Teddy Purcell has found some rhythm. After recording just two points in his first 10 games of the year, he has nine in his last 10 contests. He’s filling the same role he played with such success in Tampa Bay a few years back, as the complementary winger on a line with bigger talents, and he’s filling it well.
The question now is what the Edmonton Oilers should do with the pending unrestricted free agent.
The Case For
Purcell is a multi-purpose veteran on a team that has been largely turned over to the department of youth, and that gives him some value. He’s 30 years old and will turn 31 next September, which puts him on the downhill slide of NHL career arc but isn’t “old.” He also has 500 games of experience in the regular season and has been part of a long playoff run with the Lightning in 2011 (he put up 17 points in 18 games).
Those veteran credentials manifest themselves in different ways. He can play left or right wing, he can kill penalties and his defensive conscience is pretty strong—particularly since being united with Hall and Draisaitl, a situation which allows him to play a supporting role on offence and encourages him to keep an eye on defence.
Purcell isn’t overly physical, but he’s reasonably big (6’2”, 195 pounds) and he can play against big, tough teams, with his game last week against the Kings being Exhibit A. The puck also tends to stick to him; one of his underrated qualities is as a defensive forward, where he’s surprisingly good at challenging opposition rushes and forcing turnovers. Offensively he has a decent shot but his real talent is as a playmaker.
Purcell shouldn’t be too expensive, either. He’s in the final year of a deal with a $4.5 million cap hit and even with his improved play of late he’s probably looking at a steep pay cut and he’s not likely to get more than a one- or two-year deal.
The Case Against
My personal belief is that this latest surge by Purcell is valuable to the Oilers mostly because it shows the rest of the league that the winger is still capable of playing in a top-six role with superior talent. That means a better return at the trade deadline, which should still be Edmonton’s primary play here.
The main reason I say that is because every summer teams are tripping over complementary wingers. Curtis Glencross had to retire after being passed over by two clubs this fall. Sean Bergenheim and others pursued work in Europe instead. New Jersey picked up both Lee Stempniak and Jiri Tlusty for less than the Oilers are paying Mark Letestu. Even highly-touted Matt Beleskey ended up coming in at a cap hit of less than $4.0 million.
Purcell is a middle-six winger with a range of skills. Those players are a dime-a-dozen in free agency and so he’ll be easily replaced in the summer.
Those players, however, are relatively hard to find in February when NHL teams are scrambling around trying to gear up for a playoff run. There are always way more buyers than sellers, which means that if Purcell looks like a guy who can be slotted into a second- or third-line job and provide a right shot on the power play, he’s going to command some kind of return, particularly given his past playoff performance. Edmonton isn’t at the point where it can afford to turn its nose up at a decent prospect or even a mid-round pick.
The Oilers also have some internal options at right wing. In addition to Nail Yakupov and Jordan Eberle, there’s Leon Draisaitl. I strongly believe Edmonton should keep all three of Connor McDavid, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Draisaitl; if general manager Peter Chiarelli feels the same it’s entirely possible that the big German ends up playing on the starboard side. Purcell can play on the left side, but it’s not his natural position and given how replaceable wingers tend to be I’m not at all sure it makes sense to go with a sub-optimal fit.
Finally, Purcell’s in a hot run right now and it’s not likely to continue forever. His stick changes may make a difference long-term or they may end up being like Shawn Horcoff’s trip to the Mexican stick factory, a small adjustment which makes a difference in the short-term but doesn’t fundamentally alter the player long-term. He’ll be 31 soon, and he can’t afford to lose another step.
To me, the answer is obvious: Cash-in on whatever success he has by getting a better return at the trade deadline, then go shopping in the summer for a cheap veteran who can play a middle-six role on the wings.