Brandon Davidson is no longer a member of the Edmonton Oilers. The club announced on Tuesday that it had dealt the defenceman to Montreal in exchange for centre David Desharnais.
— Edmonton Oilers (@EdmontonOilers) March 1, 2017
Habs retain 20 percent salary/cap hit of Desharnais in Oilers trade
— Pierre LeBrun (@Real_ESPNLeBrun) March 1, 2017
First, the contract details, which are always important when considering these deals. Desharnais is in the final year of a contract with a cap hit of $3.5 million, after which he will be an unrestricted free agent. Montreal retaining a percentage of his cap hit has no value going forward, but does help reduce the impact of moving a defenceman with a $1.425 million cap hit for a much more expensive forward.
While Desharnais is bound for free agency, Davidson has another year remaining on his deal, after which he’ll be a restricted free agent. This has the potential to be a value deal for the Canadiens, particularly since there are opportunities on the left side in Montreal.
Desharnais does fill a need for Edmonton at centre.
Because of Todd McLellan’s preference that Leon Draisaitl play right wing on the Oilers’ top line, the team has been looking for a third-line centre for most of the year. Drake Caggiula was handed the job in training camp and then again during the season once he got healthy, but his 0.74 points/hour at even-strength is the worst of any Edmonton regular and he was clearly not yet up to the task.
Desharnais’ own scoring rate is nearly double Caggiula’s, and this during what has been a down year for him. In seasons past, he’s been a very effective secondary scorer at 5-on-5. He’s also a good skater, which is a need on a team that has looked sluggish at times this season.
In other ways, though, the new centre is an odd fit. He plays a courageous game, but he’s 5’7″ and 174 pounds and cannot be described as a physical presence, putting him at odds with most of GM Peter Chiarelli’s recent additions.
Desharnais doesn’t kill penalties, so he won’t help there. He isn’t a right shot and has mediocre power play numbers over his career, so although he may appear on Edmonton’s second unit he probably won’t have a big impact on it. He’s 49 percent on even-strength faceoffs over his career, which makes him a big upgrade on Caggiula in that department.
This trade will certainly make Edmonton better in the short-term, where the gap between Desharnais and Caggiula at 5-on-5 is much greater than the gap between Davidson and Darnell Nurse or Matt Benning. Certainly it gives the Oilers a better shot at running three effective lines, something that’s going to matter in the postseason.
The cost on the trade is dear. Desharnais and Davidson are of similar importance in terms of their position in the lineup, with the difference being that Davidson is both cheaper and under contract longer. On the other hand, with Martin Hanzal and Brian Boyle both already off the market, there just weren’t a lot of other centre options.
There’s also the matter of the expansion draft. It was expected that the Oilers would lose Davidson to Las Vegas for nothing, so in some ways it made sense to trade him. However, there’s a cost associated with doing so, because Edmonton will now lose someone else – perhaps Griffin Reinhart, perhaps Jujhar Khaira – instead.
This is a reasonable deal from a rental perspective in that it makes the Oilers better today. In a vacuum, it’s hard to argue that a pending UFA Desharnais is a superior asset to an NHL team than a signed 25-year-old Davidson, but sometimes the short-term boost is worth giving up the superior asset.
It is, in short, a deal that makes sense for both teams. It just happens to be one that works more in Montreal’s favour than it does in Edmonton’s.