To say that things haven’t gone as expected for the Edmonton Oilers in 2017-18 might be the understatement of the season. After making a Stanley Cup playoff appearance for the first time in a decade just last season, the Oilers were expected to be a top team in the NHL’s Western Conference this season, but their 18-22-3 record puts them closer to NHL Draft Lottery territory than Stanley Cup contender status.
Thought to be a team on the rise just a calendar year ago, the Oilers have sunk to the bottom of the league and, as a result, they’re being forced to over-analyze everything about their current makeup. Could this result in a trade or two? GM Peter Chiarelli admits that “everyone is under evaluation, including myself.”
One name that surfaces in all the trade chatter: Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. The former first overall pick is having a breakout campaign and is on pace to establish new career highs in goals and points. The 24 year-old has 15 goals and 30 points in 43 games and looks poised to top his career best of 24 goal and 56 points from 2014-15.
In his latest article for The Athletic, Oilers insider Jonathan Willis argues that if the Oilers are going to trade Nugent-Hopkins, NOW is the time to pull the trigger. The dynamic, two-way center has seen a 40% improvement in his shooting rate this season and is unlikely to keep performing at such a high clip over the long run. If the Oilers are intent on trading Nugent-Hopkins, which it seems they are, his value may never get higher than it is right now.
Chiarelli has a history of selling off player when their value is at an absolute low, as was the case with winger Jordan Eberle this past offseason. The return on Eberle, Ryan Strome, has been pretty underwhelming thus far and the Oilers cannot afford to make the same mistake in trading Nugent-Hopkins. If he’s got to go, he should go NOW. Otherwise, he’s more valuable to the team’s future by being retained.
Strome out already?
In other Oilers trade chatter, Willis also put forth the idea of trading the recently acquire Strome, as well.
“His scoring has picked up markedly after a difficult October and he’s a right-shot centre/wing, all of which make him valuable.” Willis noted. Willis also notes that, while the Oilers will have some flexibility with Strome this offseason seeing as how he’ll be a restricted-free agent, the players’ $3 million base salary could be too rich for the team’s blood. Does that mean he could be moved to a contender before the deadline? The Oilers would have to swallow their pride as they’ll get nothing close to the likes of Eberle in return, but again Chiarelli has a history of selling low on his assets, so it wouldn’t be a total shock.
The trading block trio?
Allan “Lowetide” Mitchellalso weighs in on the Oilers trade bonanza talk and throws three more names into the conversation: Patrick Maroon, Mark Letestu and Mike Cammalleri. All three forwards are pending unrestricted free-agents and the chances of them each returning next season are remote. Doesn’t it make sense for the Oilers to recoup assets for these players now rather than risk losing them for nothing in the offseason?
Maroon could be a cheaper option for teams that are already taking a close look at players like James van Riemsdyk and James Neal on the trade market. The 29-year-old winger has 9 goals and 21 points in 41 games, playing mostly without superstar Connor McDavid this season. That’s at least worth a prospect, argues Mitchell. Perhaps from the Boston Bruins?
Letestu is a player who, despite struggling this season, could hold some value to a playoff contender. He boasts a 53.7% face-off rating and has played over 500 NHL games. The 32-year-old has experience and plays a solid two-way game that coaches love. He’ll fetch AT LEAST a late round pick.
As for Cammalleri… pick him off the scrap heap and leave a nickel in the jar on your way out the door. The 35-year-old isn’t likely to fetch much or a return on the trade market, but given that he hasn’t had the chance to play a playoff game in nearly a decade wouldn’t it be appropriate for the Oilers to give him one last shot?
Heads to roll?
There’s plenty of blame to go around in Edmonton and that extends off the ice and into the boardroom. The team’s management and coaching staff are under review by ownership and could see significant changes as soon as this week.
Chiarelli insists that head coach Todd McLellan is in no danger of losing his job, but in the same breath admits that “everyone is under evaluation.”
“We’ve had our challenges from a coaching perspective, and we’ve had our challenges from a player personnel perspective. We went into the season with certain expectations, and we’re not even close to them.
The Oilers have not been effective this season, but whether the problem lies with coaching, management or both is not yet clear. What IS clear however, is that things cannot continue along the path that they’re on. If they do, it won’t take long for the team’s fanbase to turn over themselves once again.
With superstar McDavid set to hit the prime of his career, the Oilers can hardly afford any more wasted seasons. Once the problem is identified by team ownership, don’t be surprised if heads start to roll in short order, with NHL insider Nick Kypreos expecting a decision as early as this week.