The Oilers have three excellent right wings on the team right now; in terms of depth, no position is stronger. Jordan Eberle, Ales Hemsky and Nail Yakupov are all excellent skill players, and in a perfect world the Oilers would keep all of them. Unfortunately, as the team’s record shows, the Oilers aren’t a perfect team and it seems entirely plausible that they will move one of these players to address problems elsewhere on the roster.
So who goes?
The case to keep him. In terms of value to his team when healthy, Hemsky stands up pretty well on this list. He’s obviously a better NHL’er in the here and now than Nail Yakupov, a 19-year old playing his first season of professional hockey. Despite the widely perceived difference in their talent levels, the version of Hemsky who played for the Oilers from 2005-11 stacks up pretty well against Jordan Eberle, too. Critics happily point to his low goal totals, ignoring the fact that he led the Oilers in scoring for four consecutive years and was often the lone tent pole holding up a flagging offence. To pick the most egregious example, in 2007-08 Hemsky scored just 20 goals but he would have led the team in total points even if he hadn’t scored one. Most of all, though, Hemsky’s perceived trade value is much lower than the other two players on this list: the names available for a package centered on Hemsky aren’t going to compare with the names available for a package centered on Eberle or Yakupov.
The case to trade him. While Hemsky’s past work may be underappreciated, he’s slowed of late. His scoring dropped off last season and his ability to drive shots and scoring chances has dropped off this year. He turns 30 in the summer. Injuries will always be a concern. In terms of salary, his current deal only has a $1 million lower cap hit than Jordan Eberle’s upcoming contract. Put shortly: right now he may not be the player he once was, his bargain contract days are in the past, and he’s on the wrong side of his career curve.
The case to keep him. This is an easy case to make, so there isn’t much point in belabouring it. Eberle is 22 years old and scored 34 goals and 76 points last year. He is beloved in the market (not least by our fine proprietor). He is a very good young player and there isn’t a team in the league that wouldn’t love to have him on the roster.
The case to trade him. Really it starts with the last line of the last paragraph: every team in the league would love to have this player. The trade value of a player like Eberle is extreme; if the Oilers want to add, say, a young number one defenceman to improve the club’s balance Eberle is more likely to land that guy than Hemsky or Yakupov. That’s the biggest single reason an Eberle trade makes some sense. There’s more, though. Eberle is about to get paid ($6 million/year for the next six seasons) and there is still some question about how good he is offensively. A lot went right last year – from personal shooting percentage to on-ice shooting percentage to the matchups he played – and it’s far from certain he can continue to put up the sort of numbers he did last season.
The case to keep him. Yakupov’s raw, but he might end up a franchise player. This is the guy who beat Steve Stamkos rookie records in Sarnia, the guy who out-scored Taylor Hall in their respective draft years prior to injury, and the guy who even ignoring injury looked a lot like Tyler Seguin at the same age. He skates like the wind, might already be the best pure shooter on the team, and doesn’t get nearly enough credit for his willingness and ability to play a physical game (he’s sort of the opposite of Ryan Nugent-Hopkins physically; one is reasonably tall and lanky, the other shorter but solid). Even with the caliber of the young talent on this Oilers’ team, when all of these guys are in their prime Yakupov might end up as the best in the group – he’s that talented. There is a huge amount of risk in trading a player with his physical talents.
The case to trade him. In a word: need. It’s the same case that was made when the question of whether or not to draft Yakupov was asked: do the Oilers really need another young winger, or are they better off addressing another position? Yakupov’s upside makes him an extremely attractive commodity on the trade market, should the Oilers choose to go that route.
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