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Edmonton Oilers: A Case of Good Steve, Bad Steve so Far in Free Agency

LOS ANGELES, CA - JUNE 25:  Edmonton Oilers' General Manager Steve Tambellini speaks during the 2010 NHL Entry Draft at Staples Center on June 25, 2010 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
Bruce Bennett/Getty Images
Karl ParkinsonContributor IIJuly 4, 2011

Heading into the offseason, the Oilers had a shopping list that included the following:

  • A tough minutes, all situations winger
  • A veteran third-line center who can win faceoffs and play on the PK
  • A top-four defenceman (or two)
  • Toughness
  • A veteran goalie to back up Devan Dubnyk

There were certainly a lot of holes on the roster, but what else do you expect from a last place team?

It is now July 4. The Entry Draft has come and gone, and the Free Agent market has been open for 72 hours. So what from the list can we put a check mark beside? How has Steve Tambellini fared thus far?

The first item on the list was taken care of at the draft when Tambellini dealt for Ryan Smyth. Smyth is versatile enough that he can play on the first, second or third line. He can play on the PK and on the PP. It helped that Smyth forced Dean Lombardi's hand, but Tambellini got the deal done and dumped an unwanted contract in the process. A great trade from an Oilers perspective.

On July 1 Steve Tambellini did the following:

Oilers sign F Ben Eager to a 3 year $3.3 Million dollar contract. 

"To my mind, one of the most important things to do as the general manager of a hockey team is know your coach, and for better or for worse, Tom Renney loves guys that can fight. He loves them so much that when an old-school guy like Pat Quinn threw Steve MacIntyre on waivers, Tom Renney brought him back."

VANCOUVER, CANADA - MAY 18:  Ben Eager #55 of the San Jose Sharks goes to the penalty box after an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty for standing over goaltender Roberto Luongo #1 of the Vancouver Canucks (not in photo) and taunting him in the third period
Harry How/Getty Images

That's Scott Reynolds of The Copper & Blue in his post on the Ben Eager signing, and I agree with him. Renney has consistently employed a tough guy in his lineups and Eager certainly qualifies as one.

He's best known for his antics in Game 2 against the Vancouver Canucks this spring, but what some forget is that when Eager played in Chicago he was a very effective player for them. He hit people, crashed the net and scored timely goals.

Eager scored 7 goals and 17 points in 68 games last season (including this beauty) so he's not entirely devoid of skill. He's also hated in Vancouver, which is a positive in my mind.

I'm not crazy about the term. Three years seems a little long for what Eager brings to the table, but if things do go sour with Eager it shouldn't be super difficult to dump him on waivers or for a draft pick at the deadline.

My only issue is that between Eager, Ryan Jones and whoever centers them, the Oilers are going to have one of the most expensive fourth lines in the league. Jones has a cap hit of $1.5 million and Eager $1.1 million, so that's already $2.6 Million tied up in a pair of fourth-line wingers. Add in a center and the price tag is going to go beyond $3 million.

Last year the Tampa Bay Lightning paid $2.29 million for their fourth line. The San Jose Sharks paid $2.3 for theirs.

SUNRISE, FL - MARCH 31: Francis Lessard #49 of the Ottawa Senators and Darcy Hordichuk #16 of the Florida Panthers fight during the first period on March 31, 2011 at the BankAtlantic Center in Sunrise, Florida. (Photo by Joel Auerbach/Getty Images)
Joel Auerbach/Getty Images

I don't think tying up $3 million-plus is the most efficient way the Oilers should be spending their money under the salary cap.

Oilers sign F Darcy Hordichuk to a one year $800,000 contract.

Steve Tambellini the bad. This signing stinks.

I'm not a huge fan of tough guys. I don't think they act as a deterrent and don't provide value for their contracts. Ben Eager I can live with because he can actually play a regular shift and score the occasional goal.

Darcy Hordichuk is not a good hockey player. His "skill" is fighting and I'm not even sure how good at that he actually is.

By adding Eager earlier in the day the Oilers added plenty of toughness and Hordichuk is a waste of a contract in my opinion.

Oilers sign D Cam Barker to a one year $2.25 million contract.

I've got mixed feelings about this one.

On the one hand I don't mind taking a one-year flyer on a reclamation project. Barker was the third-overall pick in 2004 and is only two seasons removed from a 40-point year. 29 of his 40 points came on the Power Play that season, and lord knows the Oilers need PP help.

CHICAGO, IL - FEBRUARY 16: Cam Barker #25 of the Minnesota Wild looks to pass against the Chicago Blackhawks at the United Center on February 16, 2011 in Chicago, Illinois. The Blackhawks defeated the Wild 3-1. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

Again, my issue with this signing is money. $2.25 million is an awfully large gamble to take on a guy with a back injury and coming off a subpar season. I think he could have been had for cheaper and if there was a bidding war for his services, once it got up to the $2 million mark Tambo should have pulled out.

If Barker has a bounce-back season then this is a genius move because he'll be a RFA after this year rather than an UFA. It's a low-risk, potentially high-reward play.

Oilers trade D Kurtis Foster to Ducks for D Andy Sutton.

In my Free Agency preview article I said that Foster should be used as trade bait, but this wasn't exactly the return I had in mind.

Foster is 29 and gets paid $1.8 million next year. Sutton is 36 and is owed $2.12 million. It all comes down to value. Which of these two is a safer bet to provide full value for their cap hit?

The 2010-11 season that Foster had was an aberration. Over the previous four seasons he had averaged .454 PPG. Last year he scored at a .297 PPG pace. I'm predicting a bounce-back season for Foster in Anaheim this year.

Andy Sutton is big. So there's always that.

Oilers sign F Eric Belanger to a three year $5.25 million contract.

GLENDALE, AZ - APRIL 18:  Eric Belanger #20 of the Phoenix Coyotes skates with the puck in Game Three of the Western Conference Quarterfinals against the Detroit Red Wings during the 2011 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Jobing.com Arena on April 18, 2011 in G
Christian Petersen/Getty Images

At long last the nightmare is over. The Edmonton Oilers finally have a center who can win faceoffs.

Eric Belanger won 55.3 percent of his faceoffs last year. He can be relied on to take defensive zone faceoffs late in games and will greatly help out the PK.

I would have preferred a two-year deal because Belanger is 33 and there may be a drop off in play between the second and third years, but with a cap hit of only $1.75 million, that third year shouldn't be too difficult to swallow.

An outstanding signing. Easily Steve Tambellini's best move as GM.

Going back to the list at the beginning, what can be checked off and what more needs to be done?

  • A tough minutes, all situations winger.
  • A veteran third line center who can win faceoffs and play on the PK.
  • A top four defenceman (or two).
  • Toughness.
  • A veteran goalie to back up Dubnyk.

Three out of five is a good start, but Tambellini has a lot of work ahead of him.

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