Saturday, July 26, 2008

The Defenseman Formerly Known As Garbagekov

Well this is my first attempt at writing a blog, as you may have surmised by the lack of an archive, or by the fact that while you were doing what I was doing in mid July, reading Oiler blogs, you never once came across something I’ve written. I thoroughly enjoy reading the articles I come across on this site so I thought I would make one of my own to tackle any issues I haven’t seen being discussed by other bloggers, or to throw in my two cents on whatever is current and hip. Let me know what you think in the comments section.

One of my favorite Oilers, and likely an Oiler who is considered in a much different light by most after the second half of the 07-08 season, is Denis Grebeshkov. I think he's a young defenseman just coming into his own who could blossom in the next year and solidify a top four spot with the Oilers. I also think he is a defenseman who the Oilers will have to be very careful not to lose after the upcoming season for a number of different reasons. The ones that come to mind right now are listed below:

Offer sheet

No GM will have any qualms about extending an offer sheet to an Oilers RFA given the team's recent history with regards to Vanek and Penner. The Oilers currently have about 3.8 million in cap space (including the bonus cushion, given that we are talking about a contract for next year where the bonus cushion should presumably be in play again) according to Roloson comes off the books, which should clear up roughly 2.7 million in cap space, and so does Erik Cole at 4 million.
If the Oilers attempt to sign Mathieu Garon to an extension it is likely they will do so before the end of this season. If re-signed he will command a considerable raise on his 1.1 million cap hit. My best guess based on last season's performance would put him in the 4M+ range, even if he takes a hometown discount. Other notable players who will be restricted free agents include Kyle Brodziak and Laddie Smid. Brodziak will certainly command a raise on his 0.5M cap hit, and it remains to be seen how far along Smid is at the end of this year so I won’t speculate on what kind of contract would be fair value for him at the end of this season. The likelihood of an offer sheet to Grebeshkov being successful at the end of next season seemingly (at this point, barring any other moves by the club) hinges on whether or not Erik Cole is in the long term future of the Oilers. If he is, then the Oilers will in all likelihood attempt to sign him well before July 1. This would leave the Oilers with very little cap space to sign Grebeshkov to a long term deal.


With the high profile signings of Jagr and Radulov by Russian teams this summer there is no doubt that the KHL is attempting to make a splash by luring away NHL players with big dollar offers. This is fairly standard operating procedure for a rival league which is attempting to compete with an established league (similar to what the WHA did by signing Bobby Hull), and the KHL certainly has keeping up the appearance of competing with the NHL for the best hockey players in the world as a goal. A young Russian defenseman coming off a promising season and establishing a name for himself in the NHL would be a prime target of KHL teams. The fact that he is Russian makes it more likely that he could be swayed to leave the NHL for the KHL, especially considering the fact that Grebeshkov is currently the only Russian player on the Oilers roster. If he has a big year, or even a year similar to the second half of last year the Oilers may not be able to match any offer extended to the young defenseman by a KHL team. For this reason the Oilers may have to look at Grebeshkov in a similar way that they would look at a defenseman who becomes an UFA at the end of the year and look to sign him well before July 1st.
The KHL may have played a part in Grebeshkov only wanting a one year deal rather than a two or three year deal. Given that his performance in the second half of the season was so much better than his performance in the first half there is certainly evidence that he is a player who could be a very solid NHLer for many years. However since he has only performed at this level for half a season the Oilers were certainly not going to offer him a long term deal based on that performance. Signing a one year deal was the safe move for the Oilers because they already have a number of long term contracts on the books, and with the younger Oilers coming into their own the team will need some flexibility to sign these players in two years. On the flipside signing a one year deal with the KHL looming gives the Grebeshkov camp considerable leverage when negotiating the next contract.

Poor performance

If Grebeshkov does not continue to improve, or at least perform as he did at the end of last season then he will certainly not be negotiating a long term deal with the Oilers. If this is the case then the team may well turn to other young defensemen such as Smid, Theo Peckham or Taylor Chorney as players in the long term future of the Oilers. If these players continue to develop, roster spots will need to be made available to them and Grebeshkov may be the resulting casualty. I don’t consider this to be a likely outcome as I personally think very highly of Grebeshkov as a defenseman and don’t anticipate him falling back to the level of performance we saw in the first half of the season.


Given the number of long term contracts the Oilers have on the back end and the amount of dollars tied up in these deals, combined with the lack of cap space and contract status of young Oilers two summers from now, a decision on whether or not Grebeshkov is an Oiler for any length of time will probably have to be made this season. His future is probably also tied to the futures of Garon and Cole, as well as to how moveable Sheldon Souray’s contract proves to be. And even then the threat of him taking his services to Russia casts considerable uncertainty on his long term future with the team. Unfortunately, the future of Denis Grebeshkov as an Oiler does not look promising at this moment in time, regardless of how his play develops in the upcoming season.

Well thanks for reading guys (or girls? Are there girls in the Oilersphere?) I encourage you to let me know what you think about my blog and genuinely want to know what other opinions exist on the subjects I write about.


Bruce said...

Hi Matt, let me be the first to congratulate you on the new blog. Nice first piece on an intriguing young Oiler.

I assume you are not the Matt who writes for Battle of Alberta. Given that he's been around the 'sphere a while longer, you might want to add a last initial or something so people don't confuse you, esp. when you might comment on other blogs from time to time.

I would prefer Grebeshkov had signed for at least a second year, but oh well. I'm not sure if the KHL is a threat -- some players simply want to play in the best league in the world, and the KHL ain't it -- but the possibilities of an RFA offer sheet are a little troublesome. That said, at least there's compensation involved there, and if Grebs has a big year that compensation will become more significant.

Whatever happens down the road, Denis will be a fun player to watch in 2008-09.

Jeremy said...

Good blog, you mention a lot of things I have been concerned with for a bit now.

At some point soon something is gonna have to give, seriously. With the amount of money we have tied up in the back end, for long term, no less, and the number of almost NHL ready defensemen bubbling under the surface, we are going to be facing a problem soon.

Oh, yeah, ditto that on the forwards. When are Schremp, Brule or Potulny going to get a shot? How long before they demand a trade?

We all know that to win a championship, you need bargain contracts in order to be able to overspend in other areas, well that means that some of our long term contracts have to go.

I love Souray and Penner, and nobody was more excited than I was when we traded for Vish, but one of them has to go. Then pomote a young guy to pick up the slack.

raventalon40 said...

It would be better to deal Grebs now before he departs for another NHL or worse yet, another KHL team.