Friday, July 27, 2007

Lowe Learning But Still Desperate

The Edmonton Oilers are desperate to sign some free agents because they don't believe fans have patience in their plans to rebuild after they traded Ryan Smyth. The problem is the elite free agents have already signed and Edmonton didn't get any (unless you believe Sheldon Souray to be elite). The Oilers have money to spend and nobody to spend it on. Kevin Lowe, their GM, must make a splash to save his job, but the good free agents are gone.

Thus Kevin Lowe has decided to pursue restricted free agents. His first attempt at this plan failed badly. He signed Thomas Vanek of Buffalo to an offer. This was almost immediately matched by the Sabres. This failed because Edmonton does not have the financial power to offer a ridiculously frontloaded contract that Buffalo could not match and Buffalo had salary cap room and money to spend since they had already failed to keep Daniel Briere and Chris Drury as UFAs.

His more recent attempt is a bit more sensible. They signed Dustin Penner of Anaheim to a five year $21.25 million offer sheet. Likely, this is more money than he will be worth, but it is possible that Penner will continue to develop and become a star, thus making the money worthwhile. This is the gamble in signing RFAs, they are still early enough into their careers that there is the possibility that they may become stars (at least those that are worth an offer sheet may become stars) and you must pay for them as though they have already become stars, when the possibility is that they never will and the contract will be a gross overpayment. Anaheim is a team that would be put into some salary cap difficulties by matching the Penner offer. Assuming Scott Niedermayer does not retire, it would put Anaheim over the salary cap. This is okay as long as they rectify the situation by opening day. This certainly puts a damper on any attempt Anaheim would have to resign Teemu Selanne (their top scorer last year). Should Anaheim decline to match the offer, Edmonton gives up a 1st, 2nd and 3rs round pick as compensation.

This is another example of how it is hard to keep successful teams together. Anaheim is Stanley Cup champion and has built an elite team. It looks unlikely that they will be able to maintain an elite showing next year. I would be surprised if any team manages to be elite next year. It is hard to build an elite team and when the CBA works hard to tear them down, there will likely be long periods without them where we see mediocre Stanley Cup champions like the 2006 Carolina Hurricanes.

I imagine that Anaheim will likely match the Penner offer, but it will not be an easy thing for them to do. It will force them to make other unwanted moves to not exceed the salary cap. Merely by doing that, Edmonton has succeeded in making a positive move for their team (a conference rival - though one much better than they are - will have their hands tied). This is a better move for the Oilers then the Vanek signing, but still an act of desperation. I cannot imagine that the Dustin Penner led Oilers would be much better than a bottomfeeder.

Here is the TSN story on Penner's offer sheet.

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