Can The Oilers Swing a Season-Saving Trade?
To put it politely, 2017-18 has become a mess for the Edmonton Oilers.
Considered by many observers (including yours truly) to be a Stanley Cup contender when this season began, the Oilers find themselves floundering near the bottom of the Western Conference standings.
Following Edmonton’s 5-1 loss last Saturday to the Dallas Stars, Sportsnet’s Nick Kypreos speculated someone could lose their job if the Oilers failed to reverse their fortunes in a week’s time. Over the following four days, they fell 4-1 to the Chicago Blackhawks and dropped a 2-1 decision to the Nashville Predators.
Kypreos’ comments prompted some talk suggesting head coach Todd McLellan might lose his job, but general manager Peter Chiarelli rejected that notion.
If a coaching change isn’t in the cards, and assuming Chiarelli isn’t in any danger of getting canned, the only realistic shake-up option is a trade. Not a minor move involving depth players but a significant, season-saving deal.
Such trades are usually difficult to make. Given the Oilers’ current precarious position in the standings, it’s likely impossible.
Chiarelli’s rivals won’t do him any favors. The Oilers GM won’t land an established top-four defenseman or a speedy top-six scoring winger unless he sends something substantial the other way.
None of the Oilers’ best players – Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl, Cam Talbot – are going anywhere. Good luck peddling Milan Lucic’s hefty contract with its $6-million annual salary-cap hit and no-trade clause. Rival clubs would love to pry young defenseman Darnell Nurse away from the Oilers but that’s not going to happen.
Rearguard Adam Larsson won’t fetch a winger equivalent to the guy (Taylor Hall) he was traded for. Blueliner Oscar Klefbom’s struggles this season have probably his value in the trade market.
Center Ryan Nugent-Hopkins’ value has probably never been higher. However, he’s also got that $6 million cap hit and Chiarelli could be reluctant to move him.
Wingers Patrick Maroon and Mike Cammalleri are eligible for unrestricted free agent status in July. Chiarelli could shop them by the Feb. 26 trade deadline but they’ll be consider rental players for postseason contenders. The return for either guy won’t provide immediate help. Same goes for depth players such as Zach Kassian, Kris Russell, Matt Benning and Mark Letestu.
For a return with the potential to provide a quick reversal of the Oilers fortunes, Chiarelli would likely have to bundle a promising youngster, such as Jesse Puljujarvi or Kailer Yamamoto, with his first-round pick in the 2018 NHL Draft.
Puljujarvi, a 19-year-old right wing, was the Oilers’ first-round pick (fourth overall) in the 2016 NHL draft. Yamamoto, another 19-year-old forward, was selected 22nd overall in last year’s draft.
Given the Oilers’ current spot in the standings, they could be in line for another high selection in the 2018 draft. That assumes, of course, that they don’t significantly rise in the standings between now and season’s end.
Packaging Puljujarvi or Yamamoto with their 2018 first-rounder would be a tantalizing offer for clubs looking to move a scoring forward or a quality defenseman. However, most of those teams could be non-contenders peddling pending UFAs or players carrying budget-busting contracts. There’s also the danger the players Chiarelli ships out could blossom into stars elsewhere.
Sure, there’s a chance Chiarelli shocks the league and pulls off a major deal that addresses the Oilers’ needs and vaults them back into contention. Unfortunately, the stark reality is that deal probably doesn’t exist right now.
At this point, Chiarelli’s best bet is to consider shipping out those pending UFAs who don’t figure into the club’s long-term plans (Maroon, Cammalleri) for the best possible return, give more playing time to his younger players and look toward retooling the roster in the offseason.
That’s probably not what Edmonton fans, thrilled by last season’s promise following a decade of mediocrity, want to hear. Nevertheless, any hasty short-term decisions could have damaging long-term consequences.
For now, patience is the only reasonable option.