It seems like every offseason there comes a point where the topic of trading Ryan Nugent-Hopkins comes up and needs to be discussed. Those who think it’s a good idea often say things like this:
“The Oilers have three good centres, they can afford to trade one.”
“Think of the return you would get for a player like Nugent-Hopkins.”
“They need to get a good defenseman and Nugent-Hopkins is what it will cost.”
The people who think trading Ryan Nugent-Hopkins is a good idea are flat out wrong. Everyone has a price, I understand that, and obviously if someone came and offered you a truly elite puck moving defenseman who’s under contract and not over 30-years-old, you would do it. But Morgan Rielly, Victor Hedman, Seth Jones, Oliver Ekman-Larsson, or anyone in that tier isn’t going to be coming up in trade discussions anytime soon.
I go back to my original argument that while the Oilers would benefit from a puck-moving defenseman, their biggest need is quality forwards who can support McDavid, Draisaitl, and Nugent-Hopkins. If they had more than one scoring line this season, they would be in the playoff race. It’s simple as that.
The six defensemen they currently have healthy and in the lineup are the same six that were on the team when they finished with 103 points in 2016/17. They aren’t perfect, but they’ve proven they can do it before. Some players (Sekera, Russell) aren’t as effective as they were a few years ago, I can acknowledge that, but the Oilers are two quality NHL forwards away from having a competitive group up front. If they trade Nugent-Hopkins for a defenseman, they will immediately miss the production and stability that he brings to the lineup.
As the old saying goes: you can’t rob Peter to pay Paul. The Oilers are not in a position to do that.
People will point to the fact that plenty of quality defensemen have been traded in the past and if the Oilers want to get one, they need to pay the price. Well, let’s look at those deals.
Shea Weber for PK Subban: This deal was two teams swapping quality defensemen. The Oilers don’t have a quality defenseman to trade, so I’m not sure how they can do a trade like this. Nashville and Montreal weren’t going to move either of these pieces without getting a quality defenseman in return.
Erik Karlsson to San Jose: Like most star players, Karlsson had some control over where he was traded. That took the Oilers out of the running immediately. Karlsson was also dealt from a rebuilding team, so the return didn’t involve an established NHLer that’s at the level of Nugent-Hopkins. Instead, it took a young defenseman (Dylan DeMelo), a bottom-six forward (Chris Tierney), a former first-round pick (Josh Norris), another prospect (Rudolfs Balcers), two second-round picks (one conditional), and two conditional first-round picks. That’s pretty far from a one for one swap and there’s no one on the market this summer as good as Karlsson.
Seth Jones to Columbus: This deal saw Ryan Johansen go back to Nashville. Straight up. The deal was one-for-one. This is the only example I could find where a high-end forward was traded for a high-end defenseman. Now, Jones and Johansen weren’t exactly proven NHL stars at the time, each side had to assume some risk. If the Oilers find a deal like this, they better be ready to assume some risk and they better get it right. Columbus got it right and ended up with a bonafide Norris trophy quality defenseman in my opinion. But this seems to be a rare case.
Dougie Hamilton to Calgary: After three years in the league, a rather unproven Hamilton was dealt from Boston in exchange for a first round pick (15th overall) and two second rounders (45th & 52nd). That’s a deal I would like to see the Oilers entertain. Give up some picks in the 2019 or 2020 drafts and bring in a young puck moving defenseman. It’s rare but you can do that without giving up a player like Ryan Nugent-Hopkins.
Dougie Hamilton to Carolina: This past summer Hamilton was packaged with forward Michael Ferland and prospect Adam Fox and sent to the Hurricanes in exchange for Noah Hanifin and Elias Lindholm. Many have said this is the type of deal the Oilers need to make and while I agree, there is risk involved as well. If the Oilers are going to make a straight-up “hockey trade” involving Nugent-Hopkins, they better get it right.
Ryan McDonagh to Tampa Bay: McDonagh is unique because he was a deadline acquisition and he was a part of a larger package. Along with JT Miller, he was sent from New York to Tampa Bay in exchange for a young forward (Vlad Namestnikov), two prospects (Libor Hajek & Brett Howden), a first round pick, and a conditional second rounder. Again, it was a rental at the time, but a quality top four d-man was moved for a group of pieces that didn’t involve a proven high-end centre, which Nugent-Hopkins is.
Brandon Montour to Buffalo: He isn’t exactly elite, but he’s an example of a good, young, offensive right-shot defenseman whos’ been traded recently. The price for him was a young prospect (Brendan Guhle) and a first-round pick in this year’s draft. That’s a price the Oilers might be able to afford this summer and it wouldn’t take away from their current core.
I guess my real point with all of this is that it isn’t impossible to acquire a talented young defenseman and there are plenty of different ways to go about doing it and if you look at the past few years, it is possible to make the type of deal the Oilers need without sacrificing a significant piece of the Oilers core.
The Oilers would benefit from a puck-moving defenseman, but if the cost is Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, they should avoid it altogether. Package future assets and pieces you aren’t 100% sure on. Not the piece that you know will help you win games in 2019-20.
But there’s also the idea that the Oilers have a surplus of centres and should look into dealing one of Ryan Nugent-Hopkins or Leon Draisaitl for a legit scoring winger, which this team so desperately needs.
My argument against that is simple. The Oilers don’t have three quality NHL centres, they have three high-end forwards who are capable of playing centre. They rarely ever have the three big guns on separate lines. If you deal Nugent-Hopkins for Nikolaj Ehlers, all you’re doing is acquiring a player who is far less versatile.
The Oilers have a high-end scoring winger to play with Connor McDavid and his name is Leon Draisaitl. The presence of Nugent-Hopkins allows them to play McDavid and Draisaitl together. If you trade Nugent-Hopkins, then you would be forced to split up the most dangerous duo in the NHL for the sake of centre depth.
The focus this offseason should be to finding a scoring winger to compliment their second line centre. What if they find a guy who can slide onto his wing and help him re-create or even surpass his current career year? Wouldn’t that help this team win more than dealing Nugent-Hopkins for someone like Brett Pesce?
The second you trade a player like Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, regardless of the return, you begin searching for someone exactly like Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. That’s the bottom line.