With the trade deadline fast approaching, we will be taking a closer look at the situation for each team over the coming weeks. Where do they stand, what do they need to do, and what assets do they have to fill those needs? As we continue to examine the Pacific Division, here is a look at the Edmonton Oilers.
The Edmonton Oilers have to be buyers, right? While it’s true that the team rostering Connor McDavid missing the playoffs any year, nevertheless two years in a row, is unacceptable, the reality is that much of the trade deadline pressure on the Oilers fell squarely on GM Peter Chiarelli and his job security. Ever since Chiarelli was relieved of his duties, it’s been awfully quiet on the rumor mill out of to Edmonton. It’s not clear how much authority interim GM Keith Gretzky has, but Gretzky is a draft guru anyway who is likely more comfortable adding picks and prospects at the deadline than acquiring rental help.
The fact of the matter is that – even with the front office turnover – Edmonton remains in the thick of the Western Conference wild card race, tied with the Arizona Coyotes, Chicago Blackhawks, and Anaheim Ducks with 51 points and just three points back of the Vancouver Canucks for the final playoff spot. As currently constituted, McDavid and the Oilers may not be favorites to make the postseason, but have a chance. There are many holes in the lineup and not much cap space with which to fill them at the deadline, but the Oilers could certainly push for a wild card spot if the team was able to add some pieces. But after that, they stand little chance of advancing past the first round. The team thus faces a decision of whether they should make trades, for rentals or long-term additions, without a new GM to guide them, to simply make an appearance in the postseason or instead make use of several pending free agents and add some draft capital and prospects to build with – or trade with – once the team has a more clear picture of their roster building plans, even if it hurts their playoff odds.
If the Oilers miss the playoffs again, it will hurt. However, this is a team that simply cannot afford to make any more trade mistakes. Expect Edmonton to play it safe and sell off their expiring contracts. Perhaps they’ll even make a minor hockey trade or two. The risks simply outweigh the benefits when it comes to being a buyer at the deadline this season. McDavid and company will be back in the postseason soon enough, but selling out to do so this year would be a mistake. It seems Gretzky and the interim regime understand that, but you never quite know in Edmonton.
23-25-5, sixth in the Pacific Division
Deadline Cap Space
$4.27MM in full-season cap hit, 0/3 used salary cap retention slots, 48/50 contracts per CapFriendly
Upcoming Draft Picks
2019: EDM 1st, EDM 2nd, NYI 3rd, EDM 4th, EDM 6th, EDM 7th
2020: EDM 1st, EDM 2nd, EDM 3rd, EDM 4th, EDM 5th, EDM 6th
The whole point of Edmonton being a seller and not a buyer at the deadline is to play it safe until a new GM is at the helm. As such, don’t expect the team to trade established contributors like Ryan Nugent-Hopkins or Darnell Nurse. It also seems unlikely, despite the hype, that draft-minded Gretzky will move 2016 fourth overall pick Jesse Puljujarvi unless he is blown away by an offer. The Oilers have plenty of impending free agents or short-term players that could be of interest to buyers that they don’t need to think big right now.
The one notable name who the Oilers will surely shop is goaltender Cam Talbot. Talbot, 29, had been supplanted as the starter this season by Mikko Koskinen, who Chiarelli signed to an extension on his way out the door. With Koskinen locked up, a handful of promising prospects in the pipeline, and an intriguing free agent market for goalies this summer, Talbot’s time in Edmonton is all but over, despite whispers they could re-sign him. Talbot could wind up being the top keeper on the trade market in the days leading up to the deadline, if Sergei Bobrovsky, Jimmy Howard, and Semyon Varlamov are not moved by their respective teams. Talbot should command a nice return for the Oilers, even in a down year. Third-string journeyman Al Montoya could also be up for grabs.
Up front, Edmonton has gotten little production outside of McDavid, Nugent-Hopkins, and Leon Draisaitl this season, but could find takers for several role players. Alex Chiasson could draw the most interest; the 28-year-old continues to be one of the more underrated players in the NHL and is on pace for a career-high 42 points while playing on a minimum contract. However, Chiasson has been a nice fit for the Oilers this season and it would not be a surprise if the team held on to him through the deadline, both as an “own rental” and in hopes of re-signing him. They likely aren’t as attached to a free agent addition that hasn’t worked out: Tobias Rieder. The impending restricted free agent is a talented and versatile forward, but hasn’t shown it in Edmonton. He has yet to score a goal this season and has just nine assists to show for 39 games. The Oilers surely won’t be qualifying Rieder anyway and will look to move him for the best offer. Another skilled player who hasn’t played well in Edmonton is Ryan Spooner, who recently cleared waivers and has been buried in the minors. If a team is willing to take on Spooner’s $3.1MM salary next season, the Oilers will likely give him away. Honestly, most of Edmonton’s forwards have fallen short of expectations to the point that the team would gladly move them for a reasonable price. RFA Ty Rattie, UFA Brad Malone, and even Zack Kassian and Kyle Brodziak, who have another year remaining on their contracts, could be trade bait. Of course, if anyone is willing to take the albatross that is Milan Lucic’s contract, the Oilers would jump at that chance. That obviously remains a long shot, though.
On the back end, there are fewer options for Edmonton to move, but value exists. Despite the fifth-worst goals against per game and second-worst penalty kill in the NHL, the Oilers have a defense corps that they like, led by Nurse, Oscar Klefbom, and Adam Larsson. Kris Russell and newly-acquired Brandon Manning are also signed beyond this season and are unlikely to move. Instead, UFA’s Alexander Petrovic – who the Oilers only traded for last month – and Kevin Gravel could be nice depth additions for contenders and Edmonton would be willing to give up. They could also entertain offers for Matt Benning, who has one year remaining on an affordable deal. Ethan Bear is a name that keeps showing up in trade rumors; it could be that the Oilers don’t see a fit for the young puck-mover and try to move him in a hockey trade for another young piece.
1) Young Forwards: When the majority of a team’s forwards can be listed as trade possibilities, it’s time for an overhaul. Outside of McDavid, Nugent-Hopkins, Draisaitl, and for their sake Puljujarvi, there are no other forwards currently on the Oilers roster who should compete for top-nine roles next season. Standout AHLers Kailer Yamamoto, Tyler Benson, and Cooper Marody will be given the opportunity to win full-time roles next year, but Edmonton could stand to add some competition. In trading away a valuable piece like Talbot or Spooner or swapping out another young player like Bear, the Oilers should target some young forwards who could challenge for NHL roles next season.
2) Draft Picks: The Oilers don’t want to be in a rebuild any more and, with arguably the best player on the planet on their roster, who can blame them. However, if Edmonton wants to trade for veteran difference-makers this off-season, it helps to have some trade capital. The pipeline is currently shallow and the NHL roster is largely devoid of upside outside of untouchables. Whether they flip the picks they obtain from these small rental deals to make a bigger trade or simply use them to draft replacements for the current prospects they deal away, the Oilers could use some more picks. They currently have just six selections in the upcoming draft and only two in the top 75.
3) Top Pair Defenseman: Again, the smart thing for the Oilers to do at the deadline is play it safe. They have far greater needs than just young forwards and draft picks, including a reliable goaltender, top-six wingers, and – their greatest need – another elite puck-moving defenseman, but they can be handled in the off-season by the new GM. However, if a reasonable offer comes their way that fills one of these needs, particularly the defender, it makes sense to entertain it. Edmonton may have seven veteran defenseman signed through next season, not including some promising prospects, but a top-pair defenseman remains one of their biggest needs. The Oilers get little production from the blue line outside of Nurse and Klefbom, neither of whom are racking up impressive points either. With names like Dougie Hamilton, Justin Faulk, and Alec Martinez floating around, the Oilers just need to keep their options open.