It wasn’t that long ago that the Edmonton Oilers had to give Ben Eager three-years to come to town. That same summer, the club had to give Eric Belanger an additional three-years and over $5 million to become an Oiler. Cam Barker, recently bought out, somehow got almost $2.5 million to come to Alberta’s capital that same afternoon.
Notice a trend here? The Oilers either overpaid in term or money for role players that, quite frankly, weren’t close to worth it. Baker ended up gone after one season, Belanger was a compliance buyout two years later while Eager saw the waiver wire multiple times.
All of those signings occurred on July 1st, 2011, one of the busiest days in recent memory for the Edmonton Oilers. I was guilty of buying into the fact that players who could help the club win wanted to be in Edmonton. In the end, it was just another case of overpaying for players that were, at best, replacement level NHL’ers.
Something interesting happened on Friday that reminded me of that afternoon in 2011. Jussi Jokinen signed with the Oilers for one-year at just $1.1 million. That, for all intents and purposes, is a strong value contract for the Edmonton Oilers.
Even though Jokinen struggled last season in Florida, he is a prime bounce-back candidate. Jokinen battled knee injuries and was on a team that battled injury overall all season long. Few players had strong seasons for the Panthers and it impacted all of their values. Prior to last season, however, Jokinen was an extremely valuable player for the Panthers and before that the Penguins, Hurricanes, Lightning and Stars.
While Jokinen should help the Oilers in a support role this season, his signing signifies something else, something more important. The Edmonton Oilers are now a destination for useful veteran players.
Jokinen spoke to the Oilers website after signing and I highly recommend reading the whole piece. You can access it here. The following is, in my mind, the money quote regarding why Jokinen picked Edmonton.
“I think with how the Oilers played last season, it opened a lot of eyes across the League. They had a great year and I’m really honored to be a part of the Oilers now. I feel the team is going in the right direction and I think in the next few years, every year now the Oilers have a really good chance to compete for a Stanley Cup so that’s my goal to try to help the Oilers win a Stanley Cup.”
We saw Mark Letestu and Andrej Sekera come to Edmonton on July 1st of 2015, but they still commanded solid salaries and term on their deals. Neither player was willing to take a value deal with the club like Jokinen did. Now, I know Sekera is a little different because he was sought after, but one could argue the club overpaid for Letestu at the time.
Jokinen is just a year removed from a 60 point season and could have went anywhere to try and bounce-back. The fact he chose Edmonton is very significant.
Last season, Radim Vrbata did the same thing in August, heading back to Arizona after a tough year in Vancouver. The result? 55 points and a multi-year contract with Florida just eight days ago.
In years past, you would see players like Jokinen take one-year deals at low money with teams like Pittsburgh, Detroit, Boston, Tampa Bay, San Jose, LA, Anaheim and Chicago. For the early part of this decade, those teams were seen as the top dogs and the ones with the best chance at a Stanley Cup.
While Jokinen is just one player, it’s still the first value contract signed by the Oilers after the first wave of free agency in a long, long time. Like I said when Connor McDavid signed his contract last week, these types of deals will be key to Edmonton’s success. It’s good to see Peter Chiarelli get right on that and add one right away.
Cap hell is going to be a place where the Oilers reside for the next nine seasons. With McDavid’s new deal kicking in next July and Leon Draisaitl’s new deal likely to be signed in the coming weeks, room to wheel and deal will disappear rather quickly.
Just like in Pittsburgh and Chicago, the Oilers will have to find valuable players on cheap contracts to help fill out the roster. Jussi Jokinen is exactly that kind of player for this club, and it is a big damned deal. Edmonton has failed, year after year, to find guys like this willing to come to town on this kind of contract.
To sign that type of player now, while the window to win the Stanley Cup is opening, represents a change in the weather for this club. Another signing or two like this, preferably another forward and a right-shot defender, would really signify change in how the Oilers approach free agency.