Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Bad Moves, Revisited

In the spirit of some of the Brian Leetch chatter, it may be wise to revisit some of the more regrettable Kevin Lowe off-season acquisitions, signings and reclamation projects that either flopped, underwhelmed or underperformed:

Jiri Dopita: has it really only been a few years since our offence was so thin that we slotted this guy in as our second line centre? He came from Philly for a third rounder, along with a hefty $2 million pay cheque and a bum knee. He lasted 21 games, mustering only one goal and about .28 points per game, ending up a healthy scratch on some nights, fighting Brian Swanson(!) for ice time. Humiliated, Dopita stopped talking to the press; a move which didn't exactly endear him to the dozen or so fans that didn't already hate him. To his credit, Dopita negotiated a buyout option for the Oilers at about 50 per cent of his salary. Apparently, he's still kicking ass in the Czech league. Good for him, bad for us.

Jani Rita: A panty's fringe player of the laciest, frilliest kind, both in on-ice play and in his off-and-on role as a highly touted bit player for much of the 2000s. Inexplicably, Kevin Lowe thought that 2006 would be somehow different than 2001, or 2002, or 2003, and awarded Rita with a one-way contract, which in effect makes it hard for a player to be sent to the minors and basically means "you've made the team." Of course, Rita never really did make the team and ended up floating in and out of the lineup, at the expense of more useful prospects. I have vague recollections of a couple goals and one bodycheck until he was rightly traded to the Penguins, where even with ice time alongside Sidney Crosby he only managed a handful of goals in 30 games.

Adam Oates: Not an off-season move, but made with similar desperation. That jizzwad Mike Comrie held out well into December for what would ultimately be chump change: his agent Ritch Winter (him again!) was shooting for $4 million and but settled with the Flyers for $1.5 million, just to make everything a pointless distraction for half of the season (and people wonder why we lustily boo Mike Comrie everytime he touches the puck?). As a replacement of sorts, Kevin Lowe signed Adam Oates right off of the golf course and out of retirement, only to find out that the poor dude, already a mediocre skater, was far too slow to offer up any point production (60 GP 2 G 18 A) acceptable for a second line centre. Eventually we got Petr Nedved, but it was too little too late for the an Oilers team short on offence, perhaps best epitomized best by the fact that Radek Dvorak was our second best scorer. The year 2003-04 will go down as the year Mike Comrie pretty much ruined, bringing Adam Oates down with it.

Mark Messier: Well almost. But Lowe pretty much sent out an open invite for Messier to join the team, so I think it counts. Hard to believe it was a year ago, really. Oilers management didn't figure out what most fans already knew: living under the shadow of the 1980s glory years sucks for Oilers teams trying to win in the present -- just look at the Oilers' win/loss records for retirement games, Heritage Classics and other overlong ceremonies tied-in to the distant past. Part of the beauty of last year's playoff run was that we could finally shut up about all of that fuzzy memory stuff. Besides being slow and likely overpaid, Messier probably would have jinxed us with his very presence, anyway.

Mike Peca: I know some people reading this may scream "What's Mike Peca doing on this list?" and throw a coffee mug into a wall, but I still contend that Peca, while opportunistic in the playoffs, was one Vancouver win away from being a total $4 million bust in Edmonton. Of course, memories are short when you score a couple of beautiful breakaway playoff goals, so I'll go easy on him. But I still wonder what kind of player Kevin Lowe thought he was getting from the Islanders, especially since I thought it was obvious to everyone that Mike Peca's 60 point days are over.

For the record, and to Lowe's credit, Glen Sather will always go down as the worst for junkyard reclamation projects, especially those of ex-Oilers: Petr Klima, Bill Ranford and Marty McSorley were all terrible ideas.


Andy Grabia said...

You forgot Glenn Anderson, who Sather brought back in 95.

Pleasure Motors said...

This settles it: let's bring back Janne Niinimaa.

Anonymous said...

Dopita's existing superstar status kept him from being motivated to make the changes in his game necessary to succeed here. It was far easier to go back home and resume the good life. The backdoor buyout was probably pre-arranged before picking him up from the Flyers.

Rita got his one-way in 2006 because he EARNED it. He sucked it up and played over here in the minors and stayed with it. He did EXACTLY what the Oilers asked him to. Uunfortunately for both parties, without success. The one way contract forces management to trade you to another organization if it does not work (basically sh** or get off the pot). This kind of contractual stuff has real value for team chemistry. A neccessary expense for the development of future players. Abandoning Rita has terrible long-term effects for the organization. Contrast how Comrie was treated. The message is: see what happens when you do what we want?

Oates and Peca have bettered the franchise by helping develop Horcoff and Stoll in the FO circle. Consider part of their high salaries a development cost (coaching).

Messier could easily have filled Harvey's role while providing the link with the glory years in the room and at the same time allowed Lowe to demonstrate that the Oilers will give their guys options to play as long as they're capable. All the same, I agree with you that the best thing happened, Messier declined and all of this good organization stuff was accomplished by just making the offer.

This is how you get Horcoff to dive face-first in front of a shot, or Reasoner to do 85% of what Peca does for 40% of the money. Note how deep in the playoffs it was before Samsonov would block a shot. The Bruins (Flyers and Blackhawks too) do not have this kind of loyalty. This is why guys will have career years in Edmonton and explains why Lowe was willing to give Dopita another shot.

I find your analysis here short-sighted and draconian. Management gets the employees that they deserve. What kind of employees would you have if you were GM?

Steve said...

Anonymous, you're wrong. Obviously. Especially on Rita - I mean, if the Oilers asked me to, I'd toil away in the minors for a few years, but that doesn't mean I'd have earned a one-way contract, because I am a terrible hockey player. Maybe even worse than Rita.

I'm also extremely curious as to what evidence you have that Oates and Peca did anything to help Stoll and Horcoff in the circle, beyond the obligatory platitudes from the latter two about how great it is to have veteran faceoff ass-kickers around.

You're both wrong about Messier, though: he was the GREATEST HOCKEY PLAYER EVER and we would clearly have won the Cup with him. Please note that I'm probably kidding, but not nearly probably enough.

Also, I don't think it's fair to call Bill Ranford's second go-round a failure - as I recall, he was a completely passable backup. Also, Sather's re-acquisition of Lowe, which you didn't mention, worked out pretty well, even after he was felled by that mighty inner ear infection.

Chris! said...

Ahh, anonymous contrarianism: the hockey blog's lifeblood. But it's true; I can't remember the last dinner party I've been to in which the evening didn't end in someone calling Mike short-sighted and draconian and bursting into tears.

Anyhow, anon, I agree that Oates and Peca have had residual impacts on team development, but this was only happenstance and not the reason that Lowe was signing such players in the first place. Oates was supposed to produce, but was obviously too old and slow. Peca was supposed to produce, but spent too much of the year wrinkling his nose at his new locale and not enough buying into the team game (he did, finally, in the playoffs, and look at the difference it made).

Basically, Oates and Peca were questionable short-term moves that may have had good incidental impacts over the long term, but ultimately failed to produce the results they were intended to produce for rather obvious reasons. In short, they were eventually proven to be poor moves. I don't see how this is debatable.

As well, anon, I find your assessment of the Rita situation to be absurd. It should have been clear to everyone last year that Rita was not going to become a regular Oiler, especially considering the crop of younger, better talent coming up behind him. Rita failed to "earn" a regular spot on the OIlers because of his lack of talent, and to suggest he earned a one-way contract by trying really hard and doing everything he was supposed to do to grab an NHL starting job is just plain stupid.

Tons of prospects have come over from Europe to try really hard to make their team, but bust and spend the duration of their careers in the AHL or back in Europe. Of course, it is the big club's obligation to give their prospects the opportunity to prove themselves, and they did that — but Rita had failed to stick in every NHL stint he was offered. Mike is right: a one-way contract is akin to saying "you've made the team," and at no point had Rita ever given Lowe a reason to think that he had.

Considering his trade value was more or less the same with our without such a contract, this was just an unnecessarily risky commitment that proved to be folly. It's fair to call this a suspect decision.

Eyeris said...

This settles it: let's bring back Janne Niinimaa.

Well, the Bounce could always use another popular Oiler to dj their show with LeGG gone.

Doogie said...

Bah. LeGG can remotely host it from the desert. It works for Alice Cooper, doesn't it?

Me, I have to ask what brought this on? Doubts about the failure to sign one more "top four" defenceman? Or simply a response to the Leetch rumour?

Anonymous said...

Go back and read what Lowe said about signing Rita to the one-way when it happened. I am not pulling this out of my a$$. Rita's agent pushed for it.

steve - Measuring what happened with Rita by what you would do is quite irrelevant. He has different options available to him than you do. A pro career in Finland like Niinimaki for example.
Can you provide evidence that Oates and Peca did not help with Stoll and Horcoff? The evidence about the face-off benefit is in the results - it is because the coaching staff chose to focus on this skill and drill while the tutors were present. You have an interesting point about Mess in the playoffs, but he lost a bunch of credibilty when he told the Rangers one year in the playoffs not to worry about Lindros. He would handle Eric - and did not. Sorry, I forget what year, but Eric was still a Flyer - maybe 1997. Hypothetically, Mess's role in last year's run would have been quite minor due to his position on the depth chart.

Chris - yes, Oates and Peca did not produce the results where they are paid to, but my point is that all the value in the move should be looked at. Thank you for arguing my side about the "tons of prospects" - the value to the organization is in treating prospects differently than other organizations. Pisani is a perfect example of this working out positively. Not many guys want it enough to keep after it as long as Rita did. Lowe has said in the past that if a guy works hard and shows commitment, Lowe will work the phones to find him a job. Lowe REALLY rewards loyalty - and punishes disloyalty. Notice how much he learned from Comrie when he handled the Pronger situation. The one-way commits management to use a prospect or trade him because he has to clear waivers to be sent down and could be lost for nothing in return. I am explaining the moves relative to how I see Lowe making decisions. He obviously felt that Rita deserved a chance to work out with the big club. You guys can question it all you want, but it seems to me that he had a good reason to pay Rita league minimum to sit in the press box most of the time. With the young guys and all of the picks coming up, how they are treated is important as well as who gets the ice time.

If you listen to Lowe's comments (ALL of them) his philosophies become quite clear. And I see them as quite different than the direction of this thread.

Just because you agree with each other, does not make you correct. Chris, attacking my position vigorously does not make you correct either. I would suggest avoiding using the word 'stupid' in any context unless you want to start a flame war. It tends to make (other) people see red and lose their minds.

Its relatively easy to say things were handled wrong without saying what should have been done.

Personally, I think that the moves you list here each affected one line on the team for at most a single season. Personally, I think the largest mistake Lowe has made is how he handled the Comrie situation, fighting in the press and allowing it to fester and poison the whole team. The greatest mistake made by the Oiler franchise was made when Sather honoured Messier's wish to go to the Rangers and only got Nicholls, DeBrusk and Rice in exchange. This ranks up there with Roy leaving the Hab's. Both teams floundered for most of a decade after these moves. Let's hope that Lowe does not ever make this kind of gaffe.

Steve said...

Hey, look at me, I'm getting into a flamewar on account of being a very poor judge of when to continue arguments.


Rita's agent pushed for [the one way contract.

That's very odd. If I was an agent for a likely career minor-leaguer, there's no way I would want his NHL employer agreeing to pay him an NHL salary even if he was in the minor leagues.

Measuring what happened with Rita by what you would do is quite irrelevant. He has different options available to him than you do. A pro career in Finland like Niinimaki for example.

In using me as an example, I was refuting your assertion that he had "earned" his one way contract by doing what the Oilers asked of him. If you now wish to transfer your argument from that to "because he could legitimately make a living playing hockey in Finland, the Oilers needed to sign him to a one way contract", please let me know and I will refute that one instead.

Can you provide evidence that Oates and Peca did not help with Stoll and Horcoff?

Ha! Brilliant comeback! I hereby proclaim myself to be learned good.

No, of course I have no such evidence. But if Person A makes some sort of claim without supporting evidence, and Person B disagrees with it, the onus is on Person A to provide said evidence. In this case (for the sake of clarification), you're Person A.

The evidence about the face-off benefit is in the results - it is because the coaching staff chose to focus on this skill and drill while the tutors were present.

That's evidence that Horcoff and Stoll improved substantially in the faceoff circle - there's no implication of causality there at all. It could be just that, having taken a whole bunch more NHL faceoffs on account of their increased icetime, they've naturally improved. Or it could be that Craig MacTavish, being Craig MacTavish, is really good at coaching faceoffs. Or Oates and Peca could have had something to do with it. We just don't know, and it's silly for you to claim that you do.

Besides that, you seem to be arguing that they were worth bringing in for the coaching they did. What's the going rate for NHL coaching staff?

You have an interesting point about Mess in the playoffs,

Er, no, I really don't. Unless "I HEART MESSIER FOR NO PARTICULAR REASON" is an interesting point, in which case I do. And there's plenty more where that came from.

Big T said...

Man, I sure hope that all bloggers who put in the effort to build these sites and make these posts have some way of limiting (or better yet, stopping all together) people from leaving anonymous posts. I have no problem with the disagreement (right or wrong) just that someone is unwilling to sign their own name to the comment.

Chris! and MikeW - if you can, please, stop the insanity!!!!


Big T said...

And one other thing... why are all bloggers who obsess about the oil from T.O. (other than LT) What gives??? It doesn't matter, in fact I salute your efforts, it's just strange??


Simon said...

I would take Petr Klima's name off Sather's list of bad moves for one, simple reason:1990 Stanely Cup finals, Game One, Triple OT, Klima off the right side....goddamn, I loved that game.

Steve said...

I suspect Mike was referring to the Oilers brief re-acquisition of Klima in the mid-nineties. But yeah, I dimly remember that moment and not fully appreciating just how magnificent it was until years later. What a shithead I was...

Doogie said...

Yeah, I agree about anon posting. How hard is it to click "other" and type a name? Or, for that matter, put a name at the end of your post? Give us a way to separate you from the 800 million retards* on the Internet.

* - actual count as of September 15, 2002, 8:15 pm GMT

Pleasure Motors said...

I think Mike was referring to the ill-advised Klima reclamation project in the late '90s (97? 98? I don't recall). He was a valuable scorer in the early '90s, I suppose: he was a bad helmet and a good memory in 1997.

Pleasure Motors said...

I also think I need to refresh my comments page more often.

Prus said...

This has nothing to do with the bad moves, but actually with the posts further down.

Mike and Chris just wondering if you guys want back in the hockey pool for this year. Drop me a note with an email address if you do want in.

mudcrutch79 said...

And one other thing... why are all bloggers who obsess about the oil from T.O. (other than LT) What gives??? It doesn't matter, in fact I salute your efforts, it's just strange??

All of Canada's best end up in Toronto. Except hockey players.

Sean said...

I actually think Anonymous has a point, or at least he's put enough thought into his points to be given a little more respect, Steve.

EthosOfPalmOS said...

I have to say I agree with sean. It seems there were more ad hominem attacks that focused on the fact that anonymous is choosing to go by 'anonymous' as opposed to an actual name like, say, PleasureMotors. His writing has a clear voice and it'd be tough -- I would imagine -- for a troll to imitate the writing style and depth of hockey knowledge.

Of course, with that being said, some Googling reveals no article backing up anon's (look, he's already got a nickname) assertions about the reasons for Rita's one-way contract. Haven't looked at the rest, but if only a few or even none can be given attributions, his ideas about the organization and management team having such a powerful influence on a player choosing to sign here are quite interesting, and a factor not typically presented by the mainstream media.

Achtungbaby said...

I hate to say this since I lived in the city and am an Oilers fan, but maybe it 'is' hard to get athletes into Edmonton. When they are young it's fine. But when they are commodities, they seem to hit the door before it hits them in the ass.

Maybe that's why there are so many glory day reintroductions and reclaimation projects on the go in Edmonton most years. Either that or their crappy draft record after the 80's.

Perhaps the best tatic, and one that worked for them in the glory days, is youth and offense. Maybe attracting seasoned vets who can still produce will hinge on the depth of talent in the system.

There are always consequences and reprecussions for such actions.

Yikes, I apologize for this and acknowledge that I'm drunk. Poke all the holes in this 'comment' and ridicule me all you want guys/gals.

I deserve it for sounding so negative.

I was the guy who thought that Mike Peca and Chris Pronger at those prices were a bad idea(who knew how far that would go at that time?). I thought the Forsberg and Niedermayer could have been had for around the same price(roughly).

So what do I know? I never honestly believed that York and Brewer would have got us to the Mount Zion, just that Lowe had a huge pair hanging between the knee caps.

Steve said...

I actually think Anonymous has a point, or at least he's put enough thought into his points to be given a little more respect, Steve.

Hey, I'm of the viewpoint that taking the time to address arguments is the surest way of demonstrating respect. Mind you, my threshold on the respect-o-meter for doing so is also absurdly low.

In any event, once you remove the snarky, self-satisfied language from my comments (and, if I may take a Neil Young quote out of context, "it's my sound, man"), I think my refutations of anon's points stand.

(Also note that I haven't attacked him for being anonymous, which I agree doesn't make much sense in the blogosphere, just for not making much sense.)

In conclusion, Goilers.

Doogie said...

Similarly, my objection is that precisely because he's at least made a coherent argument, it's frustrating not to be able to separate him from cell-phone-plan guy at Lowetide.

Anyway, on topic, at least we have no way of attempting another glory-days resurrection. I think Martin Gelinas is the only Cup-winning Oiler still playing.

Sean said...

Goilers indeed!

MikeP said...

anonymous, it's dangerous to take what an NHL GM says in public and assume that's what they really mean - it is after all, as NHL execs and players both constantly feel the need to remind us, a business. Of course Lowe isn't going to say "we signed this guy to a one-way even though we're not certain he'll ever pan out." The shareholders would shoot him for being honest, just like they did Arnott.

big t - some of us don't quite make it to Toronto!

Steve said...

In other news, is it just me or should Kevin Lowe have been willing to outbid the Thrashers for Vichnevski? A minor leaguer, a second, and a conditional seems like a low price. Of course, I don't really know anything about this Karl Stewart guy - maybe he's Atlanta's version of Mikhnov, in which case I guess it's not such a hot deal.

Comments from people who know things?

Chris! said...

Aw, man, that just sucks. Vishnevski would have been a great fit. I do think that Lowe could have outbid this offer, but maybe came down to someone he wasn't willing to part with (although considering that HF has Stewart projected to be a mere speedy fourth-line energy guy, it's doubtful we were that married to a player of that calibre in our organization). Cogliano?

Most likely, when it came down to it, I think that Burke just didn't want to make a deal with the Oilers. I'm sure we were first on the horn for this guy, but the Ducks wanted to move him out of the West if possible.

Anyhow, boo. I was still holding a faint hope.

Anonymous said...

Internet Hockey Database says Stewart was born in 83, never drafted, 5'11", 185#. Two cups of coffee in the NHL - 13 games combined. Best 2 AHL seasons here:

2003-04 Chicago Wolves AHL 72 10 32 42 186 10 2 3 5 29
2005-06 Chicago Wolves AHL 71 22 18 40 184

Alana said...

After the Pronger deal, Burke said that he wouldn't rush to deal with Lowe again because he drives a hard bargain. He may have been talking out of his ass, but with Vish-dog (TM Sleek) falling through, there could be something to it.

Steve said...

That sounds like professional courtesy to me. What's the implication about anybody Burke *does* deal with, then? Is Waddell a pushover?

Alana said...

Yeah, I thought professional courtesy too. Vishnevski just seems like such a good match with the Oil that I think I'm looking for excuses why we didn't get him.

joninabox said...

Has anyone else noticed that Dopita in that picture convincingly looks like he belongs in the Village People?

Diddly said...

I think Vishnevski is a bit overrated by fans. He's the guy that doesn't do much in a game besides occasionally level some dude(Mostly Hemsky). Besides hitting, he doesn't really have much else to his game that stands out.

The Oilers will be much better off going after a guy who is a slick puck mover on the backend. Between Smith, Staios, Greene, and Bergeron nobody on the current roster really fits that bill.

Hejda, Smid or Tjarnqvist may be that guy, but if they aren't then Lowe will be better off waiting for someone who fits the type to come availible.

Botar said...

Bad moves to avoid:
-Signing Leetch, Dvorak or anyone else before training camp.

This has already been mentioned, but the oilers have no minor league affiliates. dumping would-be oilers on pittsburgh's minor-league team is a bad developmental move. i'm not even sure if i like the syjora move, actually. if ever there was a year when youngsters should be pushed into the lineup, this is it.

macndub said...

Mudcrutch, Canada's best end up in New York. TO is the farm team, but thinks it's not. Sorry.

Bad decisions? I find this less important than that it seems that Lowe is improving. Pronger was an awesome signing for a year, and at well below market, although Lowe couldn't predict the inexplicable rise in market value of a top d-man. This year, he went with forwards, who might be undervalued considering the drunken-sailor-like spending on d-men.

And forget not Roloson, who was such an exciting signing that I came out of the Oilers' closet in a blistering email taunting my officemates--Flames fans all. I cried when Lowe signed Roli, in a good way. (I wouldn't have resigned him, though. Too old).