When Edmonton Oilers’ GM Peter Chiarelli talked about death by 1,000 cuts in late November, he wasn’t specifically referring to the ongoing slow bleed of offensive talent – players traded to fill holes on his roster or address salary cap concerns – that has marked his watch calling the shots in Edmonton’s big chair, but he certainly could have been.
We saw more of the same today at the NHL trade deadline with Chiarelli dealing pending UFA winger Patrick Maroon to the New Jersey Devils for prospect J.D. Dudek, a five-foot-11, 185-pound forward who was taken 152nd overall by the Devils in 2014, and a third-round draft choice in 2019. Dudek, 22, is playing his third season with Boston College of Hockey East.
Word of the trade came after the 1 p.m. deadline passed, just as it did a couple of years ago when the Big Rig first arrived from the Anaheim Ducks on the way to becoming something of a bargain. It’s another case of an offensive talent headed out the door and less than that – Dudek has 20 goals in 107 career games with Boston College — coming back in return.
- In June 2016, Chiarelli traded winger Taylor Hall, who compiled 132-196-328 in 381 games with the Oilers, to New Jersey for Adam Larsson to bolster his blueline. Yes, there was a definite need on the back end, but most people thought Chiarelli paid too high a price to address it. Larsson was very good last season, not so much this season because of injuries and time out of the line-up after the death of his father. Hall, meanwhile, has scored 26-40-66 with the Devils this season.
- In June 2017, Chiarelli traded winger Jordan Eberle, who scored 165-217-382 in 507 games with the Oilers, to the New York Islanders for Ryan Strome. It was a salary dump, pure and simple. Out went Eberle, who produced just two points in 13 playoff games last spring but a player who scored 20-or-more goals in five of seven seasons here. In came Strome, who’d surpassed 30 points just once in four seasons. Eberle has 22-33-55 with the Islanders this season. Strome, rolling of late with five goals in the last five games, has 12-16-28.
Now, in the wake of Chiarelli talking about the need for the Oilers to get quicker, Maroon joins Hall in New Jersey. While Maroon is a complimentary player, he can bang some and score some while playing in the top six. Maroon produced 49 goals and 86 points in his 154 games with the Oilers. I’m not sure Maroon has another 27-goal season in him, but he looks like a player a team can count on to score 18-20 goals a season. How many players — outside of Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl, and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins — do the Oilers have you can say that about?
DOESN’T GROW ON TREES
In 2015-16, the Oilers finished 25th in the NHL with 203 goals. Last season, with McDavid winning the Art Ross Trophy as the leading scorer in the league with 100 points and Draisaitl enjoying a breakout year with 77, the Oilers finished eighth with 247 goals. As of today, they sit 20th with 177 goals. McDavid has 74 points and Draisaitl has 57. After that, the drop-off is significant – injured Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and struggling Milan Lucic are next at 31.
It can be reasonably argued that allowing too many goals – only four teams have allowed more than the 204 goals the Oilers have given up as of today – is a bigger problem than the slow bleed of offensive talent. Likewise, the Oilers aren’t going anywhere with a historically bad penalty kill. I won’t argue on either front. Those problems remain, as do questions about quality blueline depth.
That said, if Chiarelli continues to dip into the limited pool of offensive talent at his disposal to address other shortcomings, he could be creating another void. From where I sit, the Oilers are leaning far too heavily on McDavid and Draisaitl now without enough proven secondary scoring to support them. Might Jesse Puljujarvi or Kailer Yamamoto be answers down the road? Sure. Can Lucic bounce back? Maybe. Might Anton Slepyshev add some offensive pop in the top nine? Could be. Maybe Pontus Aberg, acquired for Mark Letestu Sunday, figures it out. Dudek?
The reality is, there’s a lot of could-be and might-be up front beyond McDavid and Draisaitl. Like I said, it’s a long way down from those two to the next players left in the pecking order in terms of proven offensive production. So, today Maroon follows Hall and Eberle out of town on a team already challenged to score enough goals, prevent enough goals and figure out its special teams. Deficiencies remain and the currency Chiarelli has been using to address them is dwindling.