A constant refrain among fans in the wake of the Oilers decision to sign Travis Ewanyk to a three-year entry level deal was that it was a waste of resources. Dawgbone, who wasn't a fan of the signing, provided a good explanation as to why the signing was a questionable decision at best:
You can add these kinds of players for 3rd and 4th round picks at almost any point in the year so it makes no sense to waste the resources needed to draft and develop these kinds of players. You are better off getting an instant return on your picks by trading them for an NHL-ready version of Ewanyk.
I understand the team's desire to find the next Milan Lucic. Players like Lucic, who can play a physical game and also have the ability to contribute on the score sheet as well, are seen as very valuable (personally, I think they're overvalued) in the NHL. I don't agree with the number of draft picks that have been sacrificed in the name of this goal but I understand what Oilers management is trying to do.
While wasting draft picks is by no means desirable it's an isolated problem. Most draft picks fail to turn into NHL players so if the team wants to take a shot on finding the next Lucic in the later rounds the harm is minimal (doing it with the 32nd overall pick is a terrible idea though). Where this search for the next Lucic becomes a significant problem is when management decides to throw good money after bad on a player like Ewanyk by signing him to a contract.
Ewanyk was a gamble the Oilers took in the third round of the 2011 draft. That gamble hasn't paid off. He has yet to top 30 points in a season in his junior career and looking at comparable players there is no arguing that it's a long shot at best that Ewanyk ever skates in an NHL game. And yet, despite the evidence the Oilers felt that it was a good idea to, for three years, tie up one of their 50 pro contracts on a player who at best might someday be the kind of player they could acquire today, tomorrow, or whenever, for the mid to late round draft pick.
As mc79 has said many times, the NHL is an efficiency contest and the teams that get the most bang for their buck will be the ones most likely to succeed. This applies to everywhere that teams are limited in some way. The salary cap is the most obvious place where efficiency matters, each team can only spend X dollars. But the same thinking should be applied to other aspects of the game like the distribution of contracts. Like the salary cap, the teams that are most efficient in how they manage this aspect of the game will give themselves a better chance at success. Unfortunately for fans of the Oilers, management has not been very effective in managing how they distribute contracts.
The Ewanyk deal is just the latest example of the Oilers giving a contract to a player that has almost no chance of ever contributing to the team in any real way. Before Ewanyk there was Cameron Abney. And Antti Tyrvainen. And let's not forget that this is a team currently employing three designated hitters in Darcy Hordichuk, Ben Eager, and Mike Brown. Even if you think punching helps a team win - and I certainly don't - do the Oilers really need three different players to do that?
As it stands right now the Oilers are just one contract away from the limit because they're employing a bunch of players that won't help them win now or at any point in the future (Ewanyk doesn't count until next year). They could have put themselves in this same position by gambling on skilled players or goalies finishing their NCAA or CIS careers or playing in Europe. Players that, even if they're a long shot to make the NHL could help a team win if they worked out. That would have been okay. Instead they continue the search for toughness. And that inefficiency in the front office severely limits the options available to them to improve their team both now, and in the future.
Jussi Jokinen was available on waivers yesterday. He would have been a great addition to the Oilers but if they had claimed him they would have had to get rid of a contract in order to continue their pursuit of Dan DeKeyser. Then there's Kyle Bigos; he's saying all the right things about not Justin Schultzing the Oilers next season but wouldn't you rather see his name on a contract now? A well-managed team could have made all three of these possible. The Oilers can do one.
Being up against the contract limit isn't, in and of itself, a bad thing. Like the salary cap, I'd always like to see the Oilers leave themselves a little wiggle room because you never know what will happen but I understand that isn't always possible. But seeing the mistakes of their past I would have hoped the Oilers would have learnt something and not made the same mistake again. Instead they signed Ewanyk. Maybe they'll get it right next year and I won't have to rewrite this article by replacing Ewanyk with Moroz.