Monday, June 30, 2008

Across Canada on the Free Agency Wire - Edmonton

As we roll into Oiler Country, we find a good young team with great management, coaching and a new team owner with deep pockets. Daryl Katz of Rexall fame finally completed the sale after several attempts and the deal was recently approved by the NHL Board of Governors. Katz has made it clear he will spend money in the right places to make his team a Cup contender in the years to come.
The man at the helm as GM until the 2011-2012 season ends is former Oiler star, Kevin Lowe. This six time Stanley Cup winner celebrated five of them in Edmonton. He was also their first ever NHL Draft pick and scored the team's first NHL goal. After last year's offer to Restricted Free Agent Ducks forward, Dustin Penner, the Oil don't really have any Draft picks to spare. Don't expect Lowe to make an offer on another RFA this year.
Last season at the trade deadline, Head Coach Craig MacTavish made an interesting comment. I'm not sure if he coined the phrase but I sure liked it. When asked if the Oilers would be buyers or sellers, the coach said - neither, we are builders. ( not a direct quote). I found that comment very appropriate in Edmonton. They were not going to make the playoffs but why blow up a team solely for that reason? A good young core is on this team with up and comers like Sam Gagner, Penner and Hemsky. Injuries that limited last year's big signing Sheldon Souray to only 26 games, killed their power play and they seemed to stumble out of the gate, never catching up to the top eight teams despite a late season push.
Last season, Hemsky led the team with 71 points. Dustin Penner was the top goal scorer at 23. That won't put you in the playoffs in either Conference. Lowe is looking for more scoring and grit up front. A visit to the Oiler web site shows 53% of fans in agreement. Look for UFA Geoff Sanderson to move on and RFA Joni Pitkanen continues to be in the rumour mill. Yesterday's trade with the Kings, sending RFA Jarret Stoll and D man Matt Greene to LA for Lubomir Visnovsky creates an opening up front and solidifies the PP with Souray and Visnovsky on the Points. The new D man is also under contract for the next five years, that allows the Oil to know where they stand going forward in the Cap world.
In the search for scoring I found a few names that would fit in Edmonton. Unfortunately, while writing this, the Lightning stole some of my Thunder. Ryan Malone's new Tampa contract takes him off every wish list. My next suggestion was Brian Rolston, and again the Lightning are trying to lock up the 35 year old, thirty goal man. A player to keep an eye on, and as of this writing is still available, is former Hurricane and Senator Cory Stillman. This 34 year old has scored at least 20 goals six of the last seven seasons and he would be a great teacher to the young forwards. At $1.75 million last year, he's due for a raise, but after watching Stillman in Ottawa I'd say he's worth it.
The other need according to Lowe is grit up front. This is never as exciting for fans as landing the big scorer but it's the third and fourth line that can win you the Cup. Speaking of trips to the Finals, one name that jumped out at me was Jarrko Ruuttu. This super pest made $1.5 million last year. He never drops his gloves, which angers me. If you start something - finish it. He gets under the skin of his opponents though and the Power Play is very important in today's NHL. Another former Canuck is available, gritty forward Matt Cooke, as well as Arron Asham from New Jersey. Asham might be the better fit age wise and the $700 grand he made last year is affordable.
Edmonton will probably not be at the forefront of Free Agency, continuing to build and develop the young players in their system. Look for Lowe to fill out his roster with a few more trades before the season starts. With a new owner, money will be spent if a big name becomes available. Kevin Lowe has shown in the past though he won't spend frivolously.
Let's head down the Alberta hockey pipeline to Calgary and visit the Flames

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