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The Hockey News

The Hockey News

The hockey establishment was given a good stiff figurative kick in the groin last summer when the Edmonton Oilers signed restricted free agents Thomas Vanek and Dustin Penner to expensive offer sheets.

Many teams rushed to lock up pending RFAs this season because they worried the Oilers or some other adventurous team was going to attempt to scoop up the best RFAs this summer. That’s not likely to happen for a couple of reasons.

First, the stronger teams are, for the most part, too close to the salary cap to be offering the likes of RFAs Corey Perry, Mike Green or Jay Bouwmeester $5 to $6 million per season. We might see one of them go, but not the entire top three.

Second, the weaker teams realize it’s largely folly to hand out that kind of money and the three or four first round draft picks as compensation it’s going to take to pry away an RFA. Sure, Edmonton did it last year, but they’re mavericks.

With John Tavares and Victor Hedman looking like franchise players at the head of the 2009 draft class, no struggling team in its right mind would be willing to give up that asset and three additional first-rounders in subsequent years.

So were the Oilers fools for signing Vanek and Penner to RFA offer sheets last summer? Well, the case could certainly be made the Sabres were fools for not letting Vanek walk and accepting the four first-rounders in return.

I understand the reasons the Sabres explained for matching the Vanek contract – making the statement to the rest of the league not to shop on Buffalo property, keeping the team’s top player, staying above the salary floor, etc. – and I applaud them for that. But some GMs would have been tempted by the juicy compensation return.

And in reality, Vanek is probably closer to the 64-point player he was this season than the 84-point player he was the year before. So is that really worth more than $7 million annually?

Had the Sabres taken the compensation, they would have had both the 12th (Edmonton) and 13th (their own) picks in this year’s draft. That’s Tyler Myers, whom they got, and Colten Teubert. Maybe that would’ve set up the Buffalo defense for the next decade. And there’s three more first-rounders on the way.

Granted, no team likes to constantly rebuild like the Sabres would have had to in losing Vanek, but plenty of early picks is what got Pittsburgh going and has a team such as Chicago moving in the right direction.

The Ducks weren’t happy about losing Penner, but GM Brian Burke figured the $21.25 million over five years wasn’t in line with what second-line players should receive. So Anaheim got a first, second and third rounder in return.

Anaheim drafted Jake Gardiner in a strong year in which it wasn’t supposed to have a first round pick (compensation to Edmonton in the Chris Pronger deal). And there’s a second and third round pick as well.

In Edmonton, Penner scored 23 goals and 47 points, which is probably the range we’d expect from a second-liner. Was that worth the $4.25 million the Oilers give him annually? Perhaps, but not when you have to give up a first, second and third round pick as well.

That’s why I think it would be shocking to see more than one or two teams ‘pull an Oiler’ this summer.

Brian Costello is The Hockey News’s senior special editions editor and a regular contributor to You can read his Top 10 list on Wednesdays and his blog each weekend.

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