As any man who was once eighteen years old can attest, the thing about making bad decisions, even small ones, is that bad outcomes tend to cause bad outcomes and once one bad decision is made, bad outcomes multiply like fruit flies. In the case of the Oilers, the biggest bad decision of the past year has been the way management has dealt, or rather hasn't dealt, with Sheldon Souray. This easily tops the decision to once again carry three goalies, which is significant considering how much three goalies and a goon is eating into the Oiler depth chart right now.
Though the Oilers lack depth through the entire organization, and they lack depth on the NHL roster because they have no legitimate NHL players in the press box, the lack of legitimate NHL players on the NHL roster remains the biggest problem. Each defensive pairing has one member playing at least one level too high for what they can handle. Kurtis Foster is on the first pairing and should be on the second, Ladislav Smid is on the second pairing and should be on the third, and Jim Vandermeer is on the third pairing and should be the seventh defenseman. And of course this could be helped by depth, but Jason Strudwick is the seventh defenseman and doesn't belong in the NHL at this point. Up front the team is going with one power line in Dustin Penner - Sam Gagner - Ales Hemsky, one "hope this works" line with Magnus Paajarvi / Taylor Hall - Shawn Horcoff - Jordan Eberle, and one refuse line with Magnus Paajarvi / Taylor Hall - Andrew Cogliano - Gilbert Brule. The fourth line is so bad that I'm not sure any of the players on it even make a roster in the Central Division. I know now why Chicago was so eager to snag a sixth-round pick for Colin Fraser.
But the lack of depth could have been somewhat alleviated if the Oilers had just taken a true managerial approach to the Souray situation.
I've been tracking scoring chances for the Florida Panthers this season and the team is in an interesting situation. They've got a well-balanced group of forwards with Christopher Higgins, Stephen Weiss and Michael Frolik on the top line, David Booth, Shawn Matthias, and Rostislav Olesz on the second line, and the veteran group of Cory Stillman, Marty Reasoner and Radek Dvorak on the third line. The fourth line currently consists of Steven Reinprecht, defensive demon Mike Santorelli and Steve Bernier, but Darcy Hordichuk and Kendal McArdle have also spent time on that line thus far. General Manager Dale Tallon can also call on Michael Repik, Michael Duco and Evgeny Dadonov if he feels the needs to get a bit younger up front. The group isn't enormously talented, but there is depth throughout.
The Panthers, however, lack defensive depth. They began the season with only six defensemen on the roster and when Jason Garrison strained his groin, they were forced to call up Keaton Ellerby. They are already counting on second-year blueliner Dmitry Kulikov for top four minutes and consider the Garrison - Mike Weaver tandem to be their shut-down pairing.
I bring this up because Reinprecht began the season in the press box. He's been on the trading block since training camp partly because he's not a Tallon guy and the Panthers are paying him way too much money to split time between the press box and the fourth line. The Panthers lack defensive depth, the Oilers lack, well all-around depth, but they also lack a forward or two or three that isn't going to look lost in his own end and in the faceoff circle. Souray fills a role for Florida, Reinprecht fills a role for Edmonton.
If the Oilers would have taken the time to properly manage Sheldon Souray last spring and over the summer, they could have, at least publicly, smoothed things over with Souray, showed the world that he was healthy and ready to play in camp and exhibition season, and have him priced to move. Swapping Souray for Reinprecht makes perfect sense for both sides, and although some tinkering might be necessary to make it work, it's a match from a need perspective. Reinprecht's cap hit is $2,050,000 for this season and next, and his salary is $2,175,000. Reinprecht's deal expires in 2012, so the handoff from Fraser to Reinprecht would cover the lower lines. Florida currently has plenty of cap room, $10,186,510 to be exact, plus the extra two million from moving Reinprecht. Florida would owe Souray $4,500,000, rather than his $5,400,000 cap hit for this season and next. It seems like an expensive proposition for Florida, but Bryan McCabe's $5,750,000 deal expires at the end of the season, so it's essentially taking on only an extra $2,325,000 in salary over the next two seasons.
Rather than smooth things over with Souray a year ago, the Oilers made a bad decision, ignoring the situation until they had to scramble around on July 3rd. I've gone over this before, but rather than being weak, handling Souray properly and turning him into a trade asset rather than a $9,000,000 liability would have been strong management, allowing the Oilers to make a move like this, filling a gaping hole in the roster.