This is not the time for the Edmonton Oilers to be looking for a big, season-saving trade. Instead, it’s almost certainly time for Peter Chiarelli to grit the teeth and once more look to next year, as his predecessors in the big general manager’s chair have done before him.
Edmonton currently sits at 8-15-2 on the season. To match the pace of last year’s Calgary Flames—the final qualifier for a playoff spot in the West in 2014-15—the Oilers would need to go 37-15-5 the rest of the way. Even with McDavid, goaltending and a Justin Schultz-for-Travis Hamonic trade, that doesn’t seem a particular plausible.
That’s not to say that Chiarelli should turn his nose up at a good deal if one comes his way, but the short-term ramifications should be secondary. The real goal here is to make Edmonton a better team for next season, and the window for big moves which accomplish that is more likely to come in the summer than at the trade deadline.
For now, it’s all about preparation, clearing away salary and securing whatever assets are available.
Jordan Eberle, Taylor Hall and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins are all on pricey multi-year contracts. We can debate the wisdom of dealing any of that trio, but if one or more is dealt it will be in the summer. There isn’t a trade out there that’s going to make sense for Connor McDavid, and Leon Draisaitl is also close to a non-starter.
Benoit Pouliot doesn’t quite make his way into that quintet because his $4.0 million cap hit might be digestible at the deadline, but given his five-on-five scoring ability (like Eberle he’s scored 1.94 points/hour at evens over the least three-plus seasons) and the way his size and aggressive play fit with the team it’s my view that the Oilers would be nuts to deal him.
Players on shorter deals fall into a few different categories. Nail Yakupov would likely have some value, but if dealt again probably makes more sense in the summer rather than as a sell-for-futures move. Matt Hendricks might have value, too, though the Oilers might rather keep him around given what he brings to the table. Mark Letestu isn’t exactly having a banner season and Lauri Korpikoski has been an unmitigated disaster.
Of the rest, the only player who really stands out is Teddy Purcell. He’s on an expiring deal and he’s playing well, but he’s also likely replaceable via free agency. I’ve argued that the team should cash-in on him and feel the same now. Unless fellow UFA Rob Klinkhammer comes back soon and makes some noise, that might be the only deal up front that makes sense for Edmonton at the deadline.
The Back End
I’d be very surprised if the Oilers had any interest in moving Darnell Nurse or Oscar Klefbom at all, and certainly not at the trade deadline. Andrej Sekera is another pricey multi-year contract and certainly won’t be in play until the summer and probably should not and will not be then either. It makes little sense to trade Brandon Davidson given the likely return, and Griffin Reinhart isn’t the kind of guy buyers are looking for at the deadline (if it even makes sense to trade him).
Of the veterans, most lack real value. Andrew Ference isn’t going anywhere, and if Nikita Nikitin does there won’t be much of a return. I’m skeptical that Mark Fayne’s moveable in-season; he has two years left on his deal after this one at a pretty decent price-point and I’d wager his value as part of the team is considerably higher than his value in trade.
That leaves two names on defence. Eric Gryba is a tough-as-nails veteran depth piece; that always has value at the deadline and given the number of entry-level defencemen currently in the system it makes no sense for Edmonton to keep him.
Justin Schultz is the most interesting name on the list to me. He’s going to cost almost $4.0 million to qualify. He’s an offensive defenceman and a potential No. 4 in the here-and-now, and he’s on an expiring deal, all of which means he’ll have value at the trade deadline. A trade is an opportunity for the Oilers to both rid themselves of a summer salary cap headache, add to their assets in the here-and-now and open up a roster spot for a much-needed legitimate top-four right-shooting defenceman.
In net, we’ll just have to see what happens. Cam Talbot and Anders Nilsson are both on expiring deals, with the former unrestricted and the latter restricted; we’ll need to see more games from both to have a good idea of what an optimal Oilers summer strategy looks like.
Trades involving Purcell, Schultz, Gryba and possibly one or two others should stock up the Oilers’ cupboard of picks, allowing them the flexibility to move multiple selections at the summer draft. The loss of those salaries and others will open up cap space for Edmonton to be aggressive in pursuit of both trade targets and free agents, and potentially to take on salary in a bigger deal involving one of the team’s biggest names.
The remainder of this season from a management perspective is all about preparation. The real work of improving the team will be done in the summer.