For my money, the last two weeks of June leading into the annual NHL Entry Draft and the free agent season are the most fun for fans, media types and armchair general managers alike. That holds especially true in a hockey hotbed like Edmonton. Here we are again.
Whether you’re a jersey-wearing fan of the Oilers, a press pass-toting beat writer who lives in the dressing room and on the road with the team during the season or a blogger running advanced stats from afar, everybody has an opinion about what GM Craig MacTavish will or should do over the next few weeks.
Some opinions, of course, are more educated than others – be it about who MacTavish should select with the third pick at the podium in Philadelphia, who he should send away via trade, who he should acquire and what free agents best fill the many holes on his roster – but everybody has a take.
In the end, though, it’s largely guesswork, even for those closest to the decision-makers, those who work the room, their sources and the phones gathering snippets of information here and there. Sometimes you put two and two together and get it exactly right. More often, you don’t.
My guess, albeit much less educated after seven years away from the daily grind, after listening to MacTavish and trying to connect the dots is the next few weeks will be full of twists and turns for fans of the Oilers.
My takes on some of the obvious topics . . .
Who to take with the third selection? I’m not alone in thinking MacTavish would do handstands if Aaron Ekblad, who is clearly the best defenseman in the draft, was available at No. 3. He won’t be, of course. Next best is centre Leon Draisaitl. Duh! I see Sam Bennett and Sam Reinhart as more of what the Oilers have too much of already – smallish skill.
Will MacTavish consider trading the No. 3 pick for immediate help? Of course he will – he said so this week. We always get move-up/move-down rumors at this time of the off-season. They seldom amount to much. That said, Edmonton’s selection will be up for grabs, especially if Ekblad and Draisaitl are gone when the Oilers pick. That doesn’t mean MacTavish will get something done, but expect him to work the floor big-time if it does.
What does the No. 3 pick get the Oilers in a trade? Depends. If MacTavish swaps picks in the 10-20 slots, he can get a useful player as part of that deal to fill one of the four or five roster spots he talked about the other day, be it a defenseman or a forward. I keep thinking that can happen with Ron Hextall and the Philadelphia Flyers, who pick 17th.
What about the third pick straight up for a player? There’s been a lot of buzz about the Winnipeg Jets and Evander Kane in that scenario. I’d do that deal for Kane, growing pains and all. I’d also do it for an established top-pairing defenseman, like Dion Phaneuf. I doubt the Toronto Maple Leafs would unless there was a sweetener.
While it’s rare for a top-three pick to be traded, MacTavish’s stated goal of looking to fill as many as five roster spots (including a puck-moving defenseman and a shutdown type) and his admission he’s had “some fairly intriguing conversations at this point” about the third pick in an interview with Bob Stauffer on 630 CHED Tuesday speak for themselves.
INDICATIONS ARE . . .
MacTavish won’t get a proven top-pairing blueliner for spare parts. He won’t be able to turn Sam Gagner and a secondary prospect into the minute-eating puck mover or a shutdown guy he covets. MacTavish said he isn’t willing to dip into his core to get what he needs. He said he’d like to fill some holes by way of trade rather than relying on free agency.
So, if MacTavish won’t touch his core and Gagner isn’t worth much more than a bag of pucks right now, moving the No. 3 pick via straight trade or trade with a swap of picks comes into play. I’m not arguing that’s the right move or the wrong move, I’m just saying everything points to that as a big bargaining chip.
As for free agents, the candidates we know: up front, Mikhail Grabovski would fit as a second-line centre. There’s wingers Nikolai Kulemin and Daniel Winnik. I’d inquire about Brian Boyle as a third-line pivot. They’ll get overpaid, especially to come to Edmonton. Lots of other possibilities, too, but I’m not going to print the phone book so I can say “I called it” if one of them ends up here.
That’s my take. Yours?
Listen to Robin Brownlee Wednesdays and Thursdays from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. on the Jason Gregor Show on TEAM 1260.