What Peter Chiarelli’s summer work says about the defensive market

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The too-often-ignored truth about the NHL trade market is that it’s extremely hard to force a deal. For a team like the Edmonton Oilers—who have been hunting for a big fish defenceman for years now—that’s been awfully frustrating.

The good news is that the new general manager seems both willing and able to make sure the Oilers are players in the deals that do become available.

Forcing a Deal

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“Throw Taylor Hall at teams until a defenceman shakes loose!” seems to be a common theme here and elsewhere, but the truth is that things aren’t that simple. Teams build around franchise defencemen, so for Arizona to do something like trade Oliver Ekman-Larsson, it would involve the team basically abandoning its current long-term plan in favour of something else. They aren’t likely to do that.

A gratuitous overpay for a developing defender like Seth Jones or Adam Larsson might be possible, but “gratuitous overpay” generally isn’t a good way to go about things. Edmonton might look back two years later and find it had dealt a top-three left wing in the NHL for a defenceman who never evolves into a true No. 1.

The best example of a team trying to force a deal that I can think of involves the Philadelphia Flyers’ quest for Shea Weber. The Flyers and Predators were in prolonged trade talks, but finally Philadelphia decided they weren’t getting anywhere and went with the nuclear option: a heavily front-loaded offer sheet designed to force small market Nashville to relinquish their franchise cornerstone.

Improbably, the Predators found the money. One might make the argument that Nashville would be better off with four first-round picks from the Flyers and a pile of salary space, particularly with their emerging defenders, but the point here is that Philly thought it had the Preds over a barrel and it ultimately didn’t lead to anything but disappointment.

Taking What Comes Available

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What a general manager can do is make sure he’s in position to take advantage of the players teams decide to make available.

Garth Snow did this really well in the fall of 2014. Boston and Chicago were in tough positions where salary cap sacrifices became necessary. Both teams declined to make their best defencemen available, but ultimately opted to shop key supporting pieces Nick Leddy and Johnny Boychuk. Snow’s Islanders had the cap space, the assets and most importantly the will to pull the trigger on the deals they could make. Edmonton might plausibly have outbid the Isles for one or both of those players; instead they hoarded their assets and spent money on Nikita Nikitin and Mark Fayne.

Peter Chiarelli has already shown he’s willing to pay to make sure his team is competitive for the good defencemen who become available. Reports from credible journalists suggest that the Oilers made an offer for Dougie Hamilton just as good (if not better) than the one Calgary made. It’s hard not to read pettiness in the Bruins’ decision to deal with the Flames instead, but there wasn’t much that Edmonton could do to change that, short of surrendering Darnell Nurse, which would have been a mistake.

With Hamilton closed to him, Chiarelli targeted the next-best defensive fit for the Oilers: Griffin Reinhart. Reinhart was an NHL-ready defender who could plausibly shore up the depth chart in the short-term and be a key piece in the long-term. I was critical of the deal at the time and still don’t feel it represented good value for Edmonton, but that’s what was available. Chiarelli went out and got the best fit he could for both the short- and long-term, and he paid what he had to pay to make the deal work.

When free agency rolled around, Chiarelli went out and signed Andrej Sekera. Looking back at the summer free agent market, Sekera was the best defenceman available for the Oilers needs: a relatively young veteran capable of filling the No. 2/3 slot in the short-term and contributing over the long haul. He paid what he had to pay to land him on July 1.

We can argue whether the trade price on Griffin Reinhart or the contract cost for Andrej Sekera represent good value for the Oilers. What isn’t arguable is that Chiarelli ignored a bunch of better defencemen. It’s not possible to force other teams to give up good defencemen they don’t want to part with; it’s only possible to make sure that when one shows up on the market Edmonton is at the forefront of suitors. Chiarelli did that.

RECENTLY BY JONATHAN WILLIS

  • STIXLER

    This team is not the same Oilers as last year.
    I see many good things. I also see many good things in the oiler management. I hope that Chia & company keep doing what they are doing. turn a blind eye to the many fanbase that create the Stanley cup parade route after wins and want to blow up the team after a loss.

    CHIA STAY THE COURSE!!! THE TEAM IS IMPROVING!!

  • passenger

    Chiarelli did ignore Franson, who is anchoring Buffalos second pair, running 52% CF% and a positive CorsiRel while playing the point on Buffalos top power play unit.

    You can’t force a deal, but you can’t pass in opportunity either.

    Franson was on the market so long it’s not reasonable to argue a fair deal from the Oilers would have been turned down. He also signed with a rebuilding team, so you can’t argue that barrier either.

  • Dwayne Roloson 35

    The stubborn refusal to do anything at this point and wrongly assessing the usefulness of players like Letestu, Korpikoski and Gryba make it look to me like Chiarelli is the puppet and Lowe and Mact are still running the gong show in Edmonton. Apart from blind luck and drawing McDavid I don’t see alot of improvement here.

    After Chiarelli’s moves the defence is still a joke.

  • Klam

    I hate to say it but next year does look brighter.

    McDavid having a amazing rookie campaign.

    Drai coming into his own.

    Nikitin off the books.

    Ferenece out to pasture.

    Nurse, Klefbom and Reinhart all with some seasoning.

    Next year is already looking good.

    Now how do we get this team to be competitive this year. Coach is already working on that. We need to stock the cupboards with talent, but we also need to understand we will have the cap space to grab something good.

    So the real question is who?

    Big Buff is not even close to being on my radar. Why? He is top 10, maybe top 5 when he is motivated and mean. But he comes into camp slow, he has penalty problems. I think he is one to decline faster than some others.

    S Jones? OEL? Who else?

  • stonedtodeath61

    Wow, so one guy can keep whining about the GM not making one very specific implausible trade and he gets an article from JW in response? I should start screaming for Chiarelli’s head because he didn’t trade Purcell and a 5th round pick for Carey Price. Not making that trade is sheer incompetence!

    If Chiarelli offered Hall for OEL, then I would predict that Maloney would still decline. LW is not a huge need for a rebuilding team like Phoenix (is it really that important for any team?), but dealing OEL would create a huge hole in the Coyotes roster. A poor team like Phoenix would be more interested in Nurse and Drasaitl. They’re already wasting too much money on wingers (Doan).

    • Stack Pad Save

      Agree. To pry a top young defenceman away I’d guess most teams in return will wan’t at least a good young D prospect, if not an already established one (Nurse is a good example) and an equivalent or even more established young forward (i.e. Draisatl).

      Look at the Erik Johnson trade, at the time Colorado had to give up Shattenkirk and Chris Stewart. Perhaps Stewart doesn’t seem like much of a loss now but four years ago he was considered a premiere power forward, almost on par with Lucic. Now in four years the game has sort of passed these guys by but at the time they held allot of value. Also looking at Johnson, even though he was a former first overall (4 yrs removed), he wasn’t considered a top pairing D at the time (and has only gained that status within the last year or so, barely). And today many would consider Shattenkirk to be the better of the two.