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.

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.

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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



  • TKB2677

    I’m as big of an Oilers fan as they come. I for years have been one of ones that have been patient, been saying they need to stay the course, keep the guys they have drafted and felt that things would get better. Call it wearing Oilers colored glasses or drinking the Kool Aid but I haven’t wanted to “tear down” the core like many others.

    But this year was different for me. They got rid of the “Old boys club” managing. They brought in a complete outsider to be the GM. He built good teams, he won a cup and had ZERO ties to the old players. He came in and has made some tough decisions already. Sending Scrivens and Nikitin to the minors with their big contracts takes balls. Being involved with stripping the C from Ference and being OK with basically not play him and his big contract takes balls as well. We all know that some roster decisions are based on contract.

    They got rid of Eakins which clearly was a HUGE mistake in hiring him and the players hated. They went out and got a top end coach, who brought in a completely new assistant staff. So I didn’t expect the team to make the playoffs but I did expect them to be in the hunt and I sure as hell didn’t expect them to be dead last again. Now goaltending hasn’t helped but regardless, “the core” once again has failed to do it.

    The only one of “The old core” that has been good is Hall. He’s played his ass off, he’s producing and has clearly taken to playing a 200ft game to heart.

    Nuge. What the hell is wrong with Nuge? I think Nuge has been OK but not great. It’s his 5th year. They have a new coach that I thought would be ideal for a guy like Buge. I was expecting a big year from Nuge and so far he’s be so-so.

    Eberle gets hurt. Since coming back, he’s been garbage. I don’t know if he’s still hurt but his game for the most part has sucked.

    I hear over and over again how the Oilers need defense help. I 100% agree. Right now they have 3 decent Dmen. Nurse who’s a kid. Klefbomb, who’s a kid and Sekera who’s coming on. Schultz, who knows. I think Reinhart will be a player, but he needs some seasoning. Davidson looks like a decent #5. Last time I checked you need 6 NHL DMEN. Not 3, 6. I read articles from the Staples, McCurdy’s, Willis’s, saying the Oilers need Dmen, saying they need to stop going after the Fayne’s, Ferences and Nikitin’s. They need to get better players. Then the next article they write says exactly what is said above. They can’t or it’s “really dangerous” to trade Nuge or Eberle, insert the few decent players the Oilers have.

    So my question is HOW do the Oilers get the quality Dman they desperately need and stop the cycle of going after the mediocre ones? Their goaltending suffers a bit because their defense sucks. They are a lousy team because their defense sucks. They are unattractive to any of the decent UFA’s because their team sucks. They are always trading from a position of weakness because their team sucks. If they added a better Dman, it would help improve all of the above. But if they aren’t allowed to trade away one of the few quality pieces they have, they won’t get a good dman back.

    Something has to give doesn’t it? How long do you continue to keep the same guys who seemingly can’t turn the corner before you shake things up?

  • 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.

  • AJ88

    The Oilers should absolutely trade RNH for a top flight dman …he is a good player but being asked to play out of his depth. He is very vanilla and wont win you a championship by himself,(oh ya we already have one of those guys) that has good advance stats,(barf) and a good two way player,(what’s ruining the game today). The Oilers have been worse every year since we drafted him get a grip!

  • brian_d

    Having this kind of depth at center is a luxury we can’t afford to give up. Drasaitl has shown he is just as capable of playing wing as center, and provides us with a consistent 1-2 punch at center in case 1 goes down with injury. To me, unless you are getting THE #1 franchise d-man in your return (in an assumed package deal either/each way), you don’t deal any of the three centers right now.

  • 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.

  • 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

  • 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.

  • CMG30

    Thank you Willis!

    A drop of reason in the sea of madness that seems to have infected an Oiler fanbase so desperate to win a game or two right now that they’d make any deal.

    There is no way RNH is in any way expendable until we know exactly what we have in Dri. That’s going to take the rest of this season at MINIMUM.

    Of course, there’s also the problem where RNH is already a fantastic player who’s still heading into his prime and signed long term for reasonable dollars. Who comes back in a trade that won’t make the Oilers look like they got fleeced after a few years?

    9 years, (soon to be 10) without playoffs is a long time. I get the desire to do anything to improve RIGHT NOW. But every decision needs to be made with the best interests of the team in mind or 10 years quickly turns into 20 and 20 years into Toronto. THAT would be the true disaster.

  • I think anyone is trade-able, depending on what you get back.

    RNH for OEL? I don’t think Arizona would do that and with OEL being a left shooter, I don’t think Edmonton would eager to make that trade.

    I think RNH is worth more than Seth Jones.

    Who would you trade him for? Maybe he’s not trade-able.

  • A-Mc

    This team is so far away from ever being able to handle a trade a center.. I dont even consider the idea of trading Nuge. Eberle is long gone before Nuge is, 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

        • 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!

        • 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.

        • 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!!!

    • 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.

  • Speed Junky

    We need to add 40 plus point players not give them away

    yak wants to be here and signed a fair contract. he skated he’s ass off

    Nuge skates his ass off. have you negative Nancy’s gone to a game?

    You build a cup team like Chicago. and we are

    97 is our Sign from God

    we he is back things will change

    we lost 7 games by a goal

    chill. patience is a virtue

  • A-Mc

    Whether its Hall, Ebs, RNH eventually someone will have to go. While it is early to rely on McD and Leon, in what other area do we even have a shread of strength??? Center ice ONLY. Goalies – weakness, defence – beyond weak. This team can’t keep trading 3rd / 4th line players and bringing in 4-6 dman. It sucks to trade a good player but to get a good player you have to pay the price.

  • Poutine Gravy

    At this point I’m open to anything that equates to wins. Saying anybody (outside of McDavid) is untouchable is laughable at best. How can anyone on the worst team in the league be considered untouchable. If the right deal comes along make it. Time to focus on winning and not love affairs for single players. Teams win championships not individuals. Just ask the Eskimos. The epitome of a team if you ask me.

  • CMG30

    I am not in favor of trading Nuge at this point in time.

    We have waited years to achieve a position wherein we have depth at centre. We are now on the cusp of having it. Lets not be silly.

    As for the players that make up the “core”, they are MacDavid, Nuge, Draisaitl, Hall, Nurse, Klefbom and possibly Eberle.

    Any other player on the roster should be considered in play to improve the team. A “core” player should only be expendable for a returning core asset.

  • 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.

  • 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

    Nuge has become the type of player where he’s so valuable even if he gets very few points. He’s rounding into the kind of centre that a team can win playoff games with. And JW, you should lose your media credentials for suggesting trading him for Weber! Jones ok, but Weber?! Have you looked at that cap hit and the length of it?! He’ll be using a walker and counting 9 mill towards the cap!

  • Yak all over the place

    Trading one of our three gifted Centres for a gifted Defenseman seems short sighted since we have no prospects of note coming up in the system. (And I happen to love Yakimov)

    For the first time in years, we are finally having our D prospects emerge as legitimate defenders, the likes of which we haven’t seen in years. Our current core has never had the opportunity to play with good defense since they’ve been drafted and forced to play the best competition from day one. They never had any support so it seems weird to blame them for allowing goals in the back of the net. The one player of the core that was proven good at stopping pucks from hitting our net is the person they want to trade away?

    Our goal differential is the closest it’s been to zero in years. We’re not making the playoffs this year and that shouldn’t be news to anyone. Evaluate the team over an 82 game season and go from there. This team hasn’t been healthy ever since the season started. I wonder if everyone dumping on Nuge has already forgotten that he was one the best centers in the league after the All star game that he was the only Oilers that got invited to.

  • Benny Botts

    I love when there is actually some great hockey debates taking place here at ON. But i have to laugh at the people in favor of trading #93. How we forget the hatred that was spewed at the last managment regime when they got rid of proven NHL players to hang a 18-19 year old Nugent-hopkins out to dry, to take on the other #1 centers in the West. Now you guys want to do the exact same thing to both Drai and Mcdavid, makes very little sense to me. I understand you have to give to get in this league but to even think of the possibility of trading your only all around #1 centre at the age of 22, to me is complete and utter nonsense. The Oil desperatley need help on the blue line, but shipping Nuge out is not the answer.

  • 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….

  • 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.

  • Poutine Gravy

    When the Oilers are last in the league, and struggling to score goals, I wouldn’t exactly say that they have superfluous talent.

    If we’re going to trade for talent, it’s going to hurt somewhere.

  • Zarny

    I don’t think Matheson’s article says anything profound. The Oilers’ shortcomings on D are obvious and their options to improve are the same as every team: draft/develop, sign free agents or trade.

    With four 1st overalls, Draisaitl and Eberle on F and only Nurse and Klefbom on D it’s logical to explore trading a F asset for something equivalent on D.

    I’m sure Chiarelli, like any GM, prefers to move a veteran like Purcell first and a W like Eberle or Yakupov before considering Draisaitl or Nuge. You can’t really determine what the best option is without knowing the actual return, not the theoretical, for all of your options.

    Moving Nuge or Draisaitl might return Weber or Jones; but maybe they won’t or perhaps it costs Nuge + 2016 1st rnd pick. That has to weighed against what Eberle or Yakupov + would return. Or just the 2016 1st rnd pick. With 3 young LD in Nurse, Klefbom and Reinhart the best option might involve packaging Klefbom with a pick or F asset.

    Theoretically, there are lots of options. I don’t think the Oilers are in a position to categorically exclude any outside of trading McDavid.

  • 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.