July 7, 2007
Crazy week for Oilers fansOn-again, off-again deals forced Lowe to react
By BOB STAUFFER
What a week it has been if you are a fan of the Edmonton Oilers.
As free agency started last Sunday the Oilers made noise not through a UFA pickup but rather a big deal that finally netted them a potential No. 1 defenceman in Joni Pitkanen in exchange for Jason Smith and the much-maligned Joffrey Lupul.
Late Sunday night I received word the Oilers had signed free agent Michael Nylander and went with it, waiting all day Monday for the deal to be announced, when boom ... word came down that Nylander signed with the Washington Capitals.
On Tuesday the Oilers signed an heir apparent to Dwayne Roloson in Mathieu Garon, and inked RFA Raffi Torres to a three-year deal, and then stunningly announced that they did in fact have a written agreement with Nylander's agent Mike Gillis and were going to pursue it further with the NHL.
SHOULDA, COULDA ...
Thursday morning the Edmonton Sun's Terry Jones wrote after a sit down with Kevin Lowe, that the GM admitted he may have underestimated how high the salary cap would increase and in the process realized that maybe he should have just given Ryan Smyth the money he was looking for back on February 27th when he shipped "Captain Canada" to the New York Islanders.
Thursday afternoon the Oil inked another RFA, signing tough defender Matt Greene to a two-year deal and raising a few eyebrows in reacquiring a third-round pick in 2008 in a deal with the New York Islanders.
Yesterday though took the cake, as Oil Country struck back!
After being forced to the sidelines in the UFA hunt by players on at least their third contracts who seem to have a penchant for warmer climates and less accountability, Lowe & Co. stepped outside the box and up to the plate in offering a seven-year, $50-million US RFA offer sheet for rising superstar Thomas Vanek.
The Buffalo Sabres angrily matched, and not too subtlety inferred that they might strike back down the road. But Lowe sent a succinct volley out to the NHL's other GMs, NHL players and Oilers fans.
The Edmonton Oilers aren't about to sit on the sidelines they are here to compete.
Good for him, because what happened in the first couple of days with UFAs was an absolute travesty.
The Oilers, who finished the season as the seventh most profitable team in the NHL in 2006-07 and as a result kicked in cash to the league's revenue sharing program, lost out to Washington for Nylander and St. Louis for Paul Kariya.
The same Washington and St. Louis that as of Dec. 30th, sat 27th and 29th respectively in NHL gate revenue, averaging less than half of the Oilers average $1,020,694 for the first 20 home dates of the 2006-07 season.
So the Oilers, and more specifically fans of the Edmonton Oilers, shelled out and the end result was money through revenue sharing went to help the poor sisters of the NHL like the Blues and Capitals.
For those of you who want to counter that back in the 1990s it was U.S. teams that helped subsidize Canadian teams, you are missing the point because I don't recall the Oilers getting into too many bidding wars for likes of a Nylander or Kariya back in those days.
Bottom line the NHL's salary cap goes up because of teams like the Oilers and their fans and yet there is little reward for them come UFA time.
So Lowe chose a seldom travelled path ... the RFA offer.
He targeted a true superstar in the making in Vanek.
The RFA offer sheet for Vanek helps awaken young players that the Oilers will spend for today and tomorrow, instead of spending for what a guy did yesterday.
Players entering their second contracts rarely if ever are married as well, so they, along with their agents are the ones making the decisions.
Case in point: Did you know that there were extenuating circumstances with visitation rights that basically forced a prominent UFA defenceman to sign in U.S. this week for far under market value?
Lowe also made a lot of GMs around the league nervous now they that have to wonder if they have left enough cap room to match an assertive Oiler RFA offer down the road.
The fans also realize the Oil are being proactive.
Bottom line: It was a sharp move as the Oil got in the game.