So, here we are, over a quarter of the way through the season, and the Oilers are now famously “out of contention.” Even the harshest prognosticators weren’t predicting this debacle, so this free fall is both shocking and disappointing, Hardest of all is the thought that there are still 57 games to go, and they hold little meaning, a reality that has led to a very negative fan base. They are tired of losing, tired of the rebuild and looking for some good hockey. Fans have gotten a taste of that, especially with the 7-0 rout of the Columbus Blue Jackets on November 19th, the middle game of a three game winning streak.
So, what to do? Craig Mactavish still insists that the core is NOT being moved, which leads one to wonder just how the organization intends to bring in the pieces that the team requires to win. If the Big 5 are untouchable, just who are the expendable players?
1. SAM GAGNER
With Mark Arcobello’s strong season thus far, it would appear the Oilers now have two small centremen. Gagner, by virtue of his experience and consistency, is the player with greater trade value. The Oilers are likely to move him in favor of Arcobello, and the reason can be found in faceoffs, physical toughness and offensive upside. Arcobello is the leading hitter among forwards with 41, and is above 50% on the dot. He plays a more complete game, despite Gagner’s veteran status. Arcobello will cost less, and produce in comparable fashion. Trade Gagner when he heats up, providing there’s a team in need who makes us an exchange worth considering. He likely gets packaged with a high draft pick and a prospect, maybe Omark or Fedun. Would need back a Dustin Byfuglien or a Francois Beauchemin type of return.
2. DAVID PERRON
David Perron has proven he is a pure scorer with a defensive edge, He’s nearly a point per game and is a consistent threat. But with Hemsky and Smyth still around perhaps the smarter move is to pawn the guy who is most explosive. He may net the Oilers a nicer return at some point than those two players would, with management betting that Yakupov, RNH, Hall and Eberle, along with Mark Arcobello are enough scoring punch to carry the day. Alternatively, he may play so good that he becomes too valuable to risk. He currently is tied for the team lead in goals with Eberle at 8. Would need a power forward back of considerable acumen.
3. RYAN JONES
The belagured fan favourite has struggled since his return from that unfortunate eye injury. While he retains lots of spit and vinegar, he has lost a step. This season, he’s only factored into twelve games. Going back to last season, he has a paltry 10 points in 39 games, a big drop in production. His previous two seasons, he scored a combined 35 goals and 23 assists. He could be a useful piece on a new team. Teams like Washington or Buffalo may part with a Martin Erat (the Capitals forward requested a trade out of Obamaville), who had comparable numbers to Jones, but has dropped off in production as well, with 25 points in his last 65 contests. Perhaps paired up with a draft pick, a deal could be made on this level. Similarly, Buffalo could offer a player like Cody Mccormick. a big winger who could be useful to the Oilers while good for a handful of goals.
4. EVERYONE ELSE.
Outside of those three main attractions, the Oilers have little to offer except perhaps Ales Hemsky or Devan Dubnyk, who now seem like long shots to be moved in our current make up. There are movable parts like Ben Eager. Linus Omark, even roster guys like Nick Schultz. But those guys are not being sought out, and its for good reason. But maybe there’s a GM somewhere who sees a need among some of our role players and pulls the trigger to dump salary, gifting the Oilers with a better player.
Ultimately, the picture laid out here isn’t sustainable. It is very likely a core piece gets moved eventually. Use of high draft picks or more essential farm talent could augment a major move that could define the team. We all want Shae Weber or Zdeno Chara. How badly do they want Darnell Nurse or Jordan Eberle? Should the dark days in the basement of the NHL endure, it will be a matter of not if, but when we deal one of our beloved sons. Or maybe Rogers new NHL television agreement jacks up the salary cap as some have speculated and we watch Katz spend millions more of his many billions, while keeping all of our top level talent. Only time will tell.