What many hoped would be the biggest Oiler win of the year ended up being a rout for the Calgary Flames.
Happily for Oiler fans everywhere, the Anaheim Ducks and Chicago Blackhawks also won, which means that the Flames are eliminated from playoff contention anyway. Even if the two teams I mentioned before both lost their final two games of the season, which is unlikely, they would both end up with 95 points. Calgary can get a maximum of 95, but Chicago will have a minimum of 43 wins and Anaheim a minimum of 45. Calgary can only get a maximum of 42 wins, meaning that they can't overtake either team.
Meanwhile, the Oilers' loss means that they can now only end the year with a maximum of 65 points, and they will therefore be unable to catch the 29th-place Colorado Avalanche, who have 66. What we already knew intellectually is now mathematically confirmed: the Oilers will finish 30th and have a 48.2% chance of picking first overall in June. The lottery will go April 12th at 6 pm Mountain Time on TSN, less than a week from today. Oiler fans will be glued to their TVs on that evening, to be sure.
Would you rather be a fan of Edmonton or Calgary right now?
Calgary's pick will be in the 13-14 overall range, in all likelihood netting them a middling prospect. Already in Calgary's system, Tim Erixon is a legitimate defensive prospect, but he's also probably a number of years away from being able to be at his best in the NHL. Even then, his top end seems to be as a second-pairing defenseman. The Hockey News Future Watch ranked Calgary's prospect group as 27th of the 30 NHL teams. There are no bonafide impact players coming up through their system.
Calgary is a cap team right now. Of the 11 highest-spending teams, only Calgary and New Jersey are out of the playoffs, and Calgary has one of the highest payrolls in the league. If the cap doesn't go up, the Flames will have around $4 million in cap space next year if they let all their UFAs walk, but they aren't going to want to do that considering the stellar play of UFAs Alex Tanguay and Curtis Glencross. It's highly unlikely that they will be able to squeeze both players under the cap, since they each already make $1.7 and $1.2 million respectively and will need substantial raises. It will also be difficult to fit Anton Babchuk under the cap, who is already making $1.4 million. Will they want to re-sign Brendan Morrison, who made just $725k this year? If so, he will need a raise.
They can save money by letting Steve Staois walk away, and the same goes for Freddy Modin, but there isn't a lot of wiggle-room otherwise. Unfortunately, the Flames also own nine No-Trade or No-Move Clauses, making the job of trading contracts out of town extremely difficult. $41 million dollars in cap space is protected by such clauses.
What this essentially means is that it's highly probable that next year the Flames will look a lot like the team did this year. This team isn't currently good enough to be a playoff team, and they may lose some of their better players to free agency in Glencross and Tanguay. The team accomplished nothing this year except to get another year older, and time is not on Calgary's side.
Up highway 2, the Oilers have around $20 million in cap space for next year. Their prospects were ranked #1 by The Hockey News Future Watch, and they will be adding another elite prospect this summer. The Oilers are guaranteed to have the first pick in each subsequent round of the draft this year, and just like last year they will have the opportunity to add some quality secondary prospects that way. After this draft the pipeline will be overflowing with quality youth.
The 2011-2012 Oilers will have a number of high quality players on the roster. Each of them are young, at the beginning of their careers, and relatively inexpensive. In terms of overall flexibility, the Oilers have just 2 No Move/No Trade Clauses. One belongs to Horcoff, who isn't getting traded anyway, and the other belongs to Ryan Whitney, who also will not move.
A rebuild in Calgary is coming, so now would have been the time to start. Instead, the rebuild is set back by a full year and the pain is going to last that much longer. It's a pain that Oiler fans are very familiar with, but one that will soon be coming to an end - for the Copper & Blue at least