Totally Wired: My Heart and I Agree, Oilers Must Win NOW

There’s a prevailing narrative out there in Oilers’ Land in these newly meaningful Spring days. It’s cut through with a hopeful resignation. It goes like this: history repeats itself. Youth and greatness need to learn hard lessons, need to suffer for the wage of respect. The story is a tragedy until it ends well.

“Calm yourself, it’s part of the learning process. They need to go through the pain of this failure to enjoy future success.”

Those of us old enough to have enjoyed the Oilers of the 80s recall the narratives. Youth was frustrated. Youth learned to pay the price. Youth suffered its victory.

Don’t believe these people.

Their confidence is ridiculous.

Take no comfort in the future.

Place no trust in contingency. It can always turnout otherwise.

Every opportunity for victory is unique.

Fortune favors the bold.

I’m not hopeful for the future.

I’m not resigned to the present.


How Near, How Far: McDavid Changes Everything, Nothing Changes

McDavid Changes Everything… . That’s self-evidently true.

And yet, the list of things that broke right for the Oilers this year that McDavid didn’t do are substantial and serve to remind one of the work that remains and that luck could just as easily take away as give.

Klefbom’s Ankle.

Oscar’s first season as an Oilers’ prospect was blemished with a nasty concussion and the injury history has piled up since then. Season after season trepidation mounted for eager fans as Oscar seemed determined to catalog every possible ailment. The apogee of worry hit last season after a seemingly routine wrist injury morphed into a freak staff infection of the ankle. Happy talk of a “lace bite” “re-infected” “cutting” “customized boot” etc., did everything to terrorize a fanbase so recently left disconsolate by Ryan Whitney’s ankle.

And yet, somehow, the Gords shined on Oscar’s ankle, special skate, and general wellbeing. He played all 82 games. I’m not sure he’s ever played every game in a season before.

And, we are only talking about his health. Oscar’s play could have found room for a lot more squish. He wouldn’t be the first young D to get sidetracked in his development.

Everyone was Healthy.

It wasn’t just Oscar. The number of key players that managed to play the entire (or nearly) season is astonishing:

There’s your top 6 forwards, top 3 defensemen and a pair of pretty useful utility forwards thrown in for good measure.

Speaking of Health.

Staying healthy helps to break a franchise Win record as a goalie.

Needless to say, a couple of key injuries to any of the names listed above and the Oilers’ season writes a different story. Especially in the case of Talbot, the Oilers are uniquely ill-prepared to face adversity with depth of position.

The unsung hero of the Oilers’ season is health. And health is not something a fan of an ebullient, violently life-affirming sport can call repeatable.

Looking for you: Expendable… Hahaha!

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As long as there has been hockey, there has been new shiny toys and fans, media and sometimes even decision makers angling to cull still useful players.

I realize this is old news… but Mark Spector reported some time ago that RNH was maybe discussed in a potential Seth Jones trade. Based on this scant actual reporting… the following implication was levied:

What it tells us is that Chiarelli sees Nugent-Hopkins as the one player from the Oilers former core that can command the greatest return — yet at the same time is expendable.


The argument out there is that with McDavid and Draisaitl, the Oilers are locked and loaded in all the skill spots on the center roster.

This argument is stupid for a variety of reasons.

McDavid and Draisaitl are 19 and 20 respectively.

RNH is only 22 Damn you!

The NHL is hard damn league to play center in.

Injuries (as this year aptly demonstrates) happen.

McLellan loves centers on his wings.

Who says you can only have two skilled centers anyway?

So… Don’t let fans and reporters, eyes all damp with gooey affection for shiny new things, tell you the bona fide players are expendable.

Which brings me to my favorite hit Oilers’ media hit piece, Terry Jones on Tom Poti, in which the faithful are told:

Maybe they’ll miss his minutes (24:32 a game). But not for long. The Oilers have young defensive talents coming up and just traded penalty-prone press-box regular Sean Brown to Boston for another one in Bobby Allen.

Ahh… young talents coming up! Of course… if only the Oilers tried that sometime between 2002 and now!

Everything You Could Be: Oilers and Free Agent Value Contracts


Since landing Pronger in the Summer of 2005, the Oilers have been very poor at the free agent market.

They’ve been particular poor at the “Value” table*, where one usually finds rumpled fruit and nearly operational appliances. In the right hands, these disreputable goods can be fixed up into something of value.

*NB: Free agent “value” contracts need to be distinguished from “value” contracts in general, which may potentially include players on entry-level deals, or under restricted free agent control.

During the 2014 Summer, then GM Craig MacTavish, signalled that he clearly understood both that the value market existed and that perusing it from time to time was a good idea.

Just prior to the Free Agent Frenzy last Summer, MacTavish asked the following rhetorical question:

Who are the Grabovski’s of this year that Washington picked up last year. They paid less for a guy like Grabovski and added a good element to their team. Those are some of the guys we’re going to be trying to find as this period and process goes on.

And, immediately after signing Benoit Pouliot, Mark Fayne and Keith Aulie a handful of days later, MacTavish said

Later on in the day we were able to add Keith Aulie, who we feel has an opportunity to be one of the players on a one-year deal that really enhances his value through this period. We were looking at Benoit, we were looking at Anton Stralman, all these players that had come in the year before and really added all this market value to their ability. Benoit in particular was in New York on a million and a half deal or slightly less than that, and he commands this price as did Anton Stralman and I think Keith Aulie has that ability.

In these two quotes, MacTavish does a good job of laying out various implications of the “value” contract (free agent version).

A value contract generally consists of the following:

~ a player who, through various means (injury, unseasonable luck, off-ice issues, burdensome contract), finds himself both on the market and tethered to undesirable narratives/associations.

~ a short term (typically one year) deal allowing both player and team maximal flexibility. If it works out, the player gets to try the market again in the near future under more favorable conditions. If it doesn’t work out, the team hasn’t over-commited itself.

~ a low dollar amount allowing for maximal cap flexibility and making the player attractive to a broader, more high-profile, playoff-bound market come trade deadline.

In essence, a free agent value contract is a low risk (the term and dollar amount are low), high reward (if the player works out, the team gets excellent production for their cap dollar and/or a highly marketable trade asset) proposition.

The Oilers and Free Agent Value Contracts

So, how have the Oilers done in this department? To assess the Oilers we should ask two questions:

  1. Do the Oilers have a history of pursuing this kind of contract (regardless of whether the bet pays off)?
  2. Do the Oilers have a record of success with players on value contracts?

To answer these questions, let’s have a look at the Oilers’ free agent signings (excluding players on NHL contracts but clearly destined for farm work) since the run at Stanley.

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There are players on this list that signed at, or above, full value, meaning simply: there was no discount on term or cap (Penner, Souray, Khabibulin, etc.). These players either made good on the contract, or didn’t. Regardless, they were never going to be “value” contracts.

There are players on this list that signed one year deals, but at full value, or more, in terms of market dollars (Sykora, Tjarnquist, Barker, Bryzgalov, etc.). These contracts are, at best, qualified value contracts. The limited term involved allows the team the flexibility to move on from a bad or marginal bet in short order. But, the money involved is simply too much to be considered a value contract.

Then, there is a single player, Mike Comrie, that properly looks like an attempt to sign a value contract. Coming into the 2009-10 season, Comrie was a quickly fading NHL player. After a series of successful seasons and lucrative contracts, Comrie’s production started to fade as his injury history mounted. The Oilers took a chance that Comrie could rebound and be productive again, but protected themselves by signing him to short term and dollars. In the end, Comrie got Mono and played about half the season (43 13-8-21).

The Oilers didn’t re-sign Comrie the following season. The Oilers lost the bet. But, I think the Comrie contract, at least, represents an attempt at a free agent value contract. Or, at least a bet was made at the value table. Unfortunately, it is the only one I see over the course of the past near-decade.

Chiarelli’s Bruins and Free Agent Value Contracts

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NB: I’ve excluded Chiarelli’s first season as Bruins’ GM, 2006-07, the Chara off-season.

The first thing that stands out here is the clear preference for 1 year contracts. Second, a quick glance and you can see that Chiarelli is keen on the free agent value contract. Several of these players fit the mold: somewhat tarnished (through age, injury, “other”), but once useful players looking for an opportunity to turn around, or increase, their value in short order (Gagne, Iginla, Pouliot, Satan, etc.).

Perhaps the most revealing take-away from Chiarelli’s free agent shopping in toto, is the lack of urgency in evidence. For many of these seasons, Chiarelli already had a solid core of players under control. He could use the free agent market differently. He wasn’t looking for big, long-term solutions, but rather depth on the cheap.

But, it’s not only good teams that can and should exploit the free agent value market.

The Maple Leafs and Free Agent Value Contracts

One considerably poor performing team that seems, of late, to have really taken a shine to the free agent value market is The Big Stupid’s own Maple Leafs.

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Over the past two seasons, the Leafs have done a remarkable job at dipping into the free agent market and finding value. The ultimate example of this is the case of Daniel Winnik.

Signed late in the 2014 free agent season to a one year, relatively cheap deal, Winnik played out a season of typical Winnik two-way hockey, receiving a lot of attention along the way (the glare of The Big Stupid didn’t hurt). The Leafs (predictably) were sellers when the trade deadline hit. They sold high on Winnik and then re-signed him this off-season. This is, basically, perfect asset management given the Leafs’ circumstances.

Insert Declarative Statements…

The Oilers, despite being aware of the existence of the Free Agent Value Market, simply don’t have a history of heading down to that end of the store.

Chiarelli, however, does have some history in this area. We can certainly hope he’ll make the Oilers everything they could be in this regard.

Finally, there’s still time…

In short order, the last of the late few free agents of note are going to get antsy and we should see some signings, PTOs, and players bolting for Europe. Maybe one or two of them will get a call from Peter.


The Blank Generation: The 06-07 through 14-15 Oilers


A lot of players have shuffled in and out of Oilers’ uniforms since fated Cup run of 05-06. Some of these players are particularly emblematic of a management team addled in its thinking and crabbed in its execution.

Say, for example, Patrick O’Sullivan, Erik Cole, Ben Eager, or Lennart Petrell. These players stand out as curios. Oddities lost in the general shuffle of incompetence, they are remembered more the fantastic nature of their rise and fall within the Oilers’ organization––one day touted a key acquisitions for a team on the upswing, the next day cast aside as yet another hindrance of success.

Setting these oddities aside, the Oilers of the last near-decade fall into roughly three camps:

The Lingering Reminder of Success: those players––like Ales Hemsky, Shawn Horcoff, and Steve Staios––who experienced the apogee of post-Messier Oilers’ hockey only to ride the bad-ship Oiler down to its recent, never-ending nadir.

The (Current) Promissory Note of Success: those players––like Taylor Hall, Jordan Eberle, and Oscar Klefbom––who have experienced nothing but Oilers’ failure, yet are likely to remain with the team through the near-inevitable McDavid surge of fortune.

And, finally, we have The Blank Generation. Those players who, over the course of the 06-07 through 14-15 NHL seasons, have managed to endure a protracted relationship of mutual devastation with the Oilers.

That is, players who have notched the better part of 3 consecutive NHL seasons and better than 125 NHL games with the Oilers before moving on from the organization*.

This group is The Blank Generation of Oilers. They played for the team during arguably its darkest hour. And, they played for the team over a long enough period to have had considerable expectations placed upon them by the organization. They played for the team long enough to watch their talents wasted on fruitless venture after fruitless venture, or wane as the years ticked on.

The Blank Generation consists of 21 players.

21 players who have no affiliation with a successful Oilers team. 21 players who have no current prospect of cashing in on the McDavid promissory note. 21 players who spent a considerable amount of their prime asset (their youthful, would-be years of flourishing) on a wasted enterprise.

I think there is a good argument to be made that these 21 players––players who endured the Oilers of 06-07 through 14-15 as much as the Oilers endured them; players who have no relation to past or future Oilers’ success––best represent the efforts of the Oilers’ brass over the past near-decade.

They are the shiny, “future players” drafted in the early days of the (pre)re-build (Gagner, Cogliano); the players acquired in landmark trades (Whitney, N. Schultz); the players signed to bright-light, free-agent deals (Souray, Khabibulin).

*NB: For goalies, I reduced the number of games to 100.

This is the Blank Generation:

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This is a rough depth chart, including games played for the Oilers (I’ve switched sides on a couple of D and moved a couple of Cs to wing).

This team of miscreants and vagabonds represents every kind of Oiler bungling we’ve gotten to know over the years.

The Unheralded. Those players who, despite showing talent on the ice in an Oilers’ uniform year over year, somehow managed to escape the notice of their managers. These are players who could have helped the Oilers succeed every day since they were cast aside. They represent the greatest of blunders: the needlessly abandoned talent.

Gilbert, Cogliano, Petry, Dubnyk, Brodziak.

The Developmental Blunders. Those players of promise who never managed to find traction within the Oilers’ developmental system. These players showcase the whimsical nature of the Oilers’ development over the period. Often thrust into the deep waters early, these players arrive in the NHL seemingly without any support system to guide their rocky journey in becoming a pro hockey player. They represent the damage a systemic, structural problem can inflict. These players of bygone promise, now cling desperately to a fading NHL career.

Smid, Gagner, Paajarvi, Peckham.

The Ludicrous Bets. Those players who were never going to deliver on the expectations of the Oilers. These players represent an inability to get a reading on outside talent.

Whitney, N. Schultz.

The Absurd. This player represents the incredible peevishness of the Oilers.


The doctor grabbed my throat and yelled, “God’s Consolation Prize!”


The longest suffering member of The Blank Generation was Sam Gagner. 481 games played. What a waste.