Saturday, March 11, 2006

Why Edmonton Had A Bad Trade Deadline

One of the most active teams at the NHL trade deadline was the Edmonton Oilers. They acquired goaltender Dwayne Roloson for a first round draft pick (and a conditional third pick if they resign him). They also acquired Sergei Samsonov for Marty Reasoner, Yan Stastny and a second round draft pick. The big problem is that both Roloson and Samsonov are unrestricted free agents this summer.

There is no denying that Sergei Samsonov is a talented hockey player. He won the 1998 Calder trophy and looked to be well on the way to a great career when injuries have seemingly derailed him. His 2002/03 season was lost when he played only eight games due to a serious wrist injury that required surgery. He hasn't been the same player since. He's no longer a point per game scorer. At the rate he has scored in his last two NHL seasons, if he can stay healthy he looks like a 50-60 point scorer at best. This makes him a solid talent who will make a significant impact on one of the top two lines on a team, but he has a lesser upside then he once did as a player who had two 70 or better point seasons before his 24th birthday (and projected to even better when he hit has later twenties). Samsonov will be a good player for the Oilers for the remainder of this season.

Dwayne Roloson is a 36 year old goalie who was unable to stick in the NHL until he joined the Minnesota Wild at age 32. He had a few trials in Calgary and Buffalo before that but always wound up back in the minors. In Minnesota he fit in well behind a well coached team. The Minnesota Wild trap has always done a very good job of preventing high percentage shots. They have always been a disciplined team that took few penalties, which has again reduced the high percentage shots. Minnesota goaltenders Manny Fernandez and Dwayne Roloson have put up some very good saves percentages behind these defences, but I think these numbers are more a product to their team's defensive schemes then they are evidence that either are elite goalies. Nevertheless, Roloson has shown that he is a solid NHL goalie, who may be in the decline phase of his career (due to his age). He probably was unlucky to have not stuck with an NHL team until he was in his thirties. He is a better goalie than the three Oiler goalies used before the trade deadline. Edmonton had a very low saves percentage (despite a low number of shots allowed) with Jussi Markkanen, Ty Conklin and Mike Morrison in goal. Roloson is not a star goalie, by any stretch of the imagination, but he should be an improvement.

Adding these two players has made some people very exicited (see for example the Sergei Samsonov and the Dwayne Roloson posts and comments at the Battle of Alberta.

There is no question that Edmonton made the biggest improvement this season among teams at the trade deadline. But what did this cost?

The Oilers basically give up on the 2006 draft. They will not have a pick until the third round. By then any legitimate prospects will likely be gone. Even if the Oilers have not had the best drafting record in the past, they lose a big shot at building a future by not even stepping up to the draft table and taking a shot at finding a good player.

The also gave up Marty Reasoner. Reasoner is a solid unspectacular role player who fits well on a team's thrid or fourth lines. He isn't a scoring star (31 points is his career best - though he is on pace to beat that mark this season) but he is a very good checker. He is 29 years old and most importantly signed beyond this season.

They also gave up Yan Stastny, who is most famous for being hall of famer Peter Stastny's son. Stastny is a solid prospect. He played so well in Germany in the 2004/05 lockout that he got added to the US team in the 2005 World Championships of Hockey. He was one of the few non-NHL players on the team. He has had a season of ups and downs in the AHL (and the NHL), but seems to be adjusting well to North American play. He is a decent prospect, who might have an NHL career where he makes an impact on his team.

Edmonton gave up a lot of their future. In fact, Edmonton gave up more of their future on the trade deadline than any other team.

In principle, it can make sense to give up a bit of your future to win now if you have a top team that is on the verge of winning the Stanley Cup. But for the most part, this idea is wrongheaded. Hockey is a complex team game. When you add a new player (like Samsonov) you disrupt the existing chemistry. Samsonov will have to fit into a new role in a quick period of time. The player who filled that role in the past will have to fit himself into a new role as well. It can disrupt the team. It can take a while to gel again after the moves.

This idea is based on the incorrect idea that there is a missing piece of the puzzle. If we add that piece then the team will be able to win the Stanley Cup. In reality, this "missing piece" never really exists. In a given season, there are a few really good teams that have a serious shot at the Stanley Cup. One of them will win. Its a crapshoot to determine that team - no one team has overwhelming odds of victory. No "missing piece" will significantly change things. All a GM can do is set his team up to be one of the teams with a cserious shot at the cup for as many years as possible. If this is done, more than likely the team will win one or more Stanley Cups.

Has Edmonton done this? Is Edmonton one of the teams that has a serious shot at the Stanley Cup? I would say no. Most Stanley Cup teams have an elite goalie. Though he is an improvement, Roloson is not an elite goalie. Most Stanley Cup teams have a few very good forwards who are on or near hall of fame tracks. Edmonton has none. Ales Hemsky, Ryan Smyth, Sergei Samsonov, Shawn Horcoff, Mike Peca, Jarrett Stoll all may be decent forwards but none look like potential hall of famers. Most would be stretches to appear in an all star game. Most Stanley Cup teams have one or two defenceman who are on hall of fame tracks. Edmonton does have this. They do have Chris Pronger. He is a very good defenceman. But he alone is not enough. Quite simply, the Edmonton Oilers do not have enough elite players to be a serious Stanley Cup contender. If the season ended right now, the Oilers would have 8th seed and meet the Detroit Red Wings. In all likelihood, they would lose in the first round.

What is the point to mortgaging the future in order to likely lose in the first round of the playoffs? Its a completely wrong approach to building a Stanley Cup winning hockey team. Next year, likely Edmonton will have had no playoff run. They will likely have no Samsonov. They will likely have no Roloson. They will have less of a future. What was the point?

Is it that Kevin Lowe is a bad GM who has no idea how to build a Stanley Cup winner? Is he shortsighted enough to mortgage the future in order to make a minor run at the Stanley Cup playoffs? Does he actually believe that the lockout was set up in order to let small market teams like his own compete - and he is going to bring in all the big money players he can to do so? This looks very much like the New York Rangers failed strategy under the old CBA done in a smaller market. It hasn't worked there and it won't work here either.

A final interesting point comes from the comments on Tom Benjamin's blog.

The worst part of the trade deadline for me was TSN's hyping of the "new NHL". Toronto didn't make a big trade! Edmonton did! That would have never happened in the old NHL! The Oilers got SAMSONOV!!! NEW NHL!!! Nevermind the Oilers picked up Nedved last year and Dvorak the year before.

There is some truth to that comment.

NOTE: Mudcrutch hockey has an interesting theory to explain the Oilers moves (I think it might be overstating the intelligence of Kevin Lowe - though it is plasuable). It is well known that Edmonton is sniffing around for government money to build a new arena. Canadian teams have not (in the past) had success getting government money the way American ones have. However, it the surplus heavy province of Alberta - where the Conservative government seems unwilling to start any new social programs - it may be a possibility. If the Edmonton Oilers can cast themselves as a highly competitive team that has a real shot at the Stanley Cup (and presumably always would have been such a team had it not been for the old CBA), then people will be more willing to pay for a new Oiler arena. Now Edmonton is more than willing to mortgage their future to maintain the appearance of a good team. The gamble is that the arena deal can be put into place before it is clear that they built themselves to have a short term shot (and not a particularly great shot) at the Stanley Cup at the expense of their future and that the new CBA in no way helps Edmonton preferentially (or even makes their current moves good ones).

Comments:
I agree that the Oilers don't have enough elite players to make a strong push for the cup. I disagree that they gave up to much future to get Roloson & Samsonov. The draft pick are the biggest loss but Reasoner is an UFA next year and Yan Stastny is a prospect competing for playing time with other, more prized prospects in the Oiler system. Another issue is money. How much money will the Oilers have to spend on better talent by not spending on prospects? If there is an upper level free agent this summer, the Oilers MIGHT be in a good position to over pay to get better.
 
Hehe I just randomly came along this article. Good thing you arent my GM and KLo is.
 
lol oilers made it to the SCF ... suck on that!
 
haha what a fag..

oilers ripped shit up....

"PROB lose to detroit in the first round of the stanley cup finals"

HAHA FUCK that.. we beat them.. AND in 6 games... BITCH...
 
Its always bold to anonymously made "predictions" 6 months afterv the fact.

Oilers had a better playoff run then I imagined, but the still sold out their future. Its one year later in Edmonton and the future is not bright.
 
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