The Edmonton Oilers have re-signed defenseman Corey Potter to a two-year contract that will pay him $750,000 in the first year and $800,000 in the second (the team actually disclosed the figures!). But before going into the nitty gritty details, I think it behooves us to first congratulate Corey Potter who spent five seasons playing in the AHL (and ECHL) before finally establishing himself in the best league in the world this year with the Oilers, and signing this contract shortly after his 28th birthday. It's not easy to get a first big chance at that age, so to get it and grab it must be an awesome feeling. Congrats.
And as a special bonus, it's also an excellent deal for the Oilers!
There are so many things that are right about this deal.
The first and most important thing is that Corey Potter is a capable player in the prime of his career. Granted, there are some things that he needs to work on - defense on odd-man rushes being the first thing that jumps to mind - but overall, he's looked pretty darn good. His Corsi number is well clear of the rest of the team's defensemen, and that territorial advantage has helped him to contribute to scoring chances without making an egregious number of mistakes on scoring chances against (he's third on the team in individual scoring chance ratio). He's been helped by one of the softer zone-start ratios on the team, but hasn't had much in the way of quality defense partners, and hasn't been sheltered from the best players on other teams, at least in part because of all of the injuries (and in Andy Sutton's case suspensions) on the blue-line. Potter is also putting up points at a pretty decent clip: 14 points in 27 games is nothing to sneeze at, even if a good part of that production is coming on the power play (another area where Potter has demonstrated a reasonable level of ability).
The second thing is a compliment to Steve Tambellini and his sense of timing. Because Potter was on a one-year contract, he couldn't be signed to an extension until January 1st. Here's what Potter had to say about that day:
On Jan. 1, [the Oilers] contacted me about possibly signing an extension. We've been going back and forth a little bit but, in the last week or so, it heated up and we got it done. I'm pretty excited about it.
There's a lot of risk for Potter in waiting until the off-season to negotiate a new contract. He could get hurt. He might not perform as well. He might get bitten by some bad luck (though his PDO at evens is already very poor). If something like that happens, he may well end up back in the minors. By approaching Potter at the first available opportunity, Tambellini was able to use that risk to his advantage in getting a better price and make the player feel valued at the same time. Steve Tambellini has gotten some flack for dithering, so it's good to see him make a strong, confident decision here.
The third thing is, as was mentioned, price. The Oilers have used Potter in a lot of different situations this year, and he's been mostly effective. It would have been easy to make the mistake of starting negotiations high (Bob Murray's negotiation with Andrew Cogliano comes to mind) - something like $1.5M over two years as an opening gambit wouldn't have been completely off-the-wall, but it would have put some pressure on the Oilers to have Potter in the line-up every day. As it stands, the Oilers can monitor Potter's progress as a player, and if he continues to perform well, use him accordingly. If he falters - and he might - having a $775,000 cap hit for your seventh defender isn't at all unreasonable.
The fourth thing that I like about this is Potter's role on the team. Tom Renney has used Potter a lot on the power play, which just so happens to be where defensemen generate a lot of their points. Points cost money. If Potter can perform adequately on the top unit (and it certainly seems like that's the case), it will pay dividends on other contracts that the Oilers will need to sign. Tom Gilbert, for instance, has two years left on his deal, and he's a lot easier to sign at a lower number if Corey Potter is the only defender on the top unit for those two seasons. The same is true for Ryan Whitney, and for Jeff Petry, and for anyone else. The bottom line is that Corey Potter on the power play will save this team money with, at worst, very little difference in performance.
All in all, this is good for the Oilers, and despite the low dollar figures relative to most NHLers, a good deal for Potter too. I can only hope that he plays well enough to earn himself a raise.