With Ilya Kovalchuk's contract being rejected by the league, the strategy of lowering the cap hit of players by tacking on extra years to their contract seems to be on its way out. What is and isn't acceptable probably won't be completely clarified until the next Collective Bargaining Agreement, but something like term limits is likely on the way. Steve Tambellini hasn't tried to use that strategy this summer - though it might be nice to see him try it in the summer of 2011 when Ales Hemsky and Dustin Penner are eligible for contract extensions, and will have, possibly, their only chance at a "lifetime" deal - he has done some interesting things with players on the NHL/AHL bubble.For players outside of the organization, an NHL contract and real money at the AHL level seems to be the ticket. Alexandre Giroux got a one-way deal. Shawn Belle got a two-way contract and a 40% raise if he plays in the minors. Brad Moran got big money to come over from Sweden. Even Gregory Stewart was wooed to the Oilers' organization with a two-way contract and decent pay - the scrappy fighter will get $105,000 to play in the AHL and $550,000 if he's in "the best (non-European) league in the world". Even in the minors, money talks.
For players who were already in the organization, the strategy is quite a bit more interesting. Both Theo Peckham and Ryan O'Marra rejected their qualifying offers and signed deals that pay them less in the NHL in exchange for a few more bucks in the minors. Peckham gave up $93,500 at the NHL level compared to his qualifying offer in order to get a $7,500 raise to $65,000 in the AHL. Ryan O'Marra gave up a little bit more. His qualifying offer would have included an NHL salary of $803,250, but his actual contract will only pay him $700,000 if he makes the team. In return, O'Marra will earn $70,000 in the AHL, a $7,500 raise from his last contract. That's right, Ryan O'Marra makes more money to play hockey than Theo Peckham.
And that's really the only quibble here. Generally speaking, this is a fantastic strategy, and Steve Tambellini should be commended, but paying $70,000 (and using one of your fifty contracts) for Ryan O'Marra seems a tinge wasteful. Last season was O'Marra's best as a professional and he scored eighteen points in seventy-four games to go along with a -19 rating (fourth worst on the team). Again, that was his best season. The Oilers clearly see something to work with here; I'm just not sure what it is.