What to do About Poti

“Nothing really new” was Tom Poti’s answer when he was asked if there had been any progress in negotiations between his agent, Jay Fee, and Oiler GM Kevin Lowe. Eventually this situation will rectify itself one way or the other, and quite possibly sooner rather than later.Poti is coming off a somewhat disappointing season after having two very impressive ones. All the attention has fallen to Eric Brewer now, but it was not so long ago that the same kind of praise was being applied to Poti. He has wonderful skating ability, he’s a strong passer and plays well on the power play. His fault’s lie in his defensive decision making and his lack of physical play. Tom has great potential that he displays often but not consistantly enough. His career is at the crossroads. He’ll either fulfill all the expectations and go on to be a premier offensive defenceman, like Leetch and Housley,… or not.

The first scenario, and reportedly more likely, is that the two sides reach an agreement that returns Poti to the fold here in Edmonton. It was reported in the Edmonton Sun earlier in the week that the fiancial gap is down to low 6 digits. If that means $100 – $200, 000 then a deal shouldn’t be far off. The new buzz words around the team are “offence by commitee”, based on the team’s need to get goals from all four lines to be successful. Poti’s offensive play would benefit many teams, including the Oilers so keeping him would make sense.

The other scenario is that Edmonton will opt to trade Poti in order to better other areas of the team. Training camp showed the Oilers that they have good depth on the blueline. You could replace the #5, 6, and 7 defencemen with one of 3 or 4 guys currently playing in Hamilton without much of a drop off. As everyone knows, Edmonton does not yet have a bonafide #1 center. That position above all others, is the one the Oilers would want to address the most. Edmonton is also deep in wingers having cut two or three players who have NHL level ability. A package deal could be made that would help bring in a true #1 center.

There are centers in the league who are being shopped around, but there are others who may be pried away should an irresistable offer be made.

A name like Adam Oates has come up before but this would make little sense, and here’s why. Kevin Lowe is looking at building a team, not just filling holes. Getting a 39 year old player for one or two seasons is not how the Oilers operate. History has shown that Edmonton prefers to have good young talent that is years away from UFAgency thus ensuring that they keep that player for a long time. (Roman Hamrlik was dealt for Josh Green and Eric Brewer. Boris Mironov was traded for Ethan Moreau, Chad Kilger and Dan Cleary). All those players coming to the Oilers had potential, but hadn’t really shown it yet. With that in mind, forget about older players like Adam Oates, Joe Nieuwendyk or Rod Brind’Amour coming to Edmonton.

Salaries are another major factor in who Edmonton would show interest in. When Doug Weight was traded, Kevin Lowe stated “we might have offered as much as 6 Million but it became clear that that wasn’t going to be enough. This team just simply cannot afford to pay anyone 6 Million dollars.” Then how did Lowe ever reasonably expect to be able to make an offer to Lindros? That was a deal packed with incentives based on team performance. If Edmonton had gotten to the second or third round, they would have had the revenue to be able to pay Lindros. Anyone who comes to Edmonton and expects more than a $4 or $5 million contract will have to have a deal built that way. But if you were say, Jason Allison, why would you bother doing that? If you can possibly make 7 or 8 Million in Edmonton (if all your bonuses work out) or 7 or 8 Million guaranteed with some rich US team, what would you do? That said, do not expect a high salary player like Allison, Nedved or Robert Lang to be targeted seriously.

Espen Knutsen is a playmaking centerman for the Columbus Blue Jackets who makes it through the first two prerequisits. He’s not too old (29) and his salary is reasonable ($870, 000). However, two things worry me about Knutsen. Firstly, he’s only 2 years away from UFA and secondly, he’s a european with very little history in the NHL. The chances of him opting to return to Europe to play is greater than it is with other europeans who have been in the league longer, like Nick Lidstrom for example. So other european players in similar situations would be undesirable too.

In short, only players who are: 1) young, probably no older than 27. 2) have lower contracts, less than 4 Million. and 3) are stable and are not apt to bolt for Europe should be considered as trade targets.

And that’s only considering what the Oilers want on their part of the deal. First they would have to find a team who wants what the Oilers have to offer, and also have a high quality center to spare. For example, Florida and Toronto both have horribly bad defence and would benefit greatly by getting Poti. But at the same time, neither have a centerman that would fit Edmonton’s ctriteria.

OK, so by now you want to know who the heck I might be thinking of. I actually have narrowed it down to 4 players, all of whom I don’t think are actually available at this time. But like I said, if the deal was too good to pass up…

Candidate #1: Tim Connolly of the Buffalo Sabres. He’s only 20 but is likely ready to be the #1 guy in Buffalo. He totalled 41 points for the Islanders last year, but should be a 20 goal scorer this season. He’s not big, but at 6′ 186 lbs., he’s not tiny either. Connolly has good playmaking ability and is a good skater, he would fit well into Edmonton’s line up. Connolly’s salary for this season is $1.2 Million.

Buffalo though, may not be very eager to move the main man they just received for Mike Peca. They also have Barnes, Gratton and Brown as their other centers, certainly not a bad group, but to trade Connolly without trying him out really doesn’t seem likely. Three of Buffalo’s top seven blueliners are UFA age (Smehlik 31, Wooley 32, Patrick 37) so the Sabres might have some interest in Poti, again if the deal was good enough. I don’t believe a “one-for-one” could be had it this case. Perhaps Poti, Sean Brown and Rem Murray for Tim Connolly would be close to acceptable. Rem Murray is a versatile forward who can play on any of the four lines. Sean Brown adds depth.

Candidate #2 is Daymond Langkow of the Phoenix Coyotes. The 25 year old will make just under $2 Million this year after scoring 54 points for the Flyers last season. Like Connolly in size, Daymond is also a quality playmaking pivot. This is Langkow’s 6th season in the NHL and the Edmonton born player is slated to be the Coyote’s #1 guy.

Tom Poti would fit well into Phoenix’s rebuilding program. A one for one may be possible, or a draft pick might have to be thrown Phoenix’s way to balance the deal. With Teppo Numminen and Danny Markov on the team however, the desert dogs may not be needing another offensive rearguard. What they do need more is depth up front, something Edmonton could supply. Perhaps a larger deal could be fashioned out. Poti, Grier and Dom Pittis for Langkow and Markov (throw in the balancing draft picks)?

Candidate #3 – Vincent Lecavalier of the Tampa Bay Lightning. Currently holding out for a better contract, the budding star is coming off a disappointing season that only saw him score 51 points. He was a dreadful -26 and suffered a broken foot in February that led to missing 14 games. The Hockey News reported that Lecavalier’s camp was asking for $6.2 Million in a two year deal. That fits the Oiler’s budget easily, especially when you deduct the salaries of the players traded for Vincent. Lecavalier is still just 21 years old so he will be around for a long time yet.

Tampa Bay has one of the worst defences in the league and would love to aquire someone of Tom Poti’s status. He would likely be Tampa’s #1 blueliner, ahead of Pavel Kubina. It would take the Oilers to offer a lot, but they could possibly have the right mix of players to make this trade happen. Poti, Brown, Rem Murray, Mike Grier, Pittis and whatever draft picks necessary to get Lecavalier would be worth it. Considering that Tampa would only be moving someone who isn’t on the roster for them today, it would be a positive move for them too. This would bolster the Lightning’s depth significantly while not depleting Edmonton too much.

Candidate #4 – Nashville’s David Legwand. 21 years old, 6’1″ 185 lbs., and lots of potential. Legwand will earn $975, 000 this season.

Heading into his 3rd season though, Nashville is still hoping to see justification for drafting David with their 1st ever draft pick in ’98. The Predators might be convinced to ship him north if they get good enough return for him. The Oilers would hope that Legwand would develope and perform better on an offensive minded team.

Poti and Rem Murray would certainly fit the bill for Nashville, who really only have Kimmo Timmonen to provide points from the blueline. A bigger trade could develope to include Tomas Vokoun if Edmonton would part with another player.

It’s fun to consider the possibilities, especially the thought of obtaining Vincent Lecavalier, but one must still be realistic. It is far more likely that The Oilers will have Tom Poti on their power play within the month, rather than one of these four at center. I do believe though that the four names I mentioned are realistic as they all pass the criteria required to be a candidate. Like all other Oiler fans, I would love to have Jason Allison, but that just doesn’t seem reallistic at all.



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