Last summer, former general manager Craig MacTavish, perhaps sensing that
the Oilers were too deep at centre, traded pivot Sam Gagner for winger Teddy
Purcell. Today he has one year left on his existing contract and is
going to be in a dog fight to stay in the top six.
It seemed last summer that the relationship with the Oilers
and Sam Gagner had reached a tipping point. He had an extremely disappointing
season marred by injury and the points didn’t come. It certainly felt, at the
time, that the Oilers and Gagner both needed a shake-up. The curious part of the eventual deal
was why MacTavish was moving one of their few centres for a soft winger.
Outside of that one (very large) problem, Purcell had
spent the four previous seasons as a relatively consistent point producer with the
Lightning. He ranged from the 40s to the 60s in points per 82 games, which is
a top-six player for any team in the NHL. On paper, maybe not a bad bet to fit in
with the talented forwards on the Oilers.
The problem is that the Oilers were a team that already had Hall,
Eberle, Pouliot, Perron, and Yakupov as wingers. While the team stayed in
constant flux because of injury, suspension, and trades, Purcell managed to
average 17:09 per game over the year, which was 4th highest among
forwards. He started on the “2B line” of Pouliot-Arcobello-Purcell and finished
the year on the second line of Purcell-Roy-Yakupov.
His traditional stats line ended up: 82GP, 12-22-34
That’s not particularly impressive given the fact that he
played in every game and averaged the 4th most ice-time among the
Worse for him, the emergence of Nail Yakupov in the post-Eakins
portion of the season relegated Purcell to his off-wing on the left side. With
a healthy Hall and Pouliot he was firmly 3rd on the port-side depth chart.
His 5v5 points per 60 minutes of 1.11 ranked 10th
on the team in forwards with at least 100 minutes of 5v5 ice time. At his best,
several years ago, he was producing 2.40 points per 60 minutes with the
Lightning. Now he’s at a fraction of that number. If he can’t turn it around
then there is very little to support keeping him in the top-six.
I said no lower than the small of his back, mister!
There are many people who think Purcell is
better suited for RW duty with Connor McDavid, though I am not one of them. For
the reasons I’ve noted above plus the fact that Purcell is a very passive
player physically, I can’t see any logical reason to slot Teddy Purcell ahead
of Nail Yakupov on the depth chart. If he’s gifted the opportunity to play with
McDavid he simply can’t be as ineffective in the attacking zone as he was in 2014-2015.
The thing with
Purcell is that even though his offense dried up with the Oilers he’s still
obviously an NHL talent. He is more than capable of playing on any of Edmonton’s
top three lines, at least for short periods of time, even if he is not really a
long term solution.
That means the Oilers don’t HAVE to do anything with him
beyond letting him play out his year. He could be a veteran presence on the McDavid
line or the Lander/Draisaitl line and still get at least some secondary PP
However, it seems rather unlikely that the Oilers would
retain him beyond this final year on his contract, which in turn means that he
is very likely to become a rental player at the trade deadline.
Not that it’s my money, but the 4.5M dollars used on his cap
hit is almost certainly better spent on the defense. When his deal does come
off the books that’s very likely where it’s headed. The Oilers have cap
flexibility right now without doing anything drastic like buying Purcell out
and unlike Nikitin he is simply too good to be worth buying out, but the sooner
he comes off the books the sooner the Oilers can apply that money to areas of
actual need within the organization.
The problem with this player is that his place on the depth
chart, his production, his age, and his contract all line up to make him very…meh.
He is at once both experienced enough to want to spot in with McDavid but also
not productive enough to really warrant it. He makes too much money given his
output but he’s not bad enough to seriously think about buying out. He’s just
sort of existing in the in-between spaces of the lineup.
So what should the Oilers do with Purcell? Should they plug
him onto the second line and hope that his offense returns? Should they
move him down to the third line where he will almost certainly not break 40 points again? If he’s destined to leave at the deadline then should they just try to move him now?
I don’t claim to have any inside knowledge as to what the
Oilers are thinking with this player, but these are the questions that face
them. As for Purcell, this is a contract year and maybe his last chance to get
a multi-year deal but it won’t come if he has another 30 point season. He’s
going to need to re-assert himself as a bonafide top-six player in this league whether that’s with the Oilers or someone else.