Oilers Need To Be Sellers

We are now two weeks away from the NHL trade deadline. As the rumours start to pile up, teams are going to have to make decisions on whether to be buyers in hopes of making a run towards the spring, or to be sellers in preparation for the future.

While Chiarelli was still the GM in January, the Oilers were reportedly aggressively trying to find scoring help. Chiarelli was on the hot seat, and he was likely well aware of how much pressure there was on him to make the playoffs. The standings in the West were muddled, and the Oilers were in thick of the race despite a stretch of futility that dates back to mid-December.

Fans didn’t want Chiarelli to make any more moves in an effort to save his job because they had lost all trust in the former GM. They did not want him mortgaging the future to help this team limp into the playoffs this season. However, since his firing, many fans have become more open to possibilities when it come to trades.

Two days after the firing occurred, I posed a question on Twitter about which prospects that Oilers fans perceive as being untouchable. I suggested that Puljujarvi, Yamamoto, Bouchard, Jones, McCleod, Benson, and Maksimov are the prospects that I view as being untouchable. Perhaps “untouchable” is a strong word, but those are the ones that I would be upset to see moved unless the return is impactful.

Of the 29 people that offered an opinion on the subject, only 4 suggested that the Oilers should be patient and not trade any of those pieces for immediate help. Puljujarvi and Bouchard were the two prospects that people would be the most upset to see moved. The general consensus among the group was that if there is a trade to be made that will improve the hockey team, then none of the prospects should be untouchable. According to this small sample, it seems like fans are quite open to sacrificing a part of the future for more immediate help, so long as that help does not come in the form of a rental player.

However, a lot has changed since then. Klefbom is back, and the Oilers have still managed to lose 4 out of the 5 games since their bye week ended. Blown 3rd period leads in three straight games coming out of the break (including a ridiculous collapse against Chicago), and another futile effort at home in yet another lopsided loss against the Sharks have suddenly put the Oilers 6 points out of a playoff spot with two weeks to go until the trade deadline.

They have 5 teams that they would need to pass in order to sneak into the second wild card spot. All that we know is on the horizon is the impending addition of a 32-year old bottom pairing defender coming off of his 2nd serious injury in as many seasons, and the loss of the fringe bottom pairing defenceman that will have to be moved in order to activate him from the LTIR. As the losses pile up, it is becoming more and more apparent that it will take more than a deadline pick-up to get this team into the playoffs.

In recent posts, I have been discussing how the Oilers could afford to add a scoring winger prior to the trade deadline. Basically, no matter which defenceman gets moved prior to activating Sekera, they would need to trade Talbot in order to get a brand name scoring winger. Options with lower cap hits like Dzingel and Ferland would likely cost the Oilers a 1st round pick, which is far too expensive, especially for a team that is so far back in the standings.

I wrote about how acquiring a scoring winger could be possible. I did not write about the merit of doing so.

Many have speculated that owner Daryl Katz is angry that the team has been performing so poorly because the 3-year contracts that suite holders at Rogers Place have are set to expire, and there is a lot of fear that many of those suite holders will not renew their tickets for next season. I have heard many stories suggesting that a lot of season seat holders have already decided that they will not renew their seats for next season (although I believe that there is a waiting list full of people that would happily take the opportunity to buy those newly available seats). If the owner’s bottom line this season and next is a reason for the Oilers to be buyers at the deadline, that would be short-sighted.

The business strategy that would boost Katz’s bottom line the most would be to create an annual contender for years to come here in Edmonton.

Given that the Oilers are still in the process of building a team around McDavid, the idea of moving multiple assets out for an older player that would help for a shorter period of time is not the right move right now. Trading for a young winger with term or that is a long time away from unrestricted free agency is a slightly different discussion, but those are usually not available at the deadline.

If by “buyers” you mean that the Oilers should buy draft picks at the deadline, then sure, the Oilers should be buyers.

The Oilers would be much better served by selling at the deadline. Their goal should be to set the incoming GM up with as many assets as they possibly can. The reason that I say that is because the Oilers have a core that features stars that are at the beginning of their prime years. 26-year old Adam Larsson is the oldest member of the Oilers core that includes him, McDavid, Draisaitl, Nugent-Hopkins, Klefbom, and Nurse. McDavid and Draisaitl are absolute stars in this league. A lot of people were vocal about their anger towards the failure of the team in year 4 of McDavid. It can’t be acceptable that they continue to struggle so mightily in McDavid’s 5th year.

The Oilers need two things if they want to bolster the top of their roster with impactful players that can elevate the team’s status next season: cap space and valuable trade chips. They are not likely to be able to get much in the way of cap space for next season at this season’s trade deadline. However, they can get valuable trade chips. They can do that by trading impending UFAs for picks and prospects.

The impending UFAs on the roster that could get the Oilers any kind of return in a trade would be Talbot, Chiasson, Petrovic, and Gravel.

Talbot was acquired for the Oilers’ 2015 2nd, 3rd, and 7th round picks. One could argue that his value has increased since then because he has the better part of 4 seasons worth of experience as an NHL starter, and he has won a playoff round. One could also argue that his value has diminished due to his play during this season, because of how big his cap hit is, and because he is 31 years old. I would argue that the Oilers could fetch two draft picks for Talbot (none of which would be a 1st rounder) in a trade by the deadline. Koskinen’s extension was pretty telling as far as what the Oilers plan to do in goal next season. I believe that it is more likely than not that Talbot gets traded, but the team could decide to keep him and work on an extension of his own as well.

Chiasson has been one of the few bright spots on the Oilers roster this season. However, he hasn’t scored an even strength goal since December 16. He has only 2 assists at even strength since December 13. We can’t ignore his contributions on the powerplay, but he has not been good at even strength for the majority of the season. He was a PTO signing that gave the Oilers far more than they could’ve expected to get out of him, but getting any kind of draft pick in exchange for Chiasson at the deadline would be a total victory for the Oilers.

Petrovic has played in only 6 of the Oilers’ 17 games since being acquired on December 30 in one of Chiarelli’s moves that was supposed to bolster the defence until Klefbom and Russell were ready to return. The Oilers gave up Chris Wideman (acquired for a 6th round pick earlier in the season) and a 3rd round pick in exchange for Petrovic. If the Oilers could recover a portion of that sunk cost, it would be helpful. He is one of the three defencemen that I believe are the most likely to be moved prior to Sekera’s return (Petrovic, Manning, or Benning). There is a valid argument to be made for moving any of the three. Even if he makes it past that deadline, it would be smart for the Oilers to look at moving Petrovic prior to the deadline anyway.

Gravel was a free agent signing this past summer. I always call it a win if a team can get a draft pick for a player that they gave up zero assets to acquire, but Gravel has been an effective depth defender on a reasonable contract. I would be keeping Gravel past the deadline in hopes of being able to re-sign him in the summer.

One other expiring contract that I’d look at moving prior to the deadline would be that of Tobias Rieder. He has been a total disappointment this season. He has 0 goals. He had a promising start with 7 assists in his first 18 games prior to being injured. Even that stretch is deceiving because those 7 assists came over a 6-game period. The pitch for Rieder is that he’s a 26-year old forward with speed that is under team control for next season because of his RFA status. That alone may not be enough incentive to get a team to spend an asset on a player that has been under-performing as much as Rieder has this season. The Oilers might be left to make the decision on whether or not to qualify him in the off-season for themselves, but they would be smart to explore moving him as well.

Qualifying a team as “sellers” would indicate that they are out of the running for the playoffs. After this weekend’s action that included an Oilers loss and two wins by the surging Blues, I believe that the Oilers’ playoff chances are all but gone. We know that they have to do a little bit of selling in order to activate Sekera, but it is this blogger’s humble opinion that the selling should not stop there. Even the 3rd winningest coach of all-time can’t seem to get this current roster to give an honest effort every night. Meanwhile, there’s a team in Bakersfield that has won 12 straight games and is full of players that have already played NHL games this season. It makes sense to give some of them opportunities in March if the Oilers are still out of the race by that time. They can do that by selling at the deadline to create roster spots for AHL call-ups that deserve an opportunity to show what they can do at the NHL level.

It’s painful and frustrating as hell to be thinking about another season of selling at the deadline because the playoffs are all but out of reach before March, but that’s where we stand. I did not predict an Oilers playoff appearance this year. I have been on record as saying that next year is the year that I expect the Oilers to be a playoff team because this summer lends itself to a lot of change. A new GM in the fold with no attachment to any player on the roster could also lead to more change. For now, the Oilers should be setting themselves up for an active off-season by selling their expiring assets at the deadline.

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