Edmonton Oilers: Making the case to trade for Pierre Luc-Dubois

Edmonton Oilers. Mandatory Credit: Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports
Edmonton Oilers. Mandatory Credit: Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports /

I saw this article on TSN the other day that got me thinking about a trade the Edmonton Oilers might want to make when it comes to Pierre Luc-Dubois. If the Oilers were to trade for him, it wouldn’t be the 1st time the Oilers traded for a guy who was having issues with their own club.  The Oilers were able to trade for Bill Guerin in the late 90s in large part because he was looking for a fresh start and was in a contract dispute with the New Jersey Devils.

The Oilers, meanwhile, had a contract dispute of their own looming as sniper Jason Arnott needed a new contract and the Oilers couldn’t afford to re-sign him, as was the habit in the pre-salary cap era. So, the same problem with 2 clubs became the solution to a mutual problem.  Guerin was traded to Edmonton, along with Valeri Zelepukin, in exchange for Arnott and bit player Bryan Muir.

Guerin would go on to form one of the best forward duos in the NHL in the late 90s as he joined Doug Weight on the 1st line, scoring 30 and 24 goals in 2 full seasons and 40 in his last season split between the Oilers and Boston. Both he and Weight would go on to be traded for financial reasons in later seasons.

Arnott, meanwhile, would play for the Devils as a key forward when they went on to win the Stanley Cup, so I’d say that trade worked out for both teams. Fast forward to now and although there have been no indications that contract talks are going badly, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins does need a new contract for next year, and although both parties want to re-sign this is a move that Holland could keep in his back pocket as a plan B if it doesn’t work out.

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What would that trade look like in theory?  Here’s my take on it:

"To ColumbusRyan Nugent-HopkinsTo EdmontonPierre Luc-Dubois"

2021 1st round draft pick

The BlueJackets would be sending us their 1st rounder because they’re getting the better player back in return so it’s up to them to put a sweetener in, plus Nuge was a 1st round pick so we’d have to replenish that in the lineup.  Nuge is the Oilers best comparable to Dubois who’s not named Draisaitl or Mcdavid, neither of whom are going anywhere anytime soon.

Why would the Oilers do this?

1.  Dubois is cheaper right now and might be for the longer term

Although I can think of better ways of saving cap space, there’s no question this trade would provide the Oilers with cap relief now and in the future.  Dubois is already making $1 million less than Nuge is now, and he will for next season too, as opposed to Nuge who is at $6 million now and could go as high as $8 million, although rumour has it the Oilers aren’t looking to go north of $7 million, and rightly so considering the current cap climate.  I’ve seen this in a couple of different publications, like this one.

My preference is the same as the club’s – I’d prefer to see Nuge back in Oilers silks, but if contract talks go badly it’s either do a trade like this or lose him for nothing. Dubois is comparable to career numbers to Nuge, but a)  you wouldn’t have to sign him to a new deal for another season and b)  there’s a good chance you could sign him for $6 million, something Nuge would be asking for a raise from.

NHL GMs have to leave their emotions at the door and do what’s best for the hockey club.  If what’s best for the club is to trade Nuge, you can bet Holland will do it.  It can save cap space now and in the long term.  If I’m him, I’ve already made the initial offer to Kekalainen and told him it would be made closer to the end of the season if it’s a possibility. You know for a fact that other clubs that are rumoured to be interested in Dubois – like LA and Anaheim – can’t offer a player of this calibre to the Jackets.

2.  Dubois has more room to improve

Dubois has more room to improve as a player because he’s younger.  Dubois is only 22 as opposed to Nuge who is 27 right now.  That would put him more in line with the trajectory of the organization.  Right now the organization is just starting its upswing, and Dubois isn’t at the prime of his career yet.

Nuge is in the prime of his career, and we see with him now is what’s we’re going to get.  He might be able to improve a little, but for the most part, the player we see now is the player we’re going to get for the bulk of whatever years are left in his career.  At 27 his career trajectory is pretty much set in stone.

Dubois has more time to do better.  Will he be a better player than Nuge over the long term?  He could be.  He already has a career PPG of 0.67 as opposed to Nuge’s 0.74. He’s almost at Nuge’s production now, and he’s still 3 years away from his prime producing years.  And we have a sample size of 235 NHL games for Dubois so we know he’s a legit scorer just like Nuge is.  He also plays left center just like Nuge does, so positionally at least there’s no difference.

3.  Columbus has more cap space than we do

This means they can more easily fit him in under the cap.  Due to a variety of factors, the Oilers will likely exit cap hell next season, but still, at this point, Columbus has more cap space than we do. Right now Columbus has almost $1.6 million of cap space.  Subtract Dubois’s $5 million and that opens up even more.

Of course, they’d have to fit Nuge’s $6 million and his raise in, but they’re under the cap now and by my count they’ve got 3 bad contracts expiring after this season so they should be able to easily afford him. Contrast this with the Oilers who are $3.5 million over the cap right now and using a combination of roster moves and LTIR to stay under the cap right now.

4.  Nuge can play a higher role on Columbus than he can here

As soon as Leon Draisaitl and Connor Mcdavid arrived on the scene, you knew that Nuge’s role on the team would diminish a little, and that’s exactly what’s happened. Without generational players in Columbus, Nuge can play the same role there that he did early on his career here:  1st line center.

With the spotlight on the McDrai duo here, he’s often forgotten despite the fact he’s consistently our #3 scorer.  Columbus can provide him with a bigger role and more minutes, something he can’t get here. Is that something Nuge personally wants?  Hard to say, but that’s gotta have at least some appeal to him.  But then again, maybe he likes flying under the radar…..some NHL players do.

5.  There’d be very little of a dropoff in points

I’ve already provided the base numbers for this, but I’ll do the math for you now – between the 2 players there’s only a difference of 0.07 PPG between them, so we would be unlikely to see much of a dropoff in offence in the top 6.  Anything that results would be negligible.  With the higher ceiling of Dubois in the long term, that difference could swing the other way in 2-3 seasons.

6.  According to Dubois’s scouting report, he’ll make an even better winger than a center

Nuge is a natural center playing LW right now, Dubois is potentially even better as a winger than a center. Hmm.  Something to think about.  Maybe he’s an even better player without the defensive responsibilities of a center. Hmm indeed. Is there a reason to nix this trade?  Yes, there are reasons to do that too. Now, let’s breakdown why the Oilers wouldn’t want to do this trade.

1.  Chemistry

We already know that Nuge can play with both Draisaitl and Mcdavid.  Not everyone can do that, and because Dubois has never had to we don’t know if he can.  On paper, he should be able to, but that’s different than when the actual puck drops.

This is a big part of where the risk comes in in this trade, and also part of why – as the armchair GM – ask the Jackets for their 1st rounder this year in addition to Dubois.  If Dubois doesn’t work out, we would need another chance to right the ship, something another 1st rounder gives us.

Also, we know where Nuge fits on and off the ice.  We can say on paper where Dubois fits on the ice, but off the ice, we have no idea. Holland would be making a blockbuster trade here, so he’d have to think long and hard before pulling the trigger on it as he’s interrupting chemistry on the roster A LOT.

2.  Nuge is more experienced

Although youth counts in today’s NHL, experience does as well.  Nuge has another 371 games of NHL experience, and at 27 is past his growing pains of between the ages of 18-25 – on and off the ice.

Dubois is only 22 and has more growing to do in every sense of the word.  Do the Oilers want to go through that with him for the next 3 years?  Smart money says we have enough veterans on the team to absorb it, but that may not be enough to overcome Dubois’s lack of experience. There’s also an element of leadership that Nuge brings to the table that Dubois maybe doesn’t.

3.  Nuge is the known commodity, Dubois isn’t

We know how Nuge will handle the pressure of playing in Canada and in Edmonton.  Dubois is Canadian, but he’s used to playing in Columbus where hockey isn’t as big a deal.  Could he handle the additional scrutiny of playing in Edmonton?  Maybe, maybe not.  We don’t know.

Dubois is French Canadian, and if he was a Habs fan growing up I’m sure he’d know what he was getting into – and Edmonton still isn’t as bad as Montreal in that regard. What about how he would fit in in the dressing room?  What charities would he work with?  How does he handle the media?

All of this would have to be taken into consideration.  Some NHL players love the increased pressure of playing in Canada, others hate it.  We know how Nuge feels about this, we don’t know how Dubois feels about it. But, ultimately the million-dollar question is this. Should Holland make this trade? Much like playing poker, every NHL GM has to leave emotion at the door and do what’s best for the club.  Sometimes this involves making a big trade.

But, this would be a franchise-altering trade of a core player for another player you hope can be a core player.  The change of scenery thing works sometimes but not always. That being said, Holland always has to have his eye on what’s best for the club. If Holland can’t work out a deal by the trade deadline, then he’ll be forced to make a deal or risk losing Nuge for nothing in free agency.

There’s risk in this trade but there’s even more risk in letting his contract expire and letting the free market decide.  Again, if I’m Holland I’ve already made a preliminary phone call to Jarmo Kekalainen to pitch him the trade but not to do it right now, something to keep on the back burner.

My personal verdict is that we should avoid making this trade now but keep it in reserve in case we need it.  You never know which way contract negotiations are going to go, and 1 player is not more important than the team. This is the NHL, after all, not the NBA.  It will be interesting to see how Holland handles this one.

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Bonus material

On Boxing Day Andreas Athanasiou signed a 1 year $1.2 million contract with LA.  He’ll still be an RFA when that contract ends so I wish him good luck in the next step of his career – except when he plays the Oilers, of course.  🙂