Edmonton Oilers trade deadline target: Nashville Center Erik Haula

NASHVILLE, TN - JANUARY 14: Erik Haula #56 of the Nashville Predators is announced before the game against the Columbus Blue Jackets at Bridgestone Arena on January 14, 2021 in Nashville, Tennessee. Players honored members of law enforcement that participated in the Nashville Christmas bombing investigation. (Photo by Brett Carlsen/Getty Images)
NASHVILLE, TN - JANUARY 14: Erik Haula #56 of the Nashville Predators is announced before the game against the Columbus Blue Jackets at Bridgestone Arena on January 14, 2021 in Nashville, Tennessee. Players honored members of law enforcement that participated in the Nashville Christmas bombing investigation. (Photo by Brett Carlsen/Getty Images) /

I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that the bottom two center spots for the Edmonton Oilers have been filled by underachievers.

Kyle Turris has proven to be a failure as a 3rd line center this season. He’s been in and out of the lineup once his replacements became healthy and, as of today, is playing on the wing as a sub-in for Josh Archibald on the 3rd line.

Devin Shore has been….meh…..as a center.  Only when Jujhar Khaira found his game again did a center who could consistently be a threat to produce depth offence finally emerge. Khaira started out sluggish before becoming the regular 4th line center and has since been promoted to 3rd line.

Meanwhile, no one else has been able to grab ahold of the 4th line center spot with regularity.  Gaetan Haas is the incumbent for that spot, and while he showed promise at the end of last season in a part-time spot, he has struggled when asked to play a larger role. He has produced just a single goal in 12 games with the Oilers this year.

The Oilers have had a few depth players struggle this year, making a shakeup in the bottom six a clear need to gear up for the playoffs.

Enter the Nashville Predators, who at this point are not mathematically out of the playoffs, but they are very much on life support.  The Predators at this point are in 6th place in the Central Division, compared to the Oilers who are in a battle with Winnipeg for 2nd place in the North Division. Meanwhile, Nashville is 13 points out of the nearest guaranteed playoff spot.  Stranger things have happened, but chances are, Nashville is out of it by now.  Expect them to start making moves to build up warm bodies, prospects, and picks.  I already picked their hypothetical carcass once in this trade, why not do it again?

Here’s where the Oilers could come in and solve their 4th line dilemma, maybe even find proper depth to push Jujhar Khaira for 3rd line center:  Erik Haula.

Haula is a much better fit for the Oilers at this point then Haas is.  Haula has 428 games of NHL experience, while Haas has a mere 70.  Haula has been on playoff teams in 6 out of his 9 NHL seasons, playing an additional 48 games in the playoffs including making it to the finals with Vegas in 2018.  Haas has a mere 1 playoff game, which he accumulated in last year’s playin series with Chicago.

Haula isn’t exactly setting the league on fire, but he’s still putting up 2-5-7 in 23 games for the Preds this year, which is pretty respectable for the bottom six forward.  That projects out to 17 points in a full 56 game season, which is fine for a 4th line center, and certainly an upgrade on Haas’s 1-0-1 in 12 games.

Here’s what my trade looks like:

Edmonton Receives:  

Erik Haula

Nashville Receives:  

Gaetan Haas

Patrick Russell

2021 6th round pick

My first choice would be to trade Kyle Turris, but seeing as how Nashville just bought him out last season, it’s unlikely they’ll want him back.

Here’s why I like this trade:

Cap space

The cap space works out quite well in this trade – the whole reason I also included Russell in the trade is partially as a sweetener and partially to make the cap space work.  These 2 players combined only make for $1.615 million of cap space, while Haula makes $1.75 million.  This means the difference is a mere $135K – and remember this is prorated.  Knock off 75% of that and the Oilers are only taking on a mere $33,750 of cap space – a figure they can easily pay for with LTIR cap space.

Both Russell and Haas were unlikely to be back next year anyway, and even if you want to bring them back they’re both UFAs anyway so you can just sign them without giving up anything other than cap space and a roster spot.

Bigger roles on a team with less pressure

Meanwhile, on an inferior team both Russell and Haas could take on bigger roles with less pressure, which might have some appeal to the players.  It would be easier to audition for an NHL job – in Nashville or elsewhere – on a team whose expectations are much lower.

If neither player works out, Nashville GM David Poile can just let them walk at the end of the season – and he has another draft pick to boot whether the player works out or not.

The Oilers get more experience in their bottom six

Meanwhile, Haula gets to go to a team that’s going on a playoff run, so he has another run at the Cup – something he doesn’t have in Nashville.  I’m sure he’d rather be playing out the string by gearing up for a Stanley Cup run on a playoff team rather than on a non-contender.

Haula gets to shore up a need for the Oilers and he’s also a UFA at the end of the season, so if he doesn’t work out, Edmonton can let him walk. Haula has also been in this song and dance before so he knows how to prepare for the playoffs.  Haas can’t even keep a regular spot in the lineup for the regular season, and he was unremarkable in the one playoff game he played last year.  He’s unlikely to make an impact in the postseason.

Other considerations

Haula is vastly superior in the faceoff circle compared to Haas – which shouldn’t be much of a shock considering the difference in experience between the two.

Haula is currently in the process of setting a career high in the faceoff circle at 57.58%, while Haas is a sub-par 42.97% in the dot.  In fact, Haula is in the top 50 in the NHL – and if you take away all the guys with low sample sizes and high percentages, he’s even higher on the list.

Think of how much more the Oilers would possess the puck with a guy like that in the lineup taking faceoffs.

Isn’t Gaetan Haas a key player on the PK for the Oilers?  

Yes, that is a fair point.  Haas is currently 3rd on the Oilers in PK ice time with 2:36 per game.  However, Haula is no slouch at this skill either, spending 2:02 on Nashville’s PK – good enough for ninth on the team.

However, with Haula’s much bigger pool of experience – combined with the fact he’s an everyday NHLer while Haas isn’t – and you have a guy who should easily be able to replace Haas’s minutes on the PK and contribute more in other situations as well.  In my books, that’s a better fit for the team.

What about defensively?  

Let’s call this one a wash.  Haas is -2 and Haula is -4.  Not much difference there.

Bottom line

If this does come to fruition, it is a good trade for both teams. Poile gets to shake up his bottom six with a trade and ends up with an extra draft pick regardless of how well it works out. The Oilers get to add more experience, more faceoff wins, and more offence to their bottom six with a negligible increase in cap space that’s hardly noticeable.

Meanwhile, Russell and Haas get fresh starts on a new roster and might impress their new team enough to earn contracts with them. Haula gets what he won’t get in Nashville – the opportunity to go on a playoff run and a shot at the cup.