Realistic Options for Next Season: Is a Team Blow Up Easier Said Than Done?

David Staples brought to attention an interesting scenario should the Oilers decide that a rebuild becomes priority #1. I'm not sure I'm necessarily ready to write-off this season yet, but in all reality, one has to notice that the Oilers chances of a post-season spot get slimmer and slimmer each passing day.

Staples talked about how, should the Oilers choose, to move contracts the average fans seems to call impossible to move. Most think that high-priced, long-term contracts in todays NHL are something each team will be stuck with. Staples makes a case that we may be assuming too much.

What I found most interesting about David Staples "expired contract" theory, is that in his list of players for each team whose contracts are coming due, there are a number of players that might be possible, if not easier more attractive targets for the Edmonton Oilers next season than what this season offers.

Most of us shutter at the thought of moving Sheldon Souray, Lubomir Visnovsky, Nikolai Khabibulin or others, simply because on an Edmonton team full of rookies and inconsistencies, they seem the most stable.

Staples did an excellent job at explaining how it would be possible to move those names, so I won't get into it here, but would you feel more at ease with their exits if players like Joe Corvo, Adrian Aucoin, Alexei Ponikarovsky, Anton Volchenkov, Evgeni Nabokov, Martin Biron or others became available to take their place?

I'm not suggesting by any means that these players are shoe-ins as available to Edmonton, nor will their respective teams not do everything in their power to keep some of them. In fact, I'll be honest, many of them are not really options here in Edmonton.

That said, some of them are bound to find new homes and for Edmonton to be more successful than they are now, they don't need to attract all of those players. They need one, maybe two at best to compliment a group of young prospects that could be close to making the jump to the NHL, while at the same time making salary space for the many expiring contracts the Oilers currently see coming due.

Consider what happened this past summer with teams who filled their rosters with what many considered "spare parts" after the initial crop of big name free agents moved. Phoenix, Colorado, Atlanta and others have made the practice of waiting not only feasible, but successful.

Consider too that a lot of those teams that made big splashes over the past couple years no longer have the room to make splashes again. Those teams that drafted well are now paying for the skill they've drafted and other teams can't afford to keep expiring contracts because they have too much tied up in their current rosters.

Case in point in San Jose. Unless either Marleau or Nabokov are willing to take larger pay-cuts to stay with the Sharks, the potential for San Jose to afford both players becomes difficult. They have Joe Pavelski, Devin Setoguchi, Rob Blake and others they'd either have to work out deals with, let go or trade to make it work. Of course, Marleau and Nabokov are having stellar years so they'll be worth top dollar on the open market.

There are other teams in a similar situation, but my point is more if they Oilers can clean house or at least move one or two big money contracts at the deadline for expiring deals, who might I consider a good pick for Edmonton once the dust settles?

Ray Whitney

He's a short-term solution at his age, but that's exactly what Edmonton needs at this juncture. While the young guys develop their game, who better than a local veteran like Ray Whitney, who might be allowed to slip away from a team in Carolina far worse off than the Oilers are.

A local product, it might make sense that Whitney spend the last one or two years on of his career in his home town. The team that picks up Whitney should get him at a discount if he doesn't stay with the Hurricanes and he's bound to net you 15-20 goals a season easily.

Carolina won't make the playoffs and they'll be a seller at the deadline. Pick up a player like Whitney and convince him to sign for one year at an affordable rate.

Tomas Holmstrom

I made a case a while back that it would have been nice to see the Oilers make a play to trade for the grizzly forward. Holmstrom was coming off a poorer season and might have been had for a good price thanks to Detroits desire to make Johan Franzen that guy.

However, with the injury to Franzen, Holmstrom has stepped up and proved how valueable an asset he can be.

Still, with a returning Franzen and a crop of young kids in Detroit's farm system, Holmstrom may choose to either a) finish his career in Detroit at a discounted rate or b) go for one or two more good years of revenue with a team willing to pay something for what he brings.

Detroit seems to be a team that takes on short-term inexpensive contracts to compliment a core of long-term players. At Holmstrom's pace, he'll get offers higher than $2.25 million and it won't likely be Detroit offering it. Edmonton could pony up $3 million per and for a guy with the size of the heart Holmstrom has, he'd be worth it.

Holmstrom won't be going anywhere at the deadline, but at the start of free agency, he could be one of those surprises that takes a while to get signed.

Marc-Andre Bergeron

No one seems to want to keep this kid, yet every year he proves that in the right situations he can be a real asset to a team. He was good in Edmonton on the powerplay and he's been good there in Montreal since they picked him up last minute thanks to injuries.

People seem to think Bergeron is a terribly horrid defensive player, and it might be true that he's not considered a shut-down guy, but he's a respectable plus/minus -1 on a Montreal team that gets scored on frequently.

Frankly I find Bergeron a better investment for my money at $750,000 than I do Gilbert at $4 million and Grebeshkov at $3.2 million. When Bergeron signs again for less than $1 million for whatever team he's shipped to next, I'll still feel that way knowing a reliable offensive d-man at his price allows for investment in other areas.

Martin Biron or Evgeni Nabokov

If the Oilers can successfully move Khabibulin, perhaps they can get the goalie situation right this time around. It's not that I don't like Khabibulin. I have to admit, much like Roloson before him, he's done his job and then some to keep the Oilers in games.

However, by next season the Oilers should know if either Dubnyk or Deslauriers are items you keep or items you discard. If they discard both, make your big splash in net with a tender like Nabokov. He turns 35 literally 24 days after free agency opens, so his cap hit won't hurt the Oilers if he retires early and he's still good for a 4 or 5 year contract. Offer more money than San Jose can afford and he might be attainable.

If you keep one of Deslaurier or Dubnyk, go with another starter/back-up who can compliment who you keep but at a less expensive rate than $3.75 million per season.

Staples mentions Vesa Toskala, Marty Turco, Dan Ellis, Chris Mason, Jose Theodore, and Biron as potential goalies to hit the market. Like this past summer, there may be more goalies available than there are spots to put them and while many of the goalies on that list haven't played the amount of games Khabibulin has, their numbers are as good or better in many cases.

Other Notables:

Robert Lang and Manny Malhotra - Should have been offered a try-out by Edmonton at the very least. Perhaps Edmonton will realize that ignoring a need to start next season isn't wise. A partial blow-up to give them room to even do that is a valid reason.

Doug Weight - Seems to like NYI, but might make a move for a few extra bucks. He's still extremly valueable and a great mentor with a team first attitude.

Adrian Aucoin - Veteran d-man who can play defence, but has a rocket of a shot from the point. Great example for others in the lockerroom too. Potential captain if the Oilers could move Moreau and Souray.

There are a lot of options out there to end this season and start 2010. Should the Oilers not unload some players and big money contracts, options won't exist in Edmonton.

But then again, what do I know. The way Edmonton currently runs this team and how I would are two completely different things and have been for a long time.


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