After firing head coach Dallas Eakins, Edmonton Oilers general manager Craig MacTavish spent roughly two weeks behind the bench alongside interim coach Todd Nelson. When he went back upstairs, there was a flurry of transactions that brought about significant change to the roster.
One of those moves was a trade that saw undersized centre Mark Arcobello go to Nashville in exchange for fellow undersized centre Derek Roy. What’s happened since is pretty interesting.
Before we look at the impact of the trade, it’s worth going back to reaction at the time. My piece the day of the trade is here, along with just under 200 comments from our readership. If I were to sum up my take on that day in a couple of bullet points, it would look something like this:
- This was largely a lateral move, involving similar players in similar roles.
- Adding experience to a young team has value.
- Shaking things up for a losing team has value.
As far as change-of-scenery trades go, this looks like the kind of deal that worked out well for both players. Mark Arcobello has 19 points in 38 games (with three different teams!) since being traded and most recently emerged as Arizona’s No. 1 centre. Derek Roy has 21 points in 43 games since being traded and has developed obvious chemistry with Nail Yakupov. Win/win, right?
There are two key issues that I think are worth a closer look beyond the point totals of the two players. The first is what was the dominant narrative in our comments section at the time of the trade: Would the Oilers have been better off keeping Arcobello and additionally claiming Roy off waivers? The second is what has become the dominant narrative since: Roy’s chemistry with Nail Yakupov.
The Waiver Wire
Regarding the first point, with the benefit of hindsight I think we can say that, yes, the Oilers probably should have kept Arcobello and simply added Roy rather than making a one-for-one trade. We’ve seen Benoit Pouliot, Taylor Hall and Rob Klinkhammer at centre (not to mention Matt Hendricks, who has been basically full-time in the role lately) since thanks to injuries, and we’ve seen Oklahoma City stripped bare of forwards as both NHL and AHL club see players fall. Arcobello would have helped.
With that said, it’s hard to get too bent out of shape about the decision. Arcobello has seen waivers since being traded to Nashville. Keeping some space on the 50-man list has value. The Oilers couldn’t have known they were going to keep Roy, and trading for him allowed them the flexibility to move him at the deadline if they so desired.
In hindsight, I’d agree with the commenters here who wanted to keep both players, but I’m not particularly critical of MacTavish’s choice since things could easily have worked out differently.
The big point in Roy’s favour that isn’t in Arcobello’s is that Roy and Yakupov have a natural chemistry that Arcobello and Yakupov lacked. Or is that really the case?
I want to give a nod here to Twitter user @CervantesX, who published a lot of the numbers I’m going into now last night; he beat me to the punch on it by a number of hours.
Anyway, thanks to the magic that is Stats.HockeyAnalysis.com, we can take a long look at how players perform with and without each other and it’s awfully interesting to see how Roy/Yakupov compare to Arcobello/Yakupov at five-on-five this season.
Lots of numbers there, but it’s hard to see that Yakupov has been any better with Roy than he was with Arcobello. His scoring rate is completely unchanged, and the Oilers did a better job of out-shooting and out-scoring the opposition with Arcobello as his centre than they have with Roy as his centre. Arcobello/Yakupov had the advantage of favourable zonestarts (Eakins comes from the Alain Vigneault school of zone-matching; Nelson does it somewhat but not with the same zeal) but even so it’s hard to make a case that they were less effective than Roy/Yakupov.
With that said, Yakupov’s game seems to have come a long way since he was united with Roy. So why do the numbers tell a different story? A couple of reasons:
- Before Roy’s arrival, Yakupov didn’t play exclusively with Arcobello. He played a lot with Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (that was a disaster) and also with Leon Draisaitl (and that duo was either totally incompetent in the offensive zone or just wildly snakebit). So in our minds we aren’t really comparing Roy/Yakupov against Arcobello/Yakupov; we’re comparing Roy/Yakupov against Assorted/Yakupov.
- The power play. On the day that Arcobello was sent away, Yakupov had all of two power play points in 35 games. The arrival of Roy coincided with a) Todd Nelson taking sole control behind the bench and b) a massive uptick in the Oilers’ power play. In the 38 games since, Yakupov has seven points on the man advantage, a more than three-fold increase.
This isn’t a criticism of the trade. I think there’s a time and a place for change-of-scenery deals, and the Oilers were absolutely in the right place to make one. Adding a veteran was probably a good thing. Shaking up the room was probably a good thing, too. It’s nice to see that the deal has worked out well for both players.
But digging into this subject, my takeaway was that as a community following the Edmonton Oilers we probably overrate Roy’s importance to Yakupov. If Yakupov could do very similar work five-on-five with Arcobello as he has with Roy (and as we’ve seen, he did) it’s likely he could be just as good with another pivot – and another pivot might be a better fit for team need than the somewhat one-dimensional Roy.
It’s something for the Oilers to keep in mind when they make a decision on the player. As a rule, Edmonton’s management has done an awful job of keeping enough centres around, and at the right price Roy would add some depth at a position that needs it.
But only at the right price. Roy has been a good fit with Yakupov but he’s far from irreplaceable.