24
Photo Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Should the Oilers try to acquire Ian Cole?

Speaking in a phone interview with Montreal’s TSN 690 radio station yesterday, Pierre LeBrun said of Oilers general manager Peter Chiarelli that “he’s working the phones like crazy.”

“I talked to a GM today who said no one is busier and as active as Peter Chiarelli.”

It came as no surprise then that Chiarelli’s name appeared often in the always illuminating 31 Thoughts column by Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman that was published that same day.

We’ve already covered a lot of that ground, whether it’s the continuing Ryan Nugent-Hopkins rumours or the sudden emergence of Patrick Maroon alongside him in trade talks.

What about someone the Oilers might be targeting rather than parting with though?

As part of Friedman’s thoughts on Pittsburgh Penguins defenceman Ian Cole and the likelihood that he’s on his way out, he noted some curiosity as to whether the Oilers had interest in acquiring the disgruntled defender.

As the Post-Gazette’s Jason Mackey reported, Ian Cole is available. That’s someone who really impressed me in the playoffs, a battler on an undermanned blue line that stepped up in a big way. The Penguins, not wanting to risk injury, are keeping him out of the lineup, knowing Cole would throw himself on a live grenade.

It’s hard to see this ending without a trade, but Rutherford will do this at his pace and not until he gets what he wants.

Friedman continued…

I wonder if Chicago and Edmonton wade into this.

That was enough to get my attention. Rightfully so, it seems. Mere hours after Friedman pondered the possibility of a Cole-to-Edmonton connection, TSN’s Bob McKenzie said in plain language on TSN 1050 that “Edmonton has got interest in Ian Cole.

Cole, 28, is in the final year of a three-year deal valued at $6.3-million, good for a cap hit of $2.1-million annually, and has been a healthy scratch for Pittsburgh since they reached the conclusion that he wasn’t going to be a part of their future. As Friedman notes in his 31 Thoughts piece, Cole is a warrior and the type of player that would jump on a live grenade, and the Penguins don’t want to risk injury. It doesn’t sound like it’s entirely performance related, though clearly Penguins head coach Mike Sullivan is no longer a believer.

How Cole and Sullivan have reached this impasse, I can’t say I understand.

Just last post-season, Cole was playing huge minutes on an injury-depleted Pittsburgh blue line and holding his own in a challenging situation. That Penguins team won the cup, they’re second in a row, and Cole had a role in helping them get there.

It’s hard not to look at Cole’s underlying metrics and wonder how much of this is percentage driven. When Cole’s been on the ice for the Penguins this season, they’ve been outscored by the opposition 11-6. Then again, the Penguins as a team have a negative goal differential. In fact, the 2.07 goals an hour the Penguins are surrendering with Cole on the ice is the fourth-lowest mark of any Penguins skaters. That’s with a .909 even strength save percentage behind him.

Most of Cole’s statistics, underlying or otherwise, are more or less what they’ve always been.

Cole isn’t going to replicate the career-high 26 points of last season, but the 12 he’s on pace for are in line with almost every other season. As for what’s happening under the surface, Cole’s shot and goal metrics are as good as ever. The Penguins are controlling 53 per cent of the shot attempts at even strength, 54 per cent of the unblocked shot attempts and nearly 52 per cent of the expected goals. All systems check out as normal.

Context matters. The Penguins have been an elite shot attempt control team for a lot of Sullivan’s tenure. This year, though, they’re barely above 50 per cent. The 3.48 per cent relative shot attempt share that Cole has suggests that he not only helps the Penguins in this regard, but he’s been their third most helpful players to them in this light.

The conclusion shouldn’t be that Cole is an elite transitional force who can overturn the fortunes of the Oilers season if they plugged him into their lineup. When one regresses Cole’s shot-based data, as the HERO Chart does, it’s clear he’s not going to add significant value.

THE WRAP

Is Cole a step above some of the other defensive options at the bottom of the Oilers lineup? Probably, and whether Rutherford wants a lot for Cole or not, the fact of the matter is he’s not the type of player that would usually garner a significant return.

In that sense, Cole might not just be an option to the Oilers, but a pretty damn good one at that. The Oilers need help — oh, do they ever –, but they shouldn’t sell the farm to get it. If they can part with a C-level prospect or a late-round pick to get that help, then all the power to them. It’s a far better alternative than a lot of what’s been thrown out there.