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



  • Slapshot

    There should be only 4 untouchables on this roster,McDavid ,Nurse,Klefbom and Draisaitl other than that if I’m Chiarelli I’m listening to all offers ,its time they rebuild the rebuild from the original rebuild.plus the way this team is playing believe it or not ,we are going to be getting another draft lottery pick.

    • hitchikerforajax

      McDavid is the only untouchable right now – and to be honest who knows how he will work out. The assumption he will be a great player but who knows in this garbage era of hockey where there is no scoring.

      Nurse, Klefbom and Leo are not exactly a murders row of prospects.

      IMO the Oil need to let things play out there is no need to make any moves until after the season– what is the point – besides what value do any of our players have minus Hall.

      We need to get Matthews and need to trade for some goaltending and D.

  • 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

  • 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!!!

        • 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.

        • 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.

        • 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.

  • HardBoiledOil 1.0

    if the player offered straight up for Nuge is Seth Jones, then i would do it. is it a gamble? you bet and Leon would have to put up at least what Nuge put up last year for the Oilers to come out of this OK, and that’s barring injury, in which case we’re hooped, unles people feel that Yakimov or Khaira are a 3rd line option? both are unproven.

    also if Nuge were traded for say Kevin Shattenkirk, what guarantee would we have that he would even stay here long term after next season when he’s a UFA? this is what worries me the most….we trade a guy who wants to be here and is productive for a guy who bolts first chance he gets and we end up with nothing or a draft pick if we trade him at the deadline his UFA year because he won’t re-sign.

  • ponokanocker

    Untouchable? No. The only untouchable management should have is McDavid. Every other player should be considered in a move to upgrade the team.

    Should they consider moving RNH just because we have 3 solid C’s now? Absolutely not, and he would not be my first choice to move out, but he will be close to the first choice of other GM’s. You have to give a lot to get a lot, and we need a #1D.

  • SLURVE

    I would never trade RNH not at this stage of his young career. Top centreman are difficult to come by and the Oilers know too well of that (and having an injury to one is not). What is wrong with have Drai on wing interchangeably and when an injury occurs, Drai can always fill in. I believe Gregor, Spector and Rishaug all suggested that RNH can be moved. That was a shocker to hear. Talk about counting eggs before Drai is established. Sometimes, not sure if these guys create such scenarios to get their 15 minutes…really.

  • 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!

  • 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?

  • 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

    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.

  • NJ

    Huge is my favorite Oiler and ideally the Oilers trade Eberle IMO, but there will always be a case why we shouldn’t trade anyone of value. We can all agree you have to give to get, so if the Oilers shouldn’t trade anyone because of the risks then the alternative is to stand pat. And that’s working wonderfully…

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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!

  • 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.

  • nuge2drai

    Oiler Domination To Follow

    If this team trades Nuge this “rebuild” is going to only get longer.

    Sign Buff in the OS, than trade Eberle for a top 4 D (Hamonic).

    Do not trade Nuge under any circumstance.

  • nuge2drai

    Oh yeah we can’t lose Nuge. We need more gutless non-hackers playing here. Don’t trade Ebs either because Nuge needs a sister. Yeah lets keep this overpaid heartless gutless group of goofballs here so we can get busy on the next decade of failure.

    And oh yeah let’s give Lowe and Mact lifetime personal service contracts so they can stay here and keep this ball of futility rolling along.

    How much do you want to pay for seasons tickets? STICK IT!!

  • nuge2drai

    After tonight’s game the issue not why trade RHN but rather why not?
    A functionally useless player.
    Eberle is no better.
    Willis’ article is mis-timed. Does he watch Oilers?
    RNH is a bust.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.