Peter Chiarelli’s comments and actions around the trade deadline are fascinating to review for anyone with an interest in what his overall plan for the Edmonton Oilers organization is. We don’t have the full picture, by any means, but it’s little like getting a quick glance at the blueprint.
Of particular interest was the general manager’s comment on his team’s three high-profile centres.
Near the end of Chiarelli’s press conference on Sunday he was asked some open-ended questions about his read on the team (I believe the questioner was Derek van Diest of the Edmonton Sun) and the G.M. took the opportunity to expand on his view of the team.
really would like to see the whole team together,” Chiarelli responded in part. “I’d like to see the three
centres, because it really opens up the wingers. I’m going to see that
eventually, [Ryan Nugent-Hopkins] is coming back shortly, knock on wood that one of the other
two doesn’t get hurt again.”
When asked a follow-up, Chiarelli expanded on that desire to see all three centres. It’s worth quoting his comment in full:
The silver lining to all this is that we’ve had two young centres that have played against some heavy, heavy competition and not just the last two games [against Los Angeles and Anaheim], the matchups have been tough for these guys. These last two games if you look at Connor [McDavid] and Leon [Draisaitl], these are tough, tough games. They’re going to benefit greatly. The other side is that if we have all three we’ve got a better, more mature player in Nugent-Hopkins shouldering some of the load and the other two are able to have a little more latitude on the matchups. I would have really liked to have seen that, and then you can see the wings and how they—because you have three talented centremen, that doesn’t mean we wouldn’t have put Leon up—but then you’ve got three talented centremen and you can really see how the wings can flourish. That’s disappointing. The D, I knew the D was a work in progress. But I was more disappointed in not seeing the three centres together.
Nugent-Hopkins gets a lot of play in the media as a potential trading chip, and nothing that Chiarelli said on Sunday explicitly rules that out. But those were not the comments of a general manager who lacks respect for the importance of building the forward group around strength in the middle and they certainly weren’t the comments of a G.M. who was oblivious to Nugent-Hopkins’ gifts.
Rather, there was a frank admission of the value Nugent-Hopkins brings in a tough matchup role. If you tilt your head to the left and squint just right, there’s even a hint of Draisaitl shifting back and forth between centre and wing, sometimes playing down the middle to stretch out the scoring and sometimes shifting back to the side to load up a scoring line.
None of this should be confused with certainty. These are hints, and if the Oilers take a right turn at the draft—say trading Nugent-Hopkins for a defenceman—that wouldn’t be a shock to me. But there’s a fascinating forward path built around three centres, and it fits with another deal which transpired at the trade deadline.
The Maroon Trade
Patrick Maroon is an interesting player, a guy that fans in Edmonton have had an eye on for a long time. He was on waivers just three years ago but even then had a lot going for him. He’s extremely big, extremely tough and his hands go a long way toward making up for his feet.
He has two other points which for the purposes of this discussion are more interesting. The first is that Anaheim often used him as the third member of the Ryan Getzlaf/Corey Perry line and he was effective in that role (and others, too). The second is that he’s cheap.
#Oilers deal looks a bit better as Ducks will retain 25% of Maroon salary. So he is a $1.5 million cap hit to Oilers for next two years.
— Jason Gregor (@JasonGregor) February 29, 2016
If, hypothetically, the core of the team is the trio of McDavid, Nugent-Hopkins and Draisaitl down the middle that will eventually represent a lot of money tied up in three centres. There isn’t a lot of money left over for forwards, particularly once the defence and goaltending get factored in.
The solution is to do a lot of bargain shopping on the wings. Maroon is a great example. Veterans on short-term deals like Lee Stempniak in New Jersey, P-A Parenteau in Toronto and Alex Semin in Montreal this year are others. They won’t always work out, with Semin being a case in point, but the idea here is to add a player who can be effective as a complementary piece without breaking the bank. Looking back, it’s possible to look at the Lauri Korpikoski as an ill-advised attempt at exactly this.
It’s one of the reasons I’ve always been in favour of moving Teddy Purcell. Purcell had a nice year with Draisaitl and Taylor Hall and is a useful player, but there’s probably an underrated veteran in free agency this year who can fill much the same role at one-third the price. Benoit Pouliot is a better player and I don’t put him in the same boat, but it wouldn’t surprise me at all if the Oilers do.
I also think that if this is the path the Oilers are going down at some point it’s going to be hard to pay for both Hall and Jordan Eberle, and as it’s always better to be proactive than reactive a deal involving one or the other might happen even before the salary cap forces Edmonton’s hand.
Again, the big caveat here is that the evidence for this model remains high on speculation and low on evidence. But it is a plausible path forward (in all honesty, it’s the road I’d take with this roster) and we’ll be able to see soon enough if it’s the strategy that Chiarelli plans on employing.
RECENTLY BY JONATHAN WILLIS
- Teddy Purcell traded to Florida
- Kings “inching closer” to acquiring Purcell, Schultz
- What do you expect in trade for Nail Yakupov?
- In praise of a cheap fourth line
- Would Sami Vatanen be a good fit in Edmonton?
- Follow Jonathan Willis on Twitter