Friday, March 28, 2008

European Vacation?

Oilers prospect Rob Schremp is interested in playing in Sweden next season or at least that's what we're to believe if you read this report that came out on Thursday.

Now, for the record, I am not one of the media guys who makes a habit of becoming buddies with players. Have I ever gone out for drinks with any? Outside of a post Pipeline Show episode last summer when Millard and I went for a couple pops with Theo Peckham, Ryan O'Marra and Oilers PR man J.J. Hebert - the answer is NO.

(OK, I did have a lunch with Mike Bishai one summer too but you get my point)

Is this some sort of high road lifestyle choice I've made to seperate myself from the people I interview in order to keep a friendly bias from invading my work? The answer to that one is also NO.

Truth be known, I'm 37 (as of midnight 5 hours ago) and the bulk of the players I interview are about 15-20 years younger than I am and so for me to be pals with any of them would simply be... a little pathetic on both sides I would think.

This does not mean that I do not have a healthy "relationship", strictly in the business sense of the word, with several players and in fact I talk regularly with a certain handful of them. Rob Schremp happens to be one of those on that short list.

Over the years Schremp has taken a lot of flak in certain sections of the media and on public forums like message boards and blogs. Some of it I think is fair, much of it I don't. Did he do or say things as a teenager that were impulsive, stupid and immature? You bet. Is he cocky and arrogant? To an extent, but not to the level that has been portrayed most of the time.

So when I heard this Sweden rumor I made a couple of phone calls, the first was to the Oilers and the second to Schremp, if only because I wanted to hear it from him and not from a second or third party source. If the report is true I wanted to hear his side of it, if it was bullshit, I wanted to hear that from him too and nip it in the bud before it becomes more fodder for those who frequently take aim at his reputation.

The gist of the Swedish story as it's been translated to me is this (courtesy of a poster at HF who took the time): Schremp and another player are apparently being "shopped" by agent Scott Norton to teams in the Swedish Elite League for the suggested retail price of $170K, I assumed that's US dollars but have since been corrected and that the article says "170k Enkrona (roughly US $28k/month)".

My call to the Oilers was to someone in senior management but was not recorded so I will not offer quotes of what was said but just summarize the important parts.

Schremp is just finishing year 2 of a his 3 year entry level deal so can he even consider going to play in Sweden? Yes he could but he would still owe the Oilers a year of service if and when he returned to North America. Does this report come as a surprise to the organization? There had been rumors to this effect but not to this extent where it would lead to a report out of Sweden. Where does Schremp stand in the organization?

For that I'll gladly quote GM Kevin Lowe from his recent appearance on The Pipeline Show.

"I'm really interested to see Robbie's season next year," Lowe began, "We really hope and feel that he needs to commit himself to the training side and that's not to suggest that he hasn't but we all agree that he's been victimized by the knee injury at the end of last season and didn't get a full summer of training."

"I think Robbie is quickly realizing what it takes to play in the NHL, he knows that he has to get stronger and a little bit quicker; stronger for puck protection and quicker for obvious reasons," Lowe added, "If he does that, he's got offensive ability that could be a huge asset for, not just us but for any team in the league."

There was more said in that interview (please listen) but in short, the Oilers still see potential and value in Schremp.

After some phone tag I spoke with Schremp and got right to the point about the Swedish story and asked him if he was aware of it.

"My agent just called and asked me about it," he said, "It's nothing we'd talked about so it was news to me."

We chatted for a little bit about how rumors like this get started but just to get to the point I asked him flat out: So from your perspective, you're not looking at going to Sweden next year?

"No, and I've never said anything like that"

And this was not something you've talked about with your agent?

"No, definitely not," he clearly stated, "Makes for some good gossip though, huh?"

Schremp suggested I contact his agent, which I will attempt to do on Friday, for his input on the matter and to get clarification on whether or not he has in fact "shopped" the player's name to teams in Sweden. This story can't be put to rest until I make that call so keep in mind the next few paragraphs are complete specualtion on my part and could be blown out of the water by this time tomorrow.

My own personal opinion on this is this: If the Sweden report is true (and I say again... IF) then it appears to me that the agent is trying to do one of two things (a) force the Oilers into some sort of agreement to get Schremp more NHL time (b) initiate a trade.

I find it hard to believe that the Oilers will be forced to do anything they don't want to do so if they feel Schremp is ready for the next step out of camp next fall, then he'll play. I can forsee a scenario where Edmonton elects to move Schremp rather than deal with the possibility of a player going to Europe, empty threat or not.

Would going to Sweden be a bad thing for Schremp or the Oilers? I actually see positives for both parties, especially if the player really isn't ready for the NHL yet. He'd get to play in a more defensively demanding league and the Oilers would not be on the hook for that contract for a year. The negative should be obvious in that Schremp wouldn't be available for the NHL at all in 2008-09 and thats's his ultimate goal.

What I found interesting in Kevin Lowe's comments is the last few words that I quoted above, let me remind you...

"... he's got offensive ability that could be a huge asset for, not just us but for any team in the league."

Any team in the league? Is it just me or does that sound like a Schremp deal is already a distinct possibility? Maybe I'm reading into it too much.

Maybe I'm not.

More after my planned discussion with Mr. Norton.


Fishy Scales said...

A slight technicality on the 170k figure: it's not US dollars, but the Swedish currency Enkrona, so the figure would be 170k Enkrona (roughly US$28k) monthly over the course of the contract (one year?). /Fishy Scales, a.k.a. the HF translator of the article

Guy Flaming said...

$28,000 US Dollars???

OK, what sort of sense does that possibly Make?

That would be a massive pay cut.

Guy Flaming said...

oh i see, it was per month. that makes more sense.

Fishy Scales said...

If the contract is over one full calendar year he makes around $340k which has to be more than twice his AHL salary.

Fishy Scales said...

OK, gotcha.

slopitch said...

Playing in Sweden seemed to work well for Hemsky. There's gotta be value in playing a whole season with confidence although that would be no different than another in the AHL. It wouldn't hurt the Oilers if he played there and would give them an extra year on the entry level contract. I say its a win win.

Guy Flaming said...

I just spoke with the agent... give me a few minutes.

Anonymous said...

Sean: Hemsky didn't play in Sweden. I think you mean Horcoff, although Hemsky certainly was also helped by playing the lockout year in the Czech Republic.