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Navigating the NHL Trade Deadline

There’s no doubt the Oilers badly want to make the playoffs. This season has been yet another disappointment and it comes at a terrible time as the organization is trying to talk people into shelling out tens of thousands of dollars for luxury seats that exist on three-year contracts.

Is this a product you really want to invest in right now? Would it be if they made the playoffs?

The Oilers fired general manager Peter Chiarelli in January due to a lack of trust that he could clean up the colossal mess he made in the three-and-a-half years he spent in the driver’s seat. Given the moves he made mid-season, like trading for Brandon Manning and Ryan Spooner, letting a desperate Chiarelli go nuts at the trade deadline could have had overwhelming repercussions.

With Keith Gretzky now sitting in the general manager chair, we don’t really know what to expect at the trade deadline. The front office has said they believe in the team making the playoffs (and there’s very likely a big push from ownership in that direction), but Gretzky has also said they won’t sell the farm in order to acquire short-term fixes.

Given how bad the Western Conference is, the Oilers really can go either way at this stage. How should the front office navigate Monday’s trade deadline?

To buy…

At the time of my writing, the Oilers are eight points back of the Wild for the final wild card spot in the Western Conference. Those eight points aren’t insurmountable, but the Oilers also have to jump over everyone in the West other than the Kings. The team has a very difficult road trip ahead, as they’ll play the Predators, Leafs, and Blue Jackets over the next week.

Still, if you told fans in September the team would be eight points out of the playoff spot, most would have rolled their eyes, but they would acknowledge that’s still within striking distance. Given how important generating excitement is to the organization at this stage, there’s merit to making a playoff push.

I trust Gretzky when he says the Oilers aren’t going to look for rentals this year. That makes sense given there’s a very good chance they miss the playoffs. But if the team can acquire a player (akin to what Toronto got when they acquired Jake Muzzin from L.A.) who can help this year and next, it’s worth looking into.

The team needs scoring help right now and they need it next year and beyond too. A rental wouldn’t be worth the risk at this stage but buying someone who can be a part of the long-term solution does.

To sell…

There are also a few good reasons for the Oilers to become sellers. Given the parity of the Western Conference, a lot of bad teams being in the mix could turn the market into one that favours the seller. Beyond that, the Oilers have a really, really low chance at climbing back into the playoffs, even if they acquire a good winger or two at the deadline.

I wrote a couple of weeks ago about how the only way out of this mess is patience. The team needs to get out from under bad contracts and they need to acquire high-quality talent while also not further bogging themselves down with more bad contracts. The best way to work out of cap hell is to be patient, unfortunately.

While the Oilers don’t have many worthwhile rental assets beyond Alex Chiasson, a seller’s market could provide them with an opportunity to deal players with term left on their contracts. Kris Russell would be a nice addition for a playoff team, as would Zack Kassian and Kyle Brodziak. While not much would be coming back, Edmonton would be slowly releasing themselves from the chains of cap hell.

To do something in the middle…

The heart says to buy by the head says to sell. How about a little bit of both?

I do believe personally that Gretzky’s top priority at the deadline should be actively looking to shed longer-term contracts while recouping as many draft picks as possible for rental players, but I also empathize with Edmonton’s desire to take advantage of the worst playoff race we’ve seen in years.

An interesting note brought up on Twitter by WheatNOil is the difference in value between draft picks at the deadline than at the draft. One thing, he said, Craig MacTavish did well as GM was acquiring draft picks at their lowest point of value (which is the trade deadline) and then selling them at their highest point of value (which is the draft) for more picks.

While Edmonton won’t get much for any player they potentially move, like Chiasson, Russell, Kassian, Brodziak, or Alex Petrovic, they can stockpile some draft picks now and turn them into more draft picks at the actual draft in June. Stockpiling draft pick capital makes it a lot easier to swallow giving up, say, a second-round pick and a prospect for somebody like Tyler Toffoli, who can help the team right now and next season.

    • Clayton

      I think a team needs to do it with a combination of Free Agency, Drafting and Trading. Just look south and the Flames have great D Depth. Gio – Free Agent, Brodie, Anderson, Valimaki, Kylington – Draft, Hamonic, Hanfin, Stone – Trade. You need all three methods to balance out the cap. Free Agency and trade tend to lend to higher salaries so you need the young draft picks to come through to balance out cap issues.

      • For sure, I was mostly referring to the desperation trades. The core of a team has to be built through the draft and then you supplement with free agents and trades. Chiarelli was pressured into making trades and he lost the majority of them. MacT wouldn’t make those trades and it cost him his job.

        • Clayton

          Yes. Desperation trades always seem to fail, as do most of the big deals on deadline day, especially for a team on the outside looking in at the deadline. It also helped that the Flames had assets to trade. They didn’t get Hamonic and Hanafin for free.

          • Oily Reign

            The Flames gave up a lot of valuable future players for Hamonic, Hamilton/Hanafin. It’s looking okay right now, but an early exit in this years playoffs may change that. Especially with your prospect cupboard looking so bare.
            We will see if Bettman’s transformation of this league into a no hitting, figure skating competition continues into the playoffs. If it doesn’t, I can’t see the Flames going far with their soft lineup.

  • Die Hard Oiler Fan

    “The head says to sell”.
    The head says to sell since mathematically the Oilers have almost no chance of leap-frogging a whole bunch of teams to get to that 2nd wild-card spot. I really feel for Oiler fans, especially those who pay to go to the games. That said, the best thing for this team is to sell (not core players, nor prime youngersters on the farm). While I realize that they cannot verbally state this, they should also be tanking in regards to obtaining as high of draft pick as possible. I am not saying we need Hughes – there are a number of other talented young forwards in the top 6 or 7 (Kirby Dach, Dylan Cozens, Kakko, Podkolzin, Alex Turcotte). I am afraid that the Oilers are going to continue their “playoffs or bust” mentality; not sell any assets (and end up getting nothing for them); move up the standings, but not enough to make the playoffs (thereby missing out on the top level talents in the draft). For goodness sakes, write the season off now; sell what you can to shed salary and/or acquire picks, and tank for the upcoming draft.

    • Clayton

      I agree. To me the issue isn’t as much about being 7 points out, it is more about being behind Dallas, Avs, Wild, Yotes, Hawks and Nucks. Can they really count on having enough of a better record over the final 20 games to leap frog all those teams? For example…if the Avs play .500 hockey they finish with 85 points. For the Oilers to beat 85 points they have to win 14 of 20 or play .700 hockey the rest of the way.

      The problem is what do the Oilers really have to sell that other teams will take. First, lets get Lucic out of the way…NO TEAM will take on that bust of a contract so fans need to stop the talking him up as a playoff performer. The oilers offered up Jesse to teams if they took Lucic and got hung up on. The group to trade is pretty slim…for example…Chiasson – won’t get much more than mid-round pick or a c-prospect.

      • Oilman99

        Lucic’s style of play is what is the norm come playoff time, maybe a lighter team with cup aspirations might bite to get bigger and tougher,we can always hope.

  • Oily Reign

    What would your flames give to get rid of Neal’s contract. Same basic problems as the Looch contract, but he doesn’t hit or anything to off set his lack of production. Your team is going into the playoffs with what? Glass jaw Hamonic as your heavy player? Good luck with that.
    I can’t see getting rid of Lucic contract without a miracle, but the point is, there are many teams holding on bad contracts. We just seem to be holding most of them.
    Again, Kassian’s contract is not the problem!

  • KootenayDan

    Colby Cave looks to be a good player to replace Brodziaks 4th line center spot so Brodziak can go. If Benning is tradeable I would trade him too. The recent addition of Sam, Sekera and the return of Klefbom sure fills some holes in the lineup almost like getting players via trade without giving up assets. Even though Reider is not scoring he is making some contributions enough that I don’t hate him. Rattie and Malone are borderline AHL players they need to bring even more if they want to play in the NHL. Who doesn’t love what Currie has brought to the lineup?

    • Beer_League_Ringer

      Cave looks like a good young depth prospect. He’s 24, got good wheels and seems to know where to be. He’s also 50% on the dot. Younger, cheaper, faster, and nearly as good on the dot as Brodziak.

  • Beer_League_Ringer

    Kassian should stay unless the return is too good to pass up. He’s a good NHL Vet, fast with decent hands, who is liked by his team mates. There are far better options to exile for little return than Kass.

    • hagar

      Kassian is fast and pretty tough. He has a little more scoring potential, but what the heck are you going to get to replace him for under two mill. I also dont understand why his name keeps coming up as a trade piece?

      • Wesley41

        Because the Oilers are in cap hell and until the last month or so he was 3-4 line energy guy not scoring!I am not saying trade him but those would be reasons why.The problem with some of these players is can you trust that they will produce like a Chaisson did or How Kassian is right now or will they resort back to what they have always been energy guys or borderline NHL players!

        • hagar

          I understand, but we are talking under two million here. The average salary for an nhl player is like 2.5. Is he half a million dollars under average? Even if your answer is yes, how much below that? Not like he is worth 600 grand. Even if a guy says he is worth like 1.2, its still makes no sense why his name always comes up as a must go contract. Not sure how anyone can list 600 or 700 grand as a must go part of this teams solution.

  • Derkus the circus

    Lets sell. Everything and anything to find cap space for next year. Were stuck with 27 until maybe after next year when a buyout seems more possible.

  • Mike Modano's Dog

    Sell
    Sell
    Sell

    The Oilers have a 2.3% chance of making the playoffs. DO NOT BUY this year. Sell off, acquire draft picks. Rid whatever long-term contracts you can…not Kassian, but Russell if possible. We need to plan long-term, and trying to pull the wool over the eyes of season ticket holders so they’ll renew is disingenuous. We’re done this year so plan accordingly!