Matt Hendricks is having himself a season. The veteran centre/winger, who turns 34 in June, has always been a defensive stalwart and penalty-killer and he’s shown those skills in Edmonton. He’s been so good, in fact, that his name is starting to crop up in trade rumours.
Elliotte Friedman told Sportsnet 960 on Monday that there seems to be some interest around the league in Hendricks (transcript via Chris Nichols):
I heard there were some teams out there who might be interested in Matt Hendricks from the Oilers, but I’m not sure Edmonton is willing to trade him. I think they realize they need veterans, and they really like what he brings there in that room, so I’m not sure he’s going to be available.
Hendricks isn’t the kind of player typically moved at the deadline. He has two more years on his current contract at the not insignificant price of $1.85 million per, and as he turns 34 this summer those two years come with some significant risk.
So why are teams interested?
Because He’s a Good Player. Duh.
Hendricks does a lot of things well.
He’s been a key piece on an extremely effective defensive zone starts line; this year at five-on-five he’s been on the ice for an incredible 246 defensive zone draws while starting in the offensive zone just 56 times. Despite this, the Oilers actually have a small edge on the shot clock when he’s on the ice and are just a touch below break-even in terms of goals. That’s a fantastic performance.
He kills penalties. The only guys on the team with more ice time while the Oilers are down a man are Boyd Gordon and Mark Fayne. Edmonton’s PK has slipped a little of late but was generally reasonably effective during Dallas Eakins’ run as head coach and Hendricks was a key contributor to that.
He’s chipping in offensively. Hendricks has 10 points in 38 games this season, which is already his best offensive output in nearly half a decade and he’s doing it despite being pigeon-holed as a defensive specialist.
He’s physical. Hendricks’ 104 hits lead the Oilers by a mile; of guys still on the team Taylor Hall (52) and Nail Yakupov (50) have thrown the next-most hits in an Edmonton sweater. He’s dropped the gloves six times, leading the team in that category.
He’s also well-regarded as a character player. I’ve had three different people with knowledge of the situation tell me that he’s exactly the kind of veteran influence that the Oilers need and in every case Hendricks’ name was volunteered before I could ask.
Put it all together and Hendricks is an extremely useful player to the organization. He leads, hits, fights, chips in offence and takes on tough minutes at evens and the penalty kill. I was skeptical when the Oilers acquired him, mostly because of his age and his contract, but he’s been full value.
Why Would Edmonton Trade Him?
Because there are actually a lot of good reasons to do so:
- This season is not typical of Hendricks. One must go back to 2010-11 to find the last time he hit double digits offensively in a season; he’s not a scorer and his modest production this year will probably not be repeated in 2015-16 and 2016-17.
- Even now, he’s a fourth-line player, ranking 11th of the 12 Oilers forwards with at least 20 games played in terms of average time on ice.
- At $1.85 million, he’s being paid in full for his admittedly good work.
- He turns 34 in June and the number of players in that age range who were good depth pieces one year and out of the league the next is extremely long.
- The Oilers are not an especially good hockey team. They might make the playoffs next year if they have a great summer and all goes well.
Essentially, the only argument in favour of keeping Hendricks is that he’s going to be a good veteran mentor to young players on the team for as long as he’s in Edmonton. As good as he is on the ice right now, his role is small enough, he’s old enough and the Oilers are bad enough to all but guarantee his on-ice play isn’t going to matter to this rebuild, so it’s all about the veteran leadership.
Is that leadership so important to the team that it makes sense to keep him despite a terribly risky contract? Is it still worth keeping him if another team is willing to pony up a useful asset in exchange, particularly since Rob Klinkhammer can probably take over his job as Boyd Gordon’s left wing? Klinkhammer has had success early on the right side but is after all a left-handed shot and has spent most of his career on the port side.
It’s more subtle, but the Oilers face a similar choice with Hendricks as they do with Jeff Petry if they can’t (or are unwilling to) get him to sign a new deal. If Petry isn’t extended, he’ll walk away for nothing this summer so it makes sense to move him at the deadline. Hendricks is at a point in his career (if you don’t believe me, ask David Moss) where players fall off a cliff suddenly; if the Oilers don’t deal him soon the likelihood is that his value will depreciate to nothing before their eyes.
Edmonton isn’t in a position where it can afford to lose value if any alternative presents itself. It’s a tough decision because Hendricks has been so good for the Oilers, but it’s the sensible choice.