The Cost of Winning

Edmonton fans know well the cost of winning. They even know well the cost of almost winning.

Back in the glory days of the Edmonton Oilers, the Oil won so much that the pieces detrimental to creating that winning record became simply too expensive to keep. As a result, the team that was once so good, eventually became the 30th place team we know today.

It started with trading Wayne Gretzky and it ended with Chris Pronger, all along the way trading big names for unfair value coming back.

The Edmonton Oilers

When the Oilers took themselves to the Stanley Cup finals in 2006, even though they didn't win it all, it became clear that players that contributed to the Oilers getting that far were due for raises -- significant ones.

Names like Dwayne Roloson and Fernando Pisani received big time contracts and players like Shawn Horcoff got huge inflated contracts down the road thanks to their assistance during a winning time for an otherwise not so winning team.

Players like Jaroslav Spacek got a raise in another city and one of the most hated Oilers in history, Chris Pronger decided among other reasons that he was too under appreciated after taking his team to the finals to stay and play for the big fat contract he'd signed.

Chicago Blackhawks

The cost of winning is now something Chicago will have to face. Just mere days after the Blackhawks took home the Stanley Cup, how much so became extremely clear today.

A team that was already facing cap issues is now really in a troubled situation as it's been reported by the Globe and Mail, that Chicago is now faced with exceeding the 2010/2011 salary cap by more than $4 million dollars.

Because of the Blackhawks win and the star players on that team being rewarded with healthy entry level and performance bonuses (ie. a $1.3 million dollar bonus to Jonathan Towes for winning the Conn Smythe), Chicago is in a world of hurt and GM Stan Bowman admittedly has some serious work ahead of him.

As the Globe and Mail explains, here’s how the CBA and salary “excess” is dealt with:

“To the extent a Club’s Averaged Club Salary exceeds its Upper Limit as a result of: (i) Exhibit 5 Individual ‘A’ Performance Bonuses and ‘B’ Performance Bonuses paid by the Club that may be earned by Players in the Entry Level System and (ii) Performance Bonuses that may be earned by Players pursuant to Section 50.2(b)(i)(C) above, then the Club's Upper Limit for the next League Year shall be reduced by an amount equal to such excess.”

That $4-million (or whatever the number ends up being), in other words, is coming off next year's cap for the Blackhawks who already have to deal with being over the cap by about $800,000 (according to This is all without noting the status of players like UFA's John Madden and Nick Boynton and/or RFA's like Andrew Ladd, Ben Eager, Antti Niemi, and Niklas Hjalmarsson.

When it comes to their superstar core, Chicago is in good shape. They're not forced to deal with losing the likes of Kane, Toews, Hossa, Keith, or Seabrook to offer sheets or UFA bidding wars, as everyone that can be considered the face of that franchise during this recent run and subsequent runs to follow are long term Blackhawks.

Antti Niemi might be the closest key component not on the books and due a raise thanks to his being the goalie to take them to Lord Stanley's Cup (that's always rewarded), but that's about it.

That said, the Blackhawks will have to lose either a great deal of their depth (something very underrated and significant in their cup victory) or will have to try and convince some NHL teams to take on some of their bigger cap hit problems, which won't be easy to do.

They'll likely start with Cristobal Huet. Huet has turned out to be a glaring error and a contract that still requires $5.6 million per year for the next two years -- terrible when you consider he hardly played throughout the playoffs and has yet to establish himself as a starting goaltender. Chicago might look to the minors or a buy-out, but it seems unlikely considering the cost.

Even if Chicago were able to dump Huet's contract, it would only solve the cap overages, not assist in getting those key RFA and UFA's back in the Blackhawk fold for 2010/2011. More moves would have to come and since Huet's contract is about as moveable as Shawn Horcoff's, maybe less so, Huet isn't a strong bet for solving Chicago's problems -- not that they won't try.

Another option would be to trade high priced defenceman Brian Campbell. He was key to the Blackhawk turn around upon his arrival and still has a lot to offer a team needing an offensive veteran blueliner. The issue is that $7 million plus over the next six seasons due Campbell. It's simply too much for 90% of NHL teams to absorb and by todays standards a gross overpayment even though Campbell brings a lot to the table.

Might Edmonton consider Campbell for Souray? Maybe. But, even the Oilers, who would be happy to get a star defencemen for a disgruntled star defenceman would think twice, maybe three times about taking on that kind of money.

The more likely scenario, is that the Blackhawks start moving some depth with value and trading RFA's for picks or low priced prospects.

Kris Versteeg is an obvious choice. Toronto is rumored to have interest as I'm sure other teams will, but I might suggest the Oilers consider Versteeg as he's a very well rounded winger with tremendous upside. Given more of a break-out opportunity on a team not quite as stacked as Chicago, Versteeg could become a 25-30 goal scorer. He gives you powerplay and short-handed ice time, he can score big goals at big times and he's young enough to be a part of a rebuilding franchise. In Edmonton's case, he'd be a natural to switch back and forth with MPS as the 2nd/3rd line wingers behind Dustin Penner; giving MPS time to establish himself as an NHL'er.

Might Chicago move a $3 million plus Kris Versteeg for a $2 million Robert Nilsson or Ethan Moreau? They might.

Some will mock at that idea, especially Chicago fans because Versteeg offers so much more than either Nilsson or Moreau do, but consider that Chicago wouldn't make these trades if they had other choices and you quickly realize the Blackhawks won't be getting value for any of these players. They are almost 100% salary dumps.

If Chicago really struggles to find suitors, Dustin Byfuglien and Patrick Sharp would be the cats meow in terms of scoring on an opportunity if one were there for an NHL team.

Byfuglien seems more likely than Sharp considering he's due for a raise after next season and if his play remains anywhere near what he showed in the post season, there is no way Chicago can afford him. Perhaps they do some forward thinking and make a move now considering his value is at an all time high. Byfuglien would likely gather you an assortment of decent prospects and/or picks. For Chicago that would be important since they can't take on any additional money.

Finally, if the Hawks are in real cap trouble, they see what's out there for Patrick Sharp. If I'm the Oilers, I make every pitch outside of the drafts and prospects core that Edmonton has built up like Eberle, Gagner, MPS and our first overall in 2010. Players like Penner and Hemsky can't be included thanks to their salary, so it leaves other longer term prospects and picks. Perhaps the right package offer would be too hard for Chicago to ignore.

Obviously 28 other teams will want to put something together to steal some talent from the defending Stanely Cup champions. Columbus needs to make the playoffs and might be willing to move the 4th overall pick to do it. Would Sharp and Byfuglien help them get there? Likely. Would Chicago do that kind of trade? Doubt it, but it's one a few type of similar offers Chicago might receive. If I'm Tambellini, I at least throw something out there.

If Chicago considers it, we know for sure, that's the cost of winning and the choices were few and far between.


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How Little Is Too Little? How Much is Too Much?

13 days and counting. When I say counting, I'm being literal too, since there are many people I know actually counting haw many sleeps until June 25th and the Oilers drafting first overall for the first time in franchise history. In that respect, it's like a little kid at Christmas.

One has to hope those kids won't be disappointed if the Oilers don't pick #1, since many are suggesting it's about a 50/50 shot that the Oilers and Bruins do a deal involving the first overall selection.

I'm of the belief that in the end the Oilers will keep the first pick and with it draft Taylor Hall. More news continues to flow that Hall is just as excited and ready to play center as he would be wing (where people feel he naturally fits). Add to it that Hall is a big game, big situation type player and it's a much less of a lose situation for Edmonton to pick him first.

I'm also of the belief that Oilers GM Steve Tambellini and Bruins GM Peter Chiarelli will talk some twenty plus times between now and the draft to see if they can come to a mix of the right ingredients to make a move.

I figure it will take a lot of quick short, "are we close yet?" type calls between the two GM's before one just finally says "yep, we have a deal" or "nope, we're just gonna draft our guy". Those conversations will likely involve how much is too little from Chiarelli's offering standpoint and how much is too much from Tambellini's asking position.

Rumors started with a name like Blake Wheeler and went as high as a name like Milan Lucic. Some suggest the Oilers shouldn't expect a valid roster player since the discrepancy between Seguin and Hall isn't that big, while others suggest the Oilers can get a great player since it's obvious the Bruins want Hall.

I'm of the belief that Wheeler is too little. That the Oilers who could use a 20 goal guy (which Wheeler likely is) would view it as a start, but wouldn't hold their breath that Wheeler is part of an Oiler future.

Wheeler has a history of choosing when and who to play for. As an RFA this season, he means little to Boston in the big picture and he may be in one door and out another too quickly for the Oilers to capitalize on a deal like that.

I like Wheeler and many aspects of what he'd bring. He has size and he's young and he'd fit well in a second or third line role on the Oilers at right wing during a rebuild. But the only way I do that deal, is if the Oilers could manage shipping salary like that of O'Sullivan along with the 1st and 31st overall pick in 2010 to the Bruins in exchange for Wheeler, the 2nd and the 15th overall picks. All this has to be contingent of course on talking to Wheeler and ensuring he'd want to play in Edmonton.

In terms of an Oilers asking price, I think Milan Lucic is too much. While he offers the same size and offensive type numbers Wheeler does, the Bruins are much more keen on Lucic. He's got grit, he's a natural leader by example and he's been invested in for three more years (heavily I might add at a cap hit of over $4 million per season).

Because his salary is hefty, the Oilers would again have to send salary back to Boston, which if their asking Boston to move Lucic isn't enough, might be the straw the breaks the camels back in terms of what they'd be giving up and taking just to flop picks.

I think to have Lucic involved would be something like Lucic, 2nd rounder in 2011 and the 2nd overall in 2010 to Edmonton for the 2010 1st overall, Robert Nilsson and Ethan Moreau. I wouldn't do that trade if I'm Boston, so I don't know how it would happen without creating more cap issues for the Oilers than it does good.

Somewhere in the middle would be what I'd like to see as a fan.

Contingent on Boston signing UFA Johnny Boychuk to a reasonable three year deal (which is a big if, because Boychuk can test free agency after the draft), I'd ask for Boychuk along with the 2nd and 15th overall pic in 2010 for the Oilers 1st and 31st overall in 2010 along with Andrew Cogliano.

It's a steep price for Boston, but might raise some eyebrows. It's a great move for Edmonton, who fills a need on defence with a young high upside prospect (Boychuk played the 2nd most blueline minutes to Chara) and moves Edmonton up into the first round with their second selection. The Oilers could then try to turn that pick along with a player to a team like Columbus for the 4th overall. Edmonton gives up a young prospect in Cogliano, but giving up only Cogliano who unfortunately isn't finding a viable home lately with the Oilers is liveable to fill a bigger need on defense with a young and improving contract.

While Boston might resist at first giving up Boychuk, the fact that they signed Seidenberg and committed over $19.5 million to six defencemen in this coming season tells me they'd be alright without Boychuk if it meant winning now, which is what Boston is trying to do.

Of course as the title of this article suggests, this could be too much or too little depending on which side of the fence you sit.


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Can Comparisons Be Made Between the Oilers and the Tavares/Islanders Drama?

Just last year the talk of the NHL entry draft was who the New York Islanders would take as their first overall selection. Going back even as far as two years before that particular draft, John Tavares was positioned as the consensus easy choice.

A Brief History

One year prior to Tavares actually being drafted, Tavares was the talk of the rookie crop. Just shy age wise of entering the draft with most of his teammates, it was a newsworthy item that Tavares and his supporters were trying to bend a few rules to make him draft eligible before his age would technically allow him to be drafted.

He was good enough at that time to be considered a top draft selection and he watched as players he knew quite well got to enter the NHL while he, just a little too young, had to wait another full year. At the time, Tavares' age was big news.

As his new junior league season started, Tavares was still leading the pack coming into the draft. Unfortunately for Tavares, who stayed about the same in terms of his talent level, his status quo play made room for players like defenceman Victor Hedman from Sweden and forward Matt Duchene (who eventually went third overall that year). Each gained ground in the debate about who really should go first overall and each player had their supporters.

For the New York Islanders, drafting first overall was a huge deal. The city and the team needed something to get the fans involved. The speculation and buzz surrounding John Tavares did just that and Islander fans flocked out like they hadn't in years, all excited about what adding a franchise player like John Tavares could do for their team and hockey on Long Island.

The problem? No one knew for sure that Islanders GM Garth Snow - who in the past was known for what some might call odd choices - was actually going to take Tavares. Many in the know and experts who made up countless mock drafts believed Tavares to be the guy, but few could give a definitive guarantee. By the time of the draft, many couldn't actually decide if Snow had settled on his choice or not and quite a few predicted Snow to go a different direction.

Of course, back on Long Island the team and the city patiently waited and created an atmosphere like Islander fans hadn't seen in a very very long time. Tavares signs were everywhere, jersey's had been purchased, and the arena was full of fans just waiting for the Islanders to announce John Tavares as the newest member of their professional hockey club.

Fast Forward to Today

The Edmonton Oilers sent an email to fans letting them know they'd be holding a draft party at Rexall Place. For $5, fans could come watch as the Oil make for the first time in franchise history, the number one selection at this years draft.

Is it me, or does the less than one year old situation with the Islanders bare far too much resemblence to the current situation of the Edmonton Oilers?

Last year, experts were suggesting that had Taylor Hall been available at the draft, he'd have gone extremely high. Some scouts even went so far as to say they'd have drafted him over John Tavares. Obviously Hall wasn't and he didn't, but scouts back then knew Hall was something special.

Taylor Hall spent all of last year as the guy who'd be the next big thing in the following years draft. He stayed his offensively amazing self, but as the season wore on, this Tyler Seguin kid kind of came out of nowhere and created an argument that people shouldn't be so fast to just mail home Taylor Hall's selection at first overall.

Much like Garth Snow and how he stayed away from giving any indication as to whom the Islanders would draft, Steve Tambellini and the Oilers have everyone guessing. Many still believe Hall to be the guy, but noone knows for sure thinking Seguin is the guy the Oilers want.

Meanwhile, thanks to todays invitation, they'll be some 15,000 plus fans in attendance at this years draft party wanting the Oilers to draft Taylor Hall. Why wouldn't they? They watched Hall dominate at the World Juniors and they've seen very little of Seguin.

It was believed after last years draft took place, that Garth Snow and the Islanders had always known they'd be selecting John Tavares. People were unsure, but eventually everyone got the player they expected to get. With how many similarities between the way this years draft and last years draft are shaping up, should we believe Edmonton's draft year may turn out the same way?

Perhaps the Oilers have always known since winning the draft lottery that Hall is their guy and perhaps this silence over who they are going to take is just for intrigue. If Hall isn't that guy, why on earth would the Oilers invite an entire arena full of people to watch Edmonton draft the player very few fans of the Oilers want?

Seguin has every right to be considered a possibility at number one, just like Hedman and Duchene the year before. Seguin has made a strong case that he's the better prospect. I won't be surprised if the Oilers think so too. Even still, Hall is the consensus choice among scouts.

My advice to this franchise? Don't be surprised if the fans you've invited to fill Rexall Place don't agree with you when you select Tyler Seguin. The only prospect a lot of these fans know is Taylor Hall. He impressed them, they want him and your about to tell 15,000 strong they aren't getting him if you draft Tyler and not Taylor.

I don't pretend to know who I'd take if I was the Oilers. I guess what I'm saying here, is if the Oilers don't know yet either and the fans want Hall, inviting everyone to Rexall just makes little sense.

Likely I'm over thinking things and this is just another way to fill a stadium and produce extra revenue. I just wonder, if it's not that simple, if there's hidden meaning here.


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Do You Give Em One Last Chance? If So, To Whom?

We've been talking a lot about decisions lately. This time of year (more specifically for about a month starting today), the Oilers are going to make some real big ones.

Of course, many of these decisions will come under fire or scrutiny. None moreso than the 50/50 split bound to come from the result of having the first overall draft selection in a year where there are two prospects who stand out above the rest. Rightfully so as the debate over Taylor Hall and Tyler Seguin is the type of fodder for gossip that doesn't come around all that often.

The Oilers decision making process has started with signings like MPS and other noteable prospects. The likely next steps for this organization will be the signing of one or two RFA contracts like Sam Gagner or Gilbert Brule; both of whom are key pieces in the Oilers future. Decisions will continue as the Oilers head to deals on draft day, their draft selections and July 1st and free agency.

Understandably lost in all this are three players that have gone for a large part undiscussed. Robert Nillson, Patrick O'Sullivan and Ethan Moreau are names that last season got a lot of attention -- mostly for negative reasons. Now, it seems their names only come up from time to time when people are making predictions over the coming season and who won't be with the Oilers.

Fans, media types, and bloggers like myself are quick to suggest Moreau, O'Sullivan and Nilsson simply won't be Oilers next season, but the fact is, getting rid of them won't be as easy as some people might suggest.

The likelihood that one if not more of these names will be in the Oilers opening line-up come the first game of the 2010/2011 season is strong. Their values around the NHL are low, they have contracts beyond what they've produced and other teams have their own issues to contend with without wanting to take on the 30th placed teams problems.

Knowing that, of the three players mentioned, who would you keep?

Do you take a chance on a gritty forward like Ethan Moreau? At one time Moreau was exactly what this Oilers team needed -- heart, grit and a willingness to get a little dirty. He was the perfect third or fourth line role player who could get you 10-20 goals and be counted on to stand up for his teammates. While he's the current captain, he also tends to spend more time in the penalty box than anywhere else.

Do you go with a top draft pick and offensive threat like Patrick O'Sullivan? O'Sullivan was highly touted and projected to be a better player than some of the bigger current stars of the NHL. He had strong rookie and softmore campaigns with the Kings, but has yet to produce the results for which many had predicted. Perhaps he has 20 + goals in him still, but his time in Edmonton has not been good outside of last years pre-season. His league-leading negative plus/minus record really stands out.

Of course Robert Nillson is known as the most inconsistent Oiler in years. He possesses some of the deadliest skill on the entire team and has flashes of brillance, but he just can't maintain it. He scores highlight reel goals and can manage offensive runs during times of the season where he looks like he could be one of the Oilers better players for a three or four game stretch. The problem is, he has stretches of sheer garbage too and acts as if he'd rather be anywhere except a hockey rink.

All three of these players are close to the same cap number with O'Sullivan just barely in the lead. All three of these players also have one remaining year on their current deals. All three of players also fetch you little in return as their value is likely at an all time low.

Decisions, decisions, decisions. The Oilers GM will likely be keeping somebody. Who do you keep?


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