TSN has reported that Denis Grebeshkov has filed for salary arbitration. The Oilers should hope that this is a stick being used by Grebeshkov's representation and not a path to actual arbitration. It's been widely reported that the Oilers and Grebeshkov are "very close" and Tambellini has been confident that he would get a deal done. Negotiations should continue until the last minute, and the Oilers should make every effort to avoid arbitration. Arbitration is an ugly, ugly thing in sports negotiations. If it were a case of each side presenting a dossier of evidence and waiting on a decision, it would be fine by me. But, instead, there is testimony. The words exchanged by the two sides during an arbitration hearing are rarely cordial and more than likely begin the road to a breakup.
The long-term effects of the hearing are always a concern, but even more concerning, from the Oilers perspective, are the short-term consequences of Grebeshkov getting an award equal to Tom Gilbert's contract signed last season -- $4,000,000 annually. If the arbitrator were to award the young Russian $4,000,000, the Oilers blueline would look like this:
For those without a calculator, that's $23,750,000 against the cap for the seven Oilers defenders next year. Add Theo Peckham to the list at any point and that makes it $24,350,000. Even if a deal can be worked out in the $3,250,000 range, the Oilers will still have a defensive cap hit of $23,000,000, way too much for a team sorely lacking quality NHL forwards.
Grebeshkov's negotiations bring sharp focus to a primary problem that must be addressed by Steve Tambellini and shipping away Ladislav Smid won't be enough. Tambellini has to make at least $2,000,000 in cap dollars disappear from the roster in short order. Staios out and Peckham in is one way, Souray out and three-and-a-half million in useful parts in is another. A team dangerously low on cap space shouldn't be toying with arbitration, and if they choose to do so, they should have a contingency plan set to activate the minute things go wrong. This is where Oilers fans get to see if Steve Tambellini is his own man, or does his mouth move because Daryl Katz and Kevin Lowe are pulling the levers.