Ken Holland has given me zero reason to think that he will come in and blow the roster up in advance of next season, but we all know that there will be some changes to the roster this summer.
The Oilers’ needs are pretty clear. They need another sure-fire top 6 forward or two, they need depth scoring from the wing, they need the defence to be more mobile, and they need a reliable back-up goaltender. Not all of those needs will be addressed this summer, but some of them will.
Holland is in Bakersfield watching the Condors right now. There are some players there that could certainly help fill some of those needs. The question with them is how soon will they be ready to contribute at the NHL level. Some will be ready next season, and some will not.
Holland could also seek out help via the UFA market. He indicated to Jason Gregor that an UFA back-up goalie is the mot likely choice for the Oilers. There may also be another Alex Chiasson lurking out there somewhere.
The other option is acquiring players through trades. Holland wants the Oilers to be a playoff team in 2019-20, but he also wants to build a team that will be able to contend for years to come. The purpose of today’s article is to get a better sense of which assets the Oilers could realistically afford to part with in a trade this summer. Let me start by saying this: McDavid and Draisaitl are going nowhere, and I won’t make any crazy assertions about the Oilers considering moving either one.
In order to trade for a top scoring winger or a right-handed offensive defenceman, another team will likely want one of two types of returns: an equivalent NHL roster player at a different position, or a package centered around a high pick or a top prospect. The roster players not named McDavid or Draisaitl that the Oilers could move in order to address one of those needs would be Nugent-Hopkins, Nurse, Klefbom, and Larsson.
Please note that I’m not suggesting that any of those four should be traded… that is really not what I’m saying. I’m saying that trading one of them for a top scoring winger or a right-handed defenceman is one possibility. That would not be how I would go about it because those players along with McDavid and Draisaitl represent the core of this team. They are the group that needs to be expanded upon. A one-for-one trade involving any of them would most likely be a lateral move.
The Oilers have a growing number of good prospects that could be used in deals to improve the NHL roster now, but trading them now could also negatively impact the future. The thing about prospects is that no matter how many good ones that you have, not all of them work out. A team can trade some of them without negatively impacting the team’s future.
If Holland is going to make a big trade for a top scoring winger or that offensive RHD, I would prefer that he uses a package of picks and prospects to do it.
Here are what I view as the expendable centerpieces in a potential package for a top 6 winger or an offensive RHD:
Ethan Bear or Caleb Jones- There are 3 Oilers defence prospects who are about to enter the last year of their ELCs- Bear, Jones, and WIlliam Lagesson. That means that decisions will need to be made on these players by the end of next season. The Oilers have 6 NHL defencemen under contract currently, which means that one would have to be traded in order to make room for an AHL defencemen to graduate. There won’t be room for all 3 of Bear, Jones, and Lagesson in the NHL next season. Bakersfield has Bouchard and Samorukov coming next year as well. Persson will be in North America as well… he will likely end up with the Oilers, but Bakersfield is a real possibility as well. Bakersfield has veterans on defence as well (Manning, Lowe, etc). There’s a log jam on defence in the Oilers organization right now, and I believe that one of the defencemen entering the last year of his ELC will be traded this summer.
Lagesson is the least exciting of the three. He is the one that I’d be most willing to part with, but other teams won’t ask for him as a centerpiece in a trade for an impactful NHL player. Bear and Jones have that level of talent, which is why I think one of them will be the one to be traded. Bear and Jones have both had stints in the NHL. Bear got 18 games in 2017-18, and Jones got 17 games this past season. Both players showed exceptional puck moving abilities, but I would say that Jones looked like the better defender of the two. Now, Jones and Bear were drafted in the same year, and Jones got his chance a year later than Bear; so it makes sense that Jones’s stint went a bit better than Bear’s did. I didn’t watch either play in the AHL this season, but both had good years in Bakersfield. Bear had a slight advantage in points per game (31 in 52 vs Jones’s 29 in 50), and Bear had one more point in two less game than Jones in the playoffs.
They are very similar players. The big difference between them is that Bear shoots right and Jones shoots left. Right handed defencemen usually carry more value because they are scarce. Bear likely has a bit more value in the trade market for that reason, but that scarcity is also the argument for keeping Bear.
Jones is a part of a crowded left side for the Oilers. Klefbom and Nurse are likely the top 2 LD for a long time to come, and the Oilers also have Lagesson and Samorukov coming. On the right side, Larsson is locked in for two more years. Bouchard will pass Bear on the depth chart sooner rather than later. Persson is an X-factor here. He could pass Bear next season too, or he could be a total flop. If I had to choose to move one over the other based on organizational need, I’d move Jones. However, Jones can play the right side as well, so moving Bear would be an acceptable outcome here as well.
8th overall- The Oilers are in an interesting spot this year, holding the 8th overall pick. Holland said that he has scouted the USNTDP kids a lot this season, and he will have his pick of the majority of them at 8. I’m thinking that Holland will keep the pick, but the 8th overall pick is a juicy trading chip that could be used to improve the roster now. There is no consensus among fans, scouts, or experts once you get past Hughes and Kakko. That tells me one of two things: there’s a lot of depth at the top part of the draft, or there are red flags with all of the prospects being considered in this group. There are a lot of good options at 8, but there isn’t one guy that I think the Oilers would be crazy to pass on there.
If there was ever a time to trade a top 10 pick, it would be in a draft where there are more question marks than answers, and it would be at a time where missing the playoffs again isn’t an option. That time is now. You can never have too many prospects, so I won’t be mad if the Oilers keep the pick; but the pick would be quite valuable on the trade market.
Bear, Jones, or the 8th overall pick… I think the Oilers can afford to part with any of those pieces in a trade for a top 6 winger or an offensive RHD, but not for anything less than that.
A deal like that would involve the Oilers giving up more than just the one piece. The most likely add-on would be a draft pick, likely either a 2nd or a 3rd rounder in 2019 or 2020. A team could also ask for another prospect as well.
As I mentioned earlier, Lagesson is entering the last year of his ELC. He is not quite to the level of Jones or Bear in terms of offensive capability, but he is a solid defender. Based on how deep the Oilers are on the left side, I think they could part with Lagesson in the right situation.
Cooper Marody was 3rd in AHL rookie scoring this season, which put him 14th overall. He is a right-handed centre, which is a position of need for the Oilers. He will likely play wing at the NHL level because his skating isn’t fantastic, but his hands and decision making with the puck are. He’s an interesting player, but I wouldn’t keep him over Puljujarvi or Yamamoto. If Marody is what it would take to get a deal for an impactful player done, then I wouldn’t hesitate to include Marody.
Ostap Safin has had a tough season with injuries. That has definitely set his development back a bit. The good news on him is that he is about to play in the Memorial Cup for Halifax. I don’t think his ceiling is nearly as high as Kirill Maksimov’s is though. Safin could be parted with as well.
Dylan Wells is 4th on the Oilers goalie prospect chart right now in my opinion. Starrett, Skinner, and Rodrigue are ahead of him in terms of long-term potential in my estimation. They could definitely afford to part with Wells if need be.
After all of that, if a deal involving one of Bear, Jones, or the 8th overall pick along with a 2nd or 3rd rounder or one of Lagesson, Marody, Safin, or Wells could get the Oilers a top 6 winger or an offensive right-handed defenceman, I would pull the trigger.
Here are the prospects that I wouldn’t want to get rid of:
Bouchard, Samorukov, Benson, Yamamoto, McLeod, Maksimov, Skinner, and Rodrigue.
As far as roster players go, outside of the core of 6 that I mentioned earlier, Puljujarvi is the only one that has a chance of yielding an impactful NHL player as a part of a package. I believe that trading Puljujarvi now while his value is likely at it’s lowest would be a mistake. I still believe that he can become a 50-point player sometime soon, although probably not next season.
There are several roster players that I would view as expendable. The most that I would envision any of them netting the Oilers is a useful middle-6 forward. Here are the players that I think could get the Oilers a middle-6 winger in a trade:
Russell and Sekera- Both are veteran defenders that still have some value. Russell’s cap hit is a tad high, but he does a lot of good things with shot blocking and physicality. Sekera is going to be 33 years old and he will be coming off of two consecutive years with significant injuries, but he is still poised with the puck. He provides veteran leadership that some team will find valuable. I’d argue that Russell is the more likely of the two to move because he is younger and cheaper, and opening up his roster spot at 2RD would provide the Oilers with the greatest opportunity to actually improve their defence by creating a roster spot for an offensive RHD.
There are also a couple of players that I think the Oilers could gain a pick and some cap space from moving:
Kassian and Benning- The reason that I say that the return for these guys would be draft picks and cap space is because their replacements could come from the AHL. Kassian did play well with McDavid and Draisaitl down the stretch, but he only had 3 points before January 2. His career-high is 29 points. He’s not more than a 3rd line RW in this league. With Puljujarvi, Gagner, and potentially Chiasson back, there could be 4 interchangeable pieces at RW next season. Holland could remove one by moving Kassian and allowing someone like Gambardella or Currie to play on the 4th line next season. Benning could be replaced by either Bear or Persson on the 3rd pairing next season, and that move could also make the Oilers defence more mobile.
There are also a few roster players that while they will likely have little interest in the trade market, they could still be moved with the returns likely being less than spectacular:
Lucic, Gagner, and Brodziak- Everyone knows that Lucic has struggled in Edmonton, but he is still as useful NHL forward, albeit an expensive one. The return would likely be a different bad contract, and the Oilers would likely have to retain some salary, but a Lucic trade could present a change and a new start for a couple of players involved in any such deal.
Gagner has been a welcome addition in his return to Edmonton, but he is a part of the same log jam at RW as Kassian. I’d prefer to keep Kassian over Gagner, unless Gagner can play centre (in which case I’d opt to keep both of them). Moving Gagner would create more cap space than moving Kassian would, depending on the return. Remember, Gagner spent most of last season playing for the Marlies because Vancouver didn’t want him. It only took Ryan Spooner to get Gagner. This was a case of two teams switching contracts that they didn’t want. I don’t see how the case would be much different now. Gagner doesn’t carry a lot of trade value, but moving him could yield a different bottom-6 winger or create a roster spot for an AHL grad.
Brodziak’s 9-point season was a huge disappointment, even though the expectation was only that he would produce like a typical 4th line centre would. Some team out there might want his veteran presence. The Oilers could also just stick it out for one more year.
Trading any of those three would likely result in a shuffling of the deck chairs in the bottom 6 because they would likely only be able to yield other contracts that are approximately as bad.
Out of all of these roster players, I would bet that Russell and Benning would be the two most likely players to be moved because the Oilers have such a log jam on defence.
While not everyone that I mentioned will be moved, I would expect a couple of trades at the very least. Holland’s goal of creating a team that can make the playoffs next season and become a contender for years to come is very achievable. He definitely has a number of options at his disposal that can make the team better now without sacrificing all of the future.