Edmonton Oilers: Think Twice Before Breaking Up the Core

The NHL trade deadline has passed. The Edmonton Oilers are outside the playoff race. Attention is now being turned to the offseason where GM Peter Chiarelli has tough decisions to make.

On every NHL franchise are several players that fans identify as the core of the team. These players have the unfortunate circumstance of being the first players who get blamed when a team struggles. For the Edmonton Oilers, their core players have been the recipients of criticism from many fans, despite the futility of past management to surround the core with a competent blue line or depth forwards.

Lately it’s been Taylor Hall, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, and Jordan Eberle, once considered the untouchable core, they now find themselves the subject of trade rumours. As the Oilers are in yet another disappointing season, it is understandable why fans are upset. People recognize the Oilers need on defense and are willing to throw star offensive players for any semblance of help on the back-end.

The Oilers needs considered, they would be unwise to deal core players too quickly. Unless Eberle is bringing back a top pairing right shot defenseman, such as Sami Vatanen, the Oilers should hold pat. Instead the Oilers should attempt to follow the model set by the New York Islanders and find trade partners in need of financial or cap relief.

Taylor Hall is one of the absolute best wingers in the world, especially 5 on 5, where he is currently second in the league in points. Not only is it hard to get fair value for star players but trading a player like Hall for defensive help would fill one hole while opening another at left-wing, not smart asset management. Hall is also one the best possession drivers on the Oilers roster, and one of the best possession wingers in the entire league.

Ryan Nugent-Hopkins supposedly being available, is a casualty of the emergence of Leon Draisaitl. The fact is that for the first time in a decade the Oilers have depth at centre, us as fans should not take that for granted.

Before any decisions get made, the Oilers should play a stretch of games with all three of thier top centres in the lineup. Moreover, the Oilers have struggled mightily with Nuge out of the lineup as Letestu has had to take on a larger role than he can handle. Nuge is already a defensive stud and for a team that struggles to get the puck out of their own zone, is the exact type of centre that they should not let go of.

If in the offseason, if a GM offers up a sweetheart deal for one of these players, then obviously Chiarelli has to give it serious consideration. That being said, a move with no other purpose than to shake up the locker room, or one that returns 75 cents on the dollar is not what the Oilers should do.

Ultimately it comes down to the fact that the Oilers as a team have not been getting the job done, and it will not help to trade away the few players actually making a positive contribution.

Instead, depth players should receive a more critical look to determine which ones are, or are not getting the job done. It is interesting how little criticism players get when they have no expectations of offense. A player like Matt Hendricks for example have lit the lamp only 3 times all year despite playing nearly 14 minutes a night on average. Little attention has been given to his abysmal possession stats, and his career low shot generation.

Hendricks is an easy player to fall in love with as he brings his full effort every shift, and plays with his heart on his sleeve. The Problem is that with Hendricks is not a particularly good NHLer these days. He is over paid, and plays 5 minutes too many a night.

It is interesting how little criticism players get when they have no expectations of offense

Hendricks is certainly not the Oilers only problem among their depth forwards, Lauri Korpikoski in the NHL, and has all of 6 goals, 3 of which came in a single lucky game. Sadly, outside of the advanced stats community these players rarely receive any sort of criticism.

A payer like Jujhar Khaira on the other hand, tasked with similar zone starts as Hendricks, has at least come close to breaking even possession wise, while generating more shots in less TOI per game. Khaira is the type of player that the Oilers need in their bottom 6, and hopefully newly acquired depth forward, Patrick Maroon will be an upgrade.

Great teams get offense from their bottom 6 forwards which enables them to support their top 6 forwards. As it is now, it’s easy to criticize a player like Taylor Hall, when he has a bad game, because when he isn’t contributing offense, the Oilers are likely to lose due to a lack of secondary offense. Taking a great offensive player from a team that struggles to score goals, is simply a bad idea.

Fans are understandably upset. 5 years into the Taylor Hall era and he has yet to lead us to a playoff game. The fact remains however that the Oilers playoff absence has more to do with management failing to solidify the back-end, and the difficulty of attracting free agents to come to Edmonton, then it does with the core supposedly not getting the job done.