We’re exactly two weeks away from the NHL Trade Deadline and the Edmonton Oilers sit six points back of the St. Louis Blues & Minnesota Wild for the two final playoff spots in the Western Conference. While the mountain they’re facing isn’t quite Everest, it’s certainly getting there.
The team is struggling right now and they are also just two points up on the Anaheim Ducks and LA Kings, who are tied for dead last in the conference. They’re all apart of a very tight, yet mediocre playoff race. A five-game winning streak thrusts you right to the top of the pack, while a five-game losing streak can send you tumbling to the basement.
This parity will make this year’s trade deadline very interesting. While most NHL insiders agree that this is a “buyers market”, they’re also reporting that the prices being set for rental players are currently sky high. Things will change and the skies will likely clear up a bit over the next two weeks, but as of right now, it’s hard to predict which teams will make a move to better their odds of making the playoffs and which teams will simply wave the white flag and sell off.
The Oilers fan base is largely split on what the team’s strategy should be, come February 25th.
They’re within reach of a playoff spot, and they have Connor McDavid. If one of their goalies can get red hot, then there’s a reason to believe they can squeak in. If they can dangle a second or third round pick and get a reliable goal scorer to plunk into their top six, then their odds of getting one of the wild card spots gets much better. They wouldn’t be a lock, and a lot of the solutions need to come from inside the locker room, but a small addition helps.
At the same time, this team is wildly inconsistent and as of late, they haven’t looked anything like a playoff team. Not only do they need to close a six-point gap, but they’d have to jump at least five other teams in the process. Considering that they don’t know who their GM will be this summer, it’s easy to see why the smart play might be to just sell off some assets and accept this as a lost season.
I personally don’t like dealing in extremes. I think the right strategy for the Oilers lays right in the middle of being all out buyers and straight sellers. Here’s how I believe the Oilers can come out as winners at the 2019 Trade Deadline:
1 – GET RID OF MONEY
Selling off Cam Talbot, Tobias Rieder, and Alex Petrovic might get you some assets back, but it doesn’t provide any cap relief for this coming summer, which is what the Oilers should be focused on doing at this year’s deadline.
It won’t be easy, but if they can get rid of some of the players that are set to make over $1 million next season, they could put themselves in a much better spot heading into the offseason.
It may be an unpopular move, but if you can find a team that’s willing to give you an asset and also take all of Zack Kassian’s $1.9 million cap hit, I think you should jump all over that. He’s a bottom-six forward, and while I know he’s a fan favourite, good teams can’t pay almost $2 million for a bottom six forward. They tried moving him earlier this season and couldn’t but he’s red-hot right now, so maybe they should try to sell high on Kassian to clear up space.
Matt Benning has struggled this year, but he’s still a 24-year-old right shot defenseman with some offensive potential. You might be able to find a rebuilding team willing to take him and his $1.9 million price tag, even if you don’t get much of a return.
Those are the two names I would look at moving out. Apart from that, they could try moving on from both of Brandon Manning and Ryan Spooner but I doubt that would happen unless the Oilers are willing to retain some money.
2 – SEARCH FOR SCORING
I’d like the Oilers to go out and take a chance on some players who could benefit from some additional opportunity at the NHL level. Players that are currently stuck as healthy scratches or scoring at a decent rate in the minors.
This type of player doesn’t need to cost you a first or second round pick but could benefit the team this year and for the foreseeable future if he pans out.
At last years deadline, the LA Kings took a flyer on Tobias Rieder (they also swapped backup goalies in the move), the Florida Panthers sent a third-round pick to Boston for Frank Vatrano, the Blues acquired Nikita Soshnikov from the Maple Leafs for a 4th round pick.
Rieder would play in 20 regular season games with the LA Kings scoring four goals and two assists before being let go in the summer. Soshnikov has only played 17 games with the Blues since the deal and has only scored one goal. Vatrano has been a success with the Panthers, notching 23 goals and 14 assists in 68 games since being acquired.
You could also look at the Canucks acquisition of Josh Leivo earlier this season as a successful “buy-low” kind of move. He was a regular healthy scratch in Toronto and since being given a solid opportunity in Vancouver, he’s scored seven goals in 24 games. That’s a near 24 goal pace and all they gave up was a low-level prospect.
I’ll put together a more complete list in the coming weeks, but a player like Nic Petan comes to mind.
3 – LEAVE BAKERSFIELD ALONE
The Condors are on an absolute heater right now with wins in 12 straight games. They’re on top of their division and if they can keep up their current level of play, they’ll likely go a solid run in the Calder Cup Playoffs.
The success at the AHL level might make it tempting to call up the likes of Tyler Benson, Cooper Marody, Kailer Yamamoto, Caleb Jones, and Ethan Bear towards the end of the season but the Oilers need to let the young players continue to play big, important minutes in Bakersfield.
The benefits of giving them 20+ minutes a night during the stretch drive and the AHL playoffs far outweigh the benefits of bringing them up to play 12 minutes a night of meaningless NHL hockey, should the Oilers season get to that point.
Whether the Oilers are two points out of the final playoff spot or sitting firmly at the bottom portion of the conference, I think they need to be both buyers and sellers. Try to buy low on some players who can contribute this year and beyond and also shed some cap space so when you hire your next General Manager, they can have a little bit more wiggle room.
It may seem like a long-shot, but there is a way for the Edmonton Oilers to be winners at the 2019 Trade Deadline.