The front page story over at TSN today is an opinion piece by hockey insider Darren Dreger, one of the most connected men in hockey, and it delves into the problems facing the Oilers and the things Steve Tambellini might do to address them.
One part of the column points to the possibility that Tambellini might make a trade, and lists him as “in the market for additional grit, a centreman and some help on the blueline.” While that’s a fairly generic list, some of those pieces might be expensive, and there are a few names possibly on the block that I hope Tambellini doesn’t move at this point in time.
The key players that I hope aren’t being considered right now include Andrew Cogliano, Gilbert Brule, and to a lesser extent Tom Gilbert and Dustin Penner. The reason is very, very simple: I doubt that Tambellini can get fair value for those players given how their seasons have started.
Tom Gilbert has been singled out for his poor play this season. Generally, he’s been described as error-prone and passionless, and those points are not without merit. I don’t know if he’s actually been less motivated – he’s still blocking shots, for example, as he currently leads the Oilers with 42 – or if the usual vanilla aspects of his game are just getting more play than usual because he’s been so bad, but that’s a bit of a side point. The main point right now is this: Gilbert’s suffering through probably the worst stretch of his career, his contract is structured so that he’s making boatloads of money this year, and Steve Tambellini probably can’t get more than a rusty nickel and a bad contract back for him in trade.
Meanwhile, Dustin Penner’s numbers have taken a bad turn. Most of this is the result of the misfiring first power play unit – Penner has only two power play points this season – and that will probably turn around at some point. His even-strength point totals are only a little worse than last season, and still quite respectable, so if he can keep those up and score some points with the extra man, it’s likely his value might be better at the trade deadline than it is right now.
Regular readers will recall that I stated several times I would have been willing to trade Gilbert Brule over the summer, had the right offer come along, and that I’d even have been asking around to see if I could get a decent offer. That stance, which was wildly unpopular in the summer, might be more popular now given that he has just three points through the first quarter of the season, but that’s precisely why I wouldn’t be shopping him now.
I don’t think Brule’s a bad player – which is what he’s looked like early this season – but I do think he’s a complimentary one, the kind of guy who needs to play top six minutes with talent if he’s going to put up points. Unfortunately, the addition of Eberle and Hall to Penner and Hemsky seems to have sown up all the slots for a top-six winger, and that means Brule’s been consigned to the third line to play with an assortment of guys who need help carrying the load. Predictably, his results have suffered. Because I believe he’s a better player than he’s shown to date, I’d be highly reluctant to shop him now.
Most of what I’ve said about Brule also applies to Andrew Cogliano. He’s not a four-goal player, the number he’s currently on pace for, and he’s not a 16-point player, the number he’s currently on pace for. I think he’s a player with serious problems – the most notable being that he lacks the defensive acumen and the faceoff ability to be an NHL centre at this point – but I also believe there’s a quality NHL’er underneath his current struggles. He’s frequently mentioned in trade rumours (and was once dealt for Dany Heatley) but I’d guess he has negligible value around the league after last season and his early struggles this year. If he’s got minimal value, it makes minimal sense to trade him.
There aren’t many players I would trade now. One imagines that players with real value – Ales Hemsky, Ryan Whitney – would be worth more at the trade deadline. Beyond those guys, the support players have generally struggled, and of course it almost certainly makes no sense for this team to trade a Paajarvi, Eberle, Smid or Gagner. There might be a minor deal out there, for a guy like Zack Stortini (who Renney doesn’t seem to like) or Linus Omark (if he isn’t going to get a shot here) or maybe a waiver pickup that makes sense, but beyond tinkering I’m not sure it makes long-term sense to make big changes now.
And this season, what makes long-term sense is all that matters.