Unless the salary cap has a massive increase before the 2018 NHL season, it seems a guarantee one of either Ryan Nugent-Hopkins or Jordan Eberle will be traded. Leon Draisaitl will sign a big contract this summer, likely between $6.5- $7.5 million/year depending on the length of the deal, and Connor McDavid’s new contract, which could come with a $10 million cap hit, begins July 1st, 2018.
The Oilers won’t have room for five forwards with $6 million cap hits, so someone will be moved.
Who would be the better option for the Oilers?
It is a tough answer, because discussing trading players and uprooting their lives is not something I look at lightly. I always try to be aware of the human element of players. They aren’t just a number on a jersey or your most, or least, favourite player.
However, the reality of the salary cap world means I have to look at plausible scenarios, and from where I sit, I don’t see room for both of them in Edmonton when the 2018/2019 season begins.
General Manager Peter Chiarelli could keep both of them for next season. The Oilers have around $22 million in cap space, and after Chiarelli re-signs Draisaitl, he’ll have 15 million to re-sign restricted free agents Zack Kassian, Jujhar Khaira and Iiro Pakarinen, and unrestricted free agent Kris Russell. He could opt not to sign a few of them and fill cap space with some other UFAs. Either way, the Oilers aren’t in a massive cap crunch this season.
Chiarelli could be patient and hope both RNH and Eberle are more productive next year and increase their trade value, or he might not wait until he has to move one in 2018 and make a deal this summer. Obviously, he’ll try to make a deal he believes will improve his hockey club, but like most trades, there is never a perfect time.
Who has more value?
RNH is the centre and often they have more than wingers, however, he has four years at $6 million/year, while Eberle only has two years at $6 million. It also depends what a team wants. Right now many are focusing on what the players don’t do, rather than what they do. Eberle scores. I think their value is likely much closer than many think. Contract length is a factor.
Today, I sense most Oilers fans believe moving Eberle makes the most sense. He didn’t score a goal in the playoffs, and if he isn’t scoring there isn’t much else he brings. The caveat to that is, not many players have scored as consistently as Eberle. He is coming off a “bad” year with 20 goals and 51 points. Despite having a down year he was still tied for 84th most points among forwards. He was third on the Oilers in points.
He had a career-high in shots, 208, but a career-worst 9.6 shooting percentage. Did he create less, or did he just not finish like he has in the past? He SH% in his first six seasons was 11.4, 18.9, 12, 14, 13.1 and 14.5. He had 18 goals as a rookie followed by 34, 16 (in lockout shortened 48-game season, which prorates to 27), 28, 24 and 25 goals.
“I watched a lot of video this year. I had many chances I didn’t finish. It (fewer goals) wasn’t due to not creating, but a lack of finish. My confidence became an issue,” said Eberle at his end-of-season address.
Scoring goals is the most difficult thing to do in the NHL, and I find too often it is overlooked. I don’t care how the goals go in — if you are consistently a 25-goal scorer you have value in my eyes.
My main concern with Eberle’s play this year was he didn’t look as quick. I didn’t see him beat defenders from the top of the circles like he has in the past. I think he has to get stronger, but he disagreed with what I saw as a lack of a speed this year. When I asked him about not beating guys wide like he had in the past, he said he didn’t feel slower. He felt players defended him differently and that he just didn’t finish. We agree on the last statement, and if Eberle buried a few more of his chances, less vitriol would have be spewed his way.
He is counted on to score and he needed to be better this season, especially in the playoffs. His lack of production, combined with subpar play in the second round, left Oilersnation with a bad taste in its collective mouth.
It is understandable, but when I look at Eberle and RNH, I believe trading RNH first makes more sense.
Keep in mind, trading a player doesn’t mean they are a bad player. Was Adam Larsson a bad player because New Jersey traded him? Perspective matters when we discuss trades.
The Oilers have two top-line centres in Draisaitl and McDavid, and teams rarely employ a true checking line centre anymore. Who was the checking line centre for the Chicago Blackhawks when they won three Cups? Jonathan Toews took many of the tough matchups, but he was also in their top-six. The LA Kings had Anze Kopitar and Jeff Carter. Boston had Patrice Bergeron and David Krecji. Pittsburgh had Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby. They had Phil Kessel on their third line with Nick Bonino, but Bonino didn’t check the other team’s top lines and this year Bonino isn’t playing with Kessel.
Bonino also makes $1.9 million, not six.
I think the Oilers could fetch a bigger return with RNH, and they could find a third line centre much cheaper. Despite what many keep repeating, I don’t see RNH has a great or even really good shutdown centre. He isn’t big enough to battle with the top centres down low. That isn’t a knock on his effort, which is consistent, but his physical stature limits his ability to check most team’s top centres. Asking him to defend Ryan Getzlaf, Kopitar, Malkin and others is a lot to ask. He had more success versus San Jose in the playoffs because Joe Pavelski doesn’t have a size advantage, and Joe Thornton was banged up.
He also hasn’t been able to improve his faceoffs in six seasons. He was 43.8% this year. His career average is 43.2%. He has been unable to find a way to improve in the dot, and if you want to be a shutdown defensive centre, you need to be out for key draws in your own end. If he was 49%, you could probably live with it, but no improvement in six years suggests to me he won’t become one unless he fully commits to faceoffs.
The Oilers could trade him, and replace him with a player like Bonino, for example, at a lower cap hit. RNH has averaged 18 goals the past two seasons (prorated due to injury in 2016). Bonino had 18-19-37 this season.
Right now the Oilers don’t have anyone in house who could replace Eberle’s goals. Anton Slepyshev and Jesse Puljujarvi are 22 and 19 respectively. They could become a 20-25 goal scorer in the future, but asking, or expecting them, to do it next season would be a lot. In another year they might be more prepared to produce similar numbers to Eberle.
Whether you like Eberle or not, you can’t debate his ability to finish. Scoring goals is still important, which is why I understand why so many were frustrated by his inability to do it in the playoffs. However, because he failed once, doesn’t guarantee he will next season or the year after. It was obvious to all observers he had lost his offensive confidence this season, and while he had a decent month of March, he wasn’t able to maintain it.
The question Chiarelli will ask is: does he believe Eberle can regain it?
The Oilers don’t need Eberle to be a go-to guy. They just need him to score 25 goals and 55 points and be responsible defensively. Todd McLellan admitted Eberle had improved, and while he is not going to be the guy in the final minute protecting a one-goal, he at least showed some improvement in that area of his game.
In today’s NHL it seems some value effort and defensive acumen over offensive points.
‘Two-way player’ has become the fall back description for players who aren’t talented enough to score regularly, but are supposedly decent defensively. It gets tossed around far too easily.
For me, Pavel Datsyuk was a great two-way player. He could play tough matchups and also be a point-a-game-player in the final 13 years of his career. Players who score 40 points are not great two-way players in my books. They are simply players who have to ensure they are good defensively, because they don’t have the skill to produce a lot of offence and defend at the same time.
It is very difficult to do both, I realize that, but at this point I do not see RNH has a great two-way player. I think he can produce more offensively, and I believe due to his size, he should focus more on becoming an offensive threat. He has worked hard on being responsible defensively, which is important, but I do not see him as someone you put out to shutdown the other team’s top lines.
So with Draisaitl and McDavid, I think moving RNH makes more sense. It will benefit him to go to a team where he can play on the top two lines, and the Oilers should get a solid player in return.
I think it is easier to find a third line centre than to find a winger who can regularly produce 25 goals. Eberle can be useful because of his proven ability to score. He is coming off a season where he fired the most shots on goal, but had his lowest SH%. I’d expect he could return to being a 25-goal man very easily.
Because he can score doesn’t mean he shouldn’t be criticized for a bad season. He should be. He needs to do more.
He needs to get stronger.
He needs to get quicker, in my books, and he has to find a way to not allow his confidence to remain low for the majority of a season.
In Datsyuk’s first four NHL playoff years he played 42 games and scored three goals and added 15 assists. He was never productive in the playoffs until he was 28 years of age. He had had regular seasons of 87 and 68 points during those first four years, but couldn’t get going in the postseason.
Jakob Silfverberg had eight goals in his first 48 playoff games. He has nine in 13 games this year. It is amazing how things can change for some players.
Eberle will never be as good as Datsyuk, and he isn’t as big and strong as Silfverberg, but the point is one bad playoffs doesn’t guarantee he’ll struggle next postseason.
The playoffs are a small window, and I’ve seen many offensive players struggle to produce from one year to the next. It is what makes the playoffs so exciting, but also frustrating for fans. Because a scoring slump can happen at any time.
I won’t be surprised if both RNH and Eberle are out of Edmonton before the start of the 2019 season. It is how the business of the NHL operates, but right now I believe you can make a strong argument that moving RNH makes more sense in the short term because they don’t have a right-winger with experience or a proven track record to replace Eberle. The UFA list for RW isn’t very long and only TJ Oshie, Patrick Eaves and Justin Williams had more goals than Eberle this year.
Eaves is 33, had a career-high 32 goals, but he only had 99 goals total in his first 545 career games. Oshie is 30 and will command a six or seven year deal close to $6 million. He has 169 goals in 591 career games. Eberle has 165 in 507 and is four years younger. Oshie is better all-around, but he is older and how many $6 million wingers can you have long-term? The Oilers already have Lucic for another six seasons. Williams turns 36 in October. He could be a one year stop-gap for sure if the Oilers moved Eberle. Of the three, I’d say Williams would make the most sense.
Due to the cap, I’m not certain the Oilers have to move one of them this summer. Eventualy one, and maybe both, will be moved but I don’t see a real reason to rush a deal.
Making trades isn’t always about keeping the best player, instead, it is about making a move that allows your team to keep improving.
Who do you think has more value when you look at salary, production and position?
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