I said the other day unrestricted free agent Manny Malhotra was the best option for the Edmonton Oilers in terms of a third-line centre who can win face-offs and kill penalties. I was wrong.
While Malhotra might be the best player who fits that description, he might not be the best option for the contract-heavy Oilers, and there’s a couple of reasons for that.
First and foremost, it looks like Malhotra, who made $1.5 million with the Columbus Blue Jackets last season, one in which he scored 11-17-28 and won 58 per cent of his face-offs, is expecting something north of $2 million a season on the open market. He’ll get it. That’s too pricey for the Oilers.
Second, with Malhotra being a UFA, GM Steve Tambellini has to take on a contract without giving one up. That’s not the way to go. The trade route is. The problem, of course, is finding a trade partner that has what you want and needs what you have.
I thought about that for awhile, did some checking and came up with a name who makes sense — those looking for a big splash or marquee dash can stop reading now. Nothing to see here.
That name is David Steckel.
HE FITS THE BILL
Who? I know. If you’re thinking, Brownlee fell down the stairs and hit his big, fat head again, I get it. But hear me out or at least humour me, like you do with senile uncle Al when he asks who the hell you are for the third time at Thanksgiving dinner.
Steckel, for the vast majority of you who don’t have his name on the tip of your tongue, is a six-foot-five, 222-pound pivot who just finished his fourth season with the Washington Capitals. While his boxcar numbers are less than inspiring, 8-11-19 in 76 games, he fits the bill on several levels.
— Steckel, 27, is a demon on the dot. He finished the 2008-09 regular season among NHL leaders at 57.9 per cent. In 14 playoff games, he upped that to 58.4 per cent.
That’s no flash in the pan, either. In 2007-08, he was 56.3. In 2006-07, he was 65.1, although that was in a span of just five games.
— Steckel kills penalties and his face-off record shorthanded this past season was 153-130.
— He’s cheap. Steckel has one year remaining on a contract that will pay him $725,000 in 2009-10. Given that the Oilers already have about $51.3 million committed to salaries next season, price point, about one-third of what a player like Malhotra wants, matters.
— Lastly, and most important, it looks to me like the Oilers and Caps each have something the other team wants on needs. The Oilers need a face-off man and the Caps could use some toughness at the bottom of the roster after losing Donald Brashear. I’m thinking J.F. Jacques could be their man.
A DEAL TO BE DONE?
Jacques, 24, is young enough and tough enough, despite back problems that stalled his career before he returned this season, to be of interest to the Capitals with Brashear gone.
Jacques has one more year left on a contract that will pay him $550,000 next season. While the Caps might want a prospect or pick thrown in to swing the deal, Tambellini wouldn’t lose any sleep if he could move two contracts for one. He also has some depth in toughness and a logjam on the fourth line with Zack Stortini and Steve MacIntyre in the fold.
Those who’ve read this far can see this wouldn’t be a big splash or a sexy deal, but it might be the right deal to address a glaring shortcoming, and the Oilers could use one of those right about now.
I will text the Steckel suggestion to Tambellini and await word back. As always, when I know what his response is, you’ll know.
— Listen to Robin Brownlee every Thursday from 4 to 6 p.m. on Just A Game with Jason Gregor on Team 1260.