For the last several days, I've been in denial - speaking of which, was there a hockey game last night? - and each day I check back to the Oilers' website hoping to discover that some kind of strange mistake was made and that the player the Oilers signed on April 21st is a young Swede. Sadly, it's time to admit that it was, in fact, WHL enforcer Cameron Abney who set new highs in all of the boxcar categories save penalty minutes. Unfortunately, 8-13-21 in 64 games as a 19 year-old in the WHL still isn't very good.
Over the last year or so, I'd hoped that the team had come to acknowledge that drafting Abney in the third round was a mistake, and that by the start of June, he'd be off the books for good. Sadly, the club has compounded the mistake by signing him to a three-year contract.
That's not to say that Abney doesn't have a chance. He does. The kid can fight (although he didn't do much of it this season) and Tom Renney wants an enforcer. He played one regularly in New York, and has played Steve MacIntyre semi-regularly in Edmonton. Heck, he talked about developing MacIntyre, and that guy is in his mid-twenties. That means that Abney has just one guy to pass on the current roster to make the club, and that the Oilers are going to be willing to let him develop.
Some of that is likely already happening. Over his last 22 WHL games, Abney produced 11 points, which might just be a hot run, or might reflect improvement in his hockey skills, something that he'll desperately need in order to make the transition to the next level. His plus/minus is also just -3, which isn't very good, but is better than three of the other regular forwards on his team. There are, at least, some encouraging signs.
So why is this signing a mistake? It's pretty simple. With the Oilers accumulating a lot of draft picks and signing more college free agents, they'll be up against the fifty-contract limit. Not everyone can be signed every year. The Oilers probably aren't going to lose any priority prospects because of it, but taking a flyer on Abney likely means not taking a flyer on, say, Robby Dee, or another college free agent, or a quality AHL veteran like Colin McDonald.
Further, it means that the Oilers are investing money in developing a player whose realistic "it all goes right" expectation is "NHL enforcer". I don't like the idea of signing a team goon, but it's not a job that's all that difficult to fill. There are plenty of candidates for the job! So why invest money in developing one? It's plain silly.
A third-round pick. About $165,000 in bonus money and $160,000 in salary over three years. Three years on the fifty-man roster. These are significant investments. What's done is done, so I'll be cheering for Abney to blow my expectations out of the water, but after a spring that's seen Steve Tambellini do a lot of good things, this deal stands out as a mistake.