Trading Nugent-Hopkins would be a dangerous decision for the Oilers

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Trading Ryan Nugent-Hopkins for help on defence is an idea that has gained some currency among at least a portion of the Edmonton Oilers’ fanbase. It’s also an extremely risky proposition. 

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The argument in favour of a trade is straight-forward enough. In a recent piece for the Edmonton Journal, veteran reporter Jim Matheson argued that the Oilers should certainly proceed with caution, but that the team should still be willing to listen to offers on the centre. His full piece is here; I’ve selected quotations which convey the heart of the argument:

Nugent-Hopkins is the Oilers’ best trading chip to try to get the No. 1 defenceman the team sorely needs … Draisaitl can play wing but he is better at centre, and you really only need two pure offensive centres on a team.

Matheson’s column comes with some common sense caveats. He says that the Oilers shouldn’t make a deal now, and not even later in the season when Connor McDavid has recovered from a broken collarbone. And it’s hard to argue with his choice of target: either Shea Weber or Seth Jones would be a lovely addition to Edmonton’s defence.

But it’s also important to recognize how dangerous such a move would be.

The Case Against

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Leon Draisaitl. There’s a lot of love for Draisaitl right now, and I get it. He’s been fantastic this season since being recalled from the AHL. But it’s also important not to gloss over things like a) his 27.6 shooting percentage or b) the two goals he scored in 37 games last year or c) the two points and minus-five rating he put up in six AHL games this year. This is a very talented young player, but he’s 20 years old and 50 games into his NHL career and his recent streak of sublime play is not the only thing he’s done as a pro.

I think Draisaitl’s probably good enough to be the No. 2 centre on the Oilers behind Connor McDavid in the long-term. I’m also cognizant that I don’t know that yet, and in Peter Chiarelli’s shoes I’d be terrified of running two guys with less than 200 games of combined experience as my No. 1 and No. 2 centres next year. It wasn’t all that long ago that Nugent-Hopkins and before him Sam Gagner had encouraging rookie and sophomore campaigns that convinced many they were for real. It wasn’t all that long ago either that Nugent-Hopkins was widely rated ahead of Taylor Hall in terms of importance to the Oilers franchise. Once bitten, twice shy.

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Defensive prowess. Nugent-Hopkins has been labeled a pure offensive centre by some and a soft skills centre by others, but this is a guy who contributes more than what shows up in his point totals. This is the third consecutive season in which he’s played a regular role on the penalty kill. He’s been playing tough opponents at five-on-five for years and despite this the Oilers have been markedly better with him on the ice than off it in pretty much every category. This is a player who no less an authority than Ken Hitchcock compared to Pavel Datsyuk, a guy who then-Edmonton coach Tom Renney described this way in his rookie year:

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He makes five guys on the ice, including himself, better and probably our goaltender too because the puck’s usually going the other way or it’s out of trouble in our end, and he’s right there from a points perspective.

Neither Draisaitl nor McDavid bring the defensive credentials in the here-and-now that Nugent-Hopkins does. Edmonton doesn’t have another centre as good defensively as Nugent-Hopkins who is capable of contributing in any significant way offensively.

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It’s awfully nice to have three centres. Todd McLellan is pretty used to having three quality pivots at his disposal; in San Jose he ran Joe Thornton and Logan Couture one-two down the middle and alternated Joe Pavelski between centre and wing. It’s not hard to imagine him doing something similar with the three players he has now at some point down the road, particularly given Draisaitl’s ability to play all three positions. Peter Chiarelli won in 2011 with a Boston team that had three good pivots, too, with Patrice Bergeron and David Krejci providing a one-two punch and Chris Kelly finishing fifth on the team in even-strength scoring with 13 points in 25 games.

If the Predators come calling with Seth Jones, perhaps none of that matters. Maybe it’s so important to shore up the right side of the blue line that trading a quality 22-year-old two-way centre makes sense if the possibility arises. I don’t believe in “untouchable” lists and there are certainly deals where it would make sense for the Oilers to part with their 2011 No. 1 pick.

But caution is vital here. Nugent-Hopkins is far from superfluous, and the best case scenario would be if the Oilers can solve their defensive shortcomings without giving up on the lovely one-two-three combo they have at centre. Edmonton fans have seen how a lack of depth down the middle can hurt a team; it’s a lot easier to find a Teddy Purcell-type player who can play on the wings with a good centre than it is a good centre to fill a void if one develops.

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Trading Nugent-Hopkins may turn out to be the best possible decision at some point. But it should certainly be a last resort.

RECENTLY BY JONATHAN WILLIS



  • KevCantDance

    Let’s face it…the second those ping pong balls dropped, Nuge became expendable, pending how Drai developed. It’s been 5 years now…going on six of last or near last place finishes. I love Nuge and Hall and Ebs too, but we’ve never done anything but finish as a laughing stock with that core. Our fan base may have to get used to the idea that our core is now McDavid, Drai, Nurse and Klef. Not the untouchable core we have now, who have driven this bus over the rails multiple times.

  • Big Cap

    5 years into his career and what major improvements has Nuge shown? 43% in face offs this year. Minus player. And generally gets out muscled down low. He plays every PP and always has the best wingers, yet is hardly a dominant offensive force.

    Why is he so untouchable??

    He should be talked about just as much as Ebs, Schultz, or Yak in the trade market.

    • AJ88

      Giroux is minus 7, Crosby minus 10, Malkin 43% on the dots….Are you trading them too? Quit cherry picking the stats, RNH would be one of the last I would trade if at all. JW, stirring the pot as usual with articles that align with the ON Wolfpack.

      • Randaman

        Face offs have already been discussed. He is poor at best.

        He is struggling this year in the defensive zone. Seen this many times so far this season.

        He constantly gets knocked off th puck and the play dies.

        Or am I cherry picking here too?

        I love Nuge but we are still in 30th place after 3 years so something has to give.

        Eberle or Yak first but their value would be lower so do you trade both Eberle and Yak to get what Nuge could have gotten by himself?

        • AJ88

          I don’t think his GA’ and TA’s support your comments, however you are entitled to your opinion as well as anybody else. IMO if you think Hopkins is struggling in his own end you have a warped biased view of him. I would be interested to hear who you think is much better in the defensive end.

        • AJ88

          Because JW is writing a piece that he knows will stir up the RNH non believers. And what makes JW immune fro getting some shots fired his way, he fires his fair share.

      • Big Cap

        The 3 players you mentioned do have an ugly stat that you pointed out. However, all 3 of those same players also bring a huge upside in another facet of their game.

        What is the huge upside RNH brings that makes him completely untouchable or susceptible to any criticism by media or fans??

        A 5 year vet at 6M per year, he needs to bring more to the table.

      • CMG30

        Actually, JW’s article is a response to an article from the Journal’s Jim Matheson who suggested a trade between Edmonton and Nashville (which he links to at the start of the article).

        On one side, you have a team that’s weak at C but a lot of quality at D. On the other, you have a team with a lot of quality at C but is weak at D. It’s a logical trading scenario.

        Nuge would be the best centre Nashville has ever had. There’s value to that. On the Oilers’ side, I think the thought is that Jones would be the top pairing defender the Oilers have lacked since Pronger left.

        For the record, I don’t think the Oil should trade Nuge either, simply because centre depth is too important. But this is not an in-season move, either. Depending on how high the Oilers draft, maybe it’s the Oil #1 for Seth Jones.

    • Dwayne Roloson 35

      I’d say he’s untouchable right now because of how he plays the most minutes out our forwards, he plays against the tough competition, he’s one of the leaders in takeaways and he’s on pace for a career high in points.

      We gave nuge the #1 job the instant he got here and we’ve struggled. Now people want to trade Nuge and do the same thing to Drai and McDavid.

      That’s a little Mactarded IMO.

  • S cottV

    Nuge is not as solid defensively as most think. Not built for the heavy going down low and makes suspect decisions when trying to coordinate with d men, to cover d zone threats.

    While early – both Drai and McD when he was playing, have shown remarkable ability to scan around and behind – to respond with the d to shut down threats. They are both much better than I would have expected and way ahead of where Nuge was – in his first two years.

    That being said – sure – you would prefer to wait, given that we are not going to make the playoffs and you would like to have more time to make such a decision.

    If Eberle and or Yak could deliver the d man we need – wonderful, keep Nuge – at least a little longer to see if McD and Drai prove to be the real 1/2c deal. I don’t think Eberle and certainly Yak – have the value.

    If Nuge stays, I would at some point like to see if he can play on the wing. That gives us additional backup depth at centre in case of injury. I don’t see a 3 scoring line scenario involving the 3 at centre, from an ice time and future cost perspective.

    I believe that Drai’s size and skill set at centre will quickly prove to be a necessity at 2c, as he gains more and more experience. As the Oilers eventually move toward playoff contention and into the playoffs it will become more apparent. That is when you are playing for real and where the down low d zone war within the war, often determines the winner.

  • A-Mc

    For a 5th year guy making $6M per year, this year has definately been a huge disappointment from Nuge.

    Still can’t win a draw, gets pushed off the puck in the O-zone way too easily, and this year his defense has even taken a step back. He’s too often a non-factor 5 on 5 which is unacceptable for a center making $6M per year.

    Hall has been mostly dominant, and Eberle’s been hurt so who knows. But Nuge has been a problem and I’m guessing he’s one of the guys (maybe the main guy) Chiarelli was talking about when he said he’s disappointed in some of the vets.

      • Randaman

        And yet, here we are in 30th again.

        Is there a common denominator here?

        Changed GM, changed coaching staff, McDavid injured and this group still can’t get it done.

        This upcoming trade deadline should prove to be interesting to say the least or we could be discussing this same fiasco next December.

        This group is the common denominator and changes are required. This we know????

        You wouldn’t think so with all the keep the core comments. Geesh

        • TKB2677

          Why are we in 30th?

          Two reasons:

          1. Injuries are forcing us to dig deep in the system to ice a team

          2. MacT made some bad bets that we won’t get clear of until the summer

          #1 we can’t do anything about, and #2 we’re stuck with until the summer

          So keep your shirt on, show some patience, support the guys instead of flying off the handle and making statements out of panic or to rile the fan base, which is what Matheson did.

          If by next September Chiarelli hasn’t drastically reworked the roster with the 16-20M of cap room he’ll have and few other GM’s will , then it’s the time for inflammatory statements.

          • hitchikerforajax

            I wonder if the Oiler management, know the meaning of insane? Doing the same thing over & over, expecting a different result. This group of players, has been here for almost 6 yrs., with no improvement. Just maybe, trading some of the Oiler “stars”, who are 2nd line players on just about every other team, will change this horror story. If one player, McDavid, getting hurt tanks the team, then obviously, this team, with these players, have no possible chance, of making the playoffs. It would be good to get out of last place!!!

        • So the solution is to trade the guy the coaching staff trusts more than anyone else on the team?

          RNH and Hall are not the reason the team is bad, and any argument that begins with “the team is losing with these guys” can be immediately dismissed as entirely bereft of logic.

        • Zarny

          Yes, there is a common denominator here.

          The Oilers have consistently had one of the worst bluelines in the NHL with average or worse goaltending. And their depth on F beyond Hall, Nuge and Eberle has been paper thin.

          The “core” hasn’t been and isn’t the problem; the complete lack of anything of substance surrounding them has been.

          The question isn’t really should the Oilers trade Nuge or Eberle or Yak or any particular player. You can win with all of them.

          The question is simply should the Oilers trade one of their numerous F assets to improve and balance the roster vs continuing to draft, develop and wait or sign free agents.

          And if they choose to trade a F asset the question becomes what provides the best rate of return; which might not necessarily mean which player provides the best player in return.

        • Yak all over the place

          The common denominator is the management team trading away veterans and leaving the rookies to fend for themselves against the top opposition in the NHL. But by all means, let’s keep doing it. Surely it’ll work THIS time!

    • SSB1963

      Yes and he has had a carrousel of wingers. The team hasn’t been healthy enough to get a real read. I for one am leary about trading quality centers when we were so weak in the middle for so long.

  • Poutine Gravy

    Leon should be known as CANADA DRAI. [ Yes he is German but plays here] Better than Dr Drai. CANADA DRAI ! Like the ginger Ale…

    I have no idea why i mentioned this.

  • Randaman

    This is getting rather hilarious.

    Hall, Nuge, Eberle & Yak are the basis of the core that have gotten us absolutely nowhere and yet nobody wants to trade to make the team better.

    I’m sooooooo confused

  • BobbyCanuck

    Bad idea, Drai is due for a major shoulder injury…cause Oilers

    We need to keep as much depth on the roster as possible…very little risk in keeping all our top players, for this year anyways, perhaps at the deadline or in the summer there will be an offer to good to refuse.

    There is no impetuous for improvement, no need to sell the farm to make the play-offs, absolutely no point, no pressure on management to produce, arena sells out every game, revenue is up, business valuation has nearly doubled. it is a development year…

  • ComeAtMeDog

    We are never going to improve if we keep trading our best and most useful players. Don’t ever trade Nuge!!! He hasn’t even hit his peak yet an he sacrifices points for playing the right way defensively. He could easily be a point a game player if he played like Hall, not worrying about his own end of the rink.

  • Willis, I don’t really think you get it.
    RNH is a loser, to the core.
    Look at tonight’s game.
    Does nothing all night.
    Gets one chance and can’t finish.
    He is a third liner. Trade him for a functional player like Stempniak tomorrow. At least, we wouldn’t have to endure the endless tease that this is something more than a third line center.

  • Big Cap

    I think it is time to put things in perspective.

    Nuge is a highly more skilled version of Horcoff, minus the faceoff dot.

    This is not a slight, this is the reality. We are asking Nuge to be a shut down guy, a two way guy, a defensive minded guy. Not an offensive guy.

    He is out two way centre. To trade him would be a mistake and foolish.

  • Randaman

    I know, lets do nothing and stay in the bottom of the league. The draft parties are killers.

    Let’s do the same thing year after year after year after year……

    You all probably wouldn’t trade Bieber either.

  • For Pete's Sake!

    The Oilers shouldn’t trade Nuge, plain and simple. We need more players like him who work hard at both ends of the ice. He competes hard.

    Why would we trade a guy like that??

    He is literally being pulled down by the substandard efforts of his two linemates, Pouliot and Eberle this year.

    Nuge’s plus/minus is -4, while Pouliot and Eberle are each -9, worst on the team.

    Hall is +12 and Draisaitl is +8.

    That tells me the guys we should trade are Pouliot and Eberle.

    Let’s keep the guys who are actually helping this team.

    • NJ

      I agree we shouldn’t trade Nuge. However the few games Eberle has been back also mean we should stay the course IF you are basing this on poor performance and a plus minus rating.

      If you are basing the trade on “you have to give to get”, sure you can trade either or both of Eberle / Pouliot but at this point I think you wait until AT LEAST the halfway point of the season as Eberle will turn it around based on history.

      If Hamonic or better is coming back the point in the season is irrelevant, do what you have to do… Except for the ” core” that is. (McD, Hall, Nurse, Drai, Nuge I would say… Probably Klefbom too)

  • CMG30

    I don’t trade Nuge. I’d keep Dr Drai on wing, and trade Eberle long before I traded Baby Nuge. Eberle plus Schultz is likely an over pay on Seth Jones. Nashville throws in a couple mid round picks, and the deal gets done.

    How good would Schultz look paired with Webber. Nashville gets a much needed offensive minded winger and a suitable replacement for Jones.

  • D

    One or both of Nurse and Klefbom could become the #1 stud D-Man in the near future. In that event, talk of trading RNH would look rather imprudent in hindsight.

  • AJ88

    The ONLY player I am willing to trade Nuge for is Doughty. Nobody else.. sorry..

    I am not interested in Lander as an option to fill in when their are injuries.

  • It is too late to trade any of our most valuable chips (Hall, Ebs, RNH) for any kind of impact this season. Any trade should probably be made in the off-season.

    Barring injury, there’s no way I could see Nashville moving either Jones or Weber heading in to the playoffs (even with 3/4 of the season to play). Playoff teams add pieces for picks & prospects, they don’t undergo overhauls.

    I’d look at moving Hall in the off-season if he continues at his current pace. His value is high, and probably exceeds a maintainable level – he is young, healthy, scoring, locked in to a good contract, and starting to get respect around the league. Even his biggest detractors aren’t talking about the warts in his game, and that’s the time to make a deal.

  • Randaman

    What about the CASE FOR?

    Not that I want to trade Nuge but the writing is on the wall for someone to go from the so called first core group.

    There have to be some pro’s to trading Nuge, value wise, etc. I mean other than what Matheson says

  • ComeAtMeDog

    id trade ebs , shultz yak or anyone not named Hall,Connor,drai,nuge,nurse,klef .

    Nuge is a beast . his IQ is super high . these guys dont come around that often

    big mistake if we trade him .

    hell probably score 2 tonight to silence the critics and i hope he does .

  • Semi

    The idea of having this debate while McDavid is out, kills me.

    Without Nuge, and one of McDavid or Draisaitl injured, the Oilers second line center is Lander or Letestu…

    In the future, sure, maybe. But would still advocate for moving a winger and sliding a center over.

    Would much rather have centers playing wing when healthy, than wingers playing center when injuries happen.

    Not to mention one of the biggest complaints about the Oilers forwards is that they don’t backcheck, yet the Oilers should trade the one guy who consistently does?

    Poor Nuge. The Rodney Dangerfield of the Oilers; no respect.

  • S cottV

    I know there has been a lot of talk about trading RNH but after listening to Chiarellis’ presser the comment that stood out to me was:

    “I’m disappointed but I’m not going to make a trade just to make a trade. You need to do whats best for the organization long term.”

    Seems to me like a GM who isn’t making rash decisions, or else you might have already seen Hamonic in Oilers silks with a significant piece going back to New York.

    Regardless I hope RNH is an Oiler for his entire career. Easier to replace a winger as already mentioned then a 1st overall Centre.