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Oilers continue rare boring summer with Strome signing

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The name Ryan Strome must elicit some awkward feelings for Edmonton Oilers fans. After all, you’d need to risk an upper-body injury trying to deny that the Oilers lost in the Strome – Jordan Eberle trade.

Losing that trade prompts faint praise, then, for the Oilers’ current off-season plan of … “Don’t mess anything else up.”

That’s not what they’ve really said publicly, but so far, that’s how they’re operating. While it’s fun – especially from a writing/lampooning perspective – to rubberneck at bad moves and dysfunction (let us again thank Marc Bergevin and the Senators), recent history states that Edmonton’s better off boring.

And that’s exactly what re-signing Strome is. It’s boring, and it’s probably the right move, and you’re probably yawning with me on this one.

The team announced that it’s a two-year deal, with Sportsnet’s Chris Johnston reporting that the cap hit will come in at $3.1 million per season. That’s not a great value, but it’s not going to break the Oilers, either. Leave that to trading the pick that became Mathew Barzal for a marginal defenseman, moving Taylor Hall one-for-one for Adam Larsson, and the Milan Lucic albatross contract, instead.

Cap Friendly puts Edmonton’s cap space at just less than $5M, with RFA Darnell Nurse likely to command most of that remaining cash.

The Oilers mainly stayed out of the fray this summer, merely handing speedy winger Tobias Rieder a reasonable one-year, $2M deal. Unless they can bribe a rebuilding team to house bad contracts like Lucic’s $6M per season through 2022-23, GM Peter Chiarelli is most likely going to be limited to trying to target savvy bargains in free agency. Considering how things have gone for him in recent trades, such limitations could very well be a blessing in disguise.

A boring blessing, but a blessing.

During the last three seasons, Strome’s developed into a fairly steady 30-ish point producer, showing some versatility and adequate possession skills. The Oilers could do better and worse with $3.1M per season.

Again, a shoulder shrug seems more palatable than Edmonton’s painful tradition of face-palms.

Oilers Nation’s Cam Lewis summed things up well regarding Strome back in April: Edmonton management is better off seeing the good side of Strome, rather than placing too much focus on how he’s not Jordan Eberle.

If you can convince yourself to not attach him to Eberle, it becomes a lot easier to accept Strome for what he is. He’s a solid, two-way player who can play in a variety of situations. He can centre your third line and be responsible, he can produce some offence in a top-six role, he can play both centre and wing, and he can be useful on the power play and penalty kill. He isn’t spectacular, but he’s a versatile depth player with upside, and there’s certainly value to that.

For all the frustrations in Edmonton, the Oilers still have Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl. They might stumble upon solutions merely if they stop messing things up.

Strome isn’t great, and you can quibble about him being good versus mediocre. It’s a small victory, but not exasperating the mistake with more mistakes is better than the alternative.

More exciting calls to come

Here’s a take for you: the Oilers put themselves in that bind during the 2017 summer by not trying harder to extend Draisaitl before his breakout 2016-17 season. Maybe a lack of contract year motivation would have meant a slightly less dominant Draisaitl that year, but smart teams lock up core players earlier rather than later.

It’s a consideration that could be particularly important for the Oilers when it comes to Jesse Puljujarvi.

After this past season, the Columbus Blue Jackets look shrewd (rather than bold) for taking Pierre-Luc Dubois as the third pick of the 2016 NHL Draft over Puljujarvi. Puljujarvi’s been moving in and out of the NHL early in his career, generating 12 goals and 20 points in 65 games with the Oilers in 2017-18.

That’s a letdown, yet it may also be an opportunity for the Oilers to save money, for once.

If Edmonton expects Puljujarvi to make huge strides going forward, they’d be better off trying to sign him to a team-friendly contract this summer, rather than waiting to see what happens. Ideally, Edmonton would either save money with a “bridge” contract or keep his cap hit at a reasonable clip by handing out the sort of term that looks brilliant in retrospect.

Determining that the Finn can take big steps forward instead of floundering like, say, Nail Yakupov, comes down to the judgment of Edmonton’s staff. That’s the scary part, but they either need to start getting these things right or step aside for someone who can.

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Theoretically, more decisions could be coming for the Oilers.

Ryan Nugent-Hopkins never seems far from trade rumors, though it’s a relief for Edmonton anytime they abstain at this point. With Cam Talbot‘s contract expiring after 2018-19, the Oilers must eventually figure out if his past season was an aberration or if they eventually need to find a new goalie.

So, yes, there are some deeper questions on the horizon for Edmonton, which opens the door for them to sink or swim.

History teaches us that they might be better off treading water, so it’s probably for the best that they’re just floating along this summer.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Be afraid Edmonton: Oilers willing to move 10th pick for defense

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Hello, Edmonton hockey fans! I have some good news for you, and I have some bad news for you.

The good news is that after a truly disastrous season that turned out to be a bitter disappointment your front office has identified what might be one of its bigger needs and is maybe willing to trade a key asset — in this case the No. 10 overall pick in the draft — for a quality defenseman.

That is, of course, according to general manager Peter Chiarelli on Thursday in his pre-draft meeting with the Edmonton media.

Unfortunately for the Oilers the bad news is also the same as the good news, and that being that the Edmonton Oilers recognize that the defense was a big problem this past season and are willing to trade a key asset in an effort to fix it.

I don’t mean to be too flippant about this — I really don’t — but let’s be honest about something here: we have seen this movie before from the Oilers where they attempt to throw a significant asset in an effort to fix their defense and it almost always blows up catastrophically in their faces.

A brief history…

Nearly three years to the day, the very first trade that Chiarelli made as general manager of the Oilers, was to trade two high draft picks — the No. 16 overall pick and the No. 33 overall pick — to the New York Islanders in exchange for defenseman Griffin Reinhart who was just a couple of years removed from being a top-five pick in the draft.

The result: Reinhart played 29 forgettable games for the Oilers where he recorded one point and was selected by the Vegas Golden Knights in the expansion draft this past year.

The Islanders, meanwhile, used the No. 16 overall pick to select Mathew Barzal who this past season had one of the best rookie seasons in recent NHL history and was a near unanimous selection for the Calder Trophy as the league’s rookie of the year. They then used the No. 33 overall pick to move up five spots in the draft to No. 28 where they selected Anthony Beauvillier. He scored 21 goals in 71 games for the Islanders this season.

One year later the Oilers attempted another bold move when they traded former No. 1 overall pick Taylor Hall to the New Jersey Devils for Adam Larsson to, once again, attempt to solidify and improve their defense.

The result: Larsson has been … okay? Passable? Pretty good at times but nothing really overly special? Any of those descriptions might work. Had he been acquired in exchange for a comparable player at forward it might have been an okay deal. Maybe even one that was viewed favorably. But he was not traded for a comparable player. He was traded for Taylor Hall, one of the best left wingers in hockey and a player that went on to almost single handedly carry the New Jersey Devils to the playoffs this season and win the league’s MVP award.

That means in the past three years the Oilers have traded Taylor Hall and two draft picks that turned out to be Mathew Barzal and Anthony Beauvillier in an effort to improve their defense (two of those three players won major NHL awards this year!) and today only have Adam Larsson to show for it.

When you look at it in writing it is just stunning.

None of that includes the four-year, $16 million contract (with a no-movement clause and modified no-trade clause) to free agent Kris Russel that is only further complicating a salary cap situation for an already cap-strapped team.

Look, the Oilers have to do something about their defense. And their scoring depth. And pretty much every aspect of the team that isn’t Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl, Oscar Klefbom (do not trade him!) or Ryan Nugent-Hopkins.

Maybe that means dealing the 10th overall pick for immediate help.

Maybe this time it works out. Maybe they get a Justin Faulk or a Noan Hanifan out of Carolina. Or maybe they pull off a surprise trade and legitimately improve their blue line.

Maybe they simply do nothing and keep the pick.

But if you’re an Oilers fan you have to look at that possibility and at least cringe a little bit at what might soon be coming after seeing this team — this very front office! — try to make this very same move so many times before and just totally messing it up.

Whatever they end up doing the Oilers have to get it right because they have already squandered three years of McDavid’s career (his three cheapest years in the NHL) and have to now figure out a way to build a competitive team around him before they begin to waste his prime years. As great as he is he can not do it alone and the Oilers can not afford to come out on the losing end of another deal involving another significant asset.

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Oilers risk repeating terrible trade history with Lucic

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NHL teams should stick to certain unwritten rules.

Don’t let the Washington Capitals’ power play send a pass to Alex Ovechkin in “his office.” Maybe skip blocking Zdeno Chara‘s slapper in an exhibition game. Avoid smelling Brad Marchand‘s breath. Giving a goalie a “snow shower” is just rude.

At this point, the Edmonton Oilers might just want to institute a “Don’t let Peter Chiarelli make a trade” rule. At least not any tide-turning trades.

There are plenty of rumblings about the Oilers possibly trading Milan Lucic after his first two rough years in Edmonton, with some back-and-forth about whether Lucic requested such a trade or not. Even the biggest Oilers apologist who admit that Lucic’s contract (a signing bonus-heavy deal that includes a $6 million cap hit through 2022-23) is … bad. The problem is that any reasonable hockey person knows that. Even some of the unreasonable ones probably get that message.

With that wide notion noted, it’s unavoidable to point out the elephant in the room: is there any reason to believe that the Oilers would win a trade involving Lucic?

The Ten Percent Rule

There are serious worries that the Oilers aren’t learning lessons from their mistakes, so allow me to suggest an amended rule: Chiarelli should never trade a forward coming off of a season with less than a 10-percent shooting percentage. It would apply a magic wand to some of the franchise’s most jarring (or funny, if you’re not an Oilers fan) mistakes. Consider that:

  • After generating at least a 10.4 shooting percentage for his first four seasons, Taylor Hall dipped below double digits during his last two campaigns in Edmonton. Despite icy puck luck (9.1 percent) in 2015-16, Hall still scored 26 goals and 65 points. Lucic scored six fewer goals in 2015-16 (20 in 81 games) with the Kings despite a 16.1 shooting percentage. As much as the Hall – Adam Larsson trade was about improving Edmonton’s defense, there was also the side argument that the Oilers were opening up money to sign Lucic.

Oops.

  • That Jordan Eberle trade is frequently cited, and rightfully so.

Eberle consistently put up robust shooting percentages with the Oilers … except during his final season, when he scored 20 goals via 208 shots on goal (9.6 percent). The right-handed shooter rebounded to his typical form with the Islanders while Ryan Strome predictably produced middling results for Edmonton.

Part of the argument for trading Eberle was saving on the cap, but Edmonton ended up with a ton of wasted space during the disastrous 2017-18 season, only highlighting a point:

Sometimes it’s not about if you trade a player, but when.

The Oilers could have given Eberle some time to get his game (and shooting percentage) back on track, almost certainly opening the door for a better return than Strome.

Cruelly, Chiarelli could learn something from Garth Snow, the former Islanders GM who swindled him on the Eberle deal (and most dramatically, sending Edmonton Griffin Reinhart for the picks that would become Mathew Barzal and Anthony Beauvillier).

One of Snow’s last great moves was sending Travis Hamonic to the Calgary Flames for a set of futures that included Calgary’s 2018 first-round pick.

As you may recall, Hamonic was rumored to want a trade for family/personal reasons dating back to 2015, but he stuck with the Islanders longer than some expected. Snow traded Hamonic when the time was right for the Islanders, and he received a return that looked great then and now resembles a robbery.

Lucic’s stock couldn’t be much lower considering his tough start with Edmonton, particularly scoring a pathetic 10 goals on 147 SOG (6.8 shooting percentage) over a full 2017-18 season. Before that, Lucic consistently shot at a rate that was about as efficient as Eberle’s before he was traded. Lucic scored between 18-24 goals during the four seasons from 2013-14 to 2016-17, never seeing his shooting percentage dip below 12.8 percent for a full campaign.

So, the Oilers could experience the worst of both worlds if they trade Lucic this summer. After buying high after he rode high percentages, they might trade him when his value is at its absolute lowest.

Now, it’s fair to remark that the Oilers should at least poke around to try to get rid of an absolutely horrid contract. They might just find someone to dupe.

(Hey, the Toronto Maple Leafs are probably still snickering about the trade that netted them useful assets for Dion Phaneuf, and they somehow managed to do it without retaining salary.)

Don’t sell low, again

If the only way to move Lucic is to take on a different mistake (see: the exchange of problems that was the trade that got Phaneuf out of Ottawa), then the Oilers owe it to themselves to mitigate the damage. Whether it comes down to pairing him with Connor McDavid, lining him up with Leon Draisaitl, or trying to find advantageous matchups lower in the lineup, Edmonton can pump up Lucic’s value.

The Athletic’s Tyler Dellow provided some interesting insight (sub required) on how the Oilers might be misusing Lucic, for one thing, but Edmonton may just enjoy better results from Lucic getting more bounces in 2018-19.

An NHL GM can make his team marinate in a mistake by “doubling down,” such as exasperating a bad trade with a foolish contract extension. That said, an executive can also blunder by flipping from that stubborn script: you can overreact to a mistake. Such a risk gets scarier if the organization diagnoses the symptoms, but not the cause for disorders of the roster.

When in doubt, the Oilers must ask a painful question: “Do we really expect Chia to get it right this time?”

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Why the Johansen-for-Jones trade has become one of NHL’s best moves

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When we think of great trades we almost always seem to look for the ones where somebody ended up getting ripped off.

We frame it as a “great trade” for the team that ended up getting the better end of it. After all, it is just more fun to marvel at one team making out like bandits, completely changing the fortunes of the franchise, while laughing at the other for looking like a bunch of goobers for giving away a future MVP, or something.

But if we are being honest here the whole point of a trade is for both sides to get something out of it, and for both teams to come away thinking, “this helped us.”

There is perhaps no better example of that sort of trade than the Jan. 6, 2016 deal that saw the Columbus Blue Jackets and Nashville Predators swap Ryan Johansen and Seth Jones.

A simple one-for-one trade. A “hockey trade” as they might say where two teams took players they could afford to give up and used them to fill other areas of weakness.

Try to think of a better one-for-one trade in recent NHL history.

Think back to where both teams were at the time of the deal.

[NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub]

The Predators were a pretty good team, but had not yet taken the big step toward being one of the NHL’s elite. They had an embarrassment of riches on defense but one of the biggest things holding them back was the lack of a true top-line center. An essential ingredient in making any team a contender.

The Blue Jackets on the other hand were still a struggling, seemingly directionless franchise that had made the playoffs just once in the previous six years and were leaning on the likes of Jack Johnson, David Savard and Ryan Murray to be their top defenders. They had a need for somebody that could be a top-pairing defenseman, move the puck, chip in offense, and play big minutes in all situations. And while Johansen was coming off two outstanding years, his long-term fit with the team seemed bleak given his unsettled contract situation.

He had clearly become a trade chip.

From the moment the trade went down it just seemed like one that made sense for everybody.

That is exactly how it has played out in the two-plus years since.

Jones, along with the arrival of Zach Werenski, has helped form one of the NHL’s best young defense pairings in the league. Over the past two years Werenski and Jones have played more than 2,000 minutes of 5-on-5 hockey alongside each other. During that time the Blue Jackets have controlled more than 54 percent of the total shot attempts and outscored teams by a 95-69 margin (that is plus-26). They are as good of a pairing as there is in the NHL right now, and are a huge part of the Blue Jackets’ return to the playoffs in each of the past two seasons.

On Thursday, Jones was spectacular in the Blue Jackets’ Game 1 victory over the Washington Capitals by playing over 30 minutes and sending the game to overtime with a rocket of a shot on the power play late in the third period. Both Jones and Werenski will probably get Norris Trophy consideration this season (Jones, for what it is worth, was in the top-five on my ballot).

Meanwhile, for Nashville, they were able to turn their ridiculous surplus of defenseman into the top-line center that the team had needed for years. And years and years and years.

It also says something about the depth that the Predators have accumulated on their blue line that they could trade a player as good as Jones and still have the best top-four in the league. Johansen may not be a top-line center in the sense that he is going to put 100 points on the board or score 30-goals, but there is a lot to be said for a 60-point, two-way player that can drive possession the way Johansen does.

Especially when that player is paired up with a winger like Filip Forsberg. They complement each other perfectly.

Since Johansen’s arrival in Nashville he has played mostly alongside Forsberg to help form a dynamic top-line.

In their two-and-a-half years alongside each other the Predators are a 56 percent shot attempt team and have outscored teams 79-52 during 5-on-5 play with them on the ice together. They were especially dominant in the Predators’ run to the Stanley Cup Final a year ago (57 percent Corsi and 13-4 in goals) and continued that level this season.

Johansen had an assist in Nashville’s win on Thursday over Colorado.

(The only negative to his game on Thursday was a controversial hit on Tyson Barrie, but he avoided any supplemental discipline from the league on Friday).

What makes the trade stand out even more is it came just months before two other significant one-for-one trades that completely backfired for at least one team, when Nashville swapped Shea Weber for P.K. Subban and Edmonton sent Taylor Hall to New Jersey for Adam Larsson. Those trades turned into laughers for one team (New Jersey and Nashville) and turned the others (Montreal and Edmonton) into punch lines.

Those types of trades are great to look back on in amazement as one general manager gets praised for pulling off such an amazing deal.

The Jones-for-Johansen swap is the bizarro world version of those two.

The best deals are the ones where both general managers come out looking great, and there has been perhaps no trade over the past decade that accomplished that more than the Johansen-for-Jones swap.

Both teams got exactly what they wanted and needed out of it and both are significantly better for it today.

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Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Devils should never stop thanking Oilers for Taylor Hall

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The New Jersey Devils have put themselves in a pretty good position when it comes to ending their playoff drought that goes all the way back to the 2011-12 season. After defeating the Pittsburgh Penguins on Tuesday night, 3-2, they sit nine points clear of the first non-playoff team in the Eastern Conference and are just two points out of one of the top-three spots in the Metropolitan Division.

Given how hard it is for teams to make up ground this late in the season, they should be feeling pretty good.

They still have the Edmonton Oilers to thank for being in this position.

It was less than two years ago that the Oilers sent Taylor Hall, one of the best left wingers in the sport, to New Jersey in a one-for-one swap for defenseman Adam Larsson.

At the time it was a stunning trade was widely panned outside of Edmonton.

Today, it is a pretty much an embarrassment.

On Tuesday, in a game that featured Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, and Phil Kessel, none of them were the best player on the ice. It was Hall, as he caused havoc every time he entered the game, forcing turnovers, disrupting the Penguins’ defense, adding to his points streak (now at 22 games) with a goal and an assist to help the Devils pretty much beat the Penguins at their own game.

It was a sight to behold, and every single time the puck touched his stick, or every single time he created a chance, the only thought that could go through your mind was “how did somebody in charge of an NHL hockey team think trading this guy was going to make their team better?”

With 68 points in 58 games this season his place in the MVP discussion has gone from, well maybe he has a pretty good argument, to he should probably be one of the three finalists.

He is sixth in the NHL in points per game and second to only Brad Marchand among left-wingers.

During his point streak, which started on the first day of the new year, he has recorded 32 points and had a hand (either scoring the goal or assisting the goal) in 49 percent of the Devils’ total goals during that stretch. That number on its own without any sort of context would be amazing.

When you consider that Hall did not play in three of the Devils’ games during that stretch due to injury it is absolutely incredible.

He has done for the Devils what the Oilers hoped he would do for them, and something they never really gave him an opportunity to do — give the team an identity and help change the fortunes of the franchise.

With Hall in place, and a few lucky bounces of the ping pong balls in the draft lottery, and a few shrewd additions by general manager Ray Shero, the Devils look like an entirely different team than the one that was taking the ice just two short years ago. With Hall, Michael Grabner, Miles Wood and five other players under the age of 24 the Devils are a young, fast team that looks like it is built to play in the NHL in 2018.

They can fly all over the ice. They can put pressure on opponents. They are actually — and I can’t believe this is something we can say about the New Jersey Devils — kind of fun to watch.

It’s definitely a career year for Hall, which is not surprising given that he is in his age 26 season, usually around the point where players are in their peak.

But it’s not like Hall hasn’t always been one of the most productive players in the NHL throughout his career.

From the time he entered the NHL as the top pick in 2010 through his trade out of Edmonton, he was 22nd in the NHL among all players in points per game (minimum 200 games played) and fourth among all left wingers. If you remove his rookie season when he was only 19 years old, he goes up to 13th and third respectively. The only two players on that list ahead of him to be traded at any point in their careers are Martin St. Louis and Tyler Seguin. St. Louis requested a trade. Seguin was traded by the guy that also traded Taylor Hall.

Hall was the only player in the top-15 that never played in the playoffs during that stretch. The 12 players ahead of him combined for only 10 missed playoff appearances during that stretch. It’s more of a damning statement about the Oilers’ inability to build a team around an elite player than it is about Hall. Edmonton’s inability to build a team around Connor McDavid on an entry-level contract only seems to confirm that.

Since being hired by the Devils Ray Shero has made some pretty bold trades to get the team headed back in the right direction.

Getting Kyle Palmieri from the Anaheim Ducks for a couple of draft picks was steller. Injuries have derailed his season, but the same could one day be said for getting Marcus Johansson in a trade with the Washington Capitals. He made some quality moves at the deadline to improve their depth for the stretch run by adding Grabner and Patrick Maroon without really giving up anything of significance. He got a little bit of good fortune in the draft lottery by having everything go his way to land Nico Hischier.

All of those moves working in unison have helped put the Devils in a position to where they could finally return to the playoffs.

But nothing compares to the good fortune, or has had the same impact, as happening to catch Edmonton feeling that it absolutely had to trade away one of the best players in the league in a one-for-one swap.

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Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.