Kevin Lowe and the Edmonton Oilers did the verboten today when they offered RFA Thomas Vanek a chance at the big money years ahead of schedule. The contract puts Vanek in exactly the same spot as the Philadelphia Philles put Von Hayes two decades before (Philly dealt a plethora of quality prospects for the “next big thing”) and Vanek may or may not cover the massive contract that is now tied to his name. For Kevin Lowe, it’s a chance to show the hometown fans he’s working hard at finding a quality option for Edmonton’s hard earned dollars.
I applaud the effort, but think it’s misplaced. First of all, Vanek has had exactly ONE elite-level season and could certainly be considered a candidate to fall back in terms of productivity next year. That’s not a putdown, it’s a fact. With the Sabres losing some premium UFA’s and likely unable to recover this season, Vanek will be exposed more and a downturn on all levels is predictable.
Secondly, the Oilers were never going to get him. Anyone who has gone as far as grade school could figure that Buffalo was going to sign Vanek despite the cost (they have the money after losing Drury and Briere), and in fact that was stated by Sabre brass in one of the truly entertaining press conferences in recent NHL history.
Later came the theory that Lowe was using this as a way of “sending a message” to teams that spending like crazy on UFA’s and signing their own RFA’s would mean several quality players would become available to teams like Edmonton (meaning clubs with cap space).
It sounds fine in theory, but Lou in NJ showed last season that there are ways to send money to teams without giving up any of your 10 best players. It’s a long shot at best imo, and although the RFA option is certainly out in the open now, I can’t imagine anyone of Vanek’s ability getting plucked from an NHL team.
Which brings us to Zach Parise. I fear he’s next up on the Oilers list; he’s not going to get a Vanek contract, there’s every chance the Oilers will end up losing their first round (and HIGH) draft pick in the very good 2008 draft.
It’s a bad bet. Kevin Lowe is going to get a player come hell or high water, and one suspects the impact will be long term and extremely painful.