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. 

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:

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.

Todd McLellan2

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.

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



  • JW what kind of fresh hell would this idea at this time even be viable? My goodness we get McDavid and we all are getting delusions of grandeur. What are some folks thinking.Our weakest area for years and now we are thinking of trading for another area of weakness? Im sorry but Nashville has no free agents signed on their defence for a reason. They have developed their defence. They have not developed anyone at center. But that is their problem. We need to stop signing Faynes and Ferences and continue to focus on developing our own defencemen. Ala Petry and Davidson. Trading away RNH is not the solution. Drafting guys like Nurse and Klefbom and developing them is the better solution to our defence issues.

  • McDavid#97

    This idea sounds intriguing but I wouldn’t trade Nuge. Pittsburgh was dominant when they had three centermen in Crosby, Malkin and Staal. Trade Yak while his potential is so high right now according to the Yak lovers. I like Yak because he’s an Oiler but he needs to show the hockey world why he’s a 1st overall pick. Pavel Bure played with Dana Murzyn and still put up points.

  • Speed Junky

    good things take time.

    draft and free agents is the way

    patience. the 30 spot is not the whole story.

    7 games lost by 1 goal.

    they are improving.

    97 FTW

  • Instead of focusing on being a blogging machine maybe write less and think more. You know, quality not quantity Willis. Defending such under-performers is nonsense. RNH and Eberle are what they are. Weak and injury-prone and with no will to compete. The only thing more ridiculous than your angle on this piece is the integrity of their work ethic and their commitment.

    You cannot be serious.

  • Poutine Gravy

    Trade RNH.

    Short answer. No.

    Long answer. Absolutely no.

    Why do so many Oilers fans like to pin the losing on just a couple players. Trade Hall, move Yak, deal RNH, get rid of Eberle. It’s baffling. I most certainly agree Yak and Eberle are not playing well among many other players (hello AHLer Lander), especially Yak (KHL future written all over him) but the losing isn’t any one players fault.

    The reality is that team doesn’t have the right mix of youth and experience. And when I say experience I don’t mean 7-8 d-man or fourth line grinders. You can’t just continue to move those players. We need talent and experience in our top 6 forwards and in our top 4 defense. We have too much youth. Period. But what we can’t do is go trading one of the most productive wingers in the league (Hall) and one of our most consistent 2 way centres (Nuge) just to shake up the roster. We have been weak down the middle for years and all of a sudden some want to trade RNH? I don’t get it. A good GM must find a way. We have lots of other options. Move prospects and picks. Over pay with an extra pick if you need too.

  • TKB2677

    As much as I am a fan of Hall, Nuge Eberle, when you are the 30th place team and have been near the bottom for s long as the Oilers have, there shouldn’t be too many players on the list of untouchable. My “list” would be as follows:

    Hall – He’s their best player since he was drafted. He’s a driver. He’s one of the best left wingers in the league.

    McDavid – No explanation needed.

    Draisatl – The Oilers severely lack skilled size in the top 6. It’s a must to have players like him to have any chance in the West.

    Nurse – They already lack Dmen. They can’t afford to get rid of one of the few good ones they have.

    Klefbomb – See Nurse.

    Other than that, I would be open to anything. As much as I love Nuge and it would kill me to see him go. If someone offered me a significant Dman for Nuge, I would listen.

    • Spoils

      I agree with everything you’ve said….and I agree with another poster that said the problem isn’t the young guys, the problem is what has surrounded them. That doesn’t mean you don’t listen to offers on them, just saying it’s driven me crazy for 5 yrs listening to complaints about the young guys; they are all we’ve had, like em or hate em.

  • Spiel

    The Oilers can likely only afford all three of McDavid, Drai, and Nuge for this season and next.

    Definitely when McDavid is off his ELC, one will need to be moved because Nuge will be making his $6M, Drai could be paid even more than that if he keeps producing.

    • A-Mc

      It is of course possible that you are right but I think the evidence of a rising salary cap suggests you are most likely wrong. $6m for a top two centre when other guys in the league are making 8.25m(E. Staal) or even 10+m(Toews and Malkin) is an absolute bargain contract. For example outside of Tavares I’m not sure there is a better deal than Hall’s in the entire league.

      History suggests we should see a fairly continual string of 5% bumps to the cap. Considering the new revenues to be brought in by the new rink I would expect the Oilers to be a cap team for the next decade or so at least. That being the case having 20-22m tied up in three C seems a reasonable allocation of funds to me. You then augment the line-up with a rotation of 2nd and 3rd line W on entry level deals and inexpensive FA deals. The C’s drive the bus and the W are mainly along for the ride. When it comes to spending dollars it’s the Eberle’s who should be on the outside looking in.

  • Speed Junky

    Do you want to Win the CUP???

    we need all our 1st picks.

    stick with the plan. 3 centres. 3 scoring lines

    No one gives away a Shea Webber

    29 and 4

    93 and 14

    and

    97 and 10

    plus new wing men

    NHL teams can’t defend against 3 scoring lines

  • Spoils

    Does anyone else remember the debate about what to do with Leon Draisaitl over the summer? “Oh gosh, the oilers can’t for the life of them have three capable centers.”

    Sure RNH is probably the player on the team that could fetch you that number 1 D man. But who in their right mind is going to trade you a Doughty, Kieth or Weber… Those deals just don’t happen. I can’t honestly see a world in which you trade someone like RNH and win the deal.

    Let’s hope Peter’s past mistake of trading Seguin is still fresh in his mind. Replacing a winger like Eberle or Yakupov (both guys I’d like the Oilers to keep) is much easier than a 22 year old 2-way Center who outscores guys like Ryan Kesler and Jeff Carter at even Strength. Don’t see in which reality the Oilers win a trade for him. Even Seth Jones is a stretch. He’s currently playing on the deepest Blue Line in the entire NHL….

  • llong33

    I would move a winger… before I move a centre men. Having 3 centres isn’t a bad thing and Dr. Drai, has shown he has no problem playing on the wing either. I hate to say this but… I love Eberle to death, but I love the Oilers more. So if we could move Ebby ++ for a proven defensemen (which we all know is ridiculously HARD TO DO) Especially not straight up, unless it’s an aging Dman, or a team has cap issues, we probably won’t see a trade for a TOP flight defensemen. We are better off… focusing on home grown and look to Jacob Chychrun next summer.

  • Derzie

    This is such a non starter. The kid is third in scoring on the team, has been playing the tough competition all season, is only 24, and is in the best years of his very good contract.

    Ya, better trade that guy.

    Go back and look at what the Pens got for Jordan Stall in his last year on contract. They got the 8th overall pick, and Suter, who they recently flipped for Bonino, a D man, and 2 round pick for a conditional 3rd.

  • Spoils

    people shouldn’t be afraid of trades. as long as you get equal (but different) value back, both teams should win. yes you are going to miss all the great things about RNH, but think about what you get back.

    dreamers can sit around preaching that we keep all of our players AND get a #1D somehow, but realistically there needs to be a trade.

    Imagine Chicago had drafted Crosby, then traded him for Duncan Keith – prior to their three cups. I postulate that to highlight the value of getting the right pieces.

    A #1D is a crucial puzzle piece. show me a stanley cup winner without one.

  • I hate to say it, because Nuge has been a great asset to the team, but I think soon would be the time to trade him. He has struggled lately, and after much expectation coming into the league as a first overall, he looks like he is fed up with losing and tired of trying. Perhaps a change of scenery for him would be good for him as a player, and for the team, hopefully, if we could get a solid D-man for him.

  • ComeAtMeDog

    Oiler fans are very knowledgeable relative to the draft. They should be, it is all we have had to look forward to forever.

    Every year we hear that a team should draft the best player available (BPA). Why? Because players are assets for management to cull, develop, and trade to help improve their team.

    Now that the possibility of the Oilers actually trading one of their assets has arisen, the hordes have their pitchforks out.

    How many times have we heard tat hockey is a business? Well, sooner rather than later, the Oilers management team may have to make a business decision if they want to actually improve to the point where the team is a Cup contender.

  • The Last Of Barrett's Privateers

    WOW, Still on RNH…

    I look at RNH like a young Bergeron, dare I say with same skill set and the ability to be just as good defensively..(not there yet)

    With Eberle and an additional lottery selection the Oilers have value without having to deal RNH.

    Relax, enjoy the season Hall is having, enjoy the season Dra is having and cheer for Eberle to continue being a top forward.

    MSM needs to relax on the whole trade from a position of strength to fill a position of weakness.

    Wait, I guarantee after the draft the Oilers will still have RNH and the defence will be fixed.

    Nothing about trading RNH makes sense.

  • SSB1963

    So crazy story… I’m at Burnaby 8 Rinks with a couple of friends in Vancouver having a Powerade while waiting for my 11:45PM game. we’re watching a Div 1 men’s game (great pace – too fast for me) and talking hockey. My buddy suggests exactly this; trade RNH because McDavid and Dr. Drai are a great one – two.

    Anyway, this lady at the next table over says “he doesn’t want to be traded; he likes playing for the Oilers.” Our first thought was “whatever crazy old lady” but after a bit of conversation it turns out she is RNH’s mom. She was there watchin his older brother play in the Div 1 game we were watching.

    I asked a few questions and the summary version is the boys are frustrated but feel they deserve a better fate than the record. Nuge in particular is putting a lot on his shoulders to score more.

    It also sounds like the boys really like coach Todd and they also really liked Krueger. Eakins… not so much.

    • Good made-up story, bro.

      Even if Nuge’s mom says that Nuge likes Edmonton, the point of trading him is to do what’s best for the team. That may be trading him, it may be keeping him.

      Honestly though, $6m for a third-line centre is crazy.

      • nuge2drai

        Of course… I mean, strange things never happen in the real world. Clearly, I must have made up a story about meeting Nuge’s mom watching her oldest son play hockey… at the rink where Nuge played most of his minor league hockey… and where they have a giant wall sized image of him.

        Now that you mention it, I actually met her at a strip club where the older brother was the DJ. He played nothing but heavy metal polka music interlaced with Boys2Men. We all snorted rails off the bouncers ass in the lobby while trading stock tips and laughing about american politics.

        Mind you, it is possible that she was just a crazy lady who knows way too much about Nuge I guess.

  • nuge2drai

    Is Seth Jones a leader ? Not just a very good defenceman. I mean is he a LEADER ?

    Also, is he old enough that other players would respect him? I’d have my doubts about that part.

    And something else to ponder. How many, if any, actually would love to get out of here? I’m thinking there are some. Maybe quiet a few. Maybe not.

  • oilbaron

    Just wait until after the draft lottery when we win the 1st overall pick again and draft Matthews.throw nuge plus the 2017 forst round pick out there for a #1 dman

  • Randaman

    RNH had second or third most ice time for a forward in the NHL last year, and if I’m not mistaken, has had ice time like that in previous seasons. That is how important he’s been. His ice time would fall this season with McDavid. Keep all three centres. I think he’s becoming an Yzerman, Sakic type all round centre. Trades are almost only for spare parts, prospects or damaged goods these days.

  • CMG30

    Not sure where he gets that Draisaitl is better at center then the wing. I think his points per game this season on the wing, are higher then his PPG at center. I think the important part, is that he sticks with Hall.

    I still think it is ludicrous that we are trying to trade RNH, when we finally achieve sokme depth at the position. And moving Draisaitl to the Wing is a great option, and adds depth at the wing position as well, which we are not that deep at either. Next year Purcell is likely gone too.

    For me the emergence of Draisaitl, pushes yak out of the top 6, not RNH.

    Hall-RNH-Draisiatl
    Pouliot-McDavid-Ebs

    That is a pretty nice top 6. I would not tamper with it.

    • TKB2677

      Why would Eberle automatically play with McDavid? His 0.27 ppg pace? He’s been garbage all season.

      At some point he will get some points, but so would Pakarinen with that kind of TOI, zone starts and quality of linemates.

  • S cottV

    What will the Oilers do next year, when they have may have Austin Matthews on the team as well? It’s getting ridiculously funny. I think Nicholson over rated Chirelli. All his moves have been dismal. He has made more bad moves in a very short time than MacTavish:

    Sekera- brutal over payment and terrible term for an average defenceman

    Talbot- over valued and still nothing more than a decent back up goalie

    Reinhart- gross over valued defenceman with the skills to be no higher than an average 3rd pairing defenceman. He also gave up too much to get him

    Korpikoski- just a bad signing for an average run of the mill player

    Gryba- big, but nothing more than an average bottom pairing defenceman

    When will the fans and media get over the honeymoon phase and hold Nicholson and Chirelli responsible for not improving the team