99 per cent of the time, that’s a great thing. But, after a brutal loss like in Sunday’s Grey Cup, it can be a very, very tough thing. Just ask Paul McCallum.
What did Reed do? He didn’t throw anyone under the bus, stepping up and taking the blame. That’s leadership.
“I can't put a player in that spot because it's my responsibility to make sure that doesn't happen," he said.
There are people in Saskatchewan who will never, ever forget that play. Never forgive whoever was responsible for the mistake. Reed is going to be that guy. It takes a big man to accept that.
NON-HOCKEY TOPIC II:
Is there anything Steve Nash can’t do? He slices the Raptors for 20 points and 16 assists, controlling the game at his whim. At 35, he’s playing better than he did when he won back-to-back MVPs (according to coach Alvin Gentry and Raptorcaster Leo Rautins).
Then, I go into the Suns’ dressing room after the game and he’s doing interviews in Spanish.
NON-HOCKEY THOUGHT III:
Just wanted to add this: During my (brief) reporting career, I've been astonished at many supposed public-relations experts butcher public-relations situations. Don't know if we'll ever learn what really happened at Tiger Woods' house. But I do believe this: What we were told was a complete lie. And that's going to make things a lot worse for him.
1. Best story I’ve heard in a long time: With Vancouver holding a 2-0 lead over Detroit in the 2002 Stanley Cup playoffs, Brendan Morrison lined up for a faceoff against Steve Yzerman. Morrison said Yzerman smiled and told him, “We’ve got you right where we want you.” The Red Wings would win four straight, eliminate the Canucks and take the Cup.
2. As I understand it: the Mike Cammalleri/Josh Gorges practice skirmish started because Cammalleri didn’t like how Gorges was knocking down his shoot-ins, preventing a drill from being properly run. They may not be big guys, but neither backs down.
3. It really wasn’t a big deal. As I tweeted: I’ve had bigger fights with my wife. (And, I’ve lost every one of them.)
4. If the league really wants to cut down on questionable head shots right now, keep ejecting players in-game. That, as much as suspensions, will change the mentality.
5. Ridiculous: Arguments that the league is prejudiced against the Flyers, pro-Red Wings, or whatever when it comes to supplemental discipline. The problem will never go away unless people put aside their own self-interest to solve the problem.
6. Very interesting I: Scott Howson and Ken Hitchcock admit they run player moves (like Samuel Pahlsson, for example) by Rick Nash. Mats Sundin angrily denied he ever wanted that power in Toronto.
7. After the Blue Jackets and agent Joe Resnick reached an agreement, the captain asked for it to be changed so that he’d take less cap room. Columbus added another year (the deal was originally seven). Nash doesn’t lose any money, but makes it easier for the team to add players.
8. Didn’t realize he’d totally clam up when I asked him about it in the pre-game, but Tomas Plekanec worked real hard on the mental side of his game last summer. He read some self-help books on confidence and got a pep talk from Jaromir Jagr. Jagr told him to stop beating himself up over mistakes.
9. In Ryan O’Byrne’s season-ending meeting with Bob Gainey, O’Byrne admitted he knew that if he had another season like last year, his career might be over. He took some boxing classes to improve cardio, worked on his skating and basically rededicated himself to the game.
10. It’s hard to explain how much it meant to Eric Fehr to be on the ice in the last seconds, given a chance to score a huge goal.
11. Capitals veterans (Chris Clark among them) have been quietly telling the younger players that, in a salary cap world, their team may not be able to stay together. They want the younger guys to understand how important it is to go hard when you have the chance to win.
12. Mathieu Perreault’s dad Harold was his minor hockey coach. After one soft performance, Harold told him, “If you cheat like that, you’ll never make the NHL.” Mathieu never forgot that advice.
13. David Steckel went 14-1 on faceoffs last Wednesday as Washington beat Buffalo. Why? He was motivated to pass the only guy better ahead of him in the rankings – Paul Gaustad. (He didn’t – still second, although Gaustad is hurt.)
14. Canadiens’ coaches really want Carey Price to be aggressive; to get out of the blue paint and challenge.
15. Roman Hamrlik said it right. The Canadiens are going to be killed by dumb penalties.
16. The Red Wings really need Todd Bertuzzi to get going, but he barely resembles the player he used to be.
17. Very interesting II: The New York Post reported that Islanders owner Charles Wang is willing to increase payroll in an attempt to reach the playoffs – and get a new building. That team only reached the salary minimum because of potential performance bonuses.
18. Some estimates are that Wang has lost $200 million since he bought the team. Yikes.
19. Is it possible that Evgeni Nabokov doesn’t make the Russian Olympic Team? Vladislav Tretiak said he was going to talk to Nikolai Khabibulin and Ilya Bryzgalov during his current tour, while Semyon Varlamov put on a pretty good show for the goaltending great in Montreal.
20. Really fortunate to witness Tretiak running into Jean and Elise Beliveau Saturday night. Standing 15 feet away, you could feel the respect.
21. OK, who decided the Florida Panthers would rip-off the Pittsburgh Penguins – with a deeper shade of blue?
22. Read this Montreal Gazette story on prospective Coyotes owner Steve Stotland. One question: Why was Stotland twice denied in his attempt to buy the CFL Argonauts?
23. One GM, asked if Brendan Burke’s decision to announce he is gay would prevent him from getting an NHL job sometime in the future: “Not at all.” (Should say: the GM in question was not Brendan’s dad.)
24. Would be surprised if Team Canada took all of Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau and Dany Heatley. The three of them don’t have enough success in high-pressure situations.
25. The league blames the Olympics for the compressed schedule, but the biggest issue is building availability. The NHL asks for each team to provide at least 71 possibilities for home games per season, but some really busy arenas can’t do that.
26. Most underrated NHL player: Blackhawks defenceman Niklas Hjalmarsson.
27. Great Read: Snapshots, a Red Wings blog, has the English transcript of a Swedish interview with Johan Franzen. It’s the best story I’ve ever seen on Franzen, and explains why he’s so shy.
28. I’m going to steal this question for my next player interview. Good for Mike Rupp, though.
29. Why Robert Lang was a great signing for Phoenix: Guy Carbonneau says Lang’s injury was such a killer for Montreal last year because Lang always showed up with a smile. No matter how bad things went, he was upbeat, constantly reminding players hockey is supposed to be fun. Considering what’s going on in Coyoteland, those kinds of players are a must.
30. Seen a lot of ceremonies in the last year, some of them good, some of them...not so much. But really looking forward to Friday night, when the Canadiens finish the 100th anniversary celebrations. Nobody does big moments better than Montreal.
BONUS NUMBER 31
31. Roberto Alomar is a first-ballot Hall-of-Famer. Best second baseman of his generation. I’m a Ryne Sandberg geek, but Sandberg’s not in the same class.
Have a question for Elliotte? Send an email to: CBCHockeyOnline@cbc.
Ed. note: In non-hockey thought II, Nash's 16 rebounds has been changed to 16 assists. Good eyes, "DR. TML."
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