Monday, 4 July 2016

Are they Crazy or is it Just Me?

Oh, Crap the Oilers signed Milan Lucic to a 7-year, 42 million-dollar deal they are going to regret the last 2 years of that contract! This was the common refrain from Oiler fans and around the league when the news broke. These shouts and concerns were being voiced even before he signed the deal in Edmonton.  Though this was not the only long term deal signed on July 1st, Andrew Ladd, Kyle Okposo, Loui Ericsson, and Frans Neilson all signed deals for either 6 or 7 years. 

So this prompts some questions. Why would they be willing to take this risk? Are all the General Managers just crazy? The answer most fans give is “hell yeah!” Hold on now, there is actually another answer and it is simply cost analysis.  Hockey is a business, and general managers feel that the benefits outweigh the risks.

Lets first look at the risks associated with signing a free agent to a long-term deal.  

  • v Risk of injury - as players age and the wear and tear of the body increases the risk of injury becomes more common.
  •  v Reduced Point Production – There is fear that the free agents are signed at an age where they may have already reached their peak.  In today’s NHL this comes at an earlier age. 
  • v The Diminished Asset - the team may not be able to trade this player because that production is so low.  They will either be saddled with the cap hit, or trade the player for a reduced price, or have to include an asset to dump the contract. 

Obviously all of these are a risk are a concern and some might happen, none may happen, or all may happen.  The key words though are might and maybe.   General Managers are willing to take this risk because of the benefits the player provides.   Lets look at these benefits. 
  • v They don't have to draft and develop the player.  Using Lucic as an example the Oilers can put him into the lineup, and immediately on the 1st line.  A player like Lucic is plug and play.  They didn't have to wait, they already know what type of player he is and they didn't have to take the risk that he doesn't develop.  
  • v They didn't have to trade an asset to get the player.  Trading for a 55 point player is going to come at a price, it may mean robbing Peter to pay Paul, or using a lessor player to fill the hole you created elsewhere.
  •  v It's the market price.  Multiple teams were willing to sign Lucic for 7 years.  If you don't play the game someone else will. 

The player himself may also mitigate the risk.   Let’s use Lucic as an example:

v Lucic has never had a significant injury - he does play a game that is considered more high risk but injuries have never been a concern. 
v Lucic keeps himself in great shape, he is known for being physically fit and works hard in the off-season and during the season to keep himself that way. 
v Lucic eats properly - Peter Chiarelli noted this, during his press conference. I don' t think I need to explain that eating properly is going to decrease the risk of the body wearing down and reduce the effect of aging on the body.

Obviously there is risk, but they are all mights and maybes.   The benefits are all real; there are no mights and maybes.  The team didn't have to develop the player, they didn't have to trade an asset and it is a certainly that another team would have signed Milan Lucic.   Lucic is taking the proper steps to take care of his body.

We would probably agree that paying any hockey player 7 million dollars is crazy.   In weighing the risks and the benefits, Peter Chiarelli paid no more than market value in today’s NHL.

Sunday, 3 July 2016

Peter Chiarelli: The very definition of Bold.

Flashback: April 15th, 2013 - Craig Mactavish is hired as the new Oilers General Manager and he made these now infamous comments, “I'm an impatient guy,” he said he would “bring that impatience to this situation. I think we’re at the stage, in terms of the cycle of our hockey club right now, that we have to do some bold things. We have to expose ourselves to some semblance of risk, to try and move the team forward in a rapid fashion.”

Ultimately his reign as GM was not bold but tired - not bold but weak - not bold but timid. His moves were safe and like Steve Tambellini before him, the team did not move forward it stagnated.  Looking back as Oiler fans, we often laugh at that quote with derision.  We mock it but we also demand it.  

Flashback: April 23, 2015 - The Oilers hire Peter Chiarelli as GM. These were his comments at the time.  
"There is a strong, young core here with good complementary players," said Peter Chiarelli. "I hope to bring it to the next level with a measured approach."

For part of a year he followed that measured approach, he watched, he assessed, and not surprisingly, this team performed exactly as it had for 9 years.  There were some flashes, but alas a 28th place finish.   His assessment was as obvious to long-suffering Oiler fans as the fact there will be snow in Edmonton this winter.  The team was easy to play against and offered little resistance.  The forward mix had all the same elements. The defence was terrible.

During the season he made changes to change the mix, adding Patrick Maroon and Zach Kassian, but nothing new on the defence.  In the off-season he had added Andrej Sekera and Griffin Reinhart.  Sekera was a good move, not a bold one and Reinhart certainly did not make the roster as predicted. The jury is still out with the expansion draft looming ahead.

Rumours of Chiarelli trying to add a top pairing dman were rampant from the trade deadline on and into the summer.  Chiarelli admitted that he would be willing to trade one of these six million dollar men to make it happen.  By the summer, we all knew that one of them were moving and assumed that this would get not just a top pairing dman, but if  Taylor Hall were traded an elite number 1 dman.  There was no way they would trade him if that was not available.

Oh, there were lots of subtle hints this wasn't the case. The media, and not just the Edmonton media, warned us that there wasn't much available. Teams were asking for Hall and the return wasn't what we would expect.  I thought to myself, the media doesn't always paint a rosy picture for Edmonton, and assumed they were exaggerating.

Those subtle whispers became shouts days and weeks before Hall was ultimately traded.  Bob Stauffer intimated that the Oilers might have to trade Hall and make a bad trade in order to move forward.  Ryan Rishaug started hinting the same thing, even telling Jason Gregor that this would be the price of moving forward.  National media were saying similar things, the market wasn't strong, the Oilers were dealing from a position of weakness, as everyone knew what they wanted, and the demand was more than the supply.

Then the Subban rumour bolts out of Montreal, the Habs might trade Subban and the Oilers were interested.   The rumoured price from many sources; Leon Draisaitl, the 4th pick, Darnell Nurse or Oscar Klefbom and two or more significant pieces.  Many Oiler fans argued back and forth whether they would pay this price.   My heart sunk, this for me was confirmation of what the media was saying.  Hall wasn't going to get an elite dman and from that moment I knew it.  In fact I said on twitter "this is proof of what the market really is for an elite dman."  I knew Hall might move.  For if the media was right about this, they were probably right about the rest too.

Bob Stauffer's hints became stronger, fans told themselves he was just speculating he didn't really know.  Then 48 hours before the trade, he hints that a 22-24 minute dman that wasn't sexy, but very good defensively might be coming to Edmonton.  He says no more, but again he tells us that Hall might move and that he gets you the most, but the market is not what Oiler fans think.  I didn't connect the two statements.

24 hours before the trade, Marc Spector guests on Bob Stauffer's Show, Oilers Now and he plays a guessing game as Marc Spector demands that he tell fans who this player is, as Bob Stauffer gives more clues.  We all guess on twitter and a few fans and Spector guess -Adam Larsson.  Bob Stauffer than gives the money question to Spector "Would you trade Hall for him?"  My assumption is that he was trying to throw Spector a curve to lead him off track, in reality he was preparing the fans for a trade that he knew was coming.  

When the trade happens, fans react with understandable anger. I couldn't belief it myself but as my anger wore off, and I read the well connected media like Bob Mackenzie, Elliott Friedman, Ryan Rishaug, and Pierre Lebrun all saying the same thing.  None of which had any reason to blow sunshine up Oilers fans butts, and all having more connections than just Chiarelli.  Their message, Oiler fans don't like it, but that was the market for a right handed dman, and Chiarelli really had no choice but to make it.

Ultimately I always knew they were correct but like all Oiler fans really didn't want to believe it.  

Which really comes back to our title:  The fans have been crying for bold for years, it's become a taunt, a mocking way of referring to the 10 years of mismanagement but I think we all lost sight of what that actually means.

Bold:  "Fearless and daring, courageous, not hesitating in the fear of rebuff"

Chiarelli's job is not to please us with every transaction, it is  to turn this franchise around and build a winner. He cannot worry about rebuff and being unpopular!

Ultimately bold can go in two directions. If the moves he makes fail and the Oilers fall further into oblivion, bold turns into stupid and he won't be here.  If on the other hand, bold turns into winning, bold turns into genius.  We all hope that bold Journey into greatness starts Oct 12th.