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On the Grebeshkov Deal

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Apparently, Denis Grebeshkov has been traded to the Nashville Predators in exchange for a second round pick in 2010.  This past summer, I was critical of the Oilers handling of Grebeshkov's contract situation.  At the time, it seemed to me like the deal wasn't outright terrible, but that they could've done a lot better.  With this trade, they've taken the extra step.  Not only could they have done a lot better, they've done something terrible!  After the jump we'll take a look at the extent of the stupidity.

First of all, Denis Grebeshkov is a good player who was in the midst of his worst statistical season as an Oiler.  Last season, Grebeshkov looked amazing when he played with Lubomir Visnovsky and pretty decent the rest of the time.  He was mildly sheltered at EV in terms of competition but he wasn't being fed OZ draws and he was a solid + at EV.  He scored a lot at EV.  1.23 points/60. 7th in the NHL for defenders (min. 30 games).  A lot.  And although that performance was way beyond what should be expected going forward, he's had good offence each of the last three years: 0.84 pts/60 two years ago, 1.23 last year and 0.76 this season.  He brings some offence at EV, it's something you can count on.  And although he makes his share (and then some!) of defensive blunders, this is actually the first season he's been a minus player.  He's -16 5v5 so he's made it count but it's still just the first time.  His Corsi rate is poor this year (-11.54/60), but it was top-two among Oiler defenders the two years prior.  His competition has been slightly higher this season, but not significantly.  Honestly, it looks like a poor season and sometimes, that happens.  Nonetheless, Grebeshkov is a good player, and a good player who's young enough (this is his 26 year-old season) to help the Oilers when they want to contend.  Moving him for a marginal return is, on it's face, stupid.

So let's look at Grebeshkov's contract situation to see if there's a good reason for this move.  Grebeshkov is being paid 3.15M this season and is a restricted freeagent at the end of the season.  He is due a qualifying offer of 3.15M and is eligible for arbitration.  If he accepts his qualifying offer, the Oilers would have Grebeshkov for one more season at 3.15M.  If he goes to arbitration, I think he would have a very hard time getting an increase on that salary.  Should he reject his qualifying offer, then the Oilers could simply let him know that the team likes him but cannot afford to give him a raise on his current salary and that the team would not stand in his way if he were to find an offer sheet from another team if it represents a raise on his current salary.  The potential risk here is the KHL, but I think that can be mitigated if the Oilers continue to express interest in a long-term deal once they get some money off the books (Souray, Moreau, Staios).  The cap is projected to rise only slightly this season, so the RFA compensation schedule should stay about the same.  Last season the compensation for a player that signed at 3.15M or more was a 1st and 3rd round pick.  Which is a significantly better deal than what the Oilers acquired here.  So the Oilers decided to take the lesser return, presumably, because they were afraid that they would need to pay Grebeshkov something around 3M and 3.25M next season or they were afraid he would get a better offer to play in the KHL.  Stupid.

Perhaps I've jumped the gun in calling the return marginal above.  Is it really that bad?  Nashville is not a bad team this season (they're actually pretty good) so this pick is very likely not going to be among the top forty selections in the draft.  In the summer I looked at how many good players are drafted between 31st and 100th overall in their draft year.  I considered a successful pick any forward who scored 0.50 points per game in his career and played at least 200 NHL games, any defender who scored 0.20 points per game in his career and played at least 200 NHL games and any goaltender with a career .910 save percentage and at least 200 games played.  These are the kinds of things that are expensive to buy on the free agent market.  Sure a goalie who puts up a .905 save percentage is a handy player, but it's not really worth drafting him.  You can pick him up for next to nothing in the summer.  At any rate, the success rate from the 1994-2003 drafts was about 8% for forwards and defenders and an unsustainable 0% for goalies.  Denis Grebeshkov, incidentally, already meets this criteria.  Ergo, there is somewhere in the neighbourhood of an 8% chance that the Oilers end up with a slightly-worse to much-better player than Grebeshkov with this trade.  Maybe bump it to 15% since the pick is early in that range and we'll be kind and say the Oilers are better than average at drafting.  At any rate, the odds aren't good.  Stupid.

So if the return in the form of the pick isn't good, Grebeshkov is and his contract situation was actually pretty favourable.  Why would they make the deal?  What other aspects of the return are there that make this deal more palatable?  One place to look is the overall salary structure of the team.  After all, in a cap system there are only so many dollars to spend and, even if you're only spending it on good players, spending too much of it in any one area can really hurt.  I like to use the following as a set of general guidelines:

Top 3 Forwards - 27.5%
Middle 6 Forwards - 20.0%
Top 4 Defenders - 27.5%
Goaltending - 10.0%
Bottom 8 Players - 15.0%

Here are the Oilers commitments for next season if we assume a cap of 56 million cap (leaving $800,000 dollars in wiggle room going into the season):

Top 3 Forwards - (Horcoff, Hemsky, Penner) - 13.85M or 24.7%
Middle 6 Forwards - (O'Sullivan, Nilsson, Moreau, ???, ???, ???) - 6.925 or 12.4%
Top 4 Defenders - (Visnovsky, Souray, Gilbert, Staios) - 17.7M or 31.6%
Goaltending - (Khabibulin, ???) - 3.75M or 6.7%
Bottom 8 Players - (Smid, Stortini, ???, ???, ???, ???, ???, ???) - 2.0M or 3.6%

So even looking at this we can see a lot of chaff.  My favourite place to save money is on the goaltending, but the Oilers really can't do that since they'll need a legitimate backup for Khabibulin in the 1.5M range.  So that's out.  They've already spent over half of their budget in the middle six on three underperforming players.  One of those ??? is going to be Gagner and if he clocks in at 3M that leaves precious little money for another two players (1.275M total) that we need to be good since, well, the three incumbents are not.  On defence, we've already overspent and that's including Staios as a top four guy.  It's a mess.  A festering mess.  And I suppose dealing Grebeshkov helps marginally but there are at least six guys on that list that would have been more helpful to move (O'Sullivan, Nilsson, Moreau, Souray, Staios, Khabibulin).  It's not surprising that the Oilers are having a hard time moving them, but if Tambellini can actually bury guys in the minors then there's no reason to solve the cap crunch by moving Grebs.  It's (and you'll notice the theme here) stupid.

So what else does this give the Oilers that might be valuable?  A roster spot.  A precious roster spot for the golden boy, Taylor Chorney, who was called up today, along with Theo Peckham and Devan Dubnyk.  Chorney.  The #22 player under 25 in the Oilers organization.  Judging by how many times they've given him the call, it seems we're making room for him.  The Oilers have repeatedly expressed that they like his game despite his overwhelmingly terrible numbers in the AHL.  I bet that this is the angle that gets sold.  Something like, "We get a draft pick in exchange for a player who we feel can be replaced from within the organization.  It also frees up some cap space for next summer."  Stupid.

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