Although we’re just two months into the season, the trade deadline is already less than a month away. Where does each team stand and what moves should they be looking to make? We continue our look around the league with the Edmonton Oilers.
Perhaps the biggest obstacle standing between the Edmonton Oilers and their longest playoff run in the Connor McDavid/Leon Draisaitl era is not their North Division competition, but their lack of cap space. The Oilers are ready to be all-out buyers and compete for a Stanley Cup, but they lack the cap space to do much at all. They are already using Long Term Injured Reserve space and even most of that is already chewed up. Any trade will either have to see salary go the other way or be paired with another transaction to shed salary.
The Oilers have been bold in their waivers decisions this year, placing the likes of James Neal, Alex Chiasson, and Jujhar Khaira among others on the wire. Neal will require waivers again after two more games played, but is not a realistic waiver claim candidate anyhow. Plus, Neal’s off-roster status is currently reflected in their still-lacking cap space. Chiasson and Khaira though would require waivers again to be moved off the roster and there is reason to be believe that the Oilers may not risk it a second time. Could Zack Kassian be the next name they take a chance with? Signed to a long-term contract with a significant amount of salary, Kassian is probably unlikely to be claimed and could open up some space. He appears to have lost his top-six role and may be worth the risk.
The fact that a contender must consider risking their starting players on waivers to open up enough space to add different starting players just shows the dire cap situation in Edmonton. Add in the team’s lack of 2021 draft picks and an organizational philosophy that has been opposed to trading top prospects and it may be difficult for the Oilers to make a big move. With that said, they will find a way to make some sort of addition or two.
20-13-0, .606, 3rd in North Division
Deadline Cap Space
$0MM in full-season space (LTIR), 1/3 retention slots used, 48/50 contracts used per CapFriendly
Upcoming Draft Picks
2021: EDM 1st, EDM 4th, EDM 6th, PIT 6th, EDM 7th
2022: EDM 1st, EDM 2nd, EDM 3rd, EDM 4th, EDM 5th, EDM 6th, EDM 7th
The Oilers’ best chance at adding an impact forward to their roster is by moving out salary to offset the addition. Although the Edmonton blue line may not seem like a top unit in the NHL, they are very deep which could make a roster defenseman expendable. Especially considering the impending Expansion Draft, which could cost the Oilers a young roster defenseman anyhow, there is some added incentive to deal from the blue line. 23-year-old Ethan Bear, who was trending upward heading into this season, has hit a wall in his development instead, recording just three points thus far, seeing a career low in ice time, and even sitting a few games as a healthy scratch. Bear still undoubtedly has value and could be the Oilers’ top trade chip, if they’re willing to move him. Competing for the No. 6 defenseman role for Edmonton this year has been William Lagesson, 25, and Caleb Jones, 23, who like Bear will each be restricted free agents after the 2021-22 season and are eligible for selection in the Expansion Draft. While Jones may have more upside, Lagesson has been the preferred player of the coaching staff due to his superior defense, even recently playing a top-four role. Jones’ contract is also slightly more expensive, which could be considered. Assuming the Oilers use the 7-3 protection scheme in the Expansion Draft and Darnell Nurse and Oscar Klefbom (though not a lock) are protected, only one of these three young defensemen can join them. However, only one can be selected as well. That works out to one of the trio being expendable in a deadline move, especially with top prospects like Evan Bouchard and Philip Broberg pushing up the pipeline as well.
The Oilers don’t have the same depth up front, but as previously mentioned have been willing to take risks on waivers this season to gain cap flexibility. If they feel Chiasson or Kassian are unlikely to clear waivers, they could shop either one to open up space or potentially in a swap. They could also look at moving some of their fringe forward to teams with a greater need for depth beyond their starting group.
Either as a sweetener to move another contract or as part of a return if they’re able to open up cap space, the Oilers will also have to consider moving some of their prospects. Tyler Benson, who has been more talk than walk as a pro prospect for Edmonton, may need a change of scenery after years of being unable to earn a full-time role with the NHL club. Cooper Marody, tearing up the AHL this year and having earned some NHL experience last year, could also be an attractive name. While Bouchard, Broberg, and Dylan Holloway are likely untouchable, would Edmonton consider moving other top prospects like Raphael Lavoie, Ryan McLeod, or Matej Blumel? Would they dip into their deep group of young goaltenders, such as Stuart Skinner, Dylan Wells, Olivier Rodrigue, or Ilya Konovalov?
1) Affordable Top-Six Forward – It may seem strange for the Oilers’ biggest need to be at forward. Edmonton is a top-ten team in goals per game, shots per game, and power play efficiency – arguably a top-five offense in hockey. Yet, that offensive production is heavily skewed towards just two players: McDavid and Draisaitl. A quick look at the depth chart also clearly shows that the team lacks quality top-six wingers, with players who should be above-average bottom-six players instead slotted as below-average top-six forwards. McDavid and Draisaitl deserve to have more talent around them, a need that has plagued the Oilers for years. Additionally, Edmonton faces a path to the NHL’s final four this season that goes through Winnipeg, a team with defensive issues, and Toronto, a team with goaltending issues. In a battle of three elite offenses, the North Division is likely to go to the team that can simply outscore the others. Right now, that isn’t Edmonton, but it wouldn’t take much to shift the scales.
The caveat of course is that without some cap gymnastics, the Oilers cannot be players for any of the high-priced forwards on the rental market (or any market for that matter). The focus must be on bargain buys, adding players who can produce at a high level while being paid at a low level. Among rentals, Bobby Ryan, Erik Haula, Carl Soderberg, or old friend Sam Gagner (yet again) could all fit the bill. Among players with an additional year of term, possibly more attractive anyway, Vladislav Namestnikov, Calle Jarnkrok, Rocco Grimaldi, Curtis Lazar, and Colin Blackwell are all intriguing options. If available, L.A.’s Alex Iafallo is likely the very best value addition.
2) Depth Forward – On the off chance that Edmonton has the cap space and a contract slot left, they could make another move and it should again be up front. Depth is key in the postseason and the Oilers simply don’t have it at forward. They could stand to add some playoff experience, defensive ability, and if possible top-six upside in an established veteran forward. While goaltending continues to be a major long-term need of the Oilers, solving that problem in-season given all of the factors working against such deal make it extremely unlikely.