The 2010-11 Edmonton Oilers were a team built to fail. From the opening faceoff, obvious roster problems were left unaddressed. The goaltending was a question mark, the defence a haunted wasteland, and the forward pool young, talented and terribly shallow.
The 2011-12 Oilers cannot enter the season in that kind of disarray.
Why talk about this now? The answer to that is simple: the Oilers moves approaching the trade deadline are going to have a direct impact on how competitive they are next season. Additionally, with the Oilers locked in an ugly ‘battle’ for 30th in the league with the underwhelming Islanders and somehow inferior Devils, there’s no incentive for the Oilers to hang on to their useful but not long-term parts, and there’s clearly a market for (even barely) useful but not long-term parts. Kyle Wellwood and Marek Svatos had interest from (multiple!) NHL teams, heck even Ben Eager somehow commanded a fifth round draft pick, despite being freshly returned from an idiotic four-game suspension and having spent a good chunk of the season in his coach’s doghouse.
I take that to mean that the Oilers might never have a better time to get some value in exchange for some of their more marginal players. Teams are desperate – 10 points separate fourth and 14th in the West, and even in the East teams like the Lightning and Rangers have already started to make moves to solidify their place in the standings.
Personally, I’d be looking to move a bunch of spare parts. I’d start with Ryan Jones: he’s got 10 goals, 15.9 shooting percentage, ugly scoring chance and underlying numbers, so I’d suggest it’s time to sell high. I believe he’s a fourth-liner, but that others will think much more of him and pay accordingly. The fact that he’s a pending unrestricted free agent doesn’t hurt the case to move him either.
Colin Fraser’s got another year on his contract, but given the attention the marginal forwards listed above have received, I tend to think somebody will pay something for him. Further, I’d argue he’s easily replaceable on the free agent market come summertime. Along with Fraser, I’d move Reddox and Jacques if anyone was willing to send a draft pick back. I’d also offer Brule & Cogliano, in the hopes of getting a reasonable offer on one of them, though I fear the trade window has passed for both of them and the Oilers may be better off hanging on to both.
On the back end, Jim Vandermeer and Kurtis Foster are expendable, as is Jason Strudwick. I don’t think that this is a particularly controversial take.
Lowetide has argued that both Zack Stortini and Ladislav Smid might be on the outs with the organization, and while I think he’s right I wouldn’t move either of them, were I sitting in Steve Tambellini’s chair. Stortini’s a very capable 12th/13th/14th forward, he’s close to dirt cheap, and to be honest I like him. As for Smid, his player-type takes a long time to develop, he isn’t expensive, he’s a capable third-pairing option as-is, and there’s still a decent chance that he emerges as a physical second-pairing guy who makes a good first pass and handles duties in his own end with aplomb. That’s exactly what a team like the Oilers should want in a third-pairing guy.
Readers may differ on exactly what the Oilers should do; certainly, I’d be surprised if there was unanimous agreement with the scenario I’ve sketched out. I invite people to submit their own deadline plans. Either way, the time to move is now, and I think the immediate goal is clear-cut: to contend for a playoff spot next season.