Camp news and notes (cont.)
If there's a match made in media heaven, it's Sheldon Souray, the former All-Star defenseman and power play specialist, going to the Islanders for nothing more than half the salary remaining on his Edmonton contract.
That's no small contract, though, given that the Oilers are on the hook for some $9 million, and the matter is complicated in that they didn't even invite Souray to training camp in the aftermath of some very public criticism he leveled at team management during the offseason. (Souray was told that he would be a distraction for the younger players on the team.)
Like a lot of small market, financially challenged teams, the Oilers can't really afford to bury Souray in the AHL and eat the money the way the New York Rangers just did with defenseman Wade Redden. Every team, including the Islanders, realizes Edmonton's fiscal dilemma. The Oilers put Souray on waivers during the offseason, but didn't draw a nibble, and with good reason. Teams knew that Edmonton would have to put him through again to get him to Oklahoma City, and after saying they wouldn't, that's what the Oilers have now done.
It's not likely that he'll be claimed, but the buzz is that the Isles and maybe a few other teams might be interested in him if the Oilers recall him on re-entry waivers. If they do, another team can put in a claim and only have to pay 50 percent of his salary over the two remaining years.
Having finished 26th in a 30-team league last season (the Oilers were 30th), the Isles would have a good shot at the waiver claim, but so would three other teams -- including one with money: the Toronto Maple Leafs, who finished 29th. Still, the Leafs are already overstocked with defensemen and might pass. That would leave Columbus or Florida, who have pecking order rights over the Isles. In the past, the Panthers would likely pass, but with a new GM in Dale Tallon, that's no longer a given. Columbus has been in contact with Edmonton.
So the Islanders have to take a calculated risk. They could use Souray to replace Streit, but do they make a straight-up deal at perhaps more money than the player may be worth? Or do they wait and see if the Oilers opt to go the re-entry waiver route and then hope the other three teams pass?
Souray is a valuable commodity. He can still play, but the Oilers are only assigning his rights to their AHL affiliate. They aren't actually making him go. Souray is currently skating in Los Angeles. The longer he's out of game action, the more the Oilers may have to recall him to the NHL just to showcase that his game is still in order.
For now, it's a waiting game and timing likely will dictate when someone has to blink.
We've touched on this topic before, but the Redden demotion and the Souray "stay home" situation bring up the issue of what is "cap maintenance" as Commissioner Gary Bettman likes to call it and what is cap manipulation, something Bettman detests. Redden, 33, has no one to blame but himself (and time) for the kind of deterioration in his game that left him unable to compete for a roster spot with the Rangers, but New York has no one to blame but GM Glen Sather for the foolish long-term contract (six years, $39 million) that still has four years to run and a flashing "avoid at all costs" sign for the 29 other GMs.
GMs chafe at the fact that the Rangers can bury Redden and his cap hit of some $6 million in Hartford while the Oilers need to take a different fiscal tack with Souray. Redden can't be happy, either. The NHL Players Association is particularly peeved and likely to make this type of move a major negotiating point come the next CBA. The Rangers likely won't buy out Redden because that would create a cap hit they would have to shoulder for the remaining four years. Other teams would like to see them have to do that, but the Rangers can just eat the contract and avoid the hit by putting the player in the minors.
Is that fair? No, but then it's not about fairness. It's about what the rules allow, and when the rules were being written, Edmonton officials were in the forefront of saying the lockout was necessary to "level the financial playing field" and make certain that big market teams with big market revenues wouldn't be allowed to bury their financial mistakes, but live with them.
That's not happening for the Oilers now, and they and a lot of other small and mid-market GMs aren't happy that the Rangers get a financial pass under the guise of cap "maintenance."
Now that Ilya Kovalchuk is a member of the New Jersey Devils (for an amount of treasure and bodies that defies comprehension), one can't help but wonder how the price got so high.
Quality reporting out of Los Angeles indicates that the Kings never strayed far from an offer of $80 million, and it's hard to imagine that a rumored interest by the Islanders topped $100 million. It's even harder to imagine that Kovalchuk, at this point in his career, would consent to playing for the Atlantic Division's version of the team he left earlier this year: the Atlanta Thrashers.
This leads one to conclude that either the Devils feared Kovalchuk would indeed take an over from the KHL in Russia, which may have provided him with both money and an out to return to the NHL at a time of his choosing, or owner Jeff Vanderbeek was so smitten with Kovalchuk and the possibility that he could help the Devils make an impact in the New York/New Jersey marketplace that he pursued the sniper to the point that both money, push-back by the league, and bodies off his roster wouldn't alter his desire.
Vanderbeek made his feelings clear to Newark Star Ledger hockey writer Rich Chere immediately after the Devils were eliminated from the playoffs for the third year in a row.
"A couple of things bother me," he said of that loss to Philadelphia. "Losing in the first round. Losing at home. Losing the final game without scoring a goal. And on top of that, losing in the first round for the third year in a row. I felt our fan base had embraced this team. I don't believe in coincidences. You have to ask yourself the hard questions."
As a result, the Devils have a new coach, seem to be going in a new direction, and, though they have horribly overpaid for Kovalchuk, are getting a superlative talent who, if properly focused, can make a very good club better and allow it to be a force in a division that includes powerhouse teams and all-world players. Big deals for the likes of Atlantic rivals Alex Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby haven't hurt the Washington Capitals or Pittsburgh Penguins, and if the Devils advance beyond those two teams in the playoffs next spring, it's fair to say that Vanderbeek's decisions were worth the overall cost.
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