After stinking for years, will this season's Edmonton Oilers pass the 'smell test'?


kevinloweatthedraft.jpgI cannot help but be intrigued when an NHL general manager provides a look behind the curtain, whether the public perception is that he’s a wizard or a dunce. So it only seems natural that I found David Staples of the Cult of Hockey’s look at Edmonton Oilers GM-turned-team president Kevin Lowe’s “smell test” quite interesting.

Here is what Lowe said regarding the club’s team building strategy after the squad made it tantalizingly close to a Stanley Cup victory.

“I’ll say this, our decisions made prior to the new CBA in 2005-2006 season, all those decisions were made on, all the contracts we signed, were made on a completely different attitude and philosophy than the ones we made post-new CBA.”

“All the ones prior to the old CBA, the contracts had to pass the smell test. In other words: Are those contracts moveable? … And as it turned out all the contracts were moveable.

“Not that you sign a guy thinking you have to be move him, but you you have to recognize that you might be caught with a contract, and if the player is not performing you have got to move the player. If you can’t move the player, then you’re stuck holding the bag.

“Our philosophy changed with the run in ’06, and new ownership, and we were able to try to just sort of opposite of what you’re saying … (We were) trying to think long term, trying to average it out a little bit, if the guy is projecting to be a good player for a long period of time, try to cut out free agency and what have you.”

taylorhallandtambellini.jpgWhatever reasoning attached to the Oilers moves the last few years, it doesn’t take a capologist to figure out that many of the decisions were foolish. Staples points out that new GM Steve Tambellini was able to get out from under some of the Oilers’ worst lingering contracts including Lubomir Visnokvsky’s deal, but they still are guilty of being shortsighted with Nikolai Khabibulin, Sheldon Souray, Shawn Horcoff and so on.

Chances are good that Tambellini will continue to try to move some of the cap-killing contracts, but the question is: would the team’s current course of action pass the “smell test?”

Like Staples, I think – for the most part – the answer is yes. The Oilers must be careful not to rush their prospects to the NHL; while Taylor Hall almost needs to play in the league in 2010-11, Jordan Eberle and Magnus Paajarvi (-Svensson?)’s development situations should be handled carefully. Sure, it’s easier for forwards to adjust to the highest level than defensemen and goalies, but you don’t want to waste a player’s entry level years if they’re not ready yet.

If the Oilers’ roster received smell test-inspired scratch and sniff stickers, the last few years’ editions would sport a skunk-like odor. It might not be all berries and cream for Edmonton next season, but chances are that Lowe and Tambellini are just hoping it doesn’t smell rancid.

Raffl coverts PTO into one-year, $575K deal with Jets

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There’s another Raffl in the NHL.

On Tuesday, the Jets announced that Thomas Raffl — the older brother of Flyers forward Michael Raffl — has signed a one-year, one-way deal worth $575,000.

Raffl, 29, was in Winnipeg’s camp on a PTO after a lengthy career in Europe. He spent time playing in Sweden and his native Austria, most recently with powerhouse EC Red Bull Salzburg — last year, Raffl scored 53 points in 52 games for Salzburg and three in seven games for Austria while serving as team captain at the World Hockey Championships.

“We would like to recognize and express our appreciation to the EC Red Bull Salzburg organization for allowing Thomas and the Winnipeg Jets this opportunity,” Jets GM Kevin Cheveldayoff said in a statement.

With the Jets, Raffl projects to play in the bottom-six forward group, where he can utilize his 6-foot-4, 215-pound frame in a checking-slash-energy role.

For now, though, he’ll start out with the club’s AHL affiliate in Manitoba.

Flyers to start season with seven d-men; MacDonald sent to AHL

Andrew MacDonald, Matt Calvert
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Seven defensemen will comprise the Philadelphia Flyers’ opening-day roster, which the club finalized today.

Those seven are Radko Gudas, Michael Del Zotto, Luke Schenn, Nick Schultz, Brandon Manning, Mark Streit, and Evgeny Medvedev.

Not on the list? Andrew MacDonald, who has cleared waivers and been assigned to AHL Lehigh Valley. (That move allowed the Flyers to keep both Manning and youngster Scott Laughton.)

Also not on the list were prospects Shayne Gostisbehere, Robert Hagg, Sam Morin, Ivan Provorov and Travis Sanheim. The first three will start the season in the AHL. The last two have been sent back to junior.

But the opening-day roster is not where this story ends. How the Flyers’ defensive mix changes as the season progresses will be worth watching.

They’d no doubt love to move Schenn, a pending unrestricted free agent with a $3.6 million cap hit. He could also end up in the AHL, a la MacDonald.

Medvedev, the 33-year-old who came over from the KHL and put up five points in five preseason games, is another pending UFA. The club could either look to re-sign or flip him.

Might 37-year-old Streit be a chip worth cashing in at the deadline, especially if the Flyers aren’t in a playoff position on Feb. 29? He’s only got two years left on his contract.

Meanwhile, GM Ron Hextall will be watching pending restricted free agents Manning and Gudas closely. Are they part of the future?

So, lots of decisions to make in Philly as the blue line continues its much-needed transition.