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Thursday, June 11, 2009

Pros and Cons of acquiring Heatley

Dany Heatley
- a skilled, world-class talent winger who wants out of Ottawa. He has represented Canada on many fronts and has been near the top of the NHL scoring lists every year except this past year.

Edmonton Oilers - a hockey team in need of a world-class talent winger since Ryan Smyth left town. No offense to Dustin Penner (who is a very good hockey player, btw), but he's no Smyth and he's definitely not a Heatley.

There are arguments both for and against acquiring Heatley, and I am strongly in favour of acquiring him. Here is what some hockey bloggers from around the Oilogosphere have been saying, and I will respond to them at the end.

Can you win anything of value with 5 players making 28.1M:
  1. Heatley 7.5M
  2. Visnovsky 5.6M
  3. Horcoff 5.5M
  4. Souray 5.4M
  5. Hemsky 4.1M
More to the point, can you win anything of value with those 5 players taking up that much of the cap?
David Staples:

If an NHL team is going to win consistently, it's got to develop an ethic where it refuses to overpay for players. The ultimate team player in the NHL is a fellow like Zetterberg who takes as much as a few million less per year to stay with the hometown club. The Oilers needs to build around that kind of star player.

Heatley's contract overpays him, so he's not that player.

Jonathan Willis:
To borrow an expression, this is robbing Peter to pay Paul. What's the point of moving a cheap first-line RW for an expensive first-line LW? We can argue about relative value, but Hemsky's contract means a lot in that discussion and the simple fact of the matter is that if the roster is going to be lopsided after a deal, the Oilers might as well continue rebuilding at a slower pace.
To summarize:
  • Lowetide and Staples both agree that Dany Heatley is overpaid
  • Staples believes the Oilers should focus on finding the ultimate team player, and not focus on the elite talent that Heatley represents; he contends the Oilers need guys who will take discounts to play on winning teams
  • Jonathan Willis neither commits to whether Heatley is a good or bad pickup, only saying that the Oilers cannot afford to move Hemsky in any deal for the Senators winger
The Counter-Argument
  • I would probably agree that Dany Heatley is overpaid, if it were not for the fact that the very same Edmonton Oilers hockey club that was trying to acquire Marian Hossa for 8+ million and Jaromir Jagr for 6.5+ million is the one interested in landing Dany Heatley.
  • Consider that it is pretty obvious that one of the top-3 (Souray, Visnovsky, Gilbert) will be dealt by the end of the off-season, along with the unlikely circumstance that Grebeshkov is dealt instead. With Grebs in line for a raise, either Gilbert (who has the highest dollar value) will be moved or Souray (who will have to waive his NMC) will have to be moved, because it is unlikely that Visnovsky will be moved considering the whole debacle last summer about whether the Oilers can acquire guys who want to stay in the city. Of course there is the issue about moving Souray (who came to Edmonton because he was coming home to play hockey) but that is rather secondary when there are salary cap issues at hand. With the inevitability that one D-man will be moved, I think that the Oilers' salary structure would look more like this:
  1. Heatley 7.5 M
  2. Visnovsky 5.6 M
  3. Horcoff 5.5 M
  4. Souray 5.4 M *
  5. Penner 4.3 M
  6. Hemsky 4.1 M
  7. Gilbert 4.0 M **
  8. Grebs 3.0 M ***
Salary Cap = 56.7 M
8 Players = 39.4 M (without trades)
Cap Room = 17.3 M for 15 players on the active roster (and not including salary for players not on the active roster!!!)
(More info on roster types here.)

* & ** one or both will be traded
*** projected

The average NHL salary is 1.9 M according to this source. The Oilers spent around 53 M last year and 1.9 M * 23 players would be 43.7 M. If there is an average salary of 4.9 M for those 8 players listed above, in order to reach the league average for player salaries for the rest of the 23 M, the Oilers could only use up an extra 4.3 M, which is clearly not going to work out. If you divide the 17.3 M cap space by the average 1.9 M salary per player, the Oilers will not even fill the 23 player roster even by spending to the NHL salary cap ceiling (17.3/1.9 = aboout 9 players; 8 + 9 = 17 players!). So ultimately, one or more of the group of 8 will definitely be traded this summer. Either way though, acquiring Heatley could have the negative effect of limiting who the Oilers can bring up from Springfield in case of injury, especially if the Oilers intend to use more of their 50 contracts on AHL veterans to spiff up the competitiveness of their farm team (AHL vets undoubtedly command slightly more than younger AHL players; AHL average is about 55K but their full contract kicks in after being recalled - 450K minimum).
  • Consider also that Mats Sundin made 8.6 million last year and both Wade Redden and Ed Jovanovski have cap hits of 6.5 million per season. By comparison, is Heatley, or Sundin/Redden/Jovanovski more valuable at their unit price? I understand that Redden and Jovo are D-men, but seriously - are they?
  • Yeah, there's all sorts of "character issues" with Dany Heatley, apparently. Some critics have compared him to Chris Pronger with his trade request out of Ottawa. But this beef is different - this is with Cory Clouston and not with the City of Ottawa. With Pronger, he had a beef with the City of Edmonton itself. But how about Marian Hossa - who left his team after Game 7 last year to sign with the Detroit Red Wings - the team that beat him? Pittsburgh fans still hate him for that and boo him every time he touches the puck. Willis wrote a very similar piece on Alexei Yashin here. Character and the lack thereof is in the eye of the beholder.
  • Before a "team player" can identify a city for which the winning precedent or winning tradition is primary, it must be an established truth that the city can provide that type of winning atmosphere. For that to occur, players have to sign on to stay in the city at a discount of what they are worth in order to establish that precedent. Edmonton, beginning after the Oilers cup run, handed out fat contracts to Pisani and Moreau, but refused to pay Ryan Smyth 5.75 million when he was being offered 6.3 elsewhere. In hindsight, was Nilsson + O'Marra + Plante as useful as Ryan Smyth alone? Acquiring Heatley is not a counter-testament to acquiring "team players" such as Henrik Zetterberg, rather, it is the first step towards getting full dollar value by removing other contracts that were foolishly signed in the post-Pronger haste.
  • The Oilers have plenty of young talent and not all of them can possibly reach their offensive potential. If that were the case, there would be no need to ever break up the Nilsson-Gagner-Cogliano line. But we know the reality is that a lineup with smallish skill forwards such as Nilsson, Gagner, Cogliano, O'Sullivan, Potulny, Brule, Eberle, etc. will not be strong enough in all areas of the game of hockey to win championships. Thus, it is also inevitable that the Oilers will deal this excess young talent who will inevitably, among them, not all reach their offensive potential as would have been promised on their draft day. Considering Gagner is all but earmarked to be the future of the franchise, it is time to evaluate who else can and will be an effective role player on this new Oilers team post-Tambellini. Either way, the Oilers are dealing from a position of strength and they are not losing anything by acquiring Heatley (considering they don't overpay to get him). Willis tries to assess fair value for Heatley here.
All in all, I believe all the arrows point in the direction of acquiring Heatley as a major positive. Salary can and will be moved and the new Oilers dynamic will feature some of the same faces but as Steve Tambellini's speech had indicated, it will also feature a lot of new ones. Where better to start than a marquee, NHL elite talent like Heatley? He is right up there with the Kovalchuks, Ovechkins, and Hossas in terms of offensive capability - and when's the last time the Oilers had the chance to dress one of those kind of players?



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