If TSN’s top duo of Bob McKenzie and Darren Dreger are to be believed, Craig MacTavish is taking measured action in response to the Oilers’ troubles early: assessing the trade market for goalies but not on the verge of making a deal.
In the TSN story, McKenzie says that MacTavish has been working the phones since at least the weekend, scouring the league for available goaltenders and determining the cost of them. He also indicates that a deal likely isn’t imminent, because teams don’t like making moves this early. Dreger adds that Buffalo probably doesn’t want to move Miller before Christmas and opines that "the Oilers are getting to the point where they realize they’re going to have to give up one of their young guns."
There really isn’t much surprise on the goaltending angle.
First, MacTavish trying to get a read on who is available and what it might take to land them is an intelligent response to what has happened in Edmonton’s net so far. Both NHL goalies have struggled. The third-stringer, Richard Bachman, has been impressive in Oklahoma City but his prior career makes him an uncertain option long-term. There’s a decent chance that Devan Dubnyk responds if given a little more rope, particularly since this kind of four-game stretch isn’t unheard of – even for good goaltenders. But the preparatory work needs to be done so that if the struggles continue a move can be made with no time lost.
Second, it isn’t shocking that NHL teams are reluctant to deal goalies right now. What applies to Dubnyk (that he’s been bad, but over too short a span to write him off) applies broadly across the league. Even teams getting strong performances early need to be wary; they might find themselves making a trade and then having nowhere to go when a hot streak ends.
The Young Gun
The question with Dreger’s comment is how much of it is informed by knowledge of the inner workings of the Oilers’ brain-trust and how much is his own read on the situation.
As I see it, there is no pressing salary cap need for Edmonton to dump one of its young stars, and despite the strength at right wing there is no real place where positional constraints are going to force a move. Where it might make sense is if the price of acquiring a desperately needed piece at another position (read: a top defenceman in the prime of his career) is the trade of a young forward. Depending on the specifics, that might be a trade that makes the Oilers a better team, a case of moving strength for weakness rather than hastily mortgaging the future.
The math on that trade always works out the same way. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins is out; without him the Oilers don’t have a top centre. Taylor Hall is out; without him the Oilers’ left wing depth chart looks terrible. Sam Gagner is out; he just signed a deal with a no-trade understanding and he’s hurt anyway. Justin Schultz is likely out, because defence is the position the Oilers need the most help at and there’s still reason to hope Schultz can evolve into a player effective at both ends of the rink (he’s 23 years old and has yet to play his 100th professional game).
If one of the young forwards is out, the position to move is right wing; that’s the only place where there are two guys currently/likely to evolve into first line players. As a secondary point, it’s also the only place where the number three man on the depth chart looks like he could be a pretty nice fit in the second slot for the next few years. If the Oilers are making a top forward for top defenceman swap, it’s almost certainly Jordan Eberle or Nail Yakupov leaving town.
But nothing in the TSN report indicates such a move is imminent; McKenzie doesn’t talk about it at all and it’s a sure thing that Edmonton isn’t moving an Eberle or a Yakupov for a mediocre goaltender or a pending UFA, the two descriptors that fit all the players actually mentioned by name in the report.