Edmonton Oilers: An emergency trade to consider just in case

Edmonton Oilers (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
Edmonton Oilers (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images) /

I don’t know about you, but the Edmonton Oilers are looking like an unstoppable train now.  Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl are doing their thing.  The team has shown they can win by outscoring their problems or by clamping down on the other team’s chances and playing good defensive hockey.  They can play physical and they stick up for each other.  The D is leading the league in scoring from D corps, led by Darnell Nurse and Tyson Barrie.

We’re getting quality goaltending, and although Mikko Koskinen’s stats don’t look like it, he’s settling into the season a lot better now that he has a legitimate partner to tag team with again.  I guarantee you Mike Smith is not a .940 and 1.83 goalie for the entire season, but it’s nice to see him start the season on a hot streak.

Even when McDavid and Leon Draisaitl don’t score, we’re still winning and getting contributions from other ends of the roster, especially the bottom 6.  Neither special team is as good as it was last year, but maybe that’s a good thing as it means the team is much improved at generating offence at even strength, which is what the majority of the game is played in.

We continue to have key players get injured, but the team never misses a beat.  Tyson Barrie has made sure we don’t miss Oscar Klefbom this season, and Ethan Bear has been out since the end of January, yet Evan Bouchard has made sure we don’t miss him in the lineup.  Even the upstart William Lagesson is out right now, but still, the Oilers go out and beat their biggest rival 7-1 without him.

That being said, a lot of the players are on unsustainable streaks that won’t last.  In particular, Darnell Nurse is shooting at a 13% shooting %, while his career average is 3.4%.  Kailer Yamamoto is at 20% – and his career average of 16.3% is impressive enough – albeit still above NHL average.  Jesse Puljujarvi is at 11.4 to his career average of 8.

As great as Juhjar Khaira has been, his 22.2 shooting % (9.6% career) probably won’t last, ditto Alex Chiasson, who’s at 21.4 with a career average of 12.6.  Even Adam Larsson, not exactly known for his offence, is going at a 10.5% rate right now (career of 3.5%).  Gaetan Haas, in what can only be deemed too short a sample size, is at 50% on 2 shots on goal right now.  Devin Shore is a little nuts now too – 25% right now to a career average of 10.7.  Expect a few of these guys to cool down before the end of the season.

On the other side of the ledger, as good as Barrie has been he could be even better.  He’s going at a 5.7% rate to his career average of 6.5%.  Dominik Kahun we can expect to get better, considering he’s at 7.1% to a career average of 10.7%.  James Neal, too – 8.7% to his career of 11.9%.  Tyler Ennis is at 8.3%, to his career of 10.1.  Expect these boys to pick up the slack as others begin to cool down.

McDavid has improved on faceoffs, the 1 part of his game that has been lacking up until now.  He’s now at 49.19%, almost at the solid mark of 50%, and a new career-best for him if he maintains or improves on that number by the end of the season.

Even defensively, there are only 3 players who are below -2 on the season, and without surprise, it’s the 3 guys struggling the most this season – Zack Kassian (-3), Slater Koekkoek (-7), and guess who has the goat horns in this department?  Yup, Kyle Turris at -9.  No one at this point is -10 or below.  Those are the best +/- numbers on the team as a whole I can remember in 2 decades or so.

At the time of this writing the team stands in sole possession of 2nd place in the division, and if they can sweep the next 2 series against the struggling Canucks and the only team in their way – the Maple Laffs – then they can take those 10 points to the bank and hopefully be either in 1st place in the division or close to it.

I know it’s asking a lot to win 5 games in a row, but it’s doable, especially the way they’re playing now.  They’re a hot team – only TO has won as many games in a row as the Oilers have (3), and only the LA Kings – of all teams – have more wins in a row (4).

I said in this blog here that the Oilers will win the division this year, and right now it’s looking more and more like that’ll happen.  There’s lots of hockey left to play, but you certainly can’t blame anyone in the city for being optimistic about the Oilers’ chances this year.

But of course, change is a way of life in the NHL.  Nuge’s contract is up after this season, and while he certainly wants to be an Oiler for a long time to come – and I would think the team would want their #3 scorer back for sure – negotiations have been rumoured to not be going well.  While this doesn’t necessarily mean there’s a fallout between the player and the organization, it does mean that if Holland doesn’t believe he can get the player signed by the trade deadline, he has to unload him or risk losing him for nothing.

Now before the trolls and haters go lynching me in the comments section, I’m going to make this very, very clear:  my first choice is to see Nuge re-signed as an Oiler.1 other important detail:  superstar captain McDavid wants him around.  That’s not a small detail.  I don’t want to see him leave any more than anyone else, but the GM has to do what’s best for the team.  1 player is never bigger than the team.  So who do I have in mind that would be the centrepiece of a trade?

Matt Duchene of the Nashville Predators

Why do you ask?  There are several reasons to make this trade.  Nashville has been very disappointing as a team this year and the rumour has it that if the Preds don’t improve, they’ll be out of the playoffs and Preds GM David Poile is looking to sell, sell, sell.  Veterans are for sale that he normally wouldn’t touch.  This includes Matt Duchene who has been mentioned by name.

Also, there’s a lot to like about Duchene as a player.  He’s been struggling as a player as of late, but in his career, he has hit the 20 goal mark 5 times and the 30 goal mark once – the latter of which Nuge has yet to accomplish.  Nuge has been the more successful player in recent seasons, cracking the 20 goal mark for the past 3 years – and with 9 already, looks poised to make it 1 more.  Duchene hasn’t hit that mark since 2018-19 with Ottawa, but as I mentioned he’s certainly capable of it.

Most importantly, the players have put up offence at an almost identical rate.  Nuge right now has 461 points in 624 games, while Duchene has 597 points in 810 games.  That works out to a Points Per Game of .739 for Nuge and .737 for Duchene.  This means while we would lose a bit of offence in the transaction, it would be only by the slimmest of margins, probably not even noticeable.

Like Nuge, Duchene can play both center and left wing, so we have that versatility in the lineup either way.  Although Duchene is a little older, at 30 Duchene is hardly over the hill in NHL terms, while Nuge at 27 has only in the last couple of years entered his PPY.

It’s also worth noting that the calibre of players he would be playing with in Edmonton vastly exceeds that which he’s used to playing with in Nashville.  This is bound to help him out.  Not to mention the X factor of some of the pressure being off.  While he would still be expected to produce at the rate of a top 6 forward, he wouldn’t be expected to drive the bus on his line as I suspect he is in Nashville – unless you can tell me something about Calle Jarnkrok or Rocco Grimaldi that makes me believe they’re elite players driving the bus on that line.  McDavid is more than capable of doing that here.

Defensively, Nuge is also the superior player as Duchene hasn’t finished on the + side of the ledger in 6 seasons, while Nuge has in 3 of the last 6.  In theory, this risk should be mitigated by playing on a better team.  Depending on what Nuge would sign for in Nashville, the cap space is doable.  Right now Nuge is making $6 million per season while Duchene is making $8 million.  I’ll get to the difference in cap space in a minute.

It would probably be good for Nuge’s career in a way, too.  In Nashville, he could assume a bigger role and more minutes.  Right now in Edmonton, his previous role of 1st/2nd line center has been usurped – 1st by Leon Draisaitl and then by McDavid.  Now Nuge is a company man so he’ll never complain about his role, but there’s got to be some appeal to him being the man who carries a line as he did early on in his career here.  He’ll be able to do that in Nashville, he can’t here.

Now let’s get to what a trade might look like in this instance.

"To Edmonton:  Matt Duchene – $2 million in salary retained for the durationNashville’s 1st round pick in 2021To Nashville:  NugePittsburgh’s 6th round pick in 2021 (previously acquired in dealing the rights to John Marino to Pittsburgh)Patrick Russell"

Why? Although it would always be painful to trade Nuge, he would be traded for a guy who is signed for 5 more seasons after this one.  This means the hypothetical distraction of a contract holdout would be over and done with for a player who’s signed, sealed, and delivered.

It might be ballsy to ask for Nashville’s 1st round pick this year – seeing as how it could be as high as #4 on the board – but this is the NHL.  You’ve gotta give something if you want to get something back.  The fact is when you consider recent history the Preds are acquiring the superior player, so their 1st round pick is to help compensate the Oilers for trading a proven commodity for a guy who looks good on paper but we’re unsure if he fits with our team.

Likewise, the $2 million in retained salary is to bring Duchene’s cap hit closer to its current value.  Still better than buying him out.  Something else to consider – it doesn’t matter who the Preds would draft with this pick, they’re unlikely to draft anyone as good or better than Nuge right now.  Even if they do draft a good player, it’ll take a few years for him to get there.  Why wait if you can use the pick to get a proven player now?

I’m throwing in the 6th round pick as a sweetener, and Patrick Russell for the same reason.  Even with all the shuffling back and forth between the taxi squad and the roster, Russell has only played in 1 game this season for the Oilers.  He got an assist in that game, but he seems to be a victim of the Oiler’s depth, and since Nashville is underachieving this season, head coach John Hynes can use Russell as a depth player to shake up his bottom 6.  Why not use the trade to get rid of him?

Bring back Taylor Hall as a free agent

With Nuge out of the lineup, another option could be to let Nuge walk and go after Taylor Hall in free agency. Now ever since Hall won the Hart trophy in 2017-18 with New Jersey, his career has taken a bit of a downslide.  He struggled his last 2 seasons in New Jersey, and despite the fact, the Arizona Coyotes paid a king’s ransom in trade for him, he didn’t work out in Arizona – although he did put up 6 points in 9 playoff games for them 2 years ago, so that’s good.

He’s also struggled with injuries since his Hart trophy win, never playing more than 35 games in a season.  In Buffalo this season he’s off to a decent start, putting up 10 points in 14 games, but he has been criticized for only scoring 1 goal in those 14 games.  He also hasn’t been that good defensively either, only finishing above 0 once since his trade to New Jersey and not at all since he won the Hart trophy.

So, although there would be a risk in this signing, it would come with a pretty big upside.  Naturally, the Oilers are a much better team than they were when he was here the 1st time, and he did play 1 season with McDavid so we know he can play on that line.  Also, because his stock has been diminished he’ll come cheaper, especially considering the cap situation of the NHL at large.

But of course, the risk in zeroing in on Hall is what happens if we let Nuge walk, don’t re-sign him, and then Hall doesn’t sign with us?  Then we’re truly up the poop creek.  That’s the dice you roll in going after the big fish in free agency.  Not to mention there’ll probably be a bidding war so the Oilers would be unlikely to get him at a proper market value.  We saw how much this came back to bite us with the Milan Lucic and Andrej Sekera deals we handed out in free agency in recent years.

Oilers should explore free agent goalie market this summer. light. Trending

Taylor Hall has more upside than anyone else we’ve ever pursued before but that doesn’t mean he comes without risk. Personally, I hope Nuge gets re-signed and we don’t have to consider blockbuster moves like this, but it’s fun to play armchair GM once in awhile.