The Edmonton Oilers have no shortage of players who could be categorized as “dispensable” – players they’re prepared to buy out of their contacts.
Across the NHL today, a number of clubs will begin the process of trimming the dead fat away from the carcass. Over the next two weeks, leading up to free agency (July 1), teams are allowed the option of buying out players currently under contract that don’t, for one reason or another, fit into their future plans.
Speculation has Edmonton Oilers GM Steve Tambellini – a man of few words – shedding the club of at least one of the following contracts – Patrick O’Sullivan, Robert Nilsson or captain Ethan Moreau. Tambellini was unable to trade Moreau at the trade deadline earlier this year, which could translate into the Oilers simply buying out their 34-year-old captain at just under $1.4M (two-thirds of his schedule $2M payday in 2010-11).
Oiler forwards, O’Sullivan and Nilsson, are both overpaid and underachieving forwards. O’Sullivan looked completely lost defensively last year under the tutelage of coaches Pat Quinn and Tom Renney. Actually, he was alone. At one point, Sully held the dubious distinction of being the league’s worst +/- player (-35). Totally unacceptable for a player earning just under $3M per. Nilsson, while exhibiting flashes of offensive brilliance, even grit on occasion this year, continues to underachieve for a $2M player. Both players aspired to mediocrity, scoring 11 times last season –fourth-line money at best!
Was the captain worthy of his $2M salary? Nine goals, nine assists and a minus-18 rating. Not by most NHL general manager’s standards.
None of these Oiler contracts constitute good value, something now President of Hockey Operations, Kevin Lowe, must take responsibility for. Hence, enter 2009 replacement, GM Steve Tambellini.
Edmonton needs to find a successful template. Look no further than the Stanley Cup Champions for solid bang-for-your-buck offensive production.
At $3M, playoff sensation Dustin Byfuglien didn’t exactly light it up in the regular season scoring 17 times, but he contributed invaluable toughness and timely goals throughout both regular and post seasons.
At $2.8M, Jonathan Toews (25-43-68) was arguably one of the best bargains in Chi-Town this season, showing finish on the ice and leadership in the dressing room.
At $1.5M, Andrew Ladd added peskiness and value to a Stanley-Cup bound Hawks club, turning on the red lamp 17 times. Ladd’s ticket was priced accordingly.
O’Sullivan, Nilsson and Chopper (Moreau) brought little to the table for comparable dollars!
Without question, Edmonton’s roster reflects negotiating ineptitude – Sheldon Souray at $5.4M per over next two years; centre Shawn Horcoff’s scandalous $5.5M per over next five years! Need I say more. In his defence, KLowe has made some good signings as well (see Ales Hemsky at $4.1M per over next two seasons; Dustin Penner at $4.25M per over next two seasons; Tom Gilbert at $4M per over next four seasons).
The bad contracts, however, continue to handcuff the Oilers.
So, Tambellini inherits a transformation project, of sorts, which could mean the Oilers might have to eat crow with some of these contracts to continue the process of moving forward.
The path to emulating what the Blackhawks have accomplished over the last couple of years has never been clearer. Today, the Edmonton Oilers’ front office finds itself at a crossroads.
And there can be no short cuts, if Tambo and company hope to return this franchise’s reputation as a respected, competitive club, where players want to be – regardless if you need to own a snow shovel here. There are no landslides in Edmonton, no hurricanes, no earthquakes.
Winter? Suck it up, princess!
In the meantime Oiler fans, keep your chins up and your sticks down.
About the Author
Written by Scott Pattison
Scott is an award-winning sports writer whose career spans more than 20 years. He's proudly covered the Oilers since moving to the Alberta capital in 2000.