Thursday, July 31, 2008

Movin' on up

Today, the Oilers named Steve Tambellini their new general manager, with Kevin Lowe stepping into the new role as President of Hockey Operations. K-Pen (Kevin Prendergast) the longtime hockey operations veep, has been assistant GM.

More to come, I'm sure.

Props to Showerhead at IOF for this line:
I like Tambellini's gold medal track record, yes, but his Stanley Cups won decades ago as a player record is severely lacking. How can he be the one to lead us to the promised land?

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Raptors vs. Nuggets - In Edmonton

It's only pre-season, but still should be good.


Monday, July 28, 2008

Gilbert Brule and Jeff Deslauriers contract status

Gilbert Brule has 1 year left on his contract. He played less than 10 games as an 18 year old, so his contract was automatically extended for another year. 2006-20007 marked the first year of his entry-level contract. 2007-2008 marked the second. Whether he plays in the NHL or AHL this year, he will become a restricted free agent next year. He will be eligible for RFA offersheets.

Jeff Deslauriers, 31st overall pick in 2002, turned 24 in May. The Oilers will be REQUIRED to play him in at least 28 games (>30 minutes per game) over the next two years, otherwise he will be classified as a Group V UFA.

EDIT TO ADD: Perhaps this is why Lowe and company got him locked up to a one-way contract for the next two years. They likely intend to start giving him games this year, so in the event he is what they hope he is, they don't lose him in the same manner they lost Glencross. I was looking at his numbers today. His .912 SV% was short of Josh Harding's .919 SV%. Of course the Houston Aeros had 96 points in the standings, while Springfield had 80. Not discounting the difference, but perhaps JDD does have the ability to be at least a backup in the NHL level, as argued by Lowetide and Falcon followers at HF. Another point, as argued at Lowetide's, is JDD didn't really receive get many at-bats in his first two years in the AHL (22 and 13 games respectively).

We will see.

Interpreted from here

Friday, July 25, 2008

LONG TERM CONTRACTS - Part II [Goaltenders - Mathieu Garon]

Please refer to Part I of Long-Term Contracts motivations, before continuing this read.

There are several legitimate motivations for General Manager, Kevin Lowe to extend goaltender Mathieu Garon this summer. These are outlined and briefly discussed below:


Presumably, the contract terms, from the organization's standpoint present at least a moderate possibility that the benefits of the Garon's services will exceed the value of the cumulative paycheques. The Oilers would be seeking player overperformance of the contract. Garon, meanwhile, would be seeking the security of the paycheques that will allow him, his immediate family, and grandchildren a life of sailing on yachts, eating bonbons, sipping refreshing drinks in tropical climates subsequent to retirement. In short, financial security.


General Manager Kevin Lowe would sign Garon to a long term extension if he reasonably feels there are:

  1. No internal replacements in the system, or at least not so over the life of the extension
  2. No legitimate replacements via the foreseeable 2009 UFA class
  3. No legitimate replacements via the trade route at reasonable cost

This motivation presents profound leverage to the player in contract negotiation


General Manager Kevin Lowe would sign Garon to a long term extension if the contract can be structured in a manner that provides the Oilers with unique opportunities, in the case of significant underperformance, such as:

  1. Frontloading the contract and buying him out in later years, and
  2. Back-loaded salary gives rise to the consideration to retirement
  3. Burying the contract in the minors

Of course with this option to be viable, strong ownership commitment would need to be prevalent. Given Garon is still relatively young, option (b) is unlikely if such an extension is equal or less than 5 years.


On a collective basis long-term contracts to goaltenders carry more inherent risk than do long-term contracts to defensemen and forwards.

In other words, there are greater potential adverse consequences as a result of subsequent poor performance by a goaltender than of other roster players!

Why? By virtue of the number of designated roster spots for a specified position. There is only one starting goaltender per team, while six starting defensemen, and a whopping twelve starting forwards every game.

Case in point: Sheldon Souray, who is paid like a top pairing defenseman. Despite the fact that he won't ever live up to his paycheques in his present contract, the damages can still be mitigated by playing him in a role in which he can still help the team win hockey games [i.e. bottom pairing, penalty kill, and arguably the powerplay]. With a goaltender like Mikka Kiprusoff, the opportunity for mitigating damages is narrow, given the inherent risk present. Continuing playing him, in the event of poor performance, leads to poor results on the ice; relegating him to backup duty represents a significant waste of otherwise available cap space. In other words, consistently poor performance generated by a goaltender with a long-term contract is filth; and filth carries limited to negligible value around the league.


The key here is balance. Extending Garon to a long term contract is fine, if at inception of contract, the presumable benefits exceed the costs. That is, the strength of the motivations exceed the strength of the demotivations. If I am Kevin Lowe, I have assessed risk for Garon at moderate. The exhibit below represents my comfortable contract offers (please note 1 and 2 year contracts are not classified as long-term contracts):

Number of Years

NHL Salary Cap Hit (USD)













Does that get it done? Perhaps. Perhaps not. The key is assessing the risks, and accordingly acting upon them. Kevin Lowe likely has the hammer [leverage] right now, given Garon's presumable desire for security. It would make good sense to utilize and derive benefit from this very hammer.

What do you offer, if you are Kevin Lowe?

Wednesday, July 23, 2008


If one thing can be unquestionably said about Rob Schremp, he's one hell of an interesting character. Scouts said he had the talent to go top 3 in his draft year, but because of "attitude" problems, he plummeted all the way to 25th, at which point the Oilers rolled the dice on him. Contrary to what scouts want us to believe, it looks like he very well will find a niche in the NHL, but it's not going to be as a #1 line C, and he's not going to be a lesser player because of his attitude or a waste of natural talent.

Rather, it's far more simple, and boils down mediocre skating and a shot that is more Moreau than Kovalchuk. He's working hard though, and looks like a guy who one way or another will have an NHL paycheck in the near future.

And, reading the tea leaves, I'm inclined to believe that that paycheck will be courteous of Mr. Daryl Katz. For the last few years, the top item at the list of "things you can do to impress the organization" has been to spend a few weeks in California with Chad Moreau. As Guy Flaming reported a few days ago, Sugartits has been there every single day since May 1st. That's not it though. He's received some pretty nice praise from both Craig MacTavish and Kelly Buchberger. I think the team believes in the kid, and that it's now or never for him.

Now, to steal something from LT, and ignoring the noise from his seasons in the OHL, lets take a look at his two seasons in the AHL and his Desjardin's numbers from them...

20 year old:

21 year old:

A few things jump out at me when I look at the numbers. First of all, for all the talk we've heard about his hands and his "NHL caliber shot," his goal scoring numbers have left a lot to desire, to put it lightly. Secondly, he's a year off of Vic's "PPG @ 20" line in the sand.... but that's still only a year. How much will him finally taking his off ice training seriously impact that? Tough to say, but I think the fact that he was only a year late, and did manage to find it before starting to really focus on his off-ice training does give reason to be optimistic.

It's not quite so simple though. The Oilers currently have 12 forwards signed to one-way deals, 8 defense signed to one-way deals, 2 goaltenders signed to one one-way deals, and one goaltender who would have to clear waivers to end up in the AHL. For those of you who aren't so great at math, that's 23 contracts. The only two guys who wouldn't have to clear waivers or be paid like an NHL'er to play in the AHL? Gagner and Cogliano. Something tells me they're not going anywhere. So lets assume the Oilers try to keep JDD here... what are their options?

This is Mathieu Roy, seeing stars and realizing how little he's missing the NHL by*. The Oilers currently have him on a one-way contract that will pay him $500,000. I think that, regardless of what he does during camp, Roy will either end up in Springfield, be claimed on waivers by another team, or dealt for a late round draft pick. The signing of Strudwick truly made Roy redundant, and I see no reason for him to remain on the team, even though he is a character guy and he is a decent option as the 7th D.

Still though, that frees up a 13th forward spot for the Oilers. Just one spot, and the guys fighting for it include Potulny, Brule, Reddox, Truhkno, JFJ among others. It's extremely possible that one of these guys shine even more than Schremp, and it's also possible that Schremp would be better suited to tear up the AHL then sit in the press box in Edmonton.

I don't think that's the plan though. The Oilers have two centers who they look at very, very, similarly in my mind. Kyle Brodziak and Marc Pouliot. Both are 2003 drafts, with Brodziak being an overager in the draft. I firmly believe that whichever one of them losses the "Pisani" center spot will find themselves playing in a different city come October, and the Oilers will hit the ice with:

Cole - Horcoff - Hemsky
Nilsson - Gagner - Cogliano
Penner - Pouliot - Pisani
Moreau - Schremp - Stortini

Everyone will have a conniption when Schremp isn't paired with pure skill, but the fact of the matter is that he'll be brought along slowly, see time in the pressbox, and have responsible wingers on either side of him that'll make up for his lack of grit and defense, along with two of the hardest workers on the squad.

*Parts of this line may have been stolen from Supermassive, a regular at HFBoards ;)

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Visnovsky and No Trade Clause

Above: the Big Lubowski

Jason Gregor recently asserted that the Oilers would be bound to Visnovsky's NTC.

That is not the case.

Article 11.8 of the CBA states

...If the player is traded or claimed on Waivers prior to the no-Trade or no-move clause taking effect, the clause does not bind the acquiring Club. An acquiring Club may agree to continue to be bound by the no-Trade or no-move clause, which agreement shall be evidenced in writing to the Player, Central Registry and the NHLPA, in accordance with Exhibit 3 hereof...

Visnovsky was acquired on June 29, and As his NTC was not bound to take effect until July 1, 2008. Thus, the Oilers were under no obligation to be bound to that said clause for the duration of the contract. Unless, of course, the Oilers evidenced in writing that they wished to be bound by the clause - which just wouldn't result any benefit to the organization.

Shawn Horcoff (next 4 years) and Sheldon Souray (next 2 years) remain the only Oilers with the NTC.


A certain member has been harassing me over the last few months non-stop. Even went as far as to get my phone number and start calling me in the middle of night. I won't mention the name, but here's their facebook picture (you must be logged onto facebook to view it), so people who *have* met this cunt know who I'm talking about:


Enough is enough. I have absolutely no choice but to call out the person out publicly. I mean, who the hell has a profile picture like that? Fuckin' dickwad.

Say it aint so, Ray

It's rumoured that Ray Ferraro, formerly with NBC and Rogers Sportsnet, will sign with TSN. - William Houston

July 21 article

Any predictions on his replacement?

Monday, July 21, 2008

The Flickering Flames

Cheap smokes and cheaper women; the life of a superstar in Calgary. What amazes me about this picture every time I see it, is just how ugly these girls actually are. That said, there's a bit more to be said about the Flames than questioning the personal life choices of guys like Phaneuf and Kiprusoff. I mean, everyone has had a few too many at one time or another and at least considered taking home a goal who could be described as having a "good personality" at best. It's a fact of life, and I suppose no amount of money changes the fact that booze is a good way to come up with a lot of bad ideas in a short period of time.

That said, a teams General Manager shouldn't be drinking while he's on the job; so I'm not quite sure that we can fully understand what exactly Sutter is thinking. He has traded away quality defenseman signed to good contracts forever, and it's finally starting to catch up with him as he's now paying a guy like Aucoin $4,000,000 to take up cap space that he doesn't have. He's continually managed to get guys to sign to bargain deals, with Regehr and Iginla leading that train. The problem being, he gets a few good deals, pisses away his draft picks and continually chases after reclamation projects instead of legitimate players who can contribute at both ends. This lead to Alex Tanguay being a scape goat for not turning Wayne Primeau into an actual hockey player.

Calgary has made a lot of moves this offseason. Tanguay is gone, and replaced by no one. Huselius was replaced by more expensive Cammalleri. Conroy was signed to a bargain price, several guys were waived but have yet to be moved (Nilson, Warrener, Erikson). Calgary is sitting nearly $2,500,000 over the cap assuming Giordano only got $1,000,000. Nolan was downgraded to a broken Bertuzzi. Glencross proved that is, in fact, a flake. Bourque was brought in to provide "offense." Yelle departed and Langkow took a hometown discount.

What does this mean?

Well, as far as I can see, Calgary lost their 2nd best forward in Tanguay. Their top 6 has gone from:




Sorry.... but anyway you slice that, that is a massive downgrade. Compounding matters is that they lost 2 of their top 4 PK'ers and 4 of their top 7 PK'ers up front. Glencross can't kill penalties. Cammalleri can't kill penalties. Bertuzzi can't kill penalties. Andre Roy can certainly spend a lot of time in the box for being a general idiot... but he can't kill penalties either. Of their core (Iginla - Langkow - Regehr - Phaneuf - Kiprusoff), only Phaneuf and Regehr are on the right side of 30 and only Phaneuf has any real reason to believe he can improve.*

So... what's left to happen? The PP, that was middling last season, will likely be middling again. The mediocre PK will likely border on terrible. At evens, they've likely improved marginally in replacing Eriksson with Giordano on the backend, but again that'll be canceled out when rumoured speculation that Aucoin is dealt takes place. Up front, they lost their 2nd best forward at 5v5, and didn't attempt to replace him. Even if their depth is better (very, very, suspect), they've declined there as well.

*This however, leads me to the one wild card that could save the Flames. Kiprusoff had a horrendous year last season. After several years as an elite goaltender, he fell right off the map. Was it just a bad year? Or is he now just another guy? That is the only possible saving grace for the Flames in my eyes...

Unless someone can remind me of any other reason as to why the Flames aren't significantly worse this season while teams like Vancouver (assuming they get Sundin), Edmonton, Chicago and Phoenix have all taken steps forward?

Friday, July 18, 2008



Kevin Lowe has not hesitated in signing players to "long-term contract," or acquiring those who have such contracts already in place, under the NHL Salary Cap operating system. In this exercise, I examine and discuss various underlying motives for this strategy, their costs and benefits, and then apply the analysis to the case of the Edmonton Oilers. Please note there can be more than one possible motive for each individual player. Also, please assume for the exercise's purpose, a "long-term contract" is defined as a SPC equal or greater than 3 years and exclude all entry-level contracts.

Using this benchmark criterion, the table below displays the long term contracts Kevin Lowe has compiled, post-NHL lockout.




Horcoff, Shawn (2nd)



Hemsky, Ales



Gilbert, Tom



Pronger, Chris



Souray, Sheldon



Visnovsky, Lubomir



Penner, Dustin



Staios, Steve



Pisani, Fernando



Moreau, Ethan



Roloson, Albert



Horcoff, Shawn (1st)



Lupul, Joffrey



Torres, Raffi



Nilsson, Robert



Stortini, Zachery



I now discuss the underlying motives a General Manager may have for signing players to such contracts.


The General Manager will sign a player to a long-term contract in a situation in which the risks and rewards of the contract terms are equitably distributed. In such a scenario, there are mutual benefits to both the player and the organization and consideration is given up by both of the mentioned parties. From the organization's standpoint, there exists at least a moderate possibility that the benefits of the player's services will exceed the value of the cumulative paycheques. From the player's standpoint, the security the contract provides is desirable, given consideration to possible unanticipated future events such as long term injury or declining performance. The marginal utility of security is such that the player would have a preference of it over the possibility of earning $X more dollars over the length of the contract, had the player signed a contract shorter in duration. In other words, the player is said to be risk averse, preferring instant gratification over the possibility of longer term gains.

This motive is appropriate in certain circumstances; not so in others.

Some examples of appropriate circumstances include:

  • Relatively young players exhibiting escalating performance and are recently removed from their entry-level contract. The relatively young player is willing to commit a period such in length that it "eats" away the player's unrestricted free agency years.
  • The player's cap hit : NHL Salary Cap ratio is progressively declining, and as a result, a long term contract becomes increasingly attractive to the organization, ceteris paribus.

Some examples of inappropriate circumstances include:

  • Relatively older player, that has demonstrated declining performance, or there exists reasonable likelihood that the relatively older player will demonstrate declining performance, over the length of the contract and the contract term's are biased towards past, rather than expected future performance.
  • Player has demonstrated a strong history of injuries, and it is reasonable to assume the prospect of future injuries is greater for such a player, as opposed to the average NHL player. This diminishes the likelihood that the benefits of the contract terms will exceed the costs, including the effects of replacement costs during the injury period.


The General Manager will sign a team's existing player, whom is approaching unrestricted free agency, to a long-term contract when he feels the player fulfills a role or team need and that such role or need cannot be efficiently and effectively replaced by immediate internal recruitment.

The General Manager's grounds for justification for the length of the contract would be twofold:

  • Losing the said player will presumably lead to a significant drop in overall team performance , and;
  • Replacing that said player, either via trade or unrestricted free agency, will occur at an unreasonable cost, or such a cost that would make the team worse on an overall basis.

It would not be justified to sign a player to a long-term contract when:

  • There is a strong network of replacements within the organization that can efficiently and effectively replace that said player and;
  • A long term contract to such a player would result in greater long-term damage to the organization. Such a contract would be untradeable, and would presumably result in future years, due to the salary cap, a loss of other organization assets.


The sheer nature of the NHL's Unrestricted Free Agency results long-term offers in obtaining the services of such a player. This, of course, makes sense; the leverage the player holds in such a situation leaves teams with no alternative option but to offer longer terms, to presumably improve their organization on an overall basis, at least so immediately.

This motive is once again, appropriate in certain circumstances; not so in others.

Some examples of appropriate circumstances include:

  • Unrestricted Free Agent X fulfills a team need immediately. That need cannot be filled internally, and the cost in alternative routes, such as the trade market, would be greater than the cost in the unrestricted free agent market.
  • The organization presently has an abundance of vacant cap space, and will so in the foreseeable future. As a result, such a contract will not adversely affect the team, and the alternative of obtaining the player's services benefits the organization more than the alternative of incurring vacant cap space.

Some examples of inappropriate circumstances include:

  • The contract, immediately upon signature, becomes presumably untradeable
  • The player has demonstrated a strong history of injuries, and future injuries are reasonably foreseeable, such that the contract's strength is undermined.
  • A long term contract to such a player would result in greater long-term damage to the organization. Such a contract will presumably result in future years, due to the salary cap, a loss of other organization assets


The sheer nature of the NHL's RFA Offersheet program, generally results a General Manager to offer long term contracts, in the process of obtaining the services of a restricted free agent. This is because RFAs subject to an offersheet are typically young players with escalating performance, and in an attempt to ensure the benefits of the player's services will exceed the cost (Salary + Draft Picks), a long term contract is offered. Such an RFA will likely be overpaid in earlier years, but the underlying goal is such a player overperforms the contract in the later years. Such overperformance is more likely if the contract is greater in duration.

This motive is once again, appropriate in certain circumstances; not so in others.

Some examples of appropriate circumstances include:

  • There is greater than moderate probability the organization benefits from RFA X's services will exceed the cost (Salary + Draft Picks), over the life of the contract.
  • There is a strong probability the team's draft slot in the year(s) of draft pick(s) compensation will be closer to the draft slot of the Stanley Cup Champions, rather than closer to the lottery draft winner.

Some examples of inappropriate circumstances include:

  • There is greater than moderate probability the organization benefits from RFA X's services will NOT exceed the cost (Salary + Draft Picks), over the life of the contract.
  • There is a strong probability the team's draft slot in the year(s) of draft pick(s) compensation will be closer to the draft slot of the lottery draft winner, rather than closer to the Stanley Cup Champions


An innovative General Manager may sign a player to a longer term contract, such that the contract is structured in a manner to present the organization with unique opportunities in later years. These opportunities are discussed below:

  • The contract is structured in such a way in which the salary is frontloaded. In later years, the salary payable will be significantly lower, which would make the contract attractive to budget-minded organizations in the NHL. Also, in later years, if the performance is not in close proximity of the cap hit, the team has the ability to buy-out that said player.
  • The contract is structured in such a way in which the salary is frontloaded. In later years, the salary payable is significantly lower, such that, the player would give strong consideration to retirement. If the player was signed to this long term contract before he turned 35, the player's cap hit is eliminated the moment the retirement papers are signed.
  • The owner(s) of the team is (are) operate under a results-oriented (Stanley Cup) approach rather than a profit-oriented approach. Such, the owner(s) is (are) willing to in the future, if the player's performance is not in close proximity to cap hit, send the player to the minors and pay his salary there. Such a move would eliminate the player's cap hit to the organization, if such a player was signed before he turned 35.


    1. Appropriate Circumstances

      Horcoff, Shawn (2nd),

      Hemsky, Ales,

      Gilbert, Tom

      Pronger, Chris

      Visnovsky, Lubomir

      Penner, Dustin

      Horcoff, Shawn (1st)

      Lupul, Joffrey

      Nilsson, Robert

      Stortini, Zachery

    2. Inappropriate Circumstances

      Souray, Sheldon

      Roloson, Albert

      Moreau, Ethan

    1. Appropriate Circumstances

      Horcoff, Shawn (2nd)

      Hemsky, Ales

      Visnovsky, Lubomir

      Staios, Steve

      Pisani, Fernando

      Moreau, Ethan

      Horcoff, Shawn (1st)

    2. Inappropriate Circumstances

      Roloson, Albert

    1. Appropriate Circumstances


    2. Inappropriate Circumstances

      Souray, Sheldon

    1. Appropriate Circumstances

      Penner, Dustin*

    2. Inappropriate Circumstances

      Penner, Dustin*

    1. Appropriate Circumstances

      Souray, Sheldon

      Visnovsky, Lubomir

      Staios, Steve

      Roloson, Albert

    2. Inappropriate Circumstances


  • Too early to evaluate the appropriateness


There are several motives for an NHL General Manager to sign players to a long-term contract, or acquire players who are in one. The above compiled analysis does not evaluate the actual contract, which is influenced by other factors. Rather, the analysis evaluates the underlying motive behind the long-term contracts, and whether the circumstances surround the motive was appropriate or not. In appears on surface, Kevin Lowe has reasonable grounds for justification of the majority of his long-term contracts either signed or acquired.

Please review the analysis, and chime in with your opinion and/or feedback.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Horcoff Signs the Dotted Line

And isn't he just beautiful?

$33,000,000 over the next 6 years. It'll kick in after next season, so Scorecoff is signed until he's 36 years old. He also went as far to say he hopes, and envisions that this is not his last contract.

And I completely buy that. By all accounts, the only two other guys in the league that get mentioned in the same conversation of "most fit" NHL'er are Chris Chelios and Horseface, and we have all seen how that has turned out for those two. He's only had the one major injury, and said today it feels better than ever. He's a character guy who has worked harder than everyone else to become one of the best centers in the league.

Moving forward, there's a lot to like about this though. Lowe was very proactive in making sure this didn't become a "Smyth" situation, and as such he helped us avoid a distraction all season long while he put up numbers, his demands went up, and Lowe stayed at the same price. 100% agree with this. We also have our #1 C and our #1 RW locked up as a pair the next 4 seasons at 7.7, 9.6, 9.6, 9.6 combined... you have to imagine they out perform that every year.

This guy is the next Captain of the Oilers, and even more-so, more than even Ryan Smyth, this guy is exactly what being an Oiler should be all about. He's a talented guy, but more importantly he is a guy who has superseded his expectations at every single level. He's a 3rd round draft pick who was never going to be better than a 4th liner. Then a 3rd liner. Then a 2nd liner. Then a "1b" first liner. And now he's just legit, and he's done it on natural talent and a work ethic that few could ever lay blame too. There is no other player I'd rather see be a wire-to-wire Edmonton Oiler.

The absolute best thing about this signing though?

This is what good teams do. This is what the Detroit Red Wings do. This is what the New England Patriots do. This is what the Spurs do. They build from within, find their core, and they keep them together. They pay them, and those are the guys they pay. An atmosphere is created, the wins start to come, you add pieces through smart drafting and good trades. Before you know it, players WANT to play for you... and that's when you add Hossa on a one year deal.

The Oilers are in a fantastic position moving forward, and this contract is a huge step in the right direction.

Centre of attention

Word out of Oilerville is that Shawn Horcoff has signed a five six-year contract extension. Figures as yet unknown, but who gives a shit: this is simply awesome news. Enjoy your payday, you brilliant heterochromatic bastard. Nothing left to do with the guy but give him the damn "C".

Stay tuned.

EDIT: Early reports are saying it's a six year, $33 million deal. That's a $5.5M cap hit. Niiiiiice.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Joni Pitkanen

This is the late Robert Stack, a host of the 80’s and 90’s dark matter show, Unsolved Mysteries. His coat was ridiculously long, the voice was eerie, and the narration while walking through the forest terrified the innocent 6 year old out of me. However, his smooth delivery kept viewers interested, and helped solve hundreds of crime related mysteries over the decades. I am no Robert Stack, but please allow me to help guide you through an unsolved mystery relating to the Edmonton Oilers.

Acquired twelve months ago, in an effort to improve speed, agility, and breakout passing on the wrong side of the red line, it was expected he would be the staple to the Oilers blue line for the next decade. Dubbed as the most physically talented defenseman on the Oilers since Paul Coffey, he gave the organization and the fans reason to be optimistic. There were whispers about his character, his stubbornness, his personality – but everybody just assumed they would go away.

It didn’t turn out that way.

Perhaps the first warning evidence of Joni’s stay in Edmonton being a short one was the signed contract for the 2007-2008 season. 1 year – 2.4M. Questions were put forward: Why didn’t Kevin Lowe lock up the player he paid significant consideration for? Was Joni Pitkanen asking for the moon?

The second warning evidence was connected host, Bob Stauffer, who suggested the Oilers may be looking at moving this defenseman. Keep in mind, at this point in time, Joni had yet to play a game for the Oilers.

The regular season began, and the whispers from the local media didn’t slow down. Joni, shy, but talented, injured his knee early on in the season and was gone for a month. There were other minor injuries and flu’s throughout the year that kept him out of the line-up. An interesting quote from head coach Craig MacTavish when Joni missed a few games with a lower body injury was, “I can’t go in his body and make him play.” Joni ended up missing 19 games in total, and drew criticism for his pain tolerance. However, it was without doubt the Edmonton Oilers were a better team with Joni Pitkanen in the line-up.

Fast forward to the off-season. Joni was selected to play for the Finland National Team at the World Championships. He withdrew due to another injury, and this time was called out by the national team’s head coach.

General Manager Kevin Lowe wasted no time signing RFA’s he wanted back the next year. Robert Nilsson, Denis Grebeshkov, and Tom Gilbert. Many speculated the signing of Tom Gilbert signalled the end of Joni Pitkanen’s time in Edmonton. Kevin Lowe dismissed that, but in the end these speculators were right.

Just days before July 1, 2008, the beginning of the Unrestricted Free Agency period, the Oilers acquired Lubomir Visnovsky – a move made to effectively for a subsequent transaction. Just days later, on July 1, Joni Pitkanen was moved for power-forward Erik Cole. The end result was the Oilers improved the team in the short run, but the trade’s attractiveness remains contingent as to whether Cole’s contract is extended after the 2008-2009 season.

After the trade, several players and coaches suggested that Joni didn’t blend into the team. Ethan Moreau, Shawn Horcoff uncomfortably asserted so in the local media, while Mathieu Garon spoke about the situation on Montreal airwaves. As a fan, it was observable – at least so when Joni scored goals, and the teammates awkwardly congratulated him. The chemistry element was never there, but such is life. At the workplace, one will encounter different personalities. However, one wonders if Joni was a little more outspoken, and a little more assertive, that he, not Tom Gilbert, would be recipient of a six year contract.

Joni briefly spoke after the trade. He mentioned he had a good time in the city, but was looking forward to playing with his “very good friend, T. Ruutu” in Carolina. Perhaps excitement coming from a player who needed a mentor, to play in location where he will be less publicly scrutinized.

The end result was the Joni Pitkanen experiment did not go as expected. I wish Joni the very best in Carolina.

Where did things go wrong?

Was it yet another Edmonton issue?

Did Joni at any point intend to stay long term in Edmonton? Is so, why was he living in a hotel?

Should character play a significant role in negotiating contracts? If so, why? If not, why not?

Does the perceived notion that he didn’t blend in with his teammates affect his performance on the ice?

Will Joni bounce back to performance levels prior the 2006-2007 season?

Did his injuries impact his play?

Did the Edmonton media play a role in his departure?

What were the reasons for his trade request?

What conflict was there between Joni and head coach, Craig MacTavish?

Who will assume Joni’s role of playing the tough minutes (and the Even 5 on 5 rating)?

Did the Oilers organization do everything they could to welcome Joni? To promote efficiency?

And finally, did the Oilers make the right move in trading Joni Pitkanen for Erik Cole?

Join us, next time, for another edition of Unsolved Mysteries.

Monday, July 07, 2008

Big Bert's back

Noted neck breaker Todd Bertuzzi just signed a one-year, $1.95 million contract with the Flames. Eric Cole is getting nervous.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Shell game

A superstar player can lead to winning and thus towards a new arena, LaForge says. “You win championships and motivate a community to say, ‘We can do better. We’re bigger, more important, more valuable to Canada and to hockey, if you will. So we need to invest.’ ”

- The Cult of Hockey

This is David Staples speculating that the Oilers' flurry of activity (including the potential attempted Hossa signing) are part of a plan to put the Oilers in a position to win it all so that the team's ownership can convert the resulting outpouring of pride and goodwill into support for a publicly financed new arena. He's probably on to something there.

Me, I'm at the point now where I'm willing to bow to the inevitable and accept that a new arena will be built with a heaping helping of taxpayer dollars. Since I don't actually live in Edmonton anymore, my objections to welfare for billionaires have always been a matter of principle. But to be perfectly frank, if a pile of public cash for a new arena is the price to pay to see Stanley back in Edmonton, it's one I'm willing to let you all pay.

Enjoy your potholes, suckers!


Another point from Staples that I want to address is the following:

From a hockey perspective, there would have been absolutely nothing wrong with standing pat this summer, giving Jarret Stoll one more year to see if he can fully recover from his concussion, giving Joni Pitkanen another chance to show he just might be an All-Star puck-moving defenceman, giving Matt Greene a much deserved chance to establish himself as the new Jason Smith of the Oil blueline, a rugged team leader capable of playing against tough opposition.

Frankly, that would have been the prudent course of action if the Oilers focus was slowly building towards a Stanley Cup winning team, putting pieces in place around the likes of Sam Gagner and Andrew Cogliano.

That makes sense and is all well and good, but if recent history has taught us anything, the days of the slow rebuild seem to be over. The onset of the cap, early free agency means teams are now in a constant state of flux. Even with a solid core locked up, finding the right supporting pieces year after year to ensure a consistent contender is going to be a challenge for most teams not named the Red Wings. Against this backdrop, it makes perfect sense to shorten the time frame for your standard rebuild. Put another way: for the Oil, the last two years were rebuilding years. This year, with new deep pocketed ownership, there's a good chance for this team to make a hard charge for a long playoff run. Why not go for it? Isn't winning now the whole fucking point?

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Burning down the house

That's not the infamous 2001 Canada Day "riot" up there, but the 2006 Stanley Cup "riots." (note to cops, media and hooligans: it's not a riot until a cop car gets flipped and set on fire. A busted window at Tops convenience store and a few purloined copies of "Juggs" do not a riot make). Speaking of 2006, one of the guys on that year's Cup winning Hurricanes squad is an Oiler today. That, friends, is called a segue.

Former Eisbaren Berlin star Erik "Vertebrae" Cole comes over from tobacco country for enigmatic and oft-injured young Finn Joni Pitkanen. Now, I always believed that Pitkanen was the most skilled player on the Oilers roster next to Hemsky and that his character issues were overblown. Guess not.The question marks were enough for the Oilers to send out a kid who's already a real difference maker for a guy in the last year of his deal who scores at rates that make Shawn Horcoff not at all jealous.

So far, Kevin Lowe's off-season looks like this:

Pikanen for Cole
Jarret Stoll and Matt Greene to L.A. for D Lubomir Visnovsky.
Raffi Torres to the Columbus Blue Jackets for 21-year-old centre Gilbert Brule.

In terms of assets coming in, the Oilers get a veteran offensive defenceman coming off a bad year, a pint-size former first round pick and a big, physical winger that can play some tough minutes. Brule is a bust and in losing Torres, the Oil give up a physical prescence (though a maddeningly inconsistent one) and a decent ES player, which is weird given how few of those they have. He was kind of a douchebag, I guess, and that makes this deal okay for some.

All in all, I'm having a hard time seeing any of these as big upgrades. I've always been a fan of Lobo, but he effectively takes Pitkanen's spot. Cole more than effectively replaces Torres, but I'd be a lot happier if he came with an extension or additional assets as insurance for if/when he walks at the end of what will almost certainly be another year on the fringes. He will also likely bump Dustin Penner off the first line, another clear addmission by Lowe that he fucked up that offer sheet deal.

"Creme" Brule? By all accounts he's as useless as tits on a boar.

The Oilers are older today and a little better, but not by a whole lot. We'll see what, if anything, happens next.