Trade Deadline 2017: The Oilers Have an Excellent Opportunity

It’s been a long ten years, but for the first time since we’ve been able to drink the Oilers will be buyers at the Trade Deadline.  Entering last night’s contest in San Jose, the Oil sat 10 points up on the Pacific’s fourth-place Los Angeles Kings and 10 points up on the second wild card spot.  Barring an almost unheard of collapse, Connor and the boys will be playing hockey in late April.

As the lineup currently sits, Edmonton has three solid scoring lines – especially now that Jordan Eberle and the Nuge have broken out of their prolonged scoring slumps, and Milan the Caveman has gone back to being terrifying.  The back-end has been stronger than anybody had imagined, with the emergence of our boy Matt Benning being a key reason as to why.  Outside of possibly upgrading the third line center spot (sorry Drake), replacing Matt Hendricks and grabbing an experienced backup, there doesn’t seem to be any major holes that need to be filled – other than Shanny’s wife’s, of course.

If the Oilers being a playoff team wasn’t strange enough, there’s another reason why this year’s Trade Deadline will be different from any others: the expansion draft.  Las Vegas makes it’s much somewhat anticipated debut next season, and teams will be scrambling to ensure they can protect as many of their core players as possible.  The rules stipulate that team’s can either protect 7 forwards, 3 defencemen, and 1 goalie, or 8 skaters and a goalie, and anybody with a no movement clause has to be protected.  From Edmonton’s NHL roster, Connor McDavid, Benning, Drake Caggiula, and Darnell Nurse won’t require protection as this is either their first or second pro seasons.  This should allow them to maximize the number of assets they can protect.

As it currently sits, the 7-3-1 format would see them protect Eberle, Nuge, Draisaitl, Lucic, Maroon, Kassian, Slepyshev/Letestu/Pitlick, Larsson, Klefbom, Sekera, and Talbot.  Unfortunately, there’s no room to protect Brandon Davidson – it’s either him or Maroon + Kassian + another forward, and I think the choice is obvious.  There’s an off-chance that Davidson could slide through unclaimed due to his multiple injuries this year, and a Benoit Pouliot resurgence could also make him a potential target – especially if Vegas needs to use up some cap space for the first two years.  I’d also much rather sacrifice Pitlick or Letestu instead of Davidson, but it remains to be seen what options Vegas will have.

If your first thought after seeing that protection list is “I don’t care about protecting any of those three depth forwards”, then you’re on the right track.  As it sits, the Oil have at least one (if not two, depending on your opinion of Zack Kassian) “open” forward protection spots that they can use to acquire a legitimate piece.  Other teams in the league don’t have this luxury and will be hard-pressed to protect all of their young talent, and their respective GMs will need to make a decision on whether they want to keep the player for the stretch drive and risk losing him for nothing, or try and recoup some value before it’s too late.  There’s a few teams whose situations can (and should be) taken advantage of:

Anaheim Ducks: Thanks to having one of the best young defence corps in the NHL, the Ducks will be forced to go with the 8 skaters and a goalie format.  Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry, Ryan Kelser, and Kevin Bieksa (lol) all have no move clauses and must be protected.  With their remaining four spots, they’ll most likely be protecting Hampus Lindholm, Rickard Rakell, and two of Sami Vatanen, Cam Fowler, Josh Manson, Andrew Cogliano and Jakub Silfverberg.  Assuming they keep the two defencemen, one or both of Manson and Silfverberg could be available.  Silfverberg is a right shot and has been about a 20-20 scorer in the regular season, while playing his best hockey in the postseason (including an 18 points in 14 games performance in 2014).  He makes $3.5 million for two more seasons, plays a strong two-way game and would definitely be an upgrade over Slepyshev on the third line.  Josh Manson would be another very intriguing pickup, although something tells me the Ducks will do whatever they can to keep him – whether that means trading Cam Fowler or offering Vegas a package in order to not select him in the draft.  If Sami Vatanen becomes available, he’s that right-shot powerplay defencemen the Oilers have desperately needed.  He’s having a down year (including a couple healthy scratches) and it’s possible the Ducks have soured on him.  The Oil don’t have room to protect another defenceman, but maybe a deal is available in the summer.

Nashville Predators: Thanks to having the best defence in the entire league, my Preds will no doubt be going with the 8 skaters and 1 goalie setup.  Pekka Rinne is their only player who must be protected, and their top four of PK Subban, Roman Josi, Matthias Ekholm and Ryan Ellis won’t be going anywhere.  Up front, Ryan Johansen, Filip Forsberg, James Neal and Viktor Arvidsson are no doubters, meaning the likes of Colin Wilson, Craig Smith, Calle Jarnkrok, and Matt Irwin will be available.  Smith has seen his ice time diminish as a result of Arvidsson’s breakout, and struggled so far this season to the tune of seven goals and 14 points.  He’s another right shot scorer who has hit 20 goals in every full season he’s played, and has seen time at all three forward positions.  He has three more years on his contract at $4.25 per season, and figures to be a member of Vegas’ top line – unless the Preds can deal him sooner.  The versatile Calle Jarnkrok is another intriguing third line center option, especially with that ridiculous 6-years-at-$2-million-per contract he signed last summer.  He’s an excellent penalty killer, has seen time both at center and on the wing, can fill in on the powerplay, had 16 goals last year, and is still only 25 years old.  If I’m Pistol Pete I’m calling David Poile everyday from now until March 1st.

Minnesota Wild: The Wild are another team that will need to make some difficult decisions thanks to their bevy of players with no movement clauses.  Zach Parise, Ryan Suter, Jason Pominville, and Mikko Koivu all must be protected, forcing the team to expose some good young talent.  Under a 7-3-1 format, they would most likely hang onto the aforementioned four, along with Matt Dumba, Jared Spurgeon, Mikael Granlund, Charlie Coyle, Eric Staal, Nino Neiderreiter, and Devan Dubnyk.  As a result, the likes of Jonas Brodin, Jason Zucker, Erik Haula, and to a lesser extent Teemu Pulkkinen will be left exposed.  With the season the Wild are having, it’s unlikely that they’ve move one of them prior to the deadline, but I can’t imagine them being willing to lose one or two of them for nothing.  A deal could be available between the conclusion of the playoffs and the draft.

These are the three teams that would make the most logical trade partners for Edmonton.  Of course, all three of them are most likely going to be playoff teams, so a pre-deadline deal may not materialize. A quick scan of rosters around the league presents a few more teams who will most likely lose a solid forward: The Rangers (Jesper Fast?), Islanders (Ryan Strome?),  Lightning (Alex Killorn and/or Vlad Namestnikov?), Leafs (Tyler Bozak?), and Wings (Darren Helm or Anthony Mantha?) will all have some tough decisions to make.  Bozak and Strome are the only right-hand shots from that group, yet any of them would be an upgrade over Pitlick or Letestu.

If I had my choice, Jarnkrok would be my number one target with Silfverberg a close second.  Young, versatile, dependable two-way forwards are rarely available without needing to sacrifice a player off your roster, and Jarnkrok’s contract is especially valuable with paydays for Draisaitl, McDavid, Maroon, Benning, and Nurse coming in the near future.

Whether a deal is available prior to the Trade Deadline or not, it would be a big missed opportunity if Pistol Pete and the boys can’t take advantage of their situation prior to the Golden Knights’ debut.

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