So, let's pretend that you were a fan of the Edmonton Oilers. And let's also pretend that, for some mad reason, you wanted the Edmonton Oilers to make the playoffs in the 2010-11 season. I know, I'm asking the improbable, but bear with me; it'll be worth it.
Unfortunately, I also have to introduce another hypothetical. Hypothetically, let's pretend that Steve Tambellini fell down a dumbwaiter and was replaced by a general manager who would be willing to get rid of players Tambellini brought in and sign players Tambellini didn't care for. We are, in short, living in the lands of fantasy and mythology. But it's the middle of August and I'm writing an article on a deadline and I'm not very intelligent at the best of times.
So, which free agent would I take a spin at? Which obtainable free agent available this late in the free agency season might actually be willing to sign with this mediocre-at-best hockey team, and is in the right stage of his career to help us compete later as well as now?
We're not delving too deep into the waters of fantasy, of course. The Oilers have their actual cap restrictions, their actual salaries to deal with. Fortunately - and I was so stunned when I saw this that I hardly dared believe it - CapGeek tells us that the Oilers have $11 million in cap space not counting bonuses. For crying out loud, we could sign Ilya Kovalchuk if we just circumvented the cap a little bit (and if he wanted to play for a team that belongs in the draft lottery). And guess what! This guy isn't even Fernando Pisani, since you've seen that play before?
But Fernando aside, who would I sign?
Since you're probably capable of looking in the upper-left hand corner of this article, you know exactly where I'm going with this. But let me explain my rationale. Unlike the likes of Doug Weight or Paul Kariya, my player is on the upslope of his career rather than thundering down. He's coming off the worst season of his career, which means that he's not exactly going to be expecting a big payday, and he has a history of skilled performance behind him. He's played in the Northwest Division so we know he can handle it, and he's a damned sight better than Robert Nilsson ever was.
My dream Oiler free agent is an undersized winger who can't play defense and had as many points last season as Patrick O'Sullivan had goals. Yes, it's Marek Svatos, probably the worst value for money since the Maginot Line. Having raked in a titch over two million dollars last year with the Colorado Avalanche, Svatos rewarded Colorado to the tune of seven goals and four assists. He also went -13 and got in only fifty-four games. It was terrific! I didn't go over to Mile High Hockey and ask them about this because, well, I'm writing this at one in the morning, but I'm going to go ahead and say that Avalanche fans weren't terribly impressed by Marek Svatos last season.
Further, Svatos's two best seasons have been inflated by somewhat unreasonable shooting percentages. Firing 19.4% in 2005-06 and 18.6% in 2007-08 isn't the sort of pace you can expect any shooter of Svatos's calibre to keep up. So yes, I am trying to take a guy who had a rotten season while acknowledging that he's unlikely to repeat his best two seasons!
But even his average seasons are pretty good. In 2006-07, for example, Svatos shot only 8.4% and played 12:30 a night. He also got fifteen goals and fifteen assists and went +1 on a team that was pretty good but still featured fellow late-liners Andrew Brunette and Tyler Arnason going -8. That 8.4% was Svatos's worst shooting season until last year, so you know that Svatos isn't a bad shooter. In 2008-09 the Avalanche went 32-45-5, but Svatos still bagged 34 points and a -6 that was second-best among Colorado's regular forwards. The kid can play, and he can play on bad teams, which is a useful skill to have on the Edmonton Oilers.
Besides not being a sieve at even strength, Svatos is also a fine second-unit power play performer. Of Svatos's 96 career goals, 33 of them have come on the man advantage. That's a higher percentage than Ales Hemsky's and up there with Dustin Penner's: the Oilers are not exactly replete with scoring on the man advantage. People who count on unblooded youngsters like Linus Omark, Magnus Paajarvi-Svensson, and Jordan Eberle to make up the difference are more optimistic than I.
So if you could do Svatos for six digits and two years (and the guy had eleven points last year so I bet you could), toss him on the third or fourth line, let him more-or-less outscore and then run him on the second powerplay right wing, that would improve the Oilers drastically and you'd have to pay the guy the change you have in your pocket. There are better players out there, but not many (damn you, Alex Tanguay!) and they wouldn't be cheaper. Or that much better.
There's Fernando Pisani, of course. But... damn.