I returned from a month-long early summer hibernation to find that the Oilers were up to their old tricks again - even though they jettisoned Steve Tambellini! Imagine! Some good things happened too, but that stench of questionable management is still lingering like a tuna sandwich under the couch cushions.
We'll get to Andrew Ference a little later, but first some notes on the draft:
I will reserve judgement on the Oilers' picks past the first round because nobody ever really knows what they're going to get after the better names start to get called. As for the Nurse pick, it's fine. At my other sometimes-home the Copper and Blue they've been doing a brilliant job summarizing recent events, and Derek Zona spoke to three scouts who talked glowingly about Nurse. Comparing Nurse to some other recently drafted defensemen, he seems to be a very good prospect indeed. My favorite tidbit from an unnamed NHL amateur scout:
"He's the best defenseman in the draft in 2010, equal to Larsson and very close to Murray, though not nearly as polished in his own end as Murray."
That's high praise, especially considering the fact that Adam Larsson and Ryan Murray were very much in the conversation for the first overall pick in their draft years. Oilers fans would have loved to get Nugent-Hopkins and Larsson or Yakupov and Murray, and now it seems that they have more or less got their wish.
David Clarkson - There are rumors that the Oilers offered more money than Toronto for Clarkson's services; a thing which must be considered completely insane. I would have been upset with a five year deal at $5 million for Clarkson, but if we're talking about the seven year, $6 million range then Mac T has gone off the deep end. Clarkson will be 36 at the end of his new deal, and hockey players typically start to break down well before that.
Amazingly, the contract is structured in such a way that Clarkson will be paid the most annual money - $7 million per - in the fourth and fifth years of the deal, right around the time that the Leafs will want to buy him out. Will Clarkson be a $7 million forward in Toronto at age 32? Time will tell, but I wouldn't bet on it.
The Oilers got very lucky that he turned them down, which makes things right as rain on this front.
Andrew Ference - Here we are at last. Ference is a good old Edmonton boy who has carved out a nice 13 year career and signed on in his home town for another four. It'd be a good story except for the fact that he's 34 damned years old. Once again I must echo Zona's words, in that Ference is a prime candidate for a buyout before too long.
Oh sure, he had the third-highest amount of ice time among Boston's defense this past year, and played the fourth-most in the playoffs on a Stanley Cup finalist. Unfortunately, 2012-13 is a long way from 2016-17 when you're already 34 years old and Edmonton's meager defense is a long way from that of Boston. It's much easier to look good when you've got Zdeno Chara playing almost half the game and obliterating the tough competition.
When things go sideways with Ference, as they inevitably will, there's no way the Oilers will be able to rid themselves of his $3.25 million cap hit. Nobody is likely to take it in a trade, and even if someone would the Oilers gave him a No Move Clause which allows him to kibosh a transaction.
His shot differential results were, uh, poor, despite middling 50.3% offensive zone starts, and he wasn't exactly doing the heavy lifting. Ference is better than Ryan Whitney by virtue of not being Ryan Whitney, but he's essentially a depth defenseman who isn't going to turn this thing around. Now that the Oilers have eight defenders under contract, it opens the door for them to trade a younger, better player in Nick Schultz. Do not want.
Boyd Gordon - This was a good one, especially now that the Oilers have traded Shawn Horcoff and bought out Eric Belanger. $3 million is a big raise, but that's okay. He'll be 30 in October, which isn't such a bad thing for a center who is going to be relied upon to take important draws and do pretty much all the hard work. He took 789 draws in 2013 and won 57.3% of them, and he has been consistently excellent in that regard. Faced an uphill battle - to say the least - every night in Phoenix, and yet, amazingly, he did okay.
Great addition to the Oilers, who need someone to take all those hard minutes in order to free up the likes of Nail Yakupov and the rest.
Jason LaBarbera - Exactly what the Oilers needed: a backup not named Khabibulin. I'd be perfectly comfortable with Devan Dubnyk carrying the load in 2013-14, and all this big game hunting with the likes of Corey Schneider is unnecessary expenditure of assets that could be used to shore up the team's real areas of need. LaBarbera gives the Oilers a solid backup who they can trust when resting their starter, and for the low price of just $1 million. Inexplicably, the Chicago Blackhawks gave 40 YEAR OLD Nikolai Khabibulin $2 million to be terrible, while the Oilers spent less and got better. Thumbs up.
The Rest - Meh. Joensuu, Acton, Hamilton don't belong in the NHL. Joensuu will probably play in Edmonton anyway, which is not a good sign. He was a possession black hole in his 7 games for the Islanders in 2013. Try not to go blind from horror when you click that link. I know it's a small sample size, but yeesh, big bold red flags everywhere.
Overall, a pretty mediocre performance for MacTavish so far. The "bold" moves he attempted to make (trading for Schneider, offering Clarkson a quadrillion dollars) would have been counterproductive at best and disastrous at worst. Luckily, they did not come to pass.
Gordon and LaBarbera were good signings, Ference not so much. The fact that the Oilers had to trade Shawn Horcoff thanks to his ridiculous Kevin Lowe contract makes the Gordon signing less excellent. Initial impressions on the "new" Oilers era is that it's more of the same. Please prove me wrong, Mac T.