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How much has the Hall-Larsson trade helped Edmonton?

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During one 60-minute stretch back in late June the NHL briefly went crazy with a flurry of blockbuster moves that included the P.K. SubbanShea Weber trade, Steven Stamkos re-signing with the Tampa Bay Lightning, and the Edmonton Oilers finally going through with a trade involving one of their core players (Taylor Hall) to the New Jersey Devils in an effort to solidify their defense by acquiring Adam Larsson in a one-for-one swap.

On Saturday night in New Jersey, the Devils and Oilers meet for the first time since that blockbuster trade and they will meet again in Edmonton a week later. That means it is now a good time to look back at that trade and see how it is working out for both teams. So let’s do that.

In the immediate aftermath of the trade it was largely viewed as a major win for the Devils. Hall was a top-line player — and just the type of player the Devils needed — while Larsson was simply a solid defenseman that probably fit in better as a second-pairing guy on a contending team.

Now that the 2016-17 season is half over, perception of the deal has shifted a bit, at least when it comes to the Oilers’ return because of how well the team has played this season.

Entering play on Saturday the Oilers are the owners of a 20-13-7 record and have a pretty strong hold on a playoff spot in the Western Conference.

The Devils, meanwhile, are still six points out of a wild card spot in the East with six teams ahead of them.  Coming out of that to earn a playoff spot seems like a real long shot at this point even as Hall scores at would be a 70-point pace over 82 games.

Based on the success of the two teams, it would be easy to chalk the trade up as an easy win and shrewd move for the Oilers that has helped drastically change their fortune on the ice. Especially as the Oilers have seen an improvement in their overall defensive performance go from complete dumpster fire to middle of the pack NHL team this season.

It would also be a bit unfair and misleading, and a good example as to why team success isn’t necessarily the best way to evaluate a trade.

Larsson is a good player, and the Oilers are no doubt happy to have him. But do you know who else is a really good player? Taylor Hall. A possession-driving forward that is still among one of the top-30 most productive players in the NHL.

So why have the Oilers been able to turn it around this season with Larsson while the Devils remain stuck in mediocrity?

It basically comes down to this: The Oilers have Connor McDavid, and the New Jersey Devils do not.

That is what has sparked the turnaround for the Oilers. Playing in just his second season in the league — and what should be his first full season, barring an injury in the second half — McDavid is already one of the two best players in hockey and has had a profound impact on the Oilers’ success. He is in now in a back-and-forth race with Pittsburgh Penguins teammates Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin for the NHL’s scoring title, while the Oilers play like a top playoff team when he is on the ice. They control more than 55 percent of the shot attempts during 5-on-5 play and outscore their opponents by a 34-21 margin (that is more than 62 percent of the goals).

When McDavid is not on the ice, the Oilers play like … well … the Oilers team we have come to expect. Their share of the shot attempts drops down to only 47.9 percent while they actually get outscored by a 41-48 margin. The difference is night and day.

There is no question that Larsson has been a solid addition to the Oilers’ blue line and an upgrade over what the team had been trotting out there over the past five or six years. But he hasn’t been so great that it has sparked this sort of one-year turnaround for the team. Especially when you look at his actual contributions. For example, when it comes to limiting shots and keeping pucks out of the net Larsson currently ranks sixth out of the eight Oilers defensemen (minimum 50 minutes of ice time) in goals against per 60 minutes (2.58) and total shot attempts against (55.20), and he isn’t a huge contributor offensively (only six points in 40 games).

Granted, those numbers are still better than what a lot of Oilers defensemen were able to put up in recent seasons. Heck, just last season the only two defensemen that played in Edmonton that posted better numbers in both categories were Brandon Davidson and Jordan Oesterle … and Oesterle only played in 17 games. But it is not the type of defensive performance that turns a team around.

Plus, there are a lot of other factors that go into the Oilers’ improved defensive play beyond just the addition of Larsson.

Andrej Sekera has been better in his second year with the team. Oscar Klefbom (only played in 30 games a season ago) is healthy and has taken a huge step forward in his development. Kris Russell might be a polarizing player in the eye test vs. analytics debate, but he is at the very least serviceable NHL defenseman that is better than a lot of players the Oilers relied on last season. And that does not even get into the fact Cam Talbot has given them better than league average play in net while playing in almost every game this season.

All of that has played a role in the Oilers’ improvement.

But nothing has played a bigger role than McDavid turning into hockey Superman. That is the source of most of your turnaround, Edmonton.

Hall and Larsson — as well as the success of their two teams — are going to be compared against one another for as long as they both play in the NHL because of the trade that sent them to their current teams.

Individually, Hall is still the better player. But the Larsson side of the trade is looking like a winner because his team is playing better — and it’s mostly due to a player that isn’t Adam Larsson.

Blues re-sign goalie Binnington

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Jordan Binnington, the netminder taken 88th overall by the Blues in 2011, has signed a one-year, two-way extension, the club announced on Friday.

Binnington, 24, has played almost exclusively with St. Louis’ AHL affiliate since turning pro four years ago, though he did spend some time in the ECHL.

Last year he worked alongside Ville Husso and Pheonix Copley in the Wolves’ goal, and will likely do so again with Husso moving forward (Copley was traded to Washington as part of the Kevin Shattenkirk deal.)

Binnington’s NHL body of work is brief — one 13-minute relief appearance during the ’15-16 campaign. Right now he’s jockeying with Husso to be the organization’s No. 3 netminder, a potential call-up should either Jake Allen or Carter Hutton get hurt.

Chris Neil wants a one-way deal, and says he’s received offers

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Here’s what we know about veteran tough guy Chris Neil.

He won’t be back in Ottawa, the city where he’s spent his entire 15-year career. But he does want to keep playing. What’s more, he’s not ready to accept a two-way deal or training camp PTO, because offers for a one-way deal have already come in.

“The offers I’ve had so far haven’t been [two way or PTO]. They’ve been a one-way deal,” the 37-year-old forward said, per the Ottawa Sun. “For me, that’s what I’d be looking for.

“It’s up in the air right now. There’s some interest. There’s some teams you’d prefer over others.”

Neil was informed by the Sens last month that he wouldn’t be brought back next season, which marked the end of an era. Ottawa took Neil in the sixth round of the 1998 draft, and he made his NHL debut three years later. He went on to become one of the club’s most recognizable players, in large part to his pugilistic ways — during the 2003-04 campaign, he fought a remarkable 24 times.

That trademark toughness could be something teams are interested in bringing aboard. There were rumblings St. Louis was eyeing him after trading Ryan Reaves to Pittsburgh, with Fox Sports Midwest reporting that Neil had three offers on the table.

If there’s one thing that’s for certain, it’s that Neil believes he can still play. After learning that he wouldn’t be brought back to the Canadian capital, he had some choice words for Sens head coach Guy Boucher and the perceived lack of opportunity Boucher afforded him.

“I have a lot of respect for Randy [Lee, Sens assistant GM] and Pierre [Dorion, GM] … I think, if it was up to them, I’d be back,” Neil explained, per the Citizen. “But they kind of put it in the coach’s hands and that had a lot to do with it. For whatever reason, Guy [Boucher] never really gave me the chance to show I can play.

“Even before I got hurt, I was a healthy scratch for a couple of games and I saw the writing on the wall.”

After tough year in Florida, Smith ready to reunite with ‘players-first’ Gallant

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For Reilly Smith, the anticipation of playing for Las Vegas next season goes beyond playing for the league’s newest team.

It’s also about playing for his old coach, Gerard Gallant.

“I think he kind of embodies the motto that it’s a players-first league and everything kind of revolves around that,” Smith said, per the Golden Knights website. “I know particularly last year in the Florida Panthers organization, there was a lot of change and things going on and I know one of the main messages that he always put forth was that whatever goes on outside, make sure you guys are a tight-knit group inside and play for each other.

“That was one thing that he definitely tried to convey to the team and try to get us to rally behind.”

Smith’s time in Florida was a two-part tale.

After coming over from Boston as part of the Jimmy Hayes swap — Marc Savard’s contract was also shipped to Florida — Smith had a terrific ’15-16 campaign under Gallant, posting career highs in goals (25) while helping the Panthers qualify for the playoffs.

In the postseason, he was a consistent scoring threat, finishing the series with four goals and eight points in six games.

Year two wasn’t nearly as successful.

Gallant was fired early on — controversially so — and Smith’s production dropped off. He ended with just 15 goals and 37 points, disappointing figures that were exacerbated by the big five-year, $25 million extension he signed in the offseason.

Reading between the lines, fair to suggest Smith struggled with the coaching change from Gallant to Tom Rowe. Things came to a head in early March, when Rowe called out Smith following a loss to Dallas.

On the Stars’ first goal, Smith seemed to lose his man in front of the net. Rowe was asked about it, and responded.

“We went over that exact play in team meeting and we haven’t learned our lesson yet,” he said. “That is the problem.”

Rowe wasn’t done there. Later, he was asked about Dallas’ winning goal, which may have been deflected in off a skate. The criticism went back to Smith.

“I don’t know,” said Rowe. “All I know is Reilly Smith was blowing the zone doing exactly what he is not supposed to be doing.”

Smith will certainly be a guy to watch this season. He’s still only 26 years old, looking for a bounce back, and noted that Gallant gave him the opportunity to play a larger role than he had with the Bruins (and, prior to that, the Stars).

One wonders if that’ll happen again, this time in Vegas.

Subban ‘can’t really envision’ Habs without Markov

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The Montreal Canadiens’ defense looks a lot different than it did two years ago.

For the second offseason in a row, the Canadiens have walked away from a seemingly important puck-moving defenseman. Last summer, they traded P.K. Subban to Nashville for Shea Weber, and yesterday they announced that they were parting ways with Andrei Markov.

Markov and Subban played a lot of minutes together during their time time in Montreal. The two even became good friends (Subban attended Markov’s wedding earlier this month).

Needless to say, when Subban found out that Markov wasn’t going to be returning to the Canadiens, he was pretty surprised.

“I can’t really envision the Montreal Canadiens without Andrei Markov on the blue line. That’s No. 1. Even before I played for the team, I watched him play for the team and be their best defenseman,” The Preds defenseman told NHL.com’s Arpon Basu. “Even while I was there, I still thought he was our best defenseman, even though a lot of people thought because of what I got paid it was me. You can’t really put a price tag on how he plays because he’s so smart, the way he sees the ice.”

With those two players no longer on the team, it’ll be interesting to see who moves the puck for the Habs. Shea Weber is still playing at a high level, but carrying the puck up the ice isn’t his strongest attribute.

GM Marc Bergevin added Mark Streit, Karl Alzner and David Schlemko this offseason, but none of those guys can do the things Markov is capable of doing when it comes to moving the puck efficiently.

Is there another move on the horizon?

Well, Montreal has a huge hole on the left side of their defense and they have over $8 million in cap space. Maybe there is something brewing.

Related:

Andrei Markov opts for KHL after saying goodbye to Canadiens

Habs president pens glowing farewell letter to Markov

Habs sign Streit–is he Markov’s replacement?