Entering Hope

One of the things we’re going to have to agree on moving forward is that the Edmonton Oilers need to elevate their best prospects at the exact moment they’re ready. No sooner, no later. The blogosphere is alive with solving the problem these days, and it makes for some interesting reading. I believe (please correct me if I’m wrong) the whole thing started with noted lawyer/blogger Tyler Dellow’s two-piece item here and here. The general idea from Mr. Dellow was summed up with his usual clarity in article #1: “neither Taylor Hall nor Magnus Pajaarvi should make the Oilers this year. It’s a simple enough proposition: you only get three years with these guys on entry level contracts and you might as well use them when the player in question is a stronger player.” Although I disagree with Tyler’s thoughts, I can say that his side of the argument is well-argued as always and anyone who plans to disagree should pack a lunch because it is going to take all day.

Jason Gregor mentioned it in his article at ON, responding to Dellow’s point that the Red Wings of the world never force teenagers into the NHL. Gregor: “of course the Wings haven’t rushed any players, because none of them were ready to play in the NHL at 18. A perennial top-five hockey team is blessed with lots of talent and then can bring along players slowly. Bottom feeder teams don’t have that luxury.”

Benjamin Massey wrote about it as well over at the Copper and Blue. Massey is a fine writer and a smart guy, and I believe he frames the issue quite well: “the primary reason I feel Hall and Pääjärvi should remain in the NHL for the coming season is that I believe it’ll help them improve as hockey players.”

Late this afternoon, Robin Brownlee chimed in and among other things had this to say: “after four straight seasons out of the playoffs, telling Hall and Paajarvi to wait a year as part of the big picture might be a tough sell for the majority of fans. They just want something to cheer about, and who can blame them?”

So, with all of this information available, how does one figure it all out? By asking questions and trying to find reasonable answers.

  1. What is your feeling on this issue? I’ve always believed (and Earl Weaver taught me) that when a young player is ready to compete at a certain level the best thing to do is elevate him to that level immediately. Don’t put him in a position to fail, but rather take the things he does well and place him in ideal circumstances at the higher level. I think the monetary argument is a secondary consideration (honestly) and that player development should be the only real concern. If Taylor Hall is ready to score 20 goals in the NHL at his age, I believe he’ll be a better player one year from now because he was able to handle the extreme challenges at speed. It is a major step, and if he can do it at this age we may be staring at a Steven Stamkos. That’s what I believe.
  2. Dellow’s right. though. Send Hall back to junior and the Swede to Oklahoma. Save that extra year of the entry level deal for a day when the team can be more comptetitive. With the understanding that the main thrust of my perspective is above, I think there are other secondary considerations (which is where I place Tyler’s argument). What about season ticket holders who have bought in to the concept that the team will be young, good and getting better. How on earth do you respond to someone who has 4 season tickets for the Oilers when two of the reasons he renewed are in Ontario and Oklahoma? Also, if Taylor Hall and MPS have done everything asked and can show enough at the NHL level during the 9-game audition (once a rookie plays that 10th game the season counts in the eyes of the CBA) what kind of message are you sending to the youth in the organization? You’re saying “even if you’re ready, we’re planning to contend for the Stanley Cup in the years 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016 and 2017. Your development timeline doesn’t mesh with our compete timeline.” I don’t think that’s a reasonable premise. There are too many variables. If the kids can play this season, let them play. Not fail. Play. There are other ways to get to the required cap number.
  3. The Edmonton Oilers management need only worry about winning the Stanley. If Hall burns a season of his entry level deal in 10-11, his contract will be up before he’s really helping the team win hockey games. You KNOW this to be true. Well, actually I don’t know it to be true, and more than that I don’t know that Hall benefits from playing at a level he can clearly dominate. Guy Lafleur scored 103 goals in the Q at 18, 130 at 19 (Q again) but had a hard time adjusting to the NHL after being drafted at age 20. Would Lafleur have been better off if they draft age had been earlier? We’ll never know, but we can say that Taylor Hall’s immediate predecessor’s had success making the jump and have gone on to become impressive young NHL talents. That would seem to me to be a strong argument that the prevailing template (play the #1 overall pick) has some wisdom to it.
  4. So, you are saying that the Oilers should only send Hall and MPS back if they can’t compete? Absolutely. If Hall gets to game number 9 and has 0-0-0 for boxcars then they need to send the young man back to junior. Same with MPS. The Oilers shouldn’t give millions to teenagers who aren’t good enough to play, but these two appear to be the real deal.
  5. What if Hall is 4-4-8 but -5 after game 9? Keep him. The learning curve is enormous, but if he’s scoring goals at this age then the Oilers should work on the things he needs to improve while helping him gain confidence at the highest level in the world.
  6. If they do send him down there’s a problem. Hall didn’t attend to WJ summer camp. He won’t be able to play at the WJ’s. So? That isn’t any concern of the Oilers, their concern is with regard to making Taylor Hall the best possible player he can be when they start ripping off W’s. I think you can absolutely make the argument that Hall will be a better player at 21 if he can successfully negotiate the rapids of NHL play at his current age. I think that’s a really solid argument.
  7. How much money are we talking about here? Well, I guess the comp for the discussion for Hall is Patrick Kane. He would represent the worst (or best) case scenario for Hall. Kane’s entry level deal (with bonus) gave him a max of $3,725,000 per season, and he cashed in with a 5-year deal at $6.5M a year. That’s the nightmare scenario, the difference between $3.725M and $6.5M, plus of course he reaches UFA status earlier. It’s the better part of $3M we’re talking about, or at least that’s how I see it.
  8. But the club has to worry about the cap five years down the line. One thing we can count on when it comes to the NHL: everything is a moving target. I don’t think anyone can reasonably predict what the next cba will look like, and I certainly wouldn’t risk an important relationship like the one the team has with their best prospects.
  9. What’s the bottom line? If these kids are ready, play them. And pray to Baby Jesus you have to pay $6.5M a year because the team has been so successful. This team is just entering Hope, the organization should devote itself to elevating the best prospects the moment they prove NHL ready.

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