Friday, August 03, 2007

Penner is an Oiler

The Anaheim Ducks declined to match Edmonton's $21.25 million five year offer sheet for Dustin Penner and Penner is now an Oiler. This is probably going to be remembered as a key mistake made by the Oilers that ended the Kevin Lowe regime as GM.

Any general manager needs a coherent plan to build his team into a winner. It appeared that Lowe had one when he traded Ryan Smyth to the New York Islanders. It looked like Edmonton was going to try to keep their heads above water in the short term while their group of talented prospects hopefully matured into a solid team. It appears that the situation changed when the team completely collapsed down the stretch without Smyth. Edmonton lost 18 of their final 20 games (one in overtime leaving them with a 2-17-1 record). This was not acceptable. If Edmonton was this bad next season, Kevin Lowe would lose his job and the fans would be disillusioned. The plans were quickly changed and very quickly became one of desperation. Lowe promised that he was going to make that big trade or big free agent signing that would put Edmonton back on top. None were available. That didn't matter; Lowe became the guy at the bar who was determined to not go home alone. It didn't matter who he ended up with as long as it was somebody.

After several failed attempts to sign a big free agent, Edmonton finally signed defenceman Sheldon Souray from Montreal. It was something, but it wasn't enough to save his job or give the team any realistic chance of showing improvement in 2007/08. The problem was there were no more impact unrestricted free agents left who would consider Edmonton. So Lowe turned himself toward restricted free agents which under the right circumstances could be a good strategy. The problem was Edmonton is not a big enough spending market to be able to truly handcuff a team with a huge frontloaded contract and thus their only chance was to try to sign RFAs from teams that would be in salary cap trouble with their offer sheet. The other problem being that Edmonton is not that good a team. Even with the addition of a top RFA in their lineup, they will likely finish near the bottom of the standings next year and thus make the draft picks they would give up as compensation much more valuable.

Nevertheless, Lowe signed Tomas Vanek of Buffalo to an offer that was quickly matched. The next offer was to Dustin Penner of Anaheim. This offer sheet was not matched and Edmonton now has acquired Dustin Penner.

Dustin Penner was a 24 year old rookie last season with Anaheim. He scored 45 points and finished 5th in the Calder trophy voting for rookie of the year. Thus it is reasonable to expect that he should be the fifth highest paid 2006/07 rookie going forwards - instead he becomes the highest paid one. Since Penner is older than most NHL rookies, it is reasonable to expect that he will likely not mature and improve as much as some of the younger ones. Nevertheless, he will be making a large salary based on very optimistic projections of where his career might be headed. Most likely, he won't reach those levels, but it is possible that he might. On top of that, Edmonton gives up a 1st, 2nd and 3rd round pick as compensation. It is entirely possible that the first round pick could work out to be first overall in the 2008 entry draft (it is quite likely it will be near the beginning). Although Anaheim gets nothing immediate in return for Penner, the early draft pick alone could make the trade a good one for the Ducks in the long run.

Edmonton is a team without a direction. While they should be waiting for their next generation of players to mature (its the most coherent plan at this point), they are spending large amounts of money to attract their second choice free agents to town and giving up important blocks to build a future (such as their first round draft pick) to do so. They are a team that will most likely be bad next year, but won't have their first round draft pick to help them build for the future (they do have Anaheim's pick from the Chris Pronger deal but it is much later in the first round likely). This is an example of how desperation in management usually makes a team worse and not better. Edmonton is in bad shape going into next season and Dustin Penner will likely make the situation worse because of his compensation and unreasonably large ocntract.

Here is the TSN story on Penner going to Edmonton.

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