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Edward Fraser Lays It On A Little Thick

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Edward Fraser is an editor for THN.com, and in his latest blog entry he takes a look at the Edmonton Oilers. He doesn’t like their playoff chances (he argues that 11th in the West is a reasonable expectation) and he does his best to rip the team.

In fact, he goes so far to the negative end of the spectrum that even a pessimist like me can see that he’s laying it on pretty thick.

I’ll be the first to admit that the Oilers’ salary predicament isn’t great. I’ll also be the first to admit that Kevin Lowe’s tenure as GM left the club with too many role players making too much money, and not enough bargain contracts.

Still, I can’t get behind statements like this one:

This team lacks a game-breaker (perhaps if Ales Hemsky learned to shoot the puck he could develop into one) both up front and on the back end - and has questions concerning depth, especially amongst its forward corps.

Best update your unreferenced clichés, Fraser. The "Hemsky would be a good player, if only he would shoot more" routine needs to be retired. Hemsky took 185 shots last year – a total that led the Oilers forwards and was easily a first-line pace across the NHL as a whole. There may be an argument to be made that he isn’t a "game-breaker" (after all, it’s in the eye of the beholder), but that’s not the right one.

As for the Oilers’ D, Sheldon Souray finished 2nd in the league among defensemen in goals, and in the top-10 in points. Tom Gilbert finished in the top-20 in scoring, Denis Grebeshkov wasn’t far behind and there’s an argument to be made that Lubomir Visnovsky would have passed all four if not for injury (he was on pace for 51 points before getting hurt).

Most troubling, though, is Edmonton’s lack of wiggle room to do anything about their issues.

After signing Ladislav Smid to a two-year deal worth $1.3 million per season Wednesday, the Oilers are left with a little more than a million dollars worth of cap room. As Jim Matheson of the Edmonton Journal pointed out recently, hometown boy and unrestricted free agent Blair Betts would be a welcome addition to a roster that could certainly use his faceoff and penalty-killing skills, but the space simply isn’t there for a player who will be looking for a raise on the $600,000 he made last season.

That’s actually a mistake. The Oilers are about a million under the cap if you add in Gilbert Brule’s contract, but to add another player the Oilers would need to send a forward to the minors (let’s say J-F Jacques, since he makes the least money). That means the Oilers have that 1MM + Jacques .525 MM in cap space – easily enough to sign a player like Betts.

Edmonton’s problems are exacerbated by the Gibraltar Rock-esque immovability of almost everyone on the roster. Is there a GM outside of Manhattan willing to take on Shawn Horcoff’s $5.5 million annual cap hit? Dustin Penner’s $4.25? Lubomir Visnovsky’s $5.6? Not likely, especially when you consider each is locked up until at least 2011-12.

Every team has these problems – although I object to the inclusion of Visnovsky on that list.

Fraser talks about how teams like Philadelphia and Washington are spending well in the second paragraph of his article, but really who wants Daniel Briere at 6.5MM per season until doomsday or Matt Carle at 3.44MM for three more seasons? What about Michael Nylander at a shade under 5MM?

But to answer Fraser’s question (Is there a GM outside of Manhattan willing to take on Dustin Penner’s $4.25 million annual cap hit?), I’d suggest Bryan Murray of Ottawa – and I feel comfortable doing that, since Murray wanted Penner back in a proposed Dany Heatley trade.

Things are as bright as black gold beyond this season, too. According to capgeek.com, Edmonton has 13 players under contract for $44.2 million in 2010-11, leaving them with $12.6 million for 10 players to fill out the roster – assuming the cap stays static and doesn’t drop, as some predict.

Those totals don’t include RFA forwards Sam Gagner and Andrew Cogliano, both of whom are coming off their entry-level deals and will be interested in healthy raises, nor defenseman Denis Grebeshkov, who certainly won’t be taking a hit on his $3.15 million salary.

Yes, the Oilers may have some difficulty fitting in Grebeshkov, Gagner and Cogliano as things stand now. But outside of those three the players who are on expiring contracts are either in line for a pay cut (Pisani) or are bit pieces anyway (Pouliot, MacIntyre, Jacques, Reddox, Strudwick, Deslauriers). None of those last six make more than 825K next season, so they’ll either be cheap or their replacements will be cheap.

Of course, everything could go right for the Oilers – Hemsky could live up to his 100-point potential, Horcoff could become a point-a-game player, Khabibulin could be a wall in goal, the young forwards could all flourish under Quinn’s tutelage, the ‘D’ could round into one of the league’s best puck-moving units, and Magnus Paajarvi-Svensson could win the Calder. But even if all those factors come up roses, is the City of Champions still anywhere near the West’s upper tier? In salary only.

So, hypothetically:

  • Ales Hemsky scores 100 points (a 34-point improvement)
  • Shawn Horcoff scores 82 points (a 29-point improvement)
  • Khabibulin is a wall in goal (matching his .919 SV% from last year)
  • Young forwards all flourish (Gagner, Cogliano, Nilsson, Pouliot all have career years)
  • The D is one of the best units in the league (well, it already is)
  • Magnus Paajarvi-Svensson wins the Calder (I’m guessing he’d need at least 60 points to do this)

And somehow the Oilers aren’t anywhere near the West’s upper tier? What did they do, hire me for every other forward position? It’s nonsense.

See David Staples thoughts on Fraser's piece here.