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Trade Bait

The NHL trade deadline is just over six weeks away. Will the Edmonton Oilers be buyers or will Ken Holland stand pat? I honestly don’t think the latter is a realistic option. Holland has been patient thus far, and his patience has been rewarded as the Oilers are right in the mix for a playoff spot, but make no mistake, there is a lot of angst around the organization to make the playoffs.

You need only look at the attendance figures to realize playoffs are a must for the business side of the organization. Games around Christmas are usually big draws, and they are even better when the opposition is Toronto, Pittsburgh, Montreal and Calgary, but we saw over 2,000 empty seats at games in early December.

Holland won’t panic, but I’d be surprised if he does nothing based on how close the Oilers are in the Pacific Division and wildcard race.

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The Oilers are three points out of first place, with a game in hand, but also only one point ahead of ninth place Vancouver, who have two games in hand.

The race is very tight in the Pacific, and there isn’t much separating the teams in the standings. A quick look at some other numbers illustrates they are close in many facets.

TEAM XGF% CF% FF% PP% PK% Cap Space via Puck Pedia
Vegas 54.6 53.2 53.3 22.5 80.6 $0
Arizona 48.6 48.4 48.4 21.0 83.3 $0
Edmonton 48.7 47.5 48.4 29.2 82.9 $900K
Calgary 49.8 50.6 49.7 18.5 82.5 $1.7m
Vancouver 48.3 48.8 48.3 25.5 80.2 $30K

I’ve always been perplexed by those who only want to use 5×5 stats when discussing which teams are best.  I understand the majority of the game is played there, but special teams play a major role in the outcome of games. Close to 30% of the goals are scored on the powerplay, so it matters a lot.

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The Flames have the most cap space, and that could be valuable. Credit Brad Treliving for unloading Michael Frolik’s contract and for getting a fourth round pick in return. That was a perplexing trade by Buffalo in my eyes. They should have made Calgary add a draft pick to take Frolik’s contract off their hands.

The $910,000 Oilers have in “cap space,“ is equal to $4.13 million in annual cap space. Click on PuckPedia to see more details, but that gives you an idea of how much in actual contract dollars the Oilers could add. Keep in mind Holland could convince a team to take Brandon Manning in return, which would free up more cap space. And of course teams can retain salary as well.

Vegas stands out with their XGF%, CF% and FF%, but these numbers are not resulting in an advantage in actual goals for and against at 5×5.

TEAM GF 5×5 (other EV GF) GA 5×5 (other EV GA) PP GF PP GA
Vegas 95 (8) 97 (5) 29 29
Arizona 88 (2) 78 (2) 29 21
Edmonton 84 (4) 103 (3) 40 22
Vancouver 84 (2) 86 (6) 40 28
Calgary 75 (8) 89 (5) 25 25

The Oilers’ GA at 5×5 is the obvious sore spot, but they counter it by having excellent special teams. Calgary, Vancouver and Vegas are allowing more goals than scoring at 5×5, just not to the same level as Edmonton.

When you look at the standings, analytics, even strength and special teams scoring, every team has their own strengths and weaknesses. None stand out above the rest, which the standings prove, and that’s why the right acquisition at the trade deadline could make a big difference in the push towards the playoffs.

Arizona made a major splash when they acquired Taylor Hall. They have no cap space to make a move, unless they get really creative.

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TRADE OPTIONS…

Oct 29, 2019; Detroit, MI, USA; Detroit Red Wings center Andreas Athanasiou (72) skates with the puck against Edmonton Oilers center Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (93) in the first period at Little Caesars Arena.

1. Chris Kreider ($4.625m cap hit): I like him, but I’m not nearly as high on him as some people. He is big, he skates well, he’s physical. He is a solid second line winger, possibly a good complementary first liner, but he is likely only a rental. Giving up a first rounder for him is very steep, and I don’t see anyone in the Pacific doing that. Unless the landscape changes, I suspect Kreider will be this summer’s Kevin Hayes, or similar to the UFA class of 2016. A player who will get too much money for too many years. He turns 29 in April. He is not a superstar. Do not give non-superstars six or seven years deals. It doesn’t work, yet every year we see different general managers willing to do it.

2. Tyler Toffoli ($4.6m cap hit): Calgary and Edmonton would welcome him into their top-six. If you look at previous trade deadline deals, the Kings should be able to land a second round pick and a mid-range prospect in return. Will the Oilers and Flames bid each other up? Toffoli isn’t as big or as fast as Kreider, but he is a skilled winger who shoots right. In 502 NHL games Kreider has 146-152-298 while in 500 games Toffoli has 132-148-280. Toffoli turns 28 in April. This season Kreider has 13-14-27 while Toffoli has produced 11-13-24. He would be a nice consolation prize for a team who isn’t willing to pay the alleged hefty price to land Kreider.

3. Jean-Gabriel Pageau ($3.1m): He is having a career year with 19 goals and 30 points already. His cap hit is even easier to absorb, and he is a centre. He doesn’t have as much playoff experience as Toffoli or Krieder, but he’s been to the conference final once and second round another time. The interesting ???

4. Josh Anderson ($1.85m): If I was a GM, I’d love to add him. He is built for playoff hockey. Big, strong, mean with speed and some good scoring ability. He is an RFA this summer, and I don’t understand why Columbus would move him, but he has had an off year and now would be the best time to acquire him. The cost likely would be lower than usual. He only has one goal in 26 games, but he should be back in the lineup for a few weeks prior to the deadline. If the Blue Jackets are seriously considering moving him, then every GM owes it to his team to make a strong inquiry. He scored 27 goals last year after 19 (63 games) and 17 the previous two seasons. He’d be an excellent second line winger.

5. Andreas Athanasiou ($3m): He’s in the running for the Green Jacket, leading the NHL at -35, but that is more to do with how bad the Red Wings are than him. He is a big body with speed to burn. He scored 16, 18 and 30 goals the past three seasons. I don’t think you’d expect him to score 30 again, but he could pot 20. He only has five goals this season and playing predominantly on the wing. Last season he spent some time at centre with 399 faceoffs (he has 61 this year) and he took 255 draws in 2018. However, I sense teams view him as a winger. “He is best as a winger, but at times I sense he wants to be a centre,” a scout told me via text. His speed is a major asset and rumblings out of Detroit are that Steve Yzerman is open to moving him for the right offer. Holland should know him better than any other GM in the league as he had him in the Wings organization for seven years. He is an RFA, so acquiring him would be more than just a rental move. He is on the IR right now with a knee sprain, but reports are it shouldn’t keep him out that long.

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6. Wayne Simmonds ($5m): The Devils will almost surely move him and retain salary to do it. He is a pure rental and likely costs a mid-round draft pick.

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7. Vlad Namestnikov ($4m): His cap hit, even with Sens retaining half, is an issue. He has good speed and has produced 28+ points four times in his career. He has 8-10-18 this year for the Senators. Has done very little in 29 playoff games thus far in his career, so that might have teams shy away.

8.  Tyler Ennis ($800K): He’s produced 11-13-24 in 43 games. He knows how to score in the NHL. Cost would be minimal, but he is capable of scoring a few timely goals for a team down the stretch.

9. Ilya Kovalchuk ($700K): If he plays well for the Habs, he might garner some interest. The return would be minimal, but so too might be what Kovalchuk brings. It all depends how he looks the next six weeks in Montreal.

10. Trevor Lewis ($2m): He is a pending UFA with a lot of playoff experience. He just returned from injury. He is better defensively than Gaetan Haas, but doesn’t have the speed or offensive upside.

I focused on forwards as I think Holland is more inclined to add up front than on the backend, unless an injury occurs. That doesn’t mean he won’t look, as I’m sure he’d add a right-shot D-man if it was the right fit.

Two other names who could help a team, but would need to agree to move are Joe Thornton and Mikko Koivu. The Sharks still believe they can get back in the race, and when Thornton was asked last month if he would agree to a trade he said, “It hasn’t even entered my mind. I think this team is going to make the playoffs.” You’d expect him to say that, but in the middle of February if the Sharks are out of it I’m sure Doug Wilson will ask him if he wants a chance to win a Stanley Cup. He’d likely only agree to go to one of the top favourites, but he is playing in a bottom six role in San Jose, so he is already used to playing that role.

The Wild are in the race right now, but if they fall out I see Koivu in the same boat. Some players are willing to chase a Cup, but others won’t. Koivu could, and then possibly re-sign in Minnesota in the summer. I’m not sure any team in the Pacific Division will land either, but Thornton would be an intriguing third line centre option for the Oilers.

PARTING SHOT…

The Oilers have 17 games before the trade deadline while Vancouver, Vegas, Minny and Calgary have 18. Nashville has 19, Arizona plays 20 and Winnipeg plays 21. With the race being so close, will a team follow in Arizona’s footsteps and make a move sooner, or will they wait to see where they are a week before the deadline?

Who do you want the Oilers to target?

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