Saturday, March 31, 2007

Worst NHL Regular This Season

I try to track the player in the NHL who regularly dresses who has been the worst player so far this season. There are two main trends that emerge in trying to track this player. At the beginning of the season, the player who has played the worst is usually a "name" player. Should a relative unknown play poorly enough to "win" this honor from the start of the season, he would be out of a job and out of the NHL. The first player I picked as the worst regular in the NHL this season was Petr Nedved and he was soon replaced by Derian Hatcher. Both are known players who have had long NHL careers. Both have been considered stars at one point in their careers.

As time goes on, the worst NHL regular shifts and becomes a more unknown depth player who usually has earned the coach's respect by hard work despite not being good enough to be much of an NHL player. In the NHL talent pool there are lots of players who potentially fall in this group. The one hundred worst NHL players are all of similar talent levels. Should one player seem to be establishing himself as the worst of the bunch, likely it won't be long until he shows he is no worse than the rest of the bunch and somebody new takes his spot as the worst so far. From this group, I picked Ryan Hollweg of the New York Rangers and then Jody Shelley of the Columbus Blue Jackets. Both scored a couple points not long after I singled them out, which is more than enough to put them back into the group of one hundred or so borderline NHLers instead of sitting at its bottom.

My newest selection is Jean-Francois Jacques of the Edmonton Oilers. He is a 21 year old who has not scored in his 37 games played. He is a -11 +/- rating. This level of ineptitude of out of line with his CHL and AHL numbers. While Jacques does not project to be a star, it is reasonable to think he might be an NHL player. He has 24 points in 22 AHL games this year to go with his zero in 37 NHL games. Jacques is an energy guy. He is a hard working aggressive checker, who so far has not been able to have any success at the NHL game. He is a "typical" worst NHL regular. He is a hard working player that the coach likes who just isn't very good.

Friday, March 30, 2007

Why The NHL Does Not Want a 2007 Summit Series

The 1972 Canada/USSR Summit hockey series is a defining moment in Canadian hockey. The Canadians were challenged at their game fell behind and managed to pull out a victory (just barely). It had all the drama of a Rocky movie. Every Canadian kid who wasn't even born in 1972 knows this was a great series and probably has seen it one of the many times it has been replayed on TV. That was 35 years ago. Maybe we could try to re-create the series in 2007. That was what Vladislav Tretiak, the president of the Russian Ice Hockey Federation proposed.

Of course, the series would not be the same. You cannot capture exactly the same drama. It might not even be a close series this time. Nevertheless, it would be an exciting series for hockey fans to watch in the last days of summer when they need their hockey fix. It would make everybody some money. It would tire out the players who participate, making it even harder for them to survive the marathon of a season and playoffs that would follow. It would excite Canada and Russia (as long as the series remained hard fought close games). It would do little to help bring hockey to the American market (how much will Americans watch two other countries play hockey in an exhibition?). It's no longer truly a novelty to have international hockey. The Olympics happen every four years and have the best players in the world. Last time, there was a well-played tournament, but the wrong teams won (Sweden, Finland and the Czechs took home the medals), so the NHL has cooled on the idea of extra international hockey tournaments. Especially when they cannot bill it as two Olympic medalists playing one another.

Why do the Russians want another Summit Series? They want it because it may help to gain leverage in negotiation of a new NHL/Russia player transfer agreement. Right now "negotiation" is the NHL makes a bad offer and the European Ice Hockey Federations get the choice of whether to take it or leave it. Russia has been alone in choosing to reject it. This has led to some problems with player transfers including lawsuits and a defection.

If the NHL announces that they want a Summit Series, then they have to negotiate with Russia the terms. That negotiation will likely include negotiation of a new player transfer deal and would likely give Russia some clout at the bargaining table. They can give up some power in the Summit Series for a better player transfer deal. The NHL has no interest to give Russia any leverage in the negotiation. It makes it harder to play the game of "take our small transfer fee or we will take the players anyway and leave you nothing" that the NHL wants to play. There will not be a 35th anniversary Summit Series because it might allow Russia the leverage and the NHL doesn't figure its enough of a gain to make the loss of leverage in the player transfer debate with Russia worthwhile.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

McKenzie: NHLPA Still Active Day-to-Day

The NHLPA is currently in trouble. Since Ted Saskin has been suspended as leader there is a lack of anyone running the ship. Nevertheless, I am surprised to find out that they are still in good enough shape to file an appeal for a player on a minor issue, which for the most part doesn't affect anyone except the single player.

The Los Angeles Kings have signed Joe Piskula from the University of Wisconsin. They signed him to an entry-level contract. The rules of entry-level contracts are complex and explained in detail in the current NHL CBA. Among the rules are complex bonus schedules for entry-level players. The Kings have given him bonuses for games played this season ($25,000 for 1 game, $25,000 more for 3 games and $25,000 more for 5 games) which are in addition to the normal bonus schedule (likely he won't meet any of these bonuses since he joined the NHL so late in the season). Piskula has already played 3 games and will likely have no problem reaching five games played this year. The NHL has balked saying that this is effectively a signing bonus and shouldn't be allowed under the CBA. But there is an appeal underway which according to Bob McKenzie was filed by the NHLPA (and not for example the LA Kings). The NHLPA filed a grievance and the contract will stand until the case can be heard by an arbitrator.

The contract does not violate any of the salary caps in place in the NHL - either on how much an entry level player can be paid without the bonus schedules or the team salary cap. It doesn't even increase the total payroll of the NHL - that is a fixed percentage of revenues regardless of what is in the player contracts.

The shocking thing is that the NHLPA is in any shape to file a grievance or do any of its other day-to-day activities. Filing a grievance such as this is about the most it managed to do for the players when Ted Saskin was firmly in charge. It can still be done with nobody firmly in charge (Ian Penny and Stu Grimson are as close as anyone comes to leading it today). This is the first piece of evidence that Ian Penny might be a competent leader to take over after Ted Saskin. He might even do something to help the players.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

New MVP Selection

I have been picking Nicklas Lidstrom of the Detroit Red Wings as my selection for MVP this season. Since I have last written on this issue, the case for Lidstrom is not as strong. He is no longer the top scoring defenceman in hockey (he has fallen to third behind Scott Niedermayer and Sergei Gonchar) and he is no longer the top +/- rating in hockey either (he has fallen to a third place tie with Daniel Alfredsson and behind Thomas Vanek and Tom Preissing). So it is time to re-evualute the MVP race.

At forward, Sidney Crosby of the Pittsburgh Penguins is the top scorer and top forward in the league. His offensive numbers have benefited from his being in the higher scoring East Conference. The top scorer in the West is Joe Thornton of San Jose and is closing the distance he is behind Crosby in the points race (it is currently a difference of 9 points), but he is well behind in goals (39 to 21).

In goal, both Martin Brodeur of New Jersey and Roberto Luongo of Vancouver are having excellent seasons and are their team's MVPs, but have not been able to keep their saves percentages as high as .930 or so (which would be necessary to be approximately as valuable as the other candidates I have mentioned.

If the season ended right now, I would give Sidney Crosby the Hart Trophy and Nicklas Lidstrom and Joe Thornton the other nominations. Crosby has been the best player in the NHL so far this season ... and he is still improving. How good might he be in a few more years?

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Most Vezina Trophy Wins

I am getting a lot of google hits today for people looking for the player who has won the Vezina Trophy the most times in his career (this must be some kind of trivia question somewhere). I do not think I directly answer it anywhere in the history of this blog, but depending upon how you word your search I come up as the number one hit.

The answer is Jacques Plante who won the Vezina 7 times in his career.

I NOW Consider Teemu Selanne A Hall of Famer

I try to keep track of the point in NHL player's careers when they have accomplished enough that they are worthy of induction into the Hockey Hall Of Fame regardless of what happens between now and the end of their career. My Hall of Fame standards are outlined here. Selanne is the third player this season who has enough achievements in his career, completed this season, that I would consider him a Hall of Famer. He joins Mike Modano and Mats Sundin.

This season, Selanne scored his 500th career goal and did so while remaining a dominant scorer and not merely a player who is hanging on to a career and padding his career numbers. In fact, his 536 career goals places him 26th all time and is the most of any player that I previously did not consider Hall of Fame worthy. In terms of career points, he currently sits 48th all time with 1127 points. There are three active players with more career points that I would not consider Hall of Fame worthy. They are Mark Recchi, Pierre Turgeon and Jeremy Roenick. None of the three have had as dominant careers (though all three have had longer careers).

Selanne has been a dominant player throughout most of his career. He has played in 10 All Star games (including the one this season). He is a two-time first team all star at right wing and a two-time second team all star as well. He has led or tied for the league lead in goals on three occasions. He has excelled in international play, having represented Finland four times in the Olympics and in 2006 was named the best forward at the tournament.

I induct him right now because it is clear that Selanne has had another dominant season this year and flew by the 500 career goal marker. If the season ended right now, Selanne's 44 goals would be third in the league (and first in the West Conference). His 86 points would be 11th in the league (and third in the West Conference). Though he likely will continue to score this season, those numbers by themselves show that he is still an elite player. Given his comeback season last year (90 points while coming off a career worst 32 before that) it takes a second successful year to show that was not a one season fluke and he has accomplished enough to show that. He is moving up the all time goals list and doing so at a fast rate. Because of this, I now consider Teemu Selanne a Hall of Famer.

These players are the currently active (or at least non-retired) players in the NHL I think have done enough to be inducted into the Hall of Fame regardless of what happens for the rest of their careers:

Ed Belfour
Rob Blake
Martin Brodeur
Chris Chelios
Peter Forsberg
Dominik Hasek
Jaromir Jagr
Brian Leetch
Nicklas Lidstrom
Mike Modano
Scott Niedermayer
Chris Pronger
Joe Sakic
Teemu Selanne
Brendan Shanahan
Mats Sundin

As the season ends and playoff hockey begins, it is possible that further players will make this list. Likely, this list will shrink some this summer as I am sure a couple of these players will retire (Brian Leetch is very likely).

Monday, March 26, 2007

CBC Renews HNIC Until 2014

NHL hockey has a problem finding people to broadcast it in the US. They have a few games on NBC on weekends during the latter part of the season, but this is a deal where the NHL gets nothing upfront and a share of profits if any exist after the season ends. They have a more regular presence on Versus but to many fans this is a forgotten channel that they may not even know they get in their cable package. They have zero presence on ESPN, which is the premiere group of sports channels in the US.

Things could not be more different in Canada. There is a frenzy for hockey that is unequalled elsewhere in the world. Hockey is a high ratings program. The classic national broadcast is Hockey Night in Canada which has been shown on CBC every Saturday during hockey season. Its broadcast deal was to come to an end at the end of the 2008 season. The NHL and CBC have come to a new agreement. For about $100 million a year (an increase from $65 million), CBC will continue broadcasting Saturday games as Hockey Night in Canada until 2014. The NHL is still hoping for the day that the US media is willing to pay that much for one day a week of games.

Here is the CBC report on the broadcast agreement.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Edmonton Oiler Crash

It looks like the Edmonton Oilers players gave up on the season as soon as Ryan Smyth was traded to the New York Islanders. Since that time, the Oilers have 1 win (in a shootout) and 13 losses (one in overtime). They have picked up 3 points in 14 games. During that time they have been outscored by a 51-14 margin. This is truly pathetic. If these numbers were kept up over an entire season, the Oilers would go down as one of the worst teams in NHL history (if not the worst).

The Oilers are not this bad a team. They should be playing better than this. Their biggest problem is psychological. They have given up. With Ryan Smyth, the Oilers were a team that was in the hunt for the final playoff spot in the west (though they likely would have failed). Without him, they are not a playoff team, but they are definitely not the worst team in NHL history. For example, St Louis is a worse team than Edmonton going into the trade deadline and gave up more at the deadline in both Bill Guerin and Keith Tkachuk and the team has not folded. They have won 6 of their last 14 (a stat that is inflated a bit with 4 wins in overtime and shootouts). This shows me that coaching has been better in St Louis (Andy Murray is better than Craig MacTavish). MacTavish has not been able to get anything out of his team and needs to be replaced this summer with somebody who can.

Next year, Edmonton will try again. They have a good group of young prospects. They will sign a few free agents. They will win more frequently then this post-Smyth version of the team (because it is nearly impossible to win less frequently). Their best plan might be to let the young talent mature into a team. It may take a couple years before it happens, but it is a plan that might succeed. It is much harder to buy a new winning team as free agents when your team will not have a payroll that approaches the salary cap. That is a failing plan that leaves the team on a path to mediocre at best.

Here is Tyler Dellow showing just how historically bad these Oilers have played since the Smyth trade.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

NFL Overreaching On Copyright Violations

It is common practise for big companies (such as sports leagues) to overreach on their copyright rights. This was practise tested with an NFL clip and shown to be the case.

When the NFL airs a game they have a disclaimer:

This telecast is copyrighted by the NFL for the private use of our audience, and any other use of this telecast or of any pictures, descriptions or accounts of the game without the NFL's consent is prohibited

This disclaimer makes no exception for fair use as the actual Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DCMA) does. A Brooklyn Law School professor named Wendy Seltzer wanted to show this to her students, so she posted a short clip of the Super Bowl on her youtube blog. This falls under the fair use exception since she is using this to teach a lesson about copyright law to her class. Sure enough, an NFL copyright-bot flagged the video as a violation of copyright and sent a message to youtube, so youtube removed the clip.

Professor Seltzer responded and sent a counternotice to youtube citing her rights under the DCMA. Several weeks later, the clip came back online. The NFL sent another copyright infringement notice to youtube who have again removed the clip. Under the DCMA, they did not have the rights to do this and are in violation of the law. The NFL is now liable for any legal fees and damages that are awarded to Prof. Seltzer should this case go to court.

Here is Prof. Seltzer's blog about this situation and here is a news article about the saga.

This is important to all sports fans because it shows how sports leagues are overreaching on their copyright rights and it shows that youtube (and likely many other companies) are so scared of lawsuits that they will comply immediately with illegal notices of copyright infringement and if they ask any questions, it is much later. Cases such as these will set the precedent for fair use of sports clips and could be important should the NHL ever try to get clips of NHL games pulled from blogs due to alleged copyright infringement.

Friday, March 23, 2007

The Hottest Team In The NHL

The hottest team in the NHL is currently on the outside looking in with respect to the playoffs. The Colorado Avalanche sit in 9th place in the West Conference. They are 6 points behind eighth place Calgary, whom they would need to catch to get a playoff berth. In their last 10 games, they have 9 wins and a loss (but since twas in overtime they got a point). That leaves them with 19 of the last 20 possible points. That kind of streak allows a team to close quickly on the teams ahead of them.

The Avs have done it with a potent attack that includes 4 of the top 14 scorers since February began. In that time, Joe Sakic has 32 points to sit second in the league (behind only Joe Thornton). Milan Hejduk and rookie Paul Stastny are tied for 9th with 29 points and Andrew Brunette's 28 points ties him for 14th. This kind of balanced potent offence could make a significant run in the playoffs, should Colorado get there. They need to catch a very good Calgary team that is 6 points ahead of them. A team that is not without its own firepower. Jarome Iginla has 31 points since February began and former Av Alex Tanguay has 28. It will likely be a tight race that gets decided right at the end of the season. Whichever team winds up in eighth seed in the west has a good chance to make a significant playoff run.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Best Team Defence

Over the course of the season, several teams have been the league leaders in goals against. These have included Detroit and Dallas. The current leader is another team that has had a very good team defence, especially in the stretch run. It is the Minnesota Wild.

This is a team that has allowed 2.36 goals per game (a league leading figure) and has done this without any bonafide all stars on their defence (I do not recall seeing Kim Johnsson, Brent Burns and Keith Carney on too many all star teams). They have done this with a very good defensive system brought by should be coach of the year Jacques Lemaire. Nobody can successfully implement a system of play on his team as well as Lemaire.

Minnesota is a team that could surprise in the playoffs. In the tough west conference, there are no easy opponents, even current eighth seed Calgary could go on a run and win the cup. It will make playoff predictions hard.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Thornton Having Another Great Year

Joe Thornton is the reigning Hart Trophy winner and he is having another excellent season. He leads the lower scoring West Conference in scoring with 96 points (he has a 10 point lead over Teemu Selanne). He is currently on pace for 108 points which would be his second best year of his career (after last season). I think he should get some Hart Trophy consideration this year. If he keeps this up to the end of the season he might deserve a nomination - though I don't think he will get one.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

NHLPA In Shambles

The NHLPA is currently at one of its lowest points in its history. Ted Saskin has been sent on paid leave until the player's legal council find the cheapest way to fire him. This was prompted from the investigation into his spying on player's emails but goes back to unhappiness with how he replaced Bob Goodenow and brought in a pro-owner CBA after the players had lost a season. All of this was done in a manner that was inconsistent with the NHLPA constitution, which might not have been a big deal had the players not been accepting defeat and had the issue not been pushed by Trent Klatt, Chris Chelios and several other dissident players.

Ken Kim has also been suspended indefinitely. He is the NHLPA senior director who was the initial fallguy for Saskin's email spying. Former player Mike Gartner, the director of hockey affairs has resigned. People are leaving the sinking ship as fast as they can.

Who is left in charge? This isn't completely clear, although the best answer is former player Stu Grimson and lawyer Ian Penny are in the leadership role by default. There is some thought that Ian Penny may take over the NHLPA when the smoke clears (but likely an exhaustive search for a new leader will take place first).

This situation is affecting hockey in other ways. IIHF meeting was cancelled due to a lack of NHLPA leadership. This meeting is in part to discuss transfer agreements (none exist with Russia and this had led to various problems.

The players in the NHL do not seem very happy to get involved with the NHLPA. James Mirtle has a good piece on this.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Some Stability For The Penguins

Pittsburgh has been a good hockey market that has housed a successful team with two Stanley Cup victories (so far?). They have a good young core built around the best forward in the NHL - Sidney Crosby and the likely rookie of the year Evgeni Malkin. However, they have had some uncertainty due to the need for a new arena. They had the Isle of Capri casino which would buy them a rink get denied and have tried to sell the team to Howard Fingold and Jim Balsille only to have both deals fall through. The Penguins have even looked somewhat seriously in relocating (possibly to Kansas City)

Some stability returned to the Pittsburgh Penguins organization this week when it was announced that they have reached an agreement to have local government help to pay for a new arena (only in pro sports does local government pay for your building). The bulk of the money will come from the state of Pennsylvania's slot machine parlors, while the Penguins will contribute $3.8 million a year for construction and $400,000 for capital improvements. Not as bad deal for Penguins owners who get a facility expected to cost $290 million cheaply. The cost of running a sports franchise is subsidized by taxpayers (but somehow they do not share in any of the profits). The building should be ready for the 2009/10 season. Here is the TSN story on this agreement.

With the expected increase in franchise value that will come with a new arena and with the emergence of the Penguins young stars, Mario Lemieux has announced that the current owners are no longer trying to sell the team. Here is the TSN story on this announcement.

The city of Pittsburgh went through a lot before a new arena was blackmailed from taxpayers. In the end the Penguins owners got what they wanted. Which city will have to go through this emotional roller coaster next?

Friday, March 09, 2007

Chris Simon Suspended Indefinitiely

Chris Simon of the New York Islanders has been suspended indefinitely after Thursday night's vicious slash on Ryan Hollweg of the New York Rangers. Hollweg had hit Simon into the boards and Simon retaliated by swinging his stick like a baseball bat at Hollweg's face. Simon was given a match penalty for his attempt to injure and has now been suspended indefinitely. The Rangers beat the Islanders 2-1 on a goal scored on the power play when Petr Prucha scored during Simon's penalty.

It's easy for the NHL to make an example of Chris Simon. He is a 35 year old goon who hasn't exceeded 30 points in a season since 2001/2002. His career might be over at the end of this season even without a suspension. He will likely be similar to Marty McSorely in that an indefinite suspension will end his NHL career. It is much easier this way then with Todd Bertuzzi who remained a sought after NHL player and had to eventually be reinstated and the lawsuits Steve Moore has filed.

Its easy to take a stand when the player being punished does not fit into the longterm plans of any NHL team. Would the reaction be the same if it was a hot young star in Chris Simon's place?

NOTE: The suspensionb length has been annnounced. Simon is suspended for 25 games minimum. That is the 15 games that remain this season plus all playoff games the Islanders play this year. Should the Isles fail to play 10 playoff games the suspension continues into next season. Here is the TSN story.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Ted Saskin in Jeopardy

Ted Saskin was brought in as NHLPA head under questionable circumstances when Bob Goodenow was forced into resignation. He led the players to accept a new CBA that favored the owners. Although the NHLPA members, in general, shun politics there has been a small group actively challenging the Saskin hiring. It looks like the end is near for Ted Saskin. There are allegations that Saskin has misused NHLPA funds and spied on players and player agents email in an effort to maintain power. This all appears consistent with the way Saskin has attempted to consolidate power. It appears that Saskin has been more interested in gaining the position of NHLPA head for the power and control that comes with it rather than to do something good for the NHLPA.

Likely a new NHLPA head will come along soon to replace Ted Saskin. When one looks at the history of the NHLPA, two of the three NHLPA bosses (Eagleson and Saskin) are likely to be forced from the position due to legal improprieties. That leaves Bob Goodenow by default the best NHLPA head ever by a large margin. It also shows just how weak the NHLPA is as a union if the majority of its leaders have been corrupt.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

A Few Words About Ryan Smyth

As I have been busy lately and unable to devote much time to this blog, I have not written many of the posts that I otherwise would have. One topic I would have written about a few times is the Ryan Smyth trade to the New York Islanders. Others have already written a lot on this topic including Tyler Dellow at Mutcrutch Hockey and RiversQ at Irreverent Oilers Fan.

From a hockey standpoint, the Oilers made a very good trade getting three first round draft pick prospects from the New York Islanders in Robert Nilsson, Ryan O'Marra and the 2007 first round pick. All have potential to have decent NHL careers. Smyth is an unrestricted free agent and will be able to sign wherever he chooses this summer (likely it will not be Edmonton and it will not be Long Island). That is why I think this is a good trade for the Oilers and a bad trade for the Islanders. It makes a shortterm improvement oto the Islanders. The biggest shortterm improvement any team made at the trade deadline, but the Islanders are not a team that is a serious Stanley Cup contender. They should not be burning their future to make a likely ill-fated run this season. More than likely, the Islanders will fall in the first round this year - even with Smyth. The Oilers likely made a significant longterm improvement. If even one of the three prospects they go becomes a legitimate second line player he will be more valuable than the rest of the season of Ryan Smyth - and by a large margin. This return is similar to the return the Oilers got when they traded a non-rental Chris Pronger this summer.

The problem to Oiler fans is the symbolism of the trade. Smyth is a popular player. He is somebody who has given his heart and soul to the Oilers. In the old NHL CBA he likely would have been an Oiler for life. This new CBA is one of increased player movement and will probably put an end to such players. The Oilers went to game seven in the Stanley Cup finals last year and they are very upset to not have a run in the following season - although that is a good example of the parity in the NHL under this CBA.

We need to ask just how good Ryan Smyth is. Ryan Smyth is not on a Hall of Fame track. Ryan Smyth is not a true franchise player. The Hockey News ranked him the 33rd best player in the NHL last summer. Probably this season will move him a few more points up the list - especially now that he is in the media center of New York, but one cannot make a serious argument that he belongs in the top ten or even top twenty. In a thirty team league, a legitimate franchise player must be better than the best player on a good portion of NHL teams. Ryan Smyth is not that. He is slightly below that level. Even at his peak (right now) he cannot achieve that and likely he never will. The story is that Smyth was very close (within $100,000 a year) of signing a five year contract with the Oilers. I do not believe that. I don't think that contract could have been a "no strings attached" deal. I am sure there were many other significant issues (maybe a no trade clause) that were also not agreed upon. I think this is a public relations spin. The Oilers never really wanted to resign Ryan Smyth. Not at the amount of money and length of term he would command, but they can tell the media that they tried. Look how close they came.

I see the logic in not resigning Smyth to a large five year deal. He is having a career year and will likely never retain his current value. This will get worse as he ages. This is made worse by the fact he has never been a durable player. Smyth seems to miss several games to injury annually. I think the Oilers wanted to resign him this year and expected he probably would not have as good a year as he is having and would not command the same sized contract. His career best season that he is currently having ruined those plans. I am sure that somebody will sign Smyth. I think it will likely be for more than the Oilers would have had to pay and I think it will be a bad deal for the team involved.

Tom Benjamin is making this trade into a bigger deal than it is. The Oilers are not serious Stanley Cup contenders with Smyth. Signing him to a big longterm deal just handcuffs their budget as Smyth declines. Although Edmonton may not be the prime location for signing free agents, they will sign some. If they scout well, they will sign players to deals that give them good production for their cost. The Stanley Cup has never been won by free agent signing. It has always been won by building a good young core of players. Although the lower free agency age will possibly change that for the biggest markets that will seem most attractive to free agents, it won't change it for Edmonton. Edmonton cannot win by signing big money free agents. They are well advised to not even try that game. For the Oilers to succeed, they must grow a young core of talent much like Buffalo and Nashville have and watch them emerge together as a group. Edmonton has some top prospects and may be well on their way to this. Re-signing Ryan Smyth to big bucks longterm would limit their ability to pay that core if it emerges. Taking the Smyth money and signing another name free agent with it will likely do the same - unless they can find somebody who is younger and worth more than he is eventually paid in his contract. Being upset that Edmonton is not playing the losing game of chasing aging free agents, despite their disadvantaged ability to do this is pointless.

In Tom Benjamin's case it comes down to the lies the Oilers sold to their market to sell the new CBA. The Oilers claimed this CBA would let them keep their talent and stop having to sell it all the time (like Curtis Joseph, Doug Weight...). This was an obvious lie. How could a CBA that leads to more player movement allow a team to keep their talent? Tom is ranting that the Oilers have failed to live up to what they promised to sell this CBA. Of course they have failed. They never seriously intended to do it. It was all a smoke and mirrors campaign to sell the lockout and the new CBA that many bought into.

Last season, an Oiler team with a similar record to this one went to the trade deadline as buyers. They made the biggest shortterm improvement by selling part of their future. There was one significant difference last year. The Oilers had a dominant franchise player in Chris Pronger. Even if their record was about the same, they had a team that was more capable of a Stanley Cup run (which luckily for them happened). Kevin Lowe was a smart enough GM to know to buy in that situation and sell in this one. To succeed in the Edmonton market, he must do a very good job of finding talent that others have missed. He may or may not be up to that challenge, but he has done well in knowing when to hold 'em and when to fold 'em. Kenny Rogers would be proud.

The biggest problem with this trade is a symbolic folding of the Oilers by trading away their heart and soul. It is a good hockey move to do so under the current circumstances. It was a bad hockey move by the Islanders to buy Ryan Smyth. It will likely be a bad hockey move to pay his free agency demands. The Oilers have to produce young talent to taker his place. They have a stockpile of people who might be these players. I think the Oilers will be a better team into the future without Ryan Smyth than they would have been if they kept him. I am not sure most Edmonton fans agree ... yet.

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