Panic Mode

Here we go again.

The Oilers have now lost 4 games in a row. The Coyotes have taken over the division lead, The Golden Knights have now passed the Oilers for 2nd spot, and the Flames are tied with them for the final wild card spot in the Western Conference.

The sky is falling in Edmonton!!

After winning 5 straight games to start the year and after being a division leader on American Thanksgiving, the Oilers could very well end up out of a playoff spot by Christmas at this rate. Hell, it could even happen Tuesday.

The Oilers have allowed 4 or more goals in 6 of their last 9 games. The goaltending that was so strong to start the year has now come back to Earth, and the defensive structure as a group has all but disappeared.

It’s not as if the Oilers haven’t been getting depth scoring in December either. Archibald, Khaira, Sheahan, Nygard, Haas, and Chiasson have all scored this month. 6 goals from depth players in 7 games in December is much better depth production than the Oilers have received in years! It still hasn’t been enough to win recently though.

Reading Oilers Twitter in the last week or so has reminded me of the past few seasons. The start of the season was a welcome reprieve from typical Oilers Twitter, but now the cynicism and the anger we have come to know are rearing their ugly heads now that the Oilers are on a losing streak.

A lot of fans are panicking and calling for a trade of some kind because the season is going off of the rails. The roster needs more scoring wingers and a 3rd line centre, and there’s too much reliance on McDavid and Draisaitl. They say that the team won’t make the playoffs unless Holland does something to change that, and that is unacceptable in their eyes.

There is also a group of fans out there that believe that there is no need to panic here for varying reasons. The team is still in a playoff spot, and all teams go through ups and downs throughout the course of an 82-game season. The Oilers are experiencing their first real bump in the road for the 2019-20 season. A 4-game losing streak in December isn’t a good reason to spend a bunch of future assets for someone that MIGHT help the Oilers get to the playoffs.

Honestly, there is merit to both opinions.

Remember, this is Ken Holland’s first year as GM of the Oilers. He talked about two ideas after being hired this spring: building a team that can contend long-term, and the desire to make the playoffs in 2020.

This is professional hockey. The idea is to win now. However, if we take a step back to look at the Oilers’ situation objectively (which I realize is hard for a lot of people), we would see a team with two young superstars, a core full of young players just entering their primes, and a stable full of promising prospects that has a GM that is focused on building a contender for many years to come.

The two ideas need to be balanced.

If there is a trade out there that would assist the Oilers with both of the goals that Holland talked about this spring, then it absolutely makes sense to pull the trigger. It’s silly to not look for ways to improve your lot in life, so the Oilers should always be on the lookout for potential trades. If the price is too high though, then not making a move is a perfectly acceptable outcome as well.

How much of the future can the Oilers realistically afford to part with in order to give a mediocre roster with two superstars a better chance at making the playoffs in 2019-20? That’s the question.

The Oilers obviously need a scoring winger. They only have one line that we can expect to contribute on a given night!

There just so happens to be one available, and it just so happens that he has a history here in Edmonton. Taylor Hall was held out of New Jersey’s games in Colorado and Arizona this weekend for “precautionary reasons”, but we all know the precaution that Ray Shero was taking was making sure Hall doesn’t get hurt before a trade can be made.

Edmonton has been rumoured to be one of the teams that is in the mix. Hall coming back here with unfinished business is certainly a romantic idea that many fans would be absolutely pumped about.

Anyone that has read my work over the past couple of years knows that I supported the Hall trade because the market values of Hall and Adam Larsson made the gap between them closer than their skill levels would suggest and because of the timing and the circumstances surrounding the trade in 2016.

Anyone that has read my recent work knows that I believe that the price for acquiring Hall will be too high to make it worthwhile, and that I believe Hall will get over $10 million on his next contract, which will be too rich for the Oilers blood.

Hall is a damn good player though, even though I think he’s a tad overrated. Many of us have heard multiple stories about Hall’s off-ice personality and there are perceptions about his attitude in the locker room. None of those paint Hall in a positive light. However, Hall matured in New Jersey.

If the Oilers could acquire the matured version of Hall for a reasonable price and the money were to somehow work, then it makes sense.

The rumoured offer from Edmonton appears to be Caleb Jones, the rights to Jesse Puljujarvi, and a conditional 2nd round pick (the condition being that the pick turns into a 1st rounder if the Oilers make the playoffs).

I have written about the idea of trading Jones as a part of a package for a scoring winger. That is an idea that I support. If Puljujarvi really has no intention of ever playing for the Oilers again, then I think it’s fair to say that Hall is an unreal return. I really don’t like the idea of trading this year’s 1st rounder because of the talent that is available in this draft, but there is also no guarantee that the Oilers would pick high enough in the draft for them to land a future star.

Overall, if the money worked and if Hall were sign to long-term, then that would be a decent trade. Those are expendable assets being used to strengthen a position of weakness.

That is a couple of big “ifs” though!

First of all, the money would have to work this year. Hall’s cap hit is $6 million, and the Oilers have $680k in cap space according to CapFriendly. The Oilers would have to move out more money than just Jones.

Even if New Jersey were to retain half of Hall’s salary like some people have suggested they might be willing to do, the Oilers would still need to move out approximately $1.6 million in order to get Hall under the daily cap limit of $81.5 million ($680k current cap space + Jones’ $720k taken off of $3 million to add half of Hall’s cap hit). There are a few guys that fans would look at and say “just trade this guy”, but that’s easier said than done. It’s not as simple as that.

Other teams that are rumoured to be in on Hall are lacking cap space as well (Arizona, St. Louis, and Florida). It might be possible to get it done, but it won’t be easy.

Then we have next year to worry about.

The Oilers have $57,516,999 committed to 10 players, buyouts, and retained salary. They will have to add 13 players to complete their 23-man roster. If the cap stays where it is now, then the Oilers would have $23,983,001 to use on those players. Hall, Darnell Nurse, Zack Kassian, Ethan Bear, and Matt Benning will all need new contracts. William Lagesson will too. Those guys alone will basically eat up that entire amount.

The cap will go up, but not by enough to make all of that work.

Money that is already committed for next year would need to be moved out, or they would have to sacrifice some of the guys listed above. If the Oilers could trade Kris Russell or Adam Larsson, have the cap go up by enough, and hope that Hall and Nurse are willing to sacrifice a bit of their contracts for the team, then the Oilers can make it all work. Considering that there would also be a return for Russell or Larsson that could be a roster player rather than draft picks and prospects, that is a lot to have to have go right to have Hall here next year.

Prospects like Benson, Yamamoto, and Bouchard should be ready for next year, but the Oilers will still need more guys on ELC’s or near league minimum contracts to make the money work. Ultimately, the Oilers would have to sacrifice some depth to have Hall next season. There isn’t much depth to spare.

After 2021 when Seattle comes in to the league and the new US television deal happens, the cap will go up significantly. The Oilers would be fine with Hall after that point, but getting to that point will be the challenge.

I haven’t changed my stance on a potential Hall trade. The acquisition cost of having Hall next season would include whatever the price is going to be right now plus whatever the Oilers would have to sacrifice next year to make the money work. It could be Russell, or it could be any combination of Nurse, Kassian, Bear, or even Nuge.

Given Hall’s inability to stay healthy and the fact that the Oilers would have to sign him through his eventual decline, I really don’t think the long-term payoff would be worth it. Yes, he would make the Oilers better right now, but I think there are cheaper ways to improve the team. Those will likely present themselves closer to the trade deadline.

Look at the way that Holland constructed this roster this summer. He made a bunch of small signings that created internal competition for roster spots. He saw team speed, depth scoring, and the PK as problem areas, and he addressed them all by bringing in fast forwards that have proven they can score 10 or more goals in an NHL season consistently (with the exceptions of Nygard and Haas) and that take pride in the PK.

He did make the Real Deal (Lucic for Neal); but aside from that, there was no other big splash made this summer. After all of the drama that came as a result of how bad last season went, and after losing so many season seat holders this season, Holland did not make a big splash in the trade market outside of the Real Deal.

No panic.

His plan was working to perfection up until around the middle of November. The team has been able to stay afloat until this point, although the ship has sprung a bit of a leak. He didn’t panic in the summer, and I don’t see him panicking now either.

Holland has been known to make trades to bolster his roster if he feels that his roster is a serious Stanley Cup contender. I have a couple of questions for all of the Oilers fans that really want Holland to make a big trade right now:

Is this team really a Stanley Cup contender in 2019-20? I think we would be hard pressed to find even one person that legitimately believes that statement to be true.

Are the Oilers close to being a Stanley Cup contender in 2019-20? Is one trade really going to make enough of a difference? I would be shocked if one trade put the Oilers over the top this season. Hall won’t improve team defence or the goaltending, which have been the biggest issues during this losing streak.

Many fans were excited about the idea of a GM that won’t panic and try to rush the building process, which is exactly what fans were upset at Chiarelli for doing. Now many fans are begging for Holland to make a big trade for Hall because they want to win right now.

Do you know what GMs that build long-term contenders don’t do? They don’t make panic trades. They don’t make massive trades when their team goes on a bit of a losing streak in December.

Given Holland’s summer game plan to use one-year contracts to try to fix what ailed the Oilers last season, it appears as though he is content to sit back and evaluate what he has in the system at this point in time. He expressed a desire to make the playoffs this season, but not if it means making a big move involving top prospects before he has truly seen what the team has with its prospects.

The reality is that this is an evaluation year, and this is a development year. It is not a season to go all in. It is not a season to chase a championship in the trade market. Making the playoffs this year would be a bonus. Next year’s roster will be stronger for the prospects being afforded the opportunity to stay in Bakersfield to develop more fully.

My expectations for next season will be playoffs or bust! Had Chiarelli been retained, that would’ve been my expectation for this season. I’ll give Holland one year of patience, but that’s it.

Holland has given himself some flexibility for next season because of all of the one year deals he gave out this summer. Adding Hall would certainly remove a lot of that flexibility. My expectation is that Holland will run with what he has for the year unless a smaller trade makes itself available, and that he will be more active next summer. It might not be the sexiest strategy, and it might not result in instant winning; but it’s the right strategy for Holland’s first season in charge.

Watch, now that I’ve said all of this, they will announce the Hall to Edmonton trade today. That would be my luck!

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