Editor's Note: There is some real castle in the sky thinking in this FanPost, but the topic of controllable players and windows is something that should be discussed, especially in light of the near unanimous opinion of Oilers' fans who don't seem to care about contract clocks.
For you Blue Jay fans out there, the word ‘controllable' has become a new buzzword. New Blue Jays GM Alex Anthopoulos began using the word almost as soon as he took over the GM role.
When he took over, the Blue Jays were a team spinning its wheels. They were a team mired in mediocrity, burdened by some bad contracts (hello Vernon Wells), unable to attract top free agent talent (Cliff Lee's agent is rumoured to have told Alex not to bid on Lee's services this summer), and trouble retaining top talent.
Anthopoulos' strategy for rebuilding the Jays has been to focus on high potential talent that will be under the Jays ‘control' under the Major League Baseball free agency rules for a significant period of time. The theory, he wants to hold on to these players in their prime years. If the young talent grows and develops and starts winning, free agents will come. A strong talent pool also opens the door to trades to bolster the roster when the Jays become contenders.
Now, let's look at the Oilers.The Oilers appear to be a team spinning its wheels. They are a team mired in mediocrity, burdened by some bad contracts (hello Shawn Horcoff), unable to attract top free agent talent (place free agent name here), and trouble retaining top talent (do I really need to list them?).
This post was spurred by two things I read on the site today: 1) about how Sam Gagner will be eligible for free agency at 25, and how Elliotte Friedman is reporting Dustin Penner and Ales Hemsky may be available at the deadline.
With Taylor Hall, Magnus Paajarvi, and Jordan Eberle already on the clock, the Oilers' window to become an elite team is (if you are conservative) the next six seasons. After that, there is the risk of all three leaving the organization as free agents. While some or all may re-sign, as an organization, you shouldn't bank on "maybes". So, the Oilers need to focus on that window and maximize it. They therefore need players that are both controllable during that window and will play top hockey during that period.
Controllable players over the window besides Hall, Paajarvi, and Eberle include: Theo Peckham, Jeff Petry, and Horcoff. Key prospects controllable over that time include: Alex Plante, Martin Marincin, Tyler Pitlick, Curtis Hamilton, and Ryan Martindale. It's a start, but more is needed
Material players who are not controllable for a majority of the window include: Penner, Hemsky, Gagner, Ryan Whitney, Tom Gilbert, Ladislav Smid, Devan Dubnyk, Linus Omark, and to a lesser extent Andrew Cogliano, Gilbert Brule and Ryan Jones
Gagner, Gilbert, Omark and Dubnyk are the debateable players on the list as each is locked up or controlable for three of those six years, but frankly, are not locked up for the most important three, so I put him them play.
No one argues, I think, that two of the Oilers biggest weaknesses are the lack of a first line centre in the truest sense of the word and a top shut down defenseman. If Penner and Hemsky are in play, the return had better be to fill those holes.
My current view is the Oilers need to turn some combination of Penner, Hemsky, Gilbert, and Gagner into players who fill those needs. Cogliano, Brule and Smid could be tossed into deals as well.
The criteria I applied in determing which players the Oilers should target:
- 1) Need to fill a major hole at first line centre or top pairing defenseman
- 2) Need to be "NHL ready" or in the NHL
- 3) Need to be controllable over the next six years
- 4) Need to be young enough to be in their prime in years 4 to 6 of the window
- 5) Need to be cap manageable (no $7M+ contracts please)
The players the Oilers should target: Brayden Schenn and Erik Gudbranson. Not only are these two players an excellent fit for the Oilers, both are "controllable' for the next 7 years. Both are reported to be "NHL ready" and Schenn should be hitting his prime productivity during the latter 3 years of the six year window.
You do not have to cross your fingers on this years draft class. You get players that are two years more mature then whomever you draft this year.
Even if the Oilers had to spend 3 or 4 of Hemsky/Penner/Gilbert/Gagner (plus throw ins Smid/Brule/Cogliano) to make those deals happen, so what?
Hemsky and Penner are not controllable during the window. You also avoid a Brad Richards situation with each player. More and more Dallas finds themselves in a situation where they can't trade Richards, even though the best thing for the franchise in long run is probably to trade him. Instead, they will keep him for the playoffs, and likely lose him to free agency during the summer. The Oilers need to avoid that situation with Penner and Hemsky. If the Oilers retain both players but are unable to extend them at cap manageable deals prior to the start of the season and then find themselves competing for a playoff spot, they won't be able to trade either player, and risk getting nothing in return. That would set the franchise back for years.
But Penner alone is not enough to get you either player. A healthy Hemsky might have gotten you Schenn, but he is not healthy consistently anymore. So the Oilers would need to sweeten the pot. Gagner, Gilbert, Smid, Brule and Cogilano are all potential sweeteners.
The first call needs to be to Dean Lombardi. The pressure is building in LA. Their window is the next 3 to 4 years, so they need players on cap manageable deals who can compete now. The only time Schenn will ever be available is between now and the deadline. Come summer, the pressure to deal Schenn will be dramatically reduced, regardless of how the Kings perform.
The Kings have $4,141,813 in cap space available (according to Capgeek.com). That is more than enough space to absorb one of Penner or Hemsky and a sweetener from the Gagner/Gilbert/Brule/Cogliano/Smid pool. And they have $10M in cap space freeing up from Justin Williams, Marco Sturm, and Alexei Ponikarovsky this summer so the Kings can afford to retain whomever they get from the Oilers.
The next call needs to be to Dale Tallon. Whoever is not part of the Schenn deal needs to be available to Florida. The Panthers need scoring and they likely will need to replace McCabe this summer. They have had contract squabbles with Gudbranson, so it's not a love in between the player and the organization. There should be enough talent remaining in the pool after the Schenn deal to pry Gudbranson out of Tallon, particularly if the Oilers are able to keep Gagner out of the Kings' deal.
Applying the same criteria, others may identify different players the Oilers should target. Great! Let's hear 'em! Then don't be afraid to "overpay" with non-controllable players to get them. The strength the Oilers bring to the table right now is the players could move are not rentals, they are players on cap friendly deals for at least one more year.
When we insert the word 'controllable' into the Oilers vocabulary, we start to see opportunities in another light. When we understand that controllable is a key factor for a team like the Oilers, we start to view current assets in a new way. And when we start to take advantage of controllable windows, we can turn this franchise around.