It’s becoming obvious that if the Edmonton Oilers are going to hang with the awful Buffalo Sabres in the Connor McDavid-Jack Eichel sweepstakes, they are going to need some help from GM Craig MacTavish. So, what can he do to take a run at 30th place?
As it stands now with both teams having played 47 games, the Oilers are playing well enough under interim coach Todd Nelson there’s no chance they’ll catch the Sabres in the upside-down standings. The Oilers sit in 29th place at 12-26-9 for 33 points, including a 5-4-2 mark under Nelson. The Sabres are 14-30-3 for 31 points after 11 straight losses.
The Oilers aren’t tearing it up under Nelson, but they’ve gathered enough points of late to relinquish 30th to Buffalo. The players on the roster Nelson has to work with are going to do what all players do – they’ll go through the gate ready to compete and trying to win games. Players don’t tank. That’s up to team management.
While I’m not a big advocate of the Oilers tanking – adding a first overall pick, even a “generational talent” like McDavid or Eichel isn’t going to turn this team around and I’m not sure more failure heaped on years of futility is good for the young core of the Oilers – I understand the lure of 30th place in the 2015 Entry Draft. It guarantees one of the first two picks.
For me – skipping past the “trade everybody” mentality that has gripped some fans who are sour over another dismal season — there’s three moves MacTavish can make that might do the trick without crippling the Oilers in the long term. These moves would come, of course, with the understanding MacTavish won’t get full value. Teams in this position seldom do.
THREE EASY PIECES
- Jeff Petry. As everybody knows, Petry is much-maligned around Edmonton. He’s a better defensemen than a lot of people give him credit for. There are lots of arguments why the Oilers should keep him, not the least of which is he’s the best blueliner the team has, even if it’s a bad bunch. That said, what “should” happen doesn’t matter. Petry is a pending UFA and he isn’t going to re-sign here, barring a huge over-pay.
- Unless the Oilers are willing to offer (they’ve already shown they aren’t) something goofy in the vicinity of $5 million or more a season over six or seven years, Petry would be a fool not to test the UFA market. Petry would be a great second-pairing addition for a team like the Detroit Red Wings. The sooner Petry is moved, the better.
- Andrew Ference. Ference, 35, won’t be a part of the picture when the Oilers are any good. Many would argue the captain is not a significant part of the picture now. Ference won’t command a return of any note, but he might, however, be of some value to a contending team looking for experienced depth on the back end. Again, not much coming back, but his departure would open up a second spot and weaken an already overmatched blue line.
- Matt Hendricks. Hendricks has delivered everything you’d want from a bottom-six forward since arriving. He mucks and grinds and leads and gives you what he’s got. He’s the kind of veteran the Oilers could have used but didn’t have when Jordan Eberle, Taylor Hall and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins were in their first or second seasons.
That said, Hendricks is 33 and he’s put on a lot of hard miles in the 382 NHL games he’s played. I’d argue he’s as worth as much now as he’ll ever be. Moving Hendricks before he begins to decline is a case of selling high. He’s not part of the long-terms plans here and is exactly the kind of role player a team making a playoff push would be interested in now. Return? Not much.
IS THAT ENOUGH?
You can argue I’m nibbling around the edges of the roster with Ference and Hendricks and that Petry is the only real loss, at least in the long term. You’d be right. The thing is, if I’m MacTavish, I don’t move any big pieces before the trade deadline because there are too many sucker deals for weaklings like the Oilers. Those moves, if they come, are best made heading into the draft and during the summer.
That’s the time when you’re going to be able to negotiate a better return for, say, somebody like Eberle, if you’re putting him in play, to acquire something you need to bolster the middle, the blue line or your goaltending. Right now, we’re talking about weakening the roster just enough to give Buffalo an honest run at McDavid or Eichel.
The Sabres are so inept there’s no question they’ve got the inside track and they could jettison useful players to weaken themselves further. What they might do in coming weeks is a wildcard, so there’s no guarantees. Might MacTavish find a market for somebody else like Derek Roy or Boyd Gordon (I wouldn’t do that right now)? Sure.
Would moving a minute-eater like Petry, the experience Ference brings and the grit Hendricks provides while filling those holes with farmhands weaken the Oilers enough to take a run at the first two picks? Given what Nelson has to work with, I think it might.
WHILE I’M AT IT
The Edmonton Sun ran a piece Thursday about what the Oilers might do in terms of tweaking the roster. You can find that here. Connected to the item was a poll asking fans who they think should be moved before the trade deadline. As of 10:30 a.m. with just over 5,170 votes cast, the top results looked like this:
Andrew Ference, 1,467 votes
Viktor Fasth, 1,272 votes
Jeff Petry, 1,163 votes
Listen to Robin Brownlee Wednesdays and Thursdays from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. on the Jason Gregor Show on TSN 1260.