When Do The Oilers Look at Their List of RFA's?

Jay over at lowonoil.com brought up an interesting point that I was already starting to wonder about. With the rash of injuries to some of the Oilers top players, new faces will be playing major roles in any success the Oilers might have.

As Tambellini said at practice on Monday, this is an "opportunity" for some of the young core. But at what cost does this opportunity come?

Players like Gilbert Brule, who after coming to Edmonton in a trade with the Blue Jackets, was given time to progress his game in the minors at an acceptable rate. It's a good thing he did, because as we can all see, having Brule at the top of his game is now of critical importance for the Oilers to have any success and turn a sinking ship around. No Hemsky, Comrie and a weak Horcoff, make Brule much more important offensively.

The problem becomes Brule's contract status at the end of the year. Excellent offensive numbers breed a big fat juicy contract and this relationship isn't something the Oilers are new to.

If Brule gets key ice time in important situations and first line time on the powerplay, it's bound to show an improvement in his final season offensive statistics. Much higher than he would have if players like Hemsky and Comrie who'd have taken his place in those roles weren't injured.

Brule seemed to be the type of player that might get Edmonton 20 goals this season on the third line. If he stays top line with Penner, he could get 30-35. Look around the NHL and you'll start to get an idea of what a 30 goal scorer might make.

Of course, with one good 30 goal season, a $3 million player isn't a given. At least not in todays tightly wound salary cap NHL. Even better, at least not anywhere but Edmonton.

Fernando Pisani got 14 goals in the playoffs after an 18 goal season. Even though he had never scored more than 16 goals in any other season previous, the Oilers rewarded him with a fat contract. We wish Pisani the best in his recovery, but the Oilers are likely waiting to get that contract off the books.

Shawn Horcoff provides a lot more than offense. I understand that when I say the following, yet Horcoff had one season where he was almost a point-per-game player. He also had one half a season along the same lines until he went down with a massive shoulder injury that still plagues him. Instead of playing it cautiously, the Oilers went ahead and rewarded Horcoff with a massive overpayment that is of course, still topic of conversation around Edmonton.

Tom Gilbert had one 13 goal rookie season as a defenceman. He was rewarded with a six-year $24 million contract.

These and others could be examples of either bad management decisions, or they could be a sign that all of these players play in a city that has trouble keeping players. Whatever the case, even with a blatantly obvious NHL that is scared to death of the salary cap, the Oilers overpay.

What should we expect for players like Gilbert Brule, Ryan Potulny, JF Jacques, Sam Gagner and others who are all RFA's at the end of this season and finding the perfect timing to earn bigger money contracts?

To this point, only Andrew Cogliano seems to be going at a slower pace than in previous years, but his play has started to pickup a bit too. There is no way, that with what the Oilers have committed to players currently on the roster, they can keep all of these RFA's should they have career years. And, career years are exactly what almost all of them will have.

Injuries aren't just bad timing in terms of wins and losses. They can be terrible timing in terms of players progressing at a typical NHL rate if they play where they should play on their teams depth charts. With the Oilers depth charts all out of whack, the salaries players will "earn" are headed in an odd direction.

The Oilers are going to quickly need to decide which of the many contracts they'll want to keep and which they can afford to let go. Which should be priority and which will not. Which players currently under contract can go and which must stay.

The Oilers have been faced with these decisions before and players with the success of a Curtis Glencross, have come back to bite Edmonton in the keester.

More importantly, the Oilers will need to decide when to get these contracts signed so as best to get good value for their dollar. If they do this incorrectly, players like Svennson, Eberle and others, who in 3 years will be worth something, are going to be looking at the same situation.


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