The Hybrid Approach

Jonathan Willis
March 31 2013 11:35AM

Photo: Happyfamily/Wikimedia

With the Edmonton Oilers clawing their way back into the playoff picture, the management group responsible for the team faces some difficult trade deadline decisions. Should they sell veteran assets, reasoning that they’re still well less than 50/50 to make the post-season? Or should they bring players in, supporting a team that has played well of late to make a playoff push?

As the title suggests, my feeling is that a little bit of both is in order.

The math of the post-season

Always in motion is the future… it wasn’t all that long ago that St. Louis was seen as relatively safe and San Jose was the club on the bubble; now everybody’s gunning for that spot the Blues are currently slated to possess.

The odds are not in the Oilers’ favour; they’re 14-13-7 on the season and will need to go something like 9-5-0 (significantly better than their record to date) to get to 53 points. As Dallas and St. Louis both have more regulation/overtime wins than Edmonton, a tie with either is as bad as being a point behind for the Oilers. A 53-point season probably gets the Oilers in at this point, but if St. Louis goes something like 8-6-1 that gets them to 53 points and then the Oilers need 54 to get in.

Sportsclubstats.com gives the Oilers a little better than one chance in five at a post-season berth, which sounds about right just looking at the chart. They’re certainly in the mix , but the odds are not in their favour.

The kind of player to add

None of this means that the Oilers shouldn’t improve their chances by adding quality to their lineup, just that if they do so they should be realistic about what those additions mean. For a contender, swapping a second round pick for a rental player makes all kinds of sense – they want to win the cup, and there’s only a one in five chance that second round pick turns out to be a decent player. For the Oilers, the odds of that second round pick turning out are basically the same as their odds of making the post-season; it’s a different kind of math.

But while it likely doesn’t make sense for the Oilers to go hard after rental players, there is no reason they can’t add people they think will help the team in the long-term. That might be a pending unrestricted free agent they hope to sign; they can add him now for the playoff run and work on selling him on Edmonton. It might also be a player with years left on his contract –as an entirely speculative ‘for instance’ the Blue Jackets could be interested in shedding the contract of R.J. Umberger, a player who might be a nice fit for the Oilers’ needs.

The Oilers biggest needs, as I see them, are a top-four defenceman with puck skills for the left side and a top-six left wing (ideally one built for puck retrieval). Other roles – backup goaltender, depth on defence, depth at centre – will also likely need filling depending on the Oilers’ summer plans.

The kind of player to subtract

The simple answer: anybody who doesn’t fit into the plans long-term.

Is there a spot for Ryan Jones and Lennart Petrell on this team next season? Does the team suffer if it recalls Teemu Hartikainen to take the place of one of those players? Is there a team willing to take on the next year of Eric Belanger’s contract? The summer plans should inform the deadline plans – if Jones is going to go unsigned, he should be dealt, and if Petrell (or Belanger) has value to anyone he should be dealt.

Are the Oilers going to hang on to their three depth left-side defencemen – Ryan Whitney, Mark Fistric and Theo Peckham – after this season? Does it make much of a difference which of those three guys dresses on the third pairing the rest of the way? My answer to both questions is ‘no’, meaning it seems sensible to me to trade Whitney, hang on to Fistric if he’s going to be re-signed, and trade Peckham if anybody’s willing to take him.

Does Nikolai Khabibulin and his chronically injured lower body have a lock on the Oilers’ backup job next year? If not, does he have value in trade? Move him if he does.

The biggest question for the Oilers is the long-term future of Ladislav Smid. The free agent market on defence is weak this summer, and there simply isn’t a viable candidate to replace Smid, so signing him is a priority. If money is a problem, perhaps Nick Schultz and his $3.5 million cap hit could be made available – Smid’s the better player and likely isn’t going to cost a whole lot more on a four to five-year deal.

Lowetide has a nice piece up along similar lines this morning, too.

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Jonathan Willis is a freelance writer. He currently works for Oilers Nation, Sportsnet, the Edmonton Journal and Bleacher Report. He's co-written three books and worked for myriad websites, including Grantland, ESPN, The Score, and Hockey Prospectus. He was previously the founder and managing editor of Copper & Blue.
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#1 TayLordBalls
March 31 2013, 11:41AM
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another great article, Jonathan

I am glad I only have to watch and not make such decisions.

The only thing that may prevent the Oil from making the playoffs is fatigue.

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#2 eastcoastoil
March 31 2013, 11:46AM
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Morning JW, Any chance Habbi goes to toronto. The price seems fairly high for Kip or Lou?

Also, I was making this point over at LT's site, You have the 2nd LW spot open. Does MPS not have that now? More like a hybrid 2nd and third line

MPS-Gags-Hemsky

Jones/Harti/Smyth-Horc-Yak

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#3 The Soup Fascist
March 31 2013, 11:56AM
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Detroit is looking very catchable. Just hope that 3 point swing from the blown lead a couple of weeks ago does not bite the Oilers in the a$$.

Not sure how many more times STL and Detroit play this year, but if it is more than a couple, one of those teams do not make it IMO.

Edit: I checked, they only play once. Too bad.

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#4 MICHAEL
March 31 2013, 11:56AM
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Would Calgary trade Glenncross to us.Likely not. But one can wish. Jones ,Whitney out.Nick Shultz is the guy I would trade.Back to Minnesota. Or to the Rangers for their 1 st round pick. Would Toronto trade Gardiner for Shultz? Is there a deal to be made for Connoly in Tampa Bay for N Shultz and Ryan Jones. Its going to be a day come Wednesday.

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#5 Woodguy
March 31 2013, 12:06PM
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After being a corsi black hole Whitney has been one of the Oilers' best in the last two games.

Coincides with RK not playing him with J.Shultz against the better players anymore. Standard.

He's been making a good first pass and if he were to continue on this path I would say its a drop off from him to Fistric or Peckham who use the glass more than team mates.

I still trade him and every other D I don't want for next year.

Shero set the market very high at 2 2nds for a rental D (and Murray is awful too)

With Leopold going for a 2nd and conditional 4/5 I've never seen the rental D market this high.

I trade at least two of the D to take advantage of it.

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#6 Neal
March 31 2013, 12:07PM
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Jonathan, I would add one more possibility; your math to end at a projected 49 points is based upon the whole season to date. However if we take what we have and project the last 14 games based on the last 10, it results in 54 points. Maybe in. That makes it more difficult because any smart trade means you have to get value back - to upgrade. This has to make sense to the rest of the team as well as the fans. So, now what do you do about Whitney and Hemsky? There doesn't seem to be anything available out there to realistically upgrade (but who knows?), so I suspect nothing much can be done until summer. Tambellini might get crap for appearing to do nothing, but I'd rather that than doing something stupid just to do something. His dithering just might work in our favor under these circumstances.

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#7 John Chambers
March 31 2013, 12:08PM
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The strong play and win streak shouldn't deter management from making moves to support the team long term.

We have a surplus of skilled offensive forwards, and if the return is right based on the time of year, moving Hemsky for a young Dman or rugged forward with hands should still be a priority.

Think New Jersey would cash Adam Larsson in for Hemsky and the Oilers 1st seeing as it would serve them an immediate benefit while hedging their bet with a high draft pick in a deep year?

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#8 oilredemption
March 31 2013, 12:21PM
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1 word "depth"

Petrell should really be kept around for this very reason. Helps your pk and doesnt hurt on you on the 5on5 play even if he doesnt generate that much.

hall-nuge-ebs ???-gags-hemmer ---need sizen (Hartnell. Horton, etc) prv-horcoff-yak smyth-???-brown ---faceoff specialist, size, can add offense (Brodziak, Talbot, etc)

petrell, Belanger(extras)

With these additions if injuries occur one guy can step up and fill in as needed.I think the oilers are closer than most people think they really are.

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#9 FastOil
March 31 2013, 12:22PM
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Agree with Woodguy.

Another thing to consider is the cap issues many teams might face this summer. It might be an unusual one off situation.

Would it be a better idea to keep signed players to trade for players shaking loose as teams try to get under the cap?

If they unload excess players now who would they move if post season deals some up?

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#10 chris
March 31 2013, 12:22PM
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Ive been hearing rumbles of Sam Gagner being shopped by Toronto for a package including Riely. Do you think it will happen?

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#11 The Soup Fascist
March 31 2013, 12:25PM
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John Chambers wrote:

The strong play and win streak shouldn't deter management from making moves to support the team long term.

We have a surplus of skilled offensive forwards, and if the return is right based on the time of year, moving Hemsky for a young Dman or rugged forward with hands should still be a priority.

Think New Jersey would cash Adam Larsson in for Hemsky and the Oilers 1st seeing as it would serve them an immediate benefit while hedging their bet with a high draft pick in a deep year?

Totally get what you are saying - improve the team long term. But as a guy who has dished for season tickets for several years and seen exactly one year of playoffs, I am torn. I realize playoffs are a long shot but any trade that scuttles whatever small chance there is - would be poorly received.

I am sure your approach is more prudent and makes sense. Honestly, though I would like to see another playoff game before I forget how much fun they are.

On an unrelated note, pretty sad to read about Gordie Howe's condition on his 85th birthday. Saw him play live once in the WHA as a kid, obvious his best days were behind him but he was a hero of my Dad's. A brute force on the ice and a gentleman off the ice.

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#12 Chet134
March 31 2013, 12:27PM
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chris wrote:

Ive been hearing rumbles of Sam Gagner being shopped by Toronto for a package including Riely. Do you think it will happen?

Only if jake gard

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#13 Chet134
March 31 2013, 12:29PM
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Sorry adding to my last comment: only if jake Gardner is in the trade

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#14 oilredemption
March 31 2013, 12:34PM
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I think Hartnell could be had for a cheap price considering the season hes had. possible trade?

Eager Jones -------- Hartnell conditional 2nd 2013 (if the oilers make playoffs if not a 3rd)

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#15 oilredemption
March 31 2013, 12:36PM
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whoops the pick would be going to philly as part of the trade not the way it shows above.

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#16 15w40
March 31 2013, 12:51PM
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Jones, Peckham, and Khabi have to be in the block at a minimum even if its just for picks.

There are in-house replacements for them already and losing them will not really affect where you finish in the standings.

I would keep Hemsky unless it is a good hockey trade and try your luck at the draft if nothing materializes.

How many picks does the team have in the first 2 rounds of this years draft??

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#17 Thinker
March 31 2013, 12:57PM
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If we don't beat calgary three times, we don't deserve to make it.

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#18 God
March 31 2013, 12:58PM
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The seduction of a first round exit is a beautiful idea but let's remember: the Oilers are not going to win the Stanley Cup this year. There is little worth in selling any asset for a rental player as the majority of fans seem to be satisfied with an 8-11th place finish. A deal should be made with the long-term in mind.

Which assets would yield the best value right now? Hemsky, Whitney, Gagner and MPS.

In my opinion, Gags and Mags could fit in nicely with the model management is trying to create. I'd love to see Gags hit a bit more though and improve in the face-off circle before committing to him as the Oil's second line centre for the long haul.

Mags already looks great. I'd just hope they feed him some small animals, preferably a Tasmanian devil to get him to light guys up on the forecheck once in a while. In fact, the entire team could get a whole lot more mean. Bieksa should never have been able to touch Hall twice. Got a feeling Brown took a good fist against Columbus.

P.S. Is Mark Messier around? Someone should look into it because I have a feeling they literally fed him to Taylor Hall before last night's game. Kid looks like a moose.

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#19 John Chambers
March 31 2013, 01:31PM
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@The Soup Fascist

Indeed. I don't want to mortgage our chances at the playoffs either because god knows its the reason they p,ay the games and reason we watch.

The fanbase has been very committed to the pains seeing a young team grow, and with games like last night's I feel satisfied that we're on the right trajectory and will taste the playoffs no later than next season.

This is why it's crucial, as Woodguy points out, that we clear the remaining dead wood because soon, very soon, we're really going to have something to cheer for. And thus, I'm inclined to make moves to challenge for Stanley from 2014 until 2020 onward, instead of a pre-mature reach for 9th place.

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#20 John Chambers
March 31 2013, 01:32PM
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@God

Looks like we agree, but from what I understand you shave your back.

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#21 Dog Train
March 31 2013, 01:45PM
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There are so few actual hockey trades at the deadline. With the standings so tight right now, it's hard to see many opportunities to improve our team going into next year at the deadline. I think we will make a move or two, but that they will likely be minor. If there is interest in Khabby, move him. If there is interest in any of Jones, Petrell or Belanger then move them. Keep Hemsky until the off-season. Re-sign Smid yesterday.

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#22 God
March 31 2013, 01:48PM
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@John Chambers

I still can't believe that Mr. Chambers is an Oiler fan, let alone a hockey fan. He must be supplying free hardware to the Oil to upgrade our top line's brain-software to NHL 2013 (they were stuck in AHL mode for a while). I think he stopped there because it looks like Smitty is still using the old NHLPA '96 gameboy version.

Also, is that really the way you'll speak to someone who's cleaned up your vomit after a night of Grand Marnier?

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#23 Oilfred
March 31 2013, 01:50PM
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This one in five stuff goes out the window in a draft this deep.

Also the data is useless anyways with the evolution of scouting and the completely different way teams are built.

Data from 20 years ago . . . I though better of you Jonathan.

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#24 Alsker
March 31 2013, 02:34PM
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Wonder if Landers callup means Smittys going or Belanger + another winger so there is room for 94 back on the wing? But if so than we're not dealing for a centre

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#25 oil99
March 31 2013, 03:48PM
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If oilers are trading Hemsky it should be legtimate hockey player more likely a D-man .... Roman Josi or Yandle

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#26 Chet134
March 31 2013, 05:07PM
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I think they should try to make a trade for the future. Bring in experience at the defense position. Try to trade for Brian Campbell from Florida.

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#27 Curcro
March 31 2013, 05:32PM
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@JW

I have just looked at a different set of numbers http://www.coppernblue.com/2013/3/31/4166730/what-is-a-draft-pick-worth, from 1987 - 1997 which have allowed most players to finish their NHL careers and have a more accurate assessment of the numbers.

A Second Round pick is 1 in 4 to be a 400 Game+ Player.

However, a Second Round pick is 45% to play at least 1 season in the NHL.

And 36% likely, so a little better than 1 in 3 to play between 160 games and 400 games in the NHL. So 2+ seasons.

So I would suggest you are undervaluing the draft pick (although in general I think there is a tendency to overvalue draft picks, particularly 3rd Round on).

Although I do agree that if you can get a top-six Forward or top-4 Defense, or possibly a top-nine or backup goalie that will stay for at least 2 seasons is worth a 2nd Round Pick.

If you can get any of that for a 3rd I think you are winning.

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#28 Rod from Viking
March 31 2013, 05:46PM
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@The Soup Fascist

I was at an Oiler,Hartford came as well and I will never forget it, Gordie Howe was the same age then as I am now. Dave Langevin ran Mr.Hockey and Marty Howe beat the living shi# out of him.

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#29 The Soup Fascist
April 01 2013, 12:22AM
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Rod from Viking wrote:

I was at an Oiler,Hartford came as well and I will never forget it, Gordie Howe was the same age then as I am now. Dave Langevin ran Mr.Hockey and Marty Howe beat the living shi# out of him.

Mark Howe also learned the craft. He was as sneaky dirty as anyone in his era. Very few forwards made forays down his side of the ice. Pops taught them well.

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