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Photo Credit: Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

Filling The Hole

Hello Nation,

Well, it’s over. The speculation is over, with one of the Oilers’ wandering lost sons finally finding his oasis in the desert. Taylor Hall is now a member of the Arizona Coyotes, despite Ken Holland and the Oilers reportedly being one of the last few teams in on acquiring him. And in a shocking turn of events, never before witnessed here, a fierce debate raged on as to whether or not it was in the Oilers’ best interest to bring Hall back into the fold, ranging from whether the package of assets that Devils GM Ray Shero was asking for was too rich, to if he was a good cultural fit in the dressing room.

Considering that the Hall now finds himself wearing the black, white and… maroon? of the Coyotes, and that the Oilers are in a battle with them for the Pacific division throne, it’s fair to suggest that the Oilers need to engage in an arms race to keep pace with their division rival– not to mention that the Vegas Golden Knights and Calgary Flames are heating up too.

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Regardless of how you may feel about Hall– and where you land on the continuum of his relative worth to a team vs. what it would take to acquire him– the Oilers still need help with their scoring, particularly at 5v5.

The Oilers’ 5v5 heatmap shows that they need help pretty much everywhere, but the high slot is where they’re shooting from well-below league average (the dark blue areas), and any forward they bring into for help would need to be someone whose game fills that need, specifically (and preferably) at the second-line LW position.

So, with Young Hall off the trade block, who are some of the potential trade targets that could help the Oilers increase their 5v5 threat, and remedy some of their goal-scoring pain?

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Let’s take a look:

Andreas Athanasiou (Age: 25)

Goals Assists PTS CF% GF% xGF% SCF% HDCF% HDGF% SH%
5 11 16 44.31 22.92 43.16 45.22 42.11 17.24 6.7

5v5 TOI- 416:13; 16:17 TOI/GM

2019-20 Cap Hit: $3.0mil (RFA)

Athanasiou seems to be high on many trade target lists, and it’s easy to see why. Perhaps one of the more skilled players on a Detroit Red Wings team that is racing towards the bottom of the NHL standings faster than anyone, Athanasiou offers speed and control with his skating and has a scoring touch. The start to his season hasn’t been remarkable by any means, and his GF and HDGF percentages are hideous for a player who is touted as having two-way prowess– 11 GF vs. 37 GA; 5 HDGF vs. 24 HDGA– but he’s coming off a 30 goal season last year and, as mentioned, the Red Wings are a near-historical disaster, so those numbers are a little misleading.

Athanasiou fills a bit of the Oilers’ need in the offensive zone, and his contract is absorbable now at about a $1.77mil cap hit, and his speed would be a welcome change to the, well, more-modestly gifted skaters that Ryan Nugent-Hopkins has played with on his wing. One has to wonder how the relationship between Holland and Wings GM Steve Yzerman could benefit in trade talks, but also whether there is some animosity between Athanasiou’s camp and Holland after the player held out during his last contract negotiation.

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Jean-Gabriel Pageau (Age: 27)

Goals Assists PTS CF% GF% xGF% SCF% HDCF% HDGF% SH%
16 8 24 48.62 65.00 54.23 48.62 54.49 85.00 20.3

5v5 TOI- 486:34; 18:31 TOI/GM

2019-20 Cap Hit: $3.1mil (UFA)

The biggest question of course with Pageau is what it’ll cost to pry him away from the Ottawa Senators, considering he’s a pending free agent– and essentially a pure rental– and is playing quite well for a Senators team that as a whole is exceeding expectations. The heat map indicates that Pageau is most effective at creating chances right in the High Danger area, and is still responsible defensively to limit the High Danger chances against, something the Oilers are allowing far too much of lately. It’s also worth noting that he can play both centre and wing, and is versatile enough to kill penalties too. The issue is of course the price, and though the Oilers should be gunning for the playoffs, it’s a different position to be in to be paying for an effective rental player. But, perhaps as the deadline creeps up, that changes for the Oilers?

Boone Jenner (Age: 26)

Goals Assists PTS CF% GF% xGF% SCF% HDCF% HDGF% SH%
6 5 11 49.40 42.11 52.21 48.85 46.15 57.89 12.9

5v5 TOI- 449:43; 17:31 TOI/GM

2019-20 Cap Hit: $3.75mil (through 2021-22)

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GM Jarmo Kekäläinen and the Columbus Blue Jackets went all in last year, and they should be commended for it. By opting to hang onto their UFAs Sergei Bobrovsky and Arteri Panarin, knowing full-well they were likely to walk in the summer, while also trading for pending UFAs Matt Duchene and Ryan Dzingel, they made the decision to go for it when logic– i.e. conservatism– said otherwise. They were rewarded for their audacity with biggest upset in Stanley Cup Playoffs history, toppling the mighty Tampa Bay Lightning in a sweep. But now the Jackets are suffering the consequences for their decisions — choice have consequences kids, no matter how good it feels at the time– and are not very good this year.

It’s been a while since his 30 goal season (2015-16), but Jenner has been a consistent goal-scorer every season since, and his heat map shows that he helps create mayhem all over the offensive zone

He’s 26 years old, has a manageable cap hit and remains under team control through the rest of his prime, so acquiring him would be a long-term plan. The Blue Jackets are in a minor-rebuild mode, with players like Cam Atkinson, Gustav Nyquist. and Alexander Wennberg locked in for five, four, and four years, respectively, and have a slew of RFAs who are due for new contracts this summer– Pierre-Luc Dubois, Marko Dano, among others– so Jenner might be a player who’s expendable if the price is right for Kekäläinen.

Brandon Saad (Age: 27)

Goals Assists PTS CF% GF% xGF% SCF% HDCF% HDGF% SH%
11 8 19 52.17 46.34 52.41 51.63 52.53 50.00 13.4

5v5 TOI- 438:06; 16:41 TOI/GM

2019-20 Cap Hit: $6.0 (through 2020-21)

The Chicago Blackhawks Empire has fallen; they’re toiling in the Western Conference basement and are capped-out, so they’re surely to have players they’re willing to shed. The problem is that the reason they’re capped out is because all of their contracts suck, and though Saad’s isn’t the worst, it’s a nearly impossible contract for the Oilers to absorb without moving some big money out too, or waiting until closer to the deadline, where it can be had for about $1.3mil worth of cap space.

Saad is actually having a nice season, with very good possession numbers and High Danger opportunities, despite playing for a ‘Hawks team that is awful and playing with Jonathan Toews for 266:55 at 5v5.

Saad brings exactly what the Oilers need, rather than burning speed to create chances, he’s a pure finisher who has the size to create an above-league average rate of chances in the High Danger areas.* Again, the contract isn’t ideal, and would have to be struck on deadline day; it would be in the Oilers better interest to trade sooner rather than later.

*One element the Oilers attack is sorely missing is a player to crash the net and get dirty goals. Kassian can do it, and Khaira probably can too, but it would be nice to have a player on the roster who’s actually comfortable doing it, and is effective at it.

Joe Thornton (Age: 40)

Goals Assists PTS CF% GF% xGF% SCF% HDCF% HDGF% SH%
0 12 12 53.33 42.86 50.86 52.08 52.80 39.13 0.0

 

5v5 TOI- 441:43; 14:38 TOI/GM

2019-20 Cap Hit: $2.0mil (UFA)

This one’s just for me. I’m selfish and I want Thornton in an Oilers jersey. He more fills the need at the third line centre spot, and would likely be more of a deadline deal if the Sharks trade him, but he’s one of the best play-makers of all-time, and I want him in the dressing room for a playoff run. His contract is manageable, and he, like Saad, is generating very good possession and scoring chances for a Sharks team that has been awful for a couple stretches already this year, and they’re likely to miss the playoffs. Thornton’s 40, and deserves another playoff run, so why not with the Oilers?

Final Thought

The likely candidates here are either Jenner or Athanasiou. Either player can be both an immediate solution, and part of the longer-term framework for the roster. The Oilers are in that middle class of the league where they aren’t in full-on rebuild anymore, but aren’t necessarily Stanley Cup contenders, so pulling the trigger on win-now move just hurts the team long term. Anything more than one or two prospects– that aren’t Holland’s prized possessions, Philip Broberg and Evan Bouchard, the two players he was reportedly unwilling to include in a deal for Hall– and a 2nd round pick in exchange for a player is probably an overpay, unless of course the price is right for a very good top-line forward who isn’t simply a rental.

Thoughts?


Traditional stats courtesy of nhl.com | Advanced counts courtesy of naturalstattrick.com | Heatmaps courtesy of hockeyviz.com | Salary Cap info courtesy of puckpedia.com