Saturday, July 11, 2009

The Northwest So Far - Edmonton Oilers

This is the last installment of my series on where each team in the Northwest stands after the first week of free agency. I've been looking at the budget for each team, both this coming season and the 2010-2011 season, as well as taking a brief snapshot of each of their significant NHL level moves over the last month. In terms of budget expectations, I will use the following as a basic guideline with 56.8M as the cap figure for this season and 50.0M as the possible cap figure for 2010-2011 to see how flexible teams are if the cap declines:

Top 3 Forwards - 27.5%
Middle 6 Forwards - 20.0%
Top 4 Defenders - 27.5%
Goaltending - 10.0%
Bottom 8 players - 15.0%

Many of the statistics used for evaluation wouldn't be possible without the wonderful resources available at, Behind the Net and Time on Ice (thanks Vic and Gabe). I have already taken a look at the Calgary Flames, Minnesota Wild, Vancouver Canucks and Colorado Avalanche. The final team has won more Stanley Cups than the other four combined but none since Freddie Mercury died (We Are The Champions!), the Edmonton Oilers:

Budget 2009-2010 (56.8M Cap)

Top 3 Forwards - Horcoff, Hemsky, Penner = 13.85 or 24.4%

Middle 6 Forwards - O'Sullivan, Pisani, Moreau, Gagner, Cogliano, Nilsson = 12.18 or 21.4%

Top 4 Defenders - Visnovsky, Souray, Gilbert, ??? = 15.00 or 26.4%

Goaltending - Khabibulin, Deslauriers = 4.38 or 7.7%

Bottom 8 Players - Staios, Strudwick, ???, Pouliot, Stortini, MacIntyre, Jacques, ??? = 5.99 or 10.5%

Once the top 4 defenders are completed by Grebeshkov the Oilers will have overspent on their top four defenders but that extra expense is made up for with some savings on the first line, in goal and in the bottom 8 players. There has been quite some discussion about moving out one of those defenders (and I have participated) but, unless they're sincerely worried about a declining cap, I think that it's probably better to stick with the top four guys that they have. If they are worried about the cap, they should be moving one of the two older players along. In either case, where the money is really being spent inefficiently is in the middle 6 forwards. Pisani and Moreau have had a difficult time staying healthy over the last three years and the other four players are all both small and young which really isn't a recipe for success. For the Oilers to have success I think they'll need to do some shuffling of pieces in that part of the lineup. Moving out one of the smaller and younger forwards in favour of a player with experience taking on some tougher minutes and some size (Nilsson out and Malhotra in could work nicely) along with a smart PK signing in the bottom 8 (Blair Betts would fit well here) could do wonders for this forward group. If they get that (and some good health) they can reasonably think about playing some playoff games this year, which would be a welcome change from the last three years.

1. Edmonton trades Kyle Brodziak + 2009 6th round pick to Minnesota for 2009 4th round pick + 2009 5th round pick. I think this that this trade was pretty foolish for the Oilers. It comes down to moving out a useful NHL player for virtually nothing. This trade is one of the main reasons the Oilers now need to pick up a veteran 4th line center as well as the 2nd toughs center they already needed. Brodziak was taking an enormous amount of defensive zone draws for the Oilers this year and they really don't have anyone to take over for him right now. Trading away depth for negligible return just isn't a good idea as far as I'm concerned. For a further analysis of this trade, you can see my post from a couple of weeks ago.

2. Edmonton almost trades Andrew Cogliano, Ladislav Smid and Dustin Penner to Ottawa for Dany Heatley. To begin with evaluating any kind of trade, I want to ask, what kind of player is Dany Heatley? Well, this year on the Senators, Heatley took 40 more faceoffs in the offensive zone than the defensive zone (the team as a whole took 13 more offensive than defensive zone faceoffs). His quality of competition was 5th among Ottawa forwards. The year before, Heatley took 100 more faceoffs in the offensive zone than the defensive zone (the team as a whole took 160 more offensive than defensive zone faceoffs). His quality of competition was 2nd among Ottawa forwards. Tyler Dellow has shown that in terms of scoring points at even strength, Dany Heatley is among the very best. Dany Heatley is an offensive player. He can take on good competition and win but in order for his talents to be maximized he needs to be put into offensive situations. In order to make good use of a player like this, the rest of your team needs to be able to move the puck in the right direction. Last year, outside of Shawn Horcoff's line, the Oilers didn't do a very good job of this.

If Heatley's coming to Edmonton there had better be a bunch of other movement too. The rest of the forward group needs to be able to move the puck the right way. In my view, the best way to do this is by having Sam Gagner take on some tougher competition with as many offensive zone faceoffs as possible alongside Heatley and Hemsky. That way, the offensive players are still taking on some toughs and yet they're still in a strong position to provide offense. Horcoff and Pisani would then form the basis of another line that would be forced to take a ton of defensive zone draws and tough matchups with the goal of sawing off with the opposition. A third line would then need to be constructed that could handle the fact that their primary job was to keep the puck moving the right way. The Oilers do not currently have the players or the budget for a line like this and would probably need to get them through trading one of their top 4 D options (along with what'sleft among the young and small forwards) and replacing that D with someone cheaper. The kind of trade I'm thinking of would be something like O'Sullivan + Visnovsky + Prospects (as needed) to Long Island for Trent Hunter and Radek Martinek. Then, they would need a couple of UFA signings to shore up the center position. This "Heatley" roster would look something like this:

Top 3 Forwards - Heatley, Gagner, Hemsky = 13.23 or 23.3%

Middle 6 Forwards - Moreau, Horcoff, Pisani, Moore (2M), Malhotra (2M), Hunter = 16.00 or 28.2%

Top 4 Defenders - Souray, Gilbert, Grebeshkov (3.5), Martinek = 14.60 or 25.7%

Goaltending - Khabibulin, Deslauriers = 4.38 or 7.7%

Bottom 8 Players - Staios, Peckham, Strudwick, Jacques, Stortini, Betts (1M), Pouliot, MacIntyre = 7.59 or 13.4%

Well then, that was fun. They even have 1M left in cap space to play with for injuries and trades and I didn't trade any of the 90s boys (though I did send Nilsson away for unspecified picks, to the Islanders if they'd take him or to the minors). If this is the kind of team the Oilers want to ice for the next three years (the Heatley/Hemsky window) then I think the Heatley trade is a good idea. Dany Heatley is an elite offensive player. He's the kind of player that can make a big difference for a team that's ready to win. The price in trade really isn't that steep. Sure Smid might turn out and Penner is a pretty good player and Cogliano has some real potential but none of those guys are elite players. None of them are really worth building a game plan around. Dany Heatley is good enough at scoring goals that he probably is. Of the players on the Oilers the only two that have even a marginal claim to that status are that Ales Hemsky and Sam Gagner and neither of them are going the other way in the trade. As such, this trade is probably a bigtime win for the Oilers, but it will only be so if they actually do the rest of the building.

As for the potential "character" issues... Tambellini has worked with Dany Heatley many times and doesn't seem worried about them. Shawn Horcoff has played and won with him many times and doesn't seem worried about them. The fact that other people are worried about them is what makes this such a good deal for Edmonton. Now, he certainly has made some poor decisions (speeding and killing a close friend... eep) but I know that I myself have done some stupid things as a young man (including driving a car faster than I should have). If Heatley comes to Edmonton, I'll have no problem cheering for him.

3. Edmonton signs Nikolai Khabibulin to a four year deal at 3.75M per year. This was a poor signing by the Oilers. The first reason for this is that, quite simply, Khabibulin hasn't been a very good goaltender over the last several years. To be sure, he had a good year last season, but in the three previous seasons his numbers were very poor. In both 2005-06 and 2006-07 Khabibulin posted below average save percentage numbers of .886 (.899 at EV) and .902 (.913 at EV). In 2007-08 he was about average with .909 (.916 at EV) and in 2008-09 he was well above average with .919 (.933 at EV). Given his age and recent history (one out of the last four seasons clearly above average) it seems very unlikely that Khabibulin will be able to provide above average goaltending over the duration of the contract.

From a salary cap perspective, Nikolai Khabibulin is a poor signing because of the term that he was given as an over-35 signing. Because of his age Khabibulin will count againt the Oilers cap no matter what. If he retires, he counts against the cap. If he's sent to the minors, he counts against the cap. The one possible saving grace is loaning Khabibulin to a KHL team. Since there were other options available who were under-35 and have performed as well as Khabibulin or better over the last several seasons (including Martin Biron who's still available) it seems odd that the Oilers chose to sign Khabibulin. It seems even odder that they decided to sign him for four years. Even Khabibulin himself seemed surprised by the offer.

And that's the rub in this whole situation. Tyler Dellow has been saying for months how the goaltending market this year had more goalies than jobs (incidentally, Tyler thought that the Oilers did a pretty inexcusable job of gauging the goalie market this summer). So why did the Oilers sign Khabibulin on the first day of free agency? Why did they offer him such a generous term? Why couldn't they understand that they were in a strong negotiating position, that they could get good goaltending without taking on much risk? Why!? The first reason is that I think that management incorrectly believes that Khabibulin was the best goalie available this year and they've made some kind of coup. I don't agree with this position, but clearly the Oilers feel that Khabibulin over four years is much better than Roloson over two years. Roloson signed for 1.25M cheaper and for a term that's half as long. That's a substantial amount of extra risk for the Oilers to assume. Now, I would've thought they failed in the goalie market if they'd picked up Roloson for two years at 2.5M but even that deal would have been preferable to what the Oilers actually did. The other reason for this signing is probably the organizational memory of the Conkannen experiment. To some bloggers a tandem of Craig Anderson and Ty Conklin for 3M combined seems pretty wonderful. In Edmonton, it's understandable that fans are a little more leery. The 2005-2006 goaltending was terrible and that's really too bad. If it hadn't been so bad the Oilers would probably be a lot more open to signing a non-name goalie and would therefore be able to better understand their advantageous negotiating position with respect to goalies. Still, I can see how Conkannen would be pretty hard to get over. Particularly after Game 1 of the SCF.

4. Edmonton signs Jason Strudwick to a one year deal at 0.70M per year. Strudwick took on the easiest competition the opposition had to offer, took 11 more offensive than defensive zone draws and had the percentages fall his way (PDO of 101.6). Yet his Corsi number was -210 on a team that was -359 and was a -5 at playing 5v5. The scoring chance numbers show the same terrible picture. Jason Strudwick is a bad defenceman. In his defence, Strudwick did need to move from forward to defense on a few occasions and was often saddled with poor teammates. But at some point that's just not a good enough excuse. I know that he's a good guy in the room and that he can fight some but I would have liked for the Oilers to have gone in a different direction for the seventh defender. To be perfectly frank, if I were in the Oilers position I'd try to hire three of the best physical guys at the AHL level to one-way deals and tell them that they'll all be battling with Theo Peckham for one job in the Show. I believe that they'd likely end up with a better player than Strudwick (and the minor league team would improve too).

5. Edmonton signs Chris Minard to a one year deal at 0.55M per year. Minard has some NHL experience and joins Ryan Potulny as a player that will probably be playing the vast majority of the year in the AHL. He's a guy that can put up points and demonstrate what being a professional is to all of the players in Springfield. I always like these signings because they help to provide a winning environment in the AHL and give the Oilers the depth they might need if injuries mount. A nice depth signing by the Oilers.

Budget 2010-2011 (50.0M Projection non-Heatley edition)

Top 3 Forwards - Penner, Horcoff, Hemsky = 13.85 or 27.7%

Middle 6 Forwards - O'Sullivan, Nilsson, Moreau, ???, ???, ??? = 6.93 or 13.9%

Top 4 Defenders - Souray, Gilbert, Visnovsky, ??? = 15.00 or 30.0%

Goaltending - Khabibulin, ??? = 3.75 or 7.5%

Bottom 8 Players - Staios, ???, ???, Stortini, ???, ???, ???, ??? = 3.4 6.8%

This chart is a bit scary for the Oilers. They really aren't in good financial shape in any area except for goal and even there, they're not in a position to save money. Without moving any pieces, the Oilers would have about 3M for three middle 6 forwards, 1.25M for a top 4 defender, 1.2M for two bottom pairing defenders, 0.5M for a backup goalie and 2.25M for four bottom of the roster forwards. So it's not impossible. But that's pretty grim. And there's no room for either Gagner or Cogliano. If there's a deal on the table that offers value but no salary for any of the middle 6 forwards the Oilers should probably take it. If the Oilers can move Staios, it would be a good idea. Depending on how much the cap goes down, the Oilers may need to trim the amount they're spending on the defense. They aren't the only ones in this type of situation but the Oilers would do well to recognize the potenital peril and move a body or two out the door (for me, it's at least two of Penner, Nilsson, O'Sullivan and Moreau). Unless they get Heatley. Then we'll need to revisit how the Oilers trim around the edges effectively.


nu said...

I always wonder why Oilers fans don't give more weight to the fact that it was pretty much everyone on the team other than Conklin -- Roloson for all his clutchness included -- who blew a 3-0 lead.

Without giving up 4 straight to the Canes with a distinct lack of Conklin, the game isn't tied when Roli gets hurt and Conks suddenly has to play for the first time in three months, and the Brindy goal isn't frozen in carbon on Youtube till eternity as the GW. I understand that Conklin's regular season (along with Markkanen) was godawful, that this goal was agonizing at the time, and that it makes such a good punchline, but with hindsight the scapegoat has managed to do far, far, FAR better for himself than anyone would have imagined after Game 1, however much that may irritate Oilers fans more.

As M-A Fleury (who vastly benefited from Conklin, actually) said after sitting on the Cup-winner in 2008, after months of being pissed: "It's a seven-game series. You don't lose because of one goal."

Well, they didn't re-sign the 2006 bastion of clutchness who gave up 4, either. There's no reason to think Khabibulin won't be effective (except for age), but perhaps when Oilers fans get past the view of that goal as the most important moment in Conklin's career and the need to link that video, management will finally get the courage to trust in something or someone besides overspending. :) ?

Scott Reynolds said...

I actually would have been happier if they'd signed Conklin for four years so I'm not trying to get hung up on that goal. I do, however, believe that the way Conklin and Markkanen performed over the course of that season and that Game 1 goal in particular has now caused management to be more cautious about goaltending. I will, however, still continually link to that youtube clip. Bob Cole's call is just too priceless to pass up.

As for Khabibulin, I think it's more likely than not that he's below average over the course of the deal. Age is certainly a big factor (Curtis Joseph was a good goalie, but his age 37-40 years leave a little something to be desired and he's one of the lucky ones that managed to play until 40), but so is Khabibulin's poor record of performance over the past four seasons. He just hasn't been very good with the exception of last year.

Believe me, I would have been much happier with the Anderson/Conklin tandem.

Kent W. said...

Edmonton signs Jason Strudwick to a one year deal at 0.70M per year. Strudwick took on the easiest competition the opposition had to offer, took 11 more offensive than defensive zone draws and had the percentages fall his way (PDO of 101.6). Yet his Corsi number was -210 on a team that was -359 and was a -5 at playing 5v5

Wow. That is stunningly bad.

Sean said...

Edmonton is a market that needs a vet goaltender more than most. The Roli hire was successful and those that arent tough mentally have failed. Khabibulin at the price I'm OK with, its the term that's alarming. The only chance of getting value in the later years of the contract is by using Bulin as a mentor and getting value out of JDD/Dubnyk or whomever...

Scott Reynolds said...

I agree that the price isn't terrible, but even there the Oilers probably should have been able to get a better deal. Khabibulin will have received $1M per year more than any other free agent goaltender this off-season. Is he that much better than the other goalies that were available (Roloson, Conklin, Biron, Fernandez, Legace, Anderson)? His track record since the lockout doesn't suggest that he is. In fact, it suggests that some of the other goalies may be better simply at stopping pucks. So I don't think the price they got was very good at all.

That said, the term really is the major sore point. Even if Khabibulin becomes a "mentor" for one of the younger goalies, I have a hard time believing he will be worth $3.5M against the cap. In my view, the only way he provides value on the back end of the deal is for him to have a completely different career curve than the vast majority of NHL goalies.

Vic Ferrari said...

Yes Scott, but what is Mike Smith's clutch-rating for Khabibulin? I bet it's through the roof.