Friday, May 26, 2006

Staying Ahead of the Curve

Whenever the Oilers' season ends the postmortems will begin but already posts and the ensuing threads are beginning to ask what the face of this team will look like next year. A lot of this is due to the recent Brad Richards' signing and the resulting commentary on what this will mean to the NHL. I touched on that signing a couple of days ago.

Lain over at Lowetide has his usual - a great post - in which he talks about how this year's final four has no dynasties but four magic bullets.

We have seen the future. This is it, for better or for worse.

I like Richards but I didn't like the signing. Regardless of how much the cap increases for next season and beyond I think that Jay Feaster is going to have to be very good and very lucky to put the pieces of a contender together when he has three players signed to big longterm deals. Others disagree, saying that Feaster actually will get good value once the cap begins to rise. Of course, time will tell but if Richards has nobody to play with ...

There has been some gnashing of teeth as to what this contract means to a team like the Oilers as they try and build a team that will contend next year and in the years following. In the past Roloson, Pisani, Samsonov, Peca and Spacek would have all been goners. The Wings would have given Roloson and Pisani whatever it took to get them under contract. The Leafs would have signed Samsonov and Peca. The Avs, Spacek. All at prices that the Oilers could never hope to match. But this offseason is going to be a little different. AbeltoYzerman has an interesting take on the Wings and their own cap issues and whether or not they can/should sign Nick Lidstrom.

Times have changed. Now, there are no rules on building a winning team but I think that if we look at the four remaining teams this year we may see what the future holds. And it is different from the past. Some of these are common sense. Some of these have been touched on elsewhere.

1/ Goaltending. Easiest one, right? But even more so nowadays when there is little to choose between teams. I don't think we'll see a team so good that they can win a Cup with Chris Osgood in net. You have to have a guy who can outperform the other guy when the chips are down. Ask Ottawa. Or Dallas. Or any number of teams. And there is not a glut of good keepers out there. Roloson, Gerber and Huet are going to get some good coin. SJ is going to be able to trade Nabokov. Anaheim will get value for Giguere. Chicago may even be able to move Khabibulin. Why else is Muckler making noise about bringing Hasek back?

Roloson is going to get paid. He has to be priority #1 for Lowe. He has the cap room and the inside track to do it.

He has to make sure the Oilers have good goaltending. Suddenly, not a lot of teams have it. Kevin Lowe's job is to make sure the Edmonton Oilers are one of those teams. If he does this then if the Oilers make the playoffs they will always have a chance to do what they are doing this year.

2/ Value for cash at the bottom end of your roster. You can't pay Dvorak 1.5M to score 8 goals. LeGG can't get 1M. I like both but LeGG gets 500K max and Dvorak not much more. Both useful players but if Chad Kilger scores 19 and is a decent two way player for the Leafs and gets 900K per for 3 years then there's your benchmark. Its like Domi getting 1.5 per for the Leafs for two years. A waste of assets. If they won't take less then cut them loose. JF Jacques will work hard and score 8 goals for 450K.

3/ Young (cheap) players who contribute. Anaheim has Penner, Getzlaf, Bryzgalov, Lupol, Perry, Beauchemin. Carolina has Ward, Ladd and Staal. Buffalo has Roy, Connolly, Vanek, Khalinin. The Oilers have Stoll, Hemsky, Greene, Bergeron, Pisani, Horcoff (the latter two not all that young but still cheap). Some have said that the draft is not important because teams can pick up young UFAs.
Here's a newsflash. Teams can only spend so much money. 43M or 46M is not going to give a team an edge like 75M or 80M did. Teams are going to make mistakes - Domi, Rathje, Hatcher, Mogilny, McGillis - that eat up that cap room. If a team does not draft and develop cheap young players they are not going to get anywhere. You have to have young guys at the top and bottom of your roster.

4/ No big contracts or give them to the right guys. If teams throw stupid money at players, as some will, then they will be out of the bidding for others who have better value. Since the Richards' signing the names being bandied about as possibilities for like contracts include Elias, Lidstrom, Chara, Redden, Jovanoski, Selanne etc etc etc.

Let other teams sign these guys. Let Anaheim sign Selanne to 7M per so that they can't afford Freisen, O'Donnell and Salei. Let the Wings sign Lidstrom so they come back with Jamie Howard as their #1 goalie. The Canucks can give Jovo 7M - good luck signing the Sedins. Ottawa can blow the budget on Redden and then watch Schaefer leave and have to dump Chris Phillips.

Give the big contracts to the guys who play 30 minutes a night - the D men - or who play every minute - your number one goalie. Pronger and Niedermeyer. Luongo. Guys who will make a difference because they are always on the ice and because they are premier players.

This is my biggest issue with the Richards' deal. 7.8M buys the Oil Smyth, Horcoff, Hemsky, Torres, Stoll and Moreau (give or take 200K). I love Richards but who is getting better value for their money? Richards is a great offensive player. Tampa has three of these. Where did their season end? Who has a bigger impact game to game? Pronger, who plays 30+ minutes? Niedermeyer who does the same? Or Brad Richards?

5/ Learning when to say goodbye. The Oil have five major components of this team who are UFAs - Roloson, Pisani, Peca, Samsonov and Spacek. Lowe has to identify who he wants to keep and what their value is. If Pisani gets an offer of 2M per year from the Wings then he should, as Brian Burke once said, congratulate him, drive him to the airport and say goodbye.

Because that is 2M less out there to be spent and he can get a comparable player for less. I love Pisani. I hope the Oil resign him. He has been golden this playoffs. But Lowe can't pay him that money. He can use that money to resign Horcoff or pay a #4 Dman so Staios can drop to the third pair or ... well, you get the picture.

Peca is going to take a pay cut. What if he gets an offer for three years?

Is Samsonov worth 3.5 M a year because he's going to get that offer?

They have to go to the wall on Roloson. I think they can get Pisani done too. I'd love to see Peca back. Heck I'd love to see them all back.

But at my price, not someone else's.

Because there are going to be players out there to replace these guys. Either by signing them or trading for them, Lowe can replace them. Even Roloson although that is one gamble I would not take. Letting a guy like Pisani go would be a drag but if you look at the Sabres' roster you can see a lot of good cheap players. There are going to be players like that on the market every year.

If Pisani (I hate to pick on him because I love the guy) gets an offer for 2M, let him go. Use the 1.2M I think he is worth to sign another guy who will score 15 to 20 goals and take care of his own end. There are going to be a lot of guys like that when the music stops and teams have blown their wads on the big and sexy names.

Use that extra 800K to sweeten the deal for Horcoff and Smyth - 400K each. Or to pick up a 3M Dman (that's a good Dman) at the trade deadline.

A dynasty? Not going to happen. Every team has key UFAs. Being in position to be the magic bullet. That is what Kevin Lowe has to do for the Oil.


Vic Ferrari said...

I'd say that Brad Richards clearly has more impact on the results of a game than Pronger or Niedermayer.

If you ever check the shots-for shots-against that happen when a played is on the ice ... this becomes apparent in a hurry.

The reall added value with Pronger to the Oilers is that he is a good PP point man, and he's the only one of those on this roster. Richards is a better PP pointman though.

If you look at the EV+ and EV- rates of players as well. I'd bet that on every team in the league the D are bunched much closer together than the forwards. i.e. The forwards are the ones who have a lot more impact on results during their shifts.

Unless it is a really high end guy who is great at 5on5 AND the PP ... like Lidstrom, Pronger, Blake ... maybe Redden and Niedermayer. It's a short list, and paying a guy like Norstrom twice as much as Jason Smith just doesn't make a helluva lot of sense to me.

And throwing big money at a guy because he is coming off of a career year or a hella good playoff run ... that rarely works out. Paying guys like Moreau, Dvorak, Reasoner, etc modest coin based on recent results ... and expecting good value based on the overall track record, that seems like the way to go IMO.

I also think that you need to focus on developing players faster now, with the lower UFA age. Players develop gradually ... as individuals erratically, but as a group very consistent. And really damn few players, outside of the elite, are really helping you win until they are about 26 years old, probably a couple of years older than that for defensemen.

I don't know if that is really possible, but we've seen examples with Staal and Frolov, Hemsky this year, Preissing last season. Comrie in 02/03. Surely a whack of others that I haven't noticed. Some of these kids break before they bend, but if they can become better outscorers earlier in their career there is a helluva lot of value in it for the team IMO.

Black Dog Hates Skunks said...

Vic - regarding your point about Richards and game impact - my feeling is that a guy like Pronger is on the ice 7-10 minutes more then Richards - ergo a bigger impact. On top of that he can play with Smith or Spacek or Bergeron and suddenly their performance seems to improve. If Richards has to play with scrubs or journeymen then will his impact be as high, We may find out.

I guess I need a better explanation - Richards may have a better shots for/shots against ratio (and once again don't get me wrong - he's a great player) but replace Pronger with Richards and I can't see the Oil getting out of the first round.

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