If the Edmonton Oilers can trade Andrew Ference, should they?

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Would it be wise for the Oilers to attempt to trade Andrew Ference, both in the name of clearing dollars and gaining a more favourable position in the 2015 draft lottery?

The Benefits of a Deal

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Robin Brownlee brought this topic to mind on Saturday, when he wrote about the merits of a Ference deal from a tanking perspective. Here’s how Brownlee put it:

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.

No arguments here. Ference, while not nearly a perfect player, is a veteran hand on what at the best of times is only an approximation of a real NHL defence corps. If he were to be moved at the deadline along with Jeff Petry that would leave the ‘veteran mentor’ role in the hands of Mark Fayne and, uh, Nikita Nikitin. It doesn’t take a degree in mathematical modeling to guess what that will do to the team.

But there are other positives to moving him.

Firstly, Ference is overpaid at $3.25 million relative to what he brings to an NHL team’s defensive group. When the Oilers signed him he was the No. 4 defenceman in terms of minutes at both even-strength and on the power play; that was nearly two years ago now and on a decent team he’s likely a pretty decent fit as a third-pairing defenceman and second unit penalty-killer. The overpayment involved isn’t ludicrous – the Los Angeles Kings will pay Matt Greene $2.5 million/season until he’s 34 for essentially the same minutes – but every little bit of efficiency gained against the cap helps.

Darnell Nurse

That role perhaps isn’t ideal either. The Oilers have a bunch of defencemen coming in on the left side – Oscar Klefbom, Darnell Nurse, maybe Martin Marincin (though the signs that the team has soured on him are obvious) – and the team would be better served by a veteran presence higher up the depth chart, leaving the third-pairing minutes to youth. Granted, Ference could be shifted over to the right side but he’s been most effective on the left.

For size junkies, there’s an additional benefit to moving him. It’s not a secret that the Oilers are on the small side by NHL standards and Ference – listed at 5’11”, 184 pounds – is part of that. If it’s the fight in the dog rather than the size of the dog in the fight that matters that’s less of a problem; Ference’s work ethic has always garnered high praise and watching him play it isn’t hard to see why. He’s fiercely competitive in front of his own net, even if he isn’t 6’2” and 210 pounds. But it sure doesn’t hurt to be 6’2” and 210 pounds.

Moving Ference (assuming he’s moveable) would make the team worse in the here-and-now, which is all the better for tanking. It would clear salary and a roster spot for a bigger, better defenceman next year. Plus it would garner some sort of return (say a 2016 fourth round draft pick) and that never hurts.

The Case Against

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There’s a pretty massive assumption underpinning the biggest benefit to moving Ference: That the Oilers can land a bigger, better defenceman who can play higher up the depth chart. Recall that last summer their answer to bigger-and-better was Nikita Nikitin, and they had to pay him $4.5 million per season to get him to sign.

The professional scouting group over the last few years has had several cracks at adding a top-four defenceman and simply hasn’t gotten the job done. Nikitin, Ference and Fayne are part of a group that since 2010 includes Nick Schultz, Ryan Whitney, Andy Sutton, Kurtis Foster, Cam Barker, Mark Fistric and Denis Grebeshkov. Some of those guys could play – Sutton in particular was a pleasant surprise for me – but could any one of them really anchor a second pairing? For my money Fayne’s the best of the group in terms of overall talent and ideally he’d probably slot in as a No. 4/5 rearguard.

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But let’s assume for a moment that the Oilers’ search for answers this year sees them solve the obvious assessment problem the team has. This year’s free agent crop is nothing to write home about and there’s no guarantee that Paul Martin or Johnny Boychuk or whoever will be willing to sign with a team that contends with Western Conference travel, a northern climate and a never-ending rebuild. Really good defencemen have lots of options in a weak free agent year, and while money can mitigate that to a certain degree general manager Craig MacTavish is doubtless going to have some real challenges selling players on coming to Edmonton.

There’s another assumption involved, too: That the Oilers’ young defencemen really are best-served by jumping to the NHL immediately. I know how people feel about Darnell Nurse coming out of the World Juniors, but it’s worth remembering he’s still a few weeks from his 20th birthday and he has all of two NHL games under his belt. Is it really a good idea to be writing his name on the 2015-16 roster in ink at this point?

For me, the case for moving Ference basically comes down to faith in Edmonton’s management group; both their ability to find a better defenceman and their willingness to be patient with prospects. Based on recent history that’s quite a leap.

RECENTLY BY JONATHAN WILLIS

  • Spydyr

    I think you have to keep him. Trading him and probably Petry before the deadline leaves no depth on D (not that they have a hell of a lot of depth anyway). Without Ference, 1 injury and we are going to end up seeing players clearly not ready for the NHL being crushed by their opposition and potentially stalling their development.

  • Gooilgo

    Slow skater caught out of position many times, small defender who has trouble moving anyone in front of the net, overpaid not worth the money, hard to trade for the value, poor captain and role model but great at recycling!

    But McT thinks he has great value and a cornerstone to build a franchise on….

    Tank for sure!

  • R U Kidding Me!

    How depressing all these articles are.
    Pretty sobering how far away the rebuilt status is, when 9 years out of the playoffs, there is only one player on the entire team that avoids trade talk.

  • R U Kidding Me!

    Of course they should if they could find someone willing to assume that contract…. I don’t think they will unless the wretched oilers are willing to retain a significant portion of his salary.

    If they could offload that full contract for, maybe, a sixth round pick it is a no brainer.

  • R U Kidding Me!

    If your asking should they trade Ference and use the $3.25 to get a better D man then the answer is yes. If your asking if MacT is capable of doing this? I’d say no. He’s unreal bad as a GM. Particularly so in assessing D talent.

  • Oilers4Ever

    I can’t believe katz is trusting this bumbling mgmt to restart the rebuild of the rebuilD of the rebuild. Obviously his desire to hang out with boys on the bus is more important than putting a winning team on the ice.

  • WTF2

    Careful what you wish for. Trading Ference before you have his replacement could be very similar to the Gagner trade. MacT said in public he needed center ice depth and couldn’t sign or trade for one even from the cash strapped teams. Same situation this year for Dmen. Doesn’t look like much on the free agent market and may not be able to trade for one either. Almost all the teams are looking for dmen. Trade Ference and you might end up with a bunch of young guys that aren’t ready yet.

    • R U Kidding Me!

      You’re on the wrong website for that common sense. Most people here wanna run Nurse, Klefbom and Marincin. Heck some people are wanting Hanifin to play to!!

    • WTF2

      Replacement for a bottom pairing dman? Mark Fistric was available for free on waivers.

      Marincin is better and he rots in the minors.

      Ference’s best asset is you drive over him with a Mac Truck and he would get up. He is slow, prone to poor play, can’t handle players on the cycle. His recent good play is great, but the player he is with will be gone in a month.

      The Gagner trade was great, removed a bloated contract and got arguably the better player. Problem was not the trade, its that MacT needed a second line center and did gave the job to an Eighteen year old.

  • WTF2

    Just let me dream you animals. Oilers re-sign Petry. Trade Ference and Nikitin at trade deadline. Trade JSchultz to teams still enamoured by his offensive promise. Trade Eberle for Barkov. Then draft Marner. Ok…I’ll wake up now.

  • Serious Gord

    With Ference there is a big difference between should he be traded and can he be traded.

    At his salary he has negative value. Thus EDM would have to either take another player with negative value back OR eat a significant part of his salary.

    And as he is a defenceman and the oil would need to get another dman back, there really isn’t a whole lot of point to moving him especially as the team needs to keep some dmen on the roster to allow nurse to stay in the ahl for at least a year.

    If the oil is to dig its way out of the hole its in it’s going to have to keep the prospects like nurse and draisaitl and others down in the farm system for much longer. And that means at least one, if not two, years in the bottom third of the league. To do that the oil is Going to need some cannon fodder on the back end. Ference fits the bill.

    • Serious Gord

      Agree with your point in terms of can he be traded. I would say any deal would involve the Oilers retaining part of his salary. I can and do see that as the deal maker.

      There will be plenty of fodder defencemen on the market this summer as the KHL contracts teams and those players are freed up.

      I agree that Nurse and Draisatl both need some AHL time. But history has taught us that won’t happen.

      • Serious Gord

        Interesting point about the Khl that I had not considered. How much Faith do you have that the oilers scouting staff knows which khlers to go after and how much faith do you have that mact and klowe have the smarts to act.

        And mact assured us that he wasn’t going to Rush young players anymore. I don’t believe him.

        • Serious Gord

          I have more faith now then I did 2 weeks ago. The hiring of Bob Green was imo a positive move. His track record points to a guy who knows a player from a duck. So yes I would say I think MacT will be able to acquire a defenceman at a fraction of Ference’s salary.

          MacT’s statement about not rushing young players is so full of holes and suchlike. I too would file that statement in the WTF was I thinking saying that department. Kind of like the KLOWE second tier fan gaffaw.

          I guarantee that statement goes into the toilet if the Oilers win the draft Lottery.

          Barring that though I believe that were moving in a more positive direction under Nelson.

          The only head shaker for me has been the lack of Martin Marincin in the lineup. There has been several good articles regarding as to why or why not he is not here. My thought is that if he playing well leave him there in OKC. let him get the minutes and the confidence. If not it really is then too bad. I would like to see him be more physical. Hopefully.

  • Serious Gord

    Leafs are looking to trade 29 year old Dion Phaneuf. Yeah he was a flame but he is in a long term contract that perhaps some of it will be eaten by the leafs. He would be around long enough to apart of any future (hopefully a winning one but Ive stopped wishing for that). I think the Defence man President and the Gritty forward GM should be building this team around defence. So not sure I like seeing any dman traded.

  • freelancer

    You can trade anyone. The question is how badly you’d want them gone.

    @willis: what is the max amount of salary you’d keep to facilitate a trade? How many horrible contracts would you take back?

    Or is the suggestion to trade him straight up for a pick?

  • S cottV

    The other issue surrounding whether or not to move Ferrence, is whether or not the Oilers feel he continues to be the right guy to Captain the player group.

    I wish there were better options on the present roster, but I have my doubts about Ferrence as the kind of Captain that is needed for the future.

    To me – what is needed is a top 6 / top 2 – veteran 2 way warrior, that is way less on the “do gooder” side and way more on the “just win” side.

    The kind of guy who would cancel the next days public relations photo opportunity because they lost tonight’s hockey game and he’s too passed off to do it.

    The kind of guy who would influence (by hook or by crook) the Fab 4 + Yak into actually playing a team game.

  • S cottV

    Trading off vets, especially dmen, is one of the reason the rebuild went sideways.

    The youth movement failed when a)no one to learn from b)to much allowance in terms of forgiveness c) to much responsibility placed on KIDS.

  • A-Mc

    As far as Player Personnel is concerned: Nikitin is gone way before Ference if i’m the GM.

    Ference, while not the best player, has all the qualities you want to pass to your new guys. He plays the cultural part the oilers are trying to build. You dont build a culture by trading guys who represent what you’re building.

    To be clear i’m not talking about a winning or losing culture, i’m talking about hard work, common sense, taking care of your body and community involvement. Ference represents each of these things in spades.