Saturday, July 26, 2008

Time To Hit the Old Dusty Trail...

During the Flames' beauty 2004 Stanley Cup run I couldn't help but think how the city's opinion of management would change down the road. After inheriting the team about a season and a half earlier, Darryl Sutter missed the playoffs for the first time in his career. Flames fans weren't exactly surprised, they had missed the playoffs for 7 straight seasons, but for Darryl it was an embarrassment. Never mind that he only had half a season to turn the team around (and did a hell of a job), it was something he, as a Sutter, wouldn't accept.

He made all the right moves. Signed some goalie named Miikka Kiprusoff who turned out to be somewhat of a saviour. He out coached some of the best minds in the business. He cultivated an unknown but exceptionally effective defensive group. He got the most out of a crop of 3rd liners including Marcus Nilson, Sean Donovan and the irrepressible Ville Niemenen. I'm sure there are coaches out there today still wondering how he Sutter did it.

Sutter was God-Like. He brought Calgary out of the gutters and into the stars, even if only for one season. If a fan questioned Sutter during that time the only thing a rational person could do is roll their eyes and shake their head.

'That will all change one day though' is what I kept thinking. In the world of the hockey GM, today's hero is tomorrow's goat.

Tomorrow is today.

It's not so much that Sutter has been a complete disaster. This team is better now than it was before he manned the helm. They're a perennial playoff team (and will certainly be a contender to make the playoffs this year) and although they've only made it past the first round one time, they have been in two separate 'Game 7s.'

Sutter has some strengths which I think we can all agree on:

  • Identifying his core players (Iginla, Regehr, Kipprusoff, Phaneuf)
  • Turning trash into treasure (Kipprusoff, Huselius, Nolan, Ference, Hale, Giordano)
  • Gets consistently good performances out of top players (Iginla, Langkow, Phaneuf, Regehr)
  • OK at developing rookies (Phaneuf, Lombardi)
Sutter also has some weaknesses which I think we can generally agree on:

  • Allows useful players to leave for nothing (Giordano, Hale, Clark)
  • Had a tendency to hire his ex players, seemingly not on merit (Amonte, Friesen, Primeau, Stuart, Nolan, Smith, Marchment, Zyuzin)
  • Takes shots in the dark on trades/signings (Amonte, Nolan, Bertuzzi, McCarty, Lundmark)
  • Isn't good at identifying coaching talent (Playfair, Keenan)
  • Doesn't develop much in house talent (successes include Phaneuf, Lombardi, Moss? Boyd??)
  • Tends to prefer old overpriced FA veterans instead (Amonte, McCarty, Aucoin, Leclerc, Weimer, Smith, Primeau, Nolan, Bertuzzi)
  • Hasn't restocked the pipeline (top prospect is Backlund but others don't look promising)
Is that a fair assessment?

I thought I was a bit tardy with this post, especially since CJ and Duncan have both already had great posts on relatively the same subject.

However, I think Lowe getting bumped upstairs the other day brings new relevance to the idea of Sutter moving on. The team simply hasn't progressed the last 2 seasons, and the shuffling of deck chairs has hardly been useful. Take for instance this offseason. Sutter made a nice move for Glencross to solidify his bottom six forwards up front, but was forced to make a desperate move for Bertuzzi because he has zero youngsters ready to fill a top 6 wing position. Jim Vandermeer gets resigned, probably because the Flames are making a Vandermeer family band, and for some reason Sutter acknowledges that Warrener and Eriksson are useless but doesn't do anything relevant about it besides embarrassing one of the most respected guys in the dressing room.

I think it's time for Sutter to move on.

There is of course no way Sutter gets outright fired. Much like Lowe, the Flames management team is enamoured with Darryl Sutter. For the good of the team though, I thing someone in the ownership group needs to suggest Darryl take a 'promotion' and the Flames hire someone outside the organization who will make (or at least suggest) the hockey decisions from now on.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

The Shape of Things To Come

With the absolutely necessary signing of Shawn Horcoff, the Oilers have cemented a couple issues. One: Lowetide changed his site's signature from 'Sign Sean Horcoff' to 'Horcoff Signed!'
Two: We can now predict with some small level of certainty what the team will look like for at least the next few years. And except for a couple of albatrosses, things look pretty good. Let's look at some roster projections barring any trades.

Let's look at the Oilers roster and ages as of 09-10

Penner(27) - Horcoff(31) - Hemsky(26)
Nilsson(24) - Gagner(20) - Cogliano (22)
Moreau(35) - Pouliot(24) - Pisani(33)

Visnovsky(33) - Souray(33)
Staios(36) - Gilbert(26)

The 10-11 season:

Penner(28) - Horcoff(32) - Hemsky(27)
Nilsson (25)

Visnovsky(34) - Souray(34)
Staios(37) - Gilbert(27)

The Core
Looking at this lineup, we can deduce a few upcoming moves and probably when they will happen. Most obvious here is that the Oilers have their core forward group locked up until at least the end of next season, and the guys they have invested a lot of chips in (Penner, Horcoff, Hemsky) through the 10-11 season.

Coming Attractions
The young guns (Gagner, Cogliano, Brodziak) are not immediate concerns but Lowe already needs to start planning his next group of long term contracts around these guys. They're bargains now but where is the cap space going to come when they need resigning. We could be looking at $4-$6 million dollar contracts at the higher end.

Old Grey Horse
The Oilers have invested a lot of chips into Visnovski and Souray who are both already at or past their prime years, unless of course they take the Nik Lidstrom course of action and just keep getting better and better. This means that as the forward group is nearing their prime the Oilers' top defenceman are leaving it. The timing is not good. Reading the tea leaves one of the two is out of town if the opportunity arises. Probably Souray.

Something Has To Give
The Oilers' defensive future isn't really signed. Tom Gilbert is certainly a part of it, no doubt, but given the ages of the other defenceman I think the Oilers have to bank something on Grebeshkov or someone else in that age range. Right or wrong, the defensive group is built for today and the forward group for tomorrow. Something has to give.

Dangerous Game
Where are the goalies? Good question. Deslauriers resigned and I would think he is being groomed to be the new backup while Rolie plays out the rest of his contract this season. Garon, meanwhile, is unsigned after 08-09. Obviously then, the Oiler's top priority between now and July 1 2009 is finding a number 1 goaltender. I would say the plan is to play Garon as the number 1 this season, judge how he reacts, and then resign him, although to believe Lowe isn't flying by the seat of his pants might be a misjudgement. Call this the 'Smyth Plan?'

Long Term Priority List:
Sign a number 1 goalie, Garon or otherwise
Trade or buyout Sheldon Souray
Don't escalate commitment into Penner or Souray if they aren't working out.


Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Beggars Just Can't Be Choosers

I said over in the comments at MG's a while back that Bertuzzi was probably an ok choice for the Flames depending on the cost, and since he's been signed, I would say the price is right.

I think there are basically three schools of thought on Bertuzzi:

1. Bertuzzi is simply an evil person who committed an atrocious act and there's nothing about him that's redeeming.
2. Bertuzzi is a huge victim who made a mistake and have paid his dues
3. Bertuzzi is an ass and probably not a good person but only bad luck has separated him from other heinous acts that have been committed on the ice.

Now, MG seems pretty upset, I would obviously put him in the first category. I think I can categorize the people in the picture in the top of the page as being more in the 2nd category, although probably stupider. I would place myself more in the third category, but I think Matt really expressed my sentiment the best:

"ONE. I don't hate Todd Bertuzzi. Don't think I ever have, though I certainly have no love for the guy. If he was likable at all to we the fan, I would have eventually felt bad for the guy in about 2005, when he was still being portrayed as uniquely evil for committing an act that -- while not commonplace -- is equaled on the Senseless Violence Scale about 5 or 10 times an NHL season, and is surpassed on the Tragic Consequences Scale every so often too." (source)

I've been watching hockey for a long time, and while I won't exactly defend Bertuzzi I'll say I've definitely seen worse. I see something worse probably once a season.

I've never seen worse consequences.

That's the only difference to me.

Not that it's any consolation to Steve Moore.

But in my opinion, this wasn't a bad signing.

I'll agree with Matt on this one. There isn't a lot of risk in a 1 year $1.95 deal. For one, if Bertuzzi plays terrible, both the Flames and the Big Bert can walk away from this amicably. It's already better than Amonte for two years. Secondly, he's not getting paid all that much. Sure, he's the 4th highest paid forward, but he's 10th on the team, and he's only about $500k more than say, Wayne Primeau.

Best case scenario? The guy scores 25 or so goals and draws some of the attention away from Iginla.

The other thing to note about this trade is, as stated before, the Flames absolutely needed someone on the 2nd line. Lombardi is almost a sure bet to be there, but that's about it. Take a look at this chart I made:

Those are the numbers for the Flames forward from the preceding season. Obviously it's not a perfect comparison because Bourque, Cammalleri and Bertuzzi were on different teams last year but it at least gives us an idea of where Bertuzzi slots in on the team. In all but two categories, quality of competition and goals/60, Bertuzzi was within the top 6 guys on the Flames. We needed a top 6 guy. Voila.

OK, he was sheltered. Very sheltered. It's not a perfect solution. But it was probably one of the only ones the Flames had left.

I'm no coach, but there has got to be some way to take advantage of this guy's skills.

IMO, this Flames season is shaping up to be a lost cause. There is no reason to hope or expect the Flames to compete for a Cup this spring, and the idea of a playoff spot seems pretty untenable right now. There are too many contracts signed through this year that will anchor this team and too few prospects ready to inject some new blood. It's not a rebuilding season, it's not a bloodletting season. It's a run out the clock season.

Just keep repeating to yourself, it will all (Bertuzzi, Aucoin, Eriksson, Warrener, Nilson, Cammalleri) be over soon.

Sunday, July 06, 2008

You Have To Be Good To Be Lucky and Lucky To Be Good

The last two weeks have brought a lot of changes to the Edmonton Oilers. Jarrett Stoll and his concussed brain finally got sent out of town with the last 'tough guy' defenceman Matt Greene. We also saw the end of Raffi Torres the illegal alien. I thought all those guys brought something valuable to the team but at this point I think it was a case of too many bodies and lots of kids who Lowe figured would have a more likely chance of outperforming their contracts.

Maybe something Darryl Sutter should look into actually.

There's been a lot of lineup predictions bandied about, especially over at LT's, but it'll probably look something like this:

Penner - Horcoff - Hemsky
Cogliano - Gagner - Nilsson
Cole - Brodziak - Pisani
Moreau - Pouliot - Stortini

Gilbert - Grebeshkov
Staios - Souray
Visnovsky - Smid


It's a lineup that has a lot of depth in scoring (Penner, Cole, Horcoff, Hemsky), smarts (Horcoff, Pisani, Staios, Gilbert), and playmaking (Hemsky, Gagner, Visnovsky) but lacks physicality both up front and on defence. Still, it's one of the better lineups the Oilers have had in a long time and I'm certainly excited about the Oil's prospects this season.

I think Kevin Lowe certainly deserves a lot of credit for the lineup we'll see on opening night. He's been part of the procurement of pretty much every player on the roster. I think the little outburst against Burke the other night was long overdue, but there was one comment that I just think Lowe was at least partly off-base on.

"I stand by my offer sheets... Thomas Vanek is going to be a 35+ goal scorer for the rest of his contract… Dustin Penner is going to be a 20+ goal scorer for the rest of his contract."

Now, whether Vanek stays a 35 goal scorer or not, I still think that was a bad offer sheet. $10 million signing of a guy who really only had one good season playing behind Daniel Briere and Chris Drury is a little ridiculous, and four first round picks would have absolutely crippled this franchise for years to come, especially when one realizes just how important 1st round picks are.

The only person who made a dumber move than Kevin Lowe that day was Darcy Regier when he decided to match. I would have taken those draft picks and laughed all the way to the bank.

But that's not the only time Lowe has been rebuffed on a dumb move.

I guess we can go back to last summer to the Nylander fiasco to find one of Lowe's earlier strokes of luck. After declining to sign Ryan Smyth at $5.5 million Kevin Lowe decided Michael Nylander would be a much better fit on the team. Reasons cited included Smyth's age and proneness to injury but of course all those after the fact justifications are bullshit and the real reason Smyth was traded was probably due to incompetence.

I know a lot of Oilers fans and bloggers were excited about the prospect of signing Hossa, and certainly the idea intrigued me. However, I just couldn't get my head around the terms of the offer. First of all, if I had $9 million to throw around I wouldn't throw it at Hossa, especially not for 9 years. IMO he's not quite the calibre of player needed to justify those numbers, even if he is very very good. A contract like that is a lifetime contract and you best be sure you want that player to be the face of your franchise.

It's also not so much what Hossa doesn't bring to the table because he is a great player, it's more about what the Oilers would have to give up. At some point Roloson and Souray and Penner are coming off the books but it looks like they're here to stay for a while and the Oilers will need to resign Cole, Horcoff, Garon and Grebeshkov(RFA, but still) at the end of the year (off the top of my head). For my money I'd rather lose Hossa but keep those three guys, and I'm not convinced you could do both. Hell, as of the day the Oilers were in the bidding war for Hossa they still needed to free up some space, and if that's Souray or maybe Roloson then fine, but I don't see it happening.

So for the grace of god the Oilers have a pretty nice looking lineup, possibly even for a few seasons to come, but it could have gone the other direction very easily.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Anatomy of a Trade(s)

Yesterday at LT's I commented that the only way the last two days make a lot of sense is if you assume Pitkanen advised Lowe and the Oilers management, whether directly or indirectly, that he had no intention of re-signing with Edmonton, much in the way Pronger demanded a trade. I think if you look at the last two days not only are the moves more forgivable if you disagree with them, but they prove to actually be quite shrewed. Here's the evidence:

April 11th: Tom Gilbert is signed to a brand new $24 million/6 year contract.

April 14th: Denis Grebeshkov is signed to a one year contract.

Interpretation: Much like how Horcoff, Moreau, Pisani and Staios were signed before Smyth, the Oilers seem to prioritize the importance of their players based on the date on which they're signed. Tom Gilbert and Denis Grebeshkov were obviously higher priorities than Joni Pitkanen.

June 30th: Kevin Lowe trades Matt Greene and Jarret Stoll to the Los Angeles Kings for Lubomir Visnovsky, a puck moving defenceman in the vein of Joni Pitkanen. Lubomir Visnovsky is significantly older and more expensive than Pitkanen.

Interpretation: I'll ask one question: if there was a chance of signing Pitkanen, why trade for a(n approximate) duplicate player.

July 1: Joni Pitkanen, an RFA is traded to the Carolina Hurricanes for Eric Cole who is on the last year of a 3 year $4 million contract and is due to become a UFA at seasons end. He will almost certainly get a pay raise.

Interpretation: This could just be Lowe addressing a need and using a redundant piece to get it, but again, why the Visnovsky move? Couldn't Lowe have just traded Greene and Stoll (and potentially add Torres to the mix) for a forward like Cole? Jonathan also mentioned today that there must be a market for a guy like Souray as well, and I agree with him. Any of those guys could have been packaged for a Cole like player. So why Pitkanen?

July 2: Joni Pitkanen signs a three year deal with the Carolina Hurricanes at an average of $4 million per year ($3.5, $4.0, $4.5).

Interpretation: Pitkanen is immediately signed to a pretty reasonable $12 million/3 year, less that I (and I assume others) would have predicted he would get. About the same as Gilbert, although less years.

Length of term of course may have been an issue; Pitkanen may have not wanted to commit to Edmonton for 6 years and maybe would have taken 3 years. But then, if length of term was the issue, why trade for a guy who's signed for one year?

Add to that MacT's comments today on the Team 1260 (via Rod over at LT's):

"MacT interview on the Team 1260 (after the Katz presser) was very revealing. Topic of Pitkanen started out about a "difference in philosophy" as the reason he's gone. MacT said that was a "complimentary way of phrasing it". MacT went on to say he didn't see a commitment to win from Pitkanen (particularly a team game). Strides were made through the year though, so MacT thought they were making some progress (conversation at the end of the year reinforced that apparently).

Then, from what MacT said, Pitkanen informed the Oil he didn't want to come back. MacT figured that might become a pattern for Pitkanen and that he'll be a nomad."

I think we can safely assume by the known events and comments made by Oilers staff that Joni Pitkanen was simply uninterested in returning as an Edmonton Oiler and the Oilers built their 08-09 roster around that assumption.

That said, I think Lowe did an alright job with the hand he was dealt, mainly assuming he manages to extend Horcoff and re-sign Cole.