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Photo Credit: Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports

A Balancing Act

After outplaying and defeating the defending Stanley Cup Champions and their biggest rival over the weekend I feel very confident saying that the Edmonton Oilers are no longer just playoff contenders, they are a legitimate threat to win the Pacific Division.  They have a chance to win their division, despite the fact that there are still some significant holes in their lineup. That would lead you to believe that Ken Holland should be a big-time player in the rental market at the trade deadline, yet I have a hard time believing he will be.

The idea of Holland staying quiet is going to drive a lot of Oilers fans insane and rightfully so. When this team is playing their best hockey, they are very hard to beat. They have the best 1-2 punch in the NHL with Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl and if their GM goes out and upgrades a few forward positions, it’s not unrealistic to expect them to win a few playoff rounds. The thought of the Oilers ‘wasting’ another year of McDavid is a pill that’s very tough to swallow.

The other side of that coin is that Ken Holland is in his first year on the job and has a reputation of being a rather patient GM. He rarely makes a massive splash at a trade deadline. In 2015, he traded a 3rd round pick for Marek Zidlicky and also dealt Mattias Janmark, a prospect, and a 2nd round pick for Erik Cole and a third-rounder. In 2012, he dealt a first-round pick and a prospect for Kyle Quincey. In 2008, he traded a 2nd round pick and a 4th round pick for defenseman Brad Stuart. In 2007, he dealt Shawn Matthias, a conditional 2nd, and another conditional pick for Todd Bertuzzi. At least in the salary cap era, those were the only big trades that I can find. 

That’s one of the reasons why I don’t think the Oilers will be going after players like JG Pageau or Chris Kreider. Those two will likely cost you a first-round pick and I just can’t see Holland giving that up in his first year as GM of this team. He’s about building a sustainable contender and trading the first-round pick in either 2020 or 2021 at this year’s trade deadline wouldn’t line up with his philosophy.

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Still, Holland is a smart man and I’m sure he would recognize that this team has the potential to get very hot and if they get hot at the right moment, they are more than capable of winning two playoff rounds. I also believe he wants to send a positive message to the core of this team and reward them for their play through 50 games and let them know that he believes in them. 

So while I don’t believe it’s realistic to expect Holland to trade assets for a high-end rental, I wouldn’t be surprised he goes after a player that is under team control for 2020-21, even if it means parting ways with a significant asset.

That’s still very difficult to do and there are a few questions that we don’t know the answer to that will really affect how things play out.

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WOULD HOLLAND PART WAYS WITH A VETERAN?

Nov 19, 2019; San Jose, CA, USA; Edmonton Oilers left wing Jujhar Khaira (16) celebrates with defenseman Oscar Klefbom (77) and defenseman Kris Russell (4) after scoring a goal against the San Jose Sharks during the first period at SAP Center in San Jose. Mandatory Credit: Cody Glenn-USA TODAY Sports

There are plenty of Oilers fans who want to see the team trade Kris Russell or Adam Larsson for some forward help, but I would be very surprised if he pulled the trigger on a move involving either of those two, for a few reasons.

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There’s no arguing that the Oilers currently have seven NHL calibre defensemen but I think keeping it that way is important for right now. Injuries are almost guaranteed to hit at some point in the playoffs and I think having an extra capable d-man in your system is smart. At the same time, if another team shows interest in Kris Russell, I think Holland should think about it. If he can shed Russell’s $4 million cap hit for next season, it might be worth losing out on the defensive depth. 

As for a potential Adam Larsson trade, I really don’t think it would be wise. Even if the Oilers would be getting back a scoring forward, it would force them to go into the playoffs with Matt Benning and Ethan Bear as their top two right-shot defensemen and they’d either have to play rookie Evan Bouchard or Caleb Jones (on his off side) on their third pairing. I think keeping Larsson for at least the rest of this season is a smart move.

HOW MUCH VALUE DO THEIR TRADE CHIPS HAVE?

Mar 11, 2019; Edmonton, Alberta, CAN; Edmonton Oilers forward Jujhar Khaira (16) and New York Rangers forward Brendan Lemieux (48) fight during the second period at Rogers Place. Mandatory Credit: Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports

There are some interesting pieces that they could part with and the value of those trade chips will no doubt impact the type of player they could get back. Obviously, we know that draft picks have value but what about the likes of Jesse Puljujarvi, Jujhar Khaira, and even William Lagesson.

The value of those players could also indirectly affect which assets the Oilers move at the deadline. If Holland believes he could get a second-round pick for Puljujarvi at the 2020 NHL Draft in June, then he might be more likely to move the teams’ second-round pick at the deadline this year. If he thinks Lagesson or Khaira could fetch a fourth-rounder or even an earlier pick, that could change which picks he feels comfortable moving on February 24th.

There might be a rebuilding team that really likes Puljujarvi and could even value him more than the Oilers upcoming second-round pick. The way that the Oilers prospects are percieved will drastically change Holland’s deadline plans.

WHAT’S THE MARKET?

Obviously, if a bunch of teams fall out of the race that benefits the Oilers. The more teams that decide to sell off at the deadline, the more prices will drop. I could see the Oilers being interested in Andreas Athanasiou but there are some that believe the Red Wings could get a first-round pick for him. That likely takes the Oilers out of the running.

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I think Ondrej Kase would be a great fit with the Oilers but I’m sure the Ducks would rather trade him out of the Pacific Division. At the same time, if the market is flooded, then maybe they would be more open to trading him to Edmonton just to get the best return possible. If teams like Nashville, Chicago, Winnipeg and maybe even Arizona or Calgary decide that they aren’t going to be buyers, then it might be easier for Ken Holland to find a deal that he likes.

Regardless of how things shape up, it will be fascinating to watch how Ken Holland approaches this year’s trade deadline and how he balances giving this years team the best chance to win with building a sustainable Stanley Cup contender.

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THE HAIR MASSACURE

Hair Massacure is taking over Edmonton this winter to support the fight against childhood cancer and grant wishes to some extraordinary young patients. On February 21, 2020 thousands of heads will be shaved, once again, in honour of the journey of sick children losing their hair due to chemotherapy. All funds raised go to Children’s Wish Foundation and Terry Fox PROFYLE. You can help. Go to www.hairmassacure.com to learn more.