Stage set for Oilers to make panic trade

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If you want to make an Edmonton Oilers fan wince in pain, utter this line: “Peter Chiarelli isn’t done yet.”

It’s gotten to the point where a lot of hockey people wouldn’t trust Chiarelli to make a lunchroom snack trade with grade-school children, yet a bunch of factors point in the direction of another bold move … and in almost every case, bold trades have been unmitigated disasters for the Oilers.

Let’s consider the rumblings at hand.

  • On Monday, TSN’s Ryan Rishaug reported that the Oilers are in a “full-court press” to land some help at forward. They’re shopping three possible components according to Rishaug, with the two scariest components bolded to express my horror for Oilers fans: goaltender, first-round pickand “a young developing forward” are in play.

Now, it’s not necessarily guaranteed that the “young developing forward” could be Jesse Puljujarvi, but that brings us to an additional, well-sourced report that should make Oilers fans pour out flop-sweat, and any number of opportunistic opposing GMs lick their chops.

  • In the latest edition of 31 Thoughts on Wednesday, Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman also confirms that the first-round pick is “definitely in play,” while depicting an internal tug-of-war regarding whether Puljujarvi should be dangled, as well.

Friedman also notes a crucial facet of this, and something that could really increase the chances of Chiarelli throwing up a Hail Mary pass, only to be intercepted by a waiting defender/happy GM:

It sounds like people above Chiarelli are taking a “playoff or bust” mentality.

This would be a concern with your run-of-the-mill, good-to-average GM. But with a GM who’s shot himself in the foot with trades so often, you’d think he didn’t have any toes left, it’s terrifying with Chiarelli.

(I mean, unless you’re rooting for one of the NHL’s other 30 teams. Then you’re calling for someone’s head if they aren’t calling Chiarelli every 15 minutes.)

Last week, Friedman noted in a 31 Thoughts podcast that executive suites and other ticket packages will be up for the Oilers after 2018-19, so the team has some very bottom-line-related reasons to chase a playoff spot, even if it means giving up dangerous value.

History repeating

In a more immediate sense, it feels like Chiarelli’s been more likely to make a one-for-one-type “hockey trade,” then moving a pick or prospect for a rental. After all, his most famous (Oilers) blunders involve Taylor Hall for Adam Larsson, Jordan Eberle for Ryan Strome, and then somehow losing another Strome trade with Ryan Spooner (who the Oilers are – pause for laughter – already trying to shop).

Chiarelli’s history is really just a buffet of bad trades, though.

After all, one of his most notorious trades meant paying up Edmonton’s 2015 first and second-rounders for Griffin Reinhart, who’s currently playing in the AHL and hasn’t made an NHL appearance since 2015-16.

Dig deeper and you open old wounds, including to Chiarelli’s trades with Boston.

Looking at those days, it’s even scarier to trust Chiarelli’s speculative abilities when it comes to a young player’s future, whether it means making the right move with Puljujarvi (not easy for anyone right now, frankly) or determining if a rental is worth a first or even second-rounder.

After all, Chiarelli traded Blake Wheeler and Mark Stuart for Rich Peverley and Boris Valabik. The disastrous Tyler Seguin trade has Chiarelli’s fingerprints all over it.

It’s not fair to lay the Nail Yakupov era at Chiarelli’s feet, yet that name brings up uncomfortable parallels for Puljujarvi. Edmonton faces a crisis here: is there potential that some other team might unlock in Puljujarvi once they trade for him, or could it be that he’ll continue to be exposed as a potential bust, ultimately leading to the Oilers getting very little for him if they trade him later?

(That agonizing groan you just heard came from Edmonton.)

One minor salve

This all seems like a disaster waiting to happen for Edmonton, and an opportunity for another team to sucker a desperate GM and franchise, right?

Probably, and that’s where things get worse once again: if Chiarelli believes – reasonably – that his job security is on the line, wouldn’t he be more likely to make reckless, short-sighted moves that hurt the franchise in the long run?

With that in mind, there might be one way for the Oilers to mitigate a larger-scale disaster, even if it might mean a lower ceiling for this season. The Athletic’s Jonathan Willis makes a very even-keeled suggestion (sub required): the Oilers should determine Chiarelli’s future in the next week, whether that means firing him or keeping him around.

Now, sure, more Chiarelli could open the door for more mistakes. In the grand scheme of things, he doesn’t seem to be learning from those mistakes.

Yet, making that decision now instead of later would at least help the Oilers avoid digging a hole even deeper for the would-be next GM, if they part ways with Chiarelli anyway.

After all, as Chiarelli said, other teams aren’t looking to help you come trade time, and the Oilers might just experience that sensation one last time under their much-maligned GM.

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.

How should Rangers approach the trade deadline?

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Whether by design or not, the New York Rangers have been better than expected so far in 2018-19.

Despite waving the white flag of rebuild, they’re only one point behind the Islanders for third place in the Metro, which would help them sneak into the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs. With five of their next six games at home, they might even make that jump, at least briefly.

But, honestly, it still seems like the Rangers should be sellers come trade deadline time.

Just about every stat points to slippage, if not a collapse. They remain one of the weakest possession teams in the NHL, but you can go simpler and merely look at their -10 goal differential so far this season.

So, the Rangers should sell … but how far should they go?

Let’s run down some of the most interesting considerations, from the no-brainers to more far-fetched scenarios, like actually trading Hank.

EXPIRING CONTRACTS

Mats Zuccarello: 31 years old, $4.5 million

It looks like the veteran winger-wizard could return Friday, which would mark his first game since Nov. 23. It also seems like Zuccarello realizes a trade might happen, as he discussed with Brett Cyrgalis of the New York Post.

“There’s no secret that it’s out there. For me, I prepare for everything, try to do my best as long as I’m here. Hopefully I’m here for a long time. If not, it’s nothing I can control.”

The Norwegian forward doesn’t have much power over the situation, but the Rangers have the power to get maximum bang for their buck if they do part ways with Zuccarello.

Before he began his injury absence, Zuccarello was on a five-game pointless drought, and he failed to score in seven of his last eight games, managing a goal and an assist in one productive game during that span. Despite that slump, his overall season numbers are reasonable (10 points in 17 games), and it wouldn’t be surprising if he surged into the trade deadline.

Considering his reasonable cap hit and track record as someone who comes in at 53-61 points during a healthy season, Zuccarello would be a boon for virtually every contender looking for a skillful rental.

For all we know, the Rangers could convince him to come back after a brief run somewhere else, which doesn’t seem outrageous after seeing Zuccarello describe New York as his “second home.”

That scenario would be a “eat your cake and have it too” scenario, as the Rangers could land some assets, but not go too long with a rebuild, if they got Zuccarello back.

Either way, trading Zuccarello seems like the right call. If I were a contender, he’d also be  a very, very desirable target.

Kevin Hayes, 26, $5.175M

In the latest edition of “31 Thoughts,” Elliotte Friedman reported that the Boston Bruins might have some interest in Boston native Hayes, which wasn’t the first time the team was connected with the player. Friedman also pointed to Colorado as a team that could really use some more support at center.

While Zuccarello could be “pumped up,” it’s hard to imagine opinions going any higher on Hayes. He has 21 points in 30 games this season, including two goals and two assists over his last two contests. At this .70-point-per-game pace (about 54 points over 82 games), Hayes could very well shatter his career-high of 49 points. He’s getting easily the most ice time of his career (19:14 TOI average), and Hayes’ possession numbers are at least strong relative to his teammates.

Is this a straight-up “pump-and-dump?” I have no clue, but the Rangers should be giddy if they can get serious assets for Hayes.

In the case of Hayes (in particular) and Zuccarello (to a lesser extent), the Rangers might also be willing to retain salary to make a trade work with a cash-strapped contender. After all, they’d only be on the hook for a portion of that cap hit for the remainder of this season, so it wouldn’t block future efforts.

(According to Cap Friendly, the Rangers are retaining one of two possible salaries, as they’re absorbing $900K from the Ryan SpoonerRyan Strome trade through this season and 2019-20.)

TWO YEARS LEFT

Chris Kreider, 27, $4.625M expires after 2019-20

The Rangers have quite a collection of players with two years remaining, but Kreider’s the headliner because he poses such interesting questions to New York.

If they wanted to move Kreider, you’d expect a hefty return. The winger presents something for everyone. Old-school types should like his nastiness. Analytics-minded execs will notice that his underlying stats have basically always towered above his teammates. His size is a strength, and just about everyone should love his speed relative to that formidable frame.

His contract is also wonderful for a contender: it’s a bargain, and you’d get two playoff runs out of it. If the agitating winger rubs people the wrong way, at least the term is short enough that you could cut ties. Just about perfect.

Those very factors should also register with the Rangers, especially if they’re looking at this as an extremely quick rebuild. If I were running the show, I’d hesitate to move Kreider, unless the ransom was just undeniable.

Vladislav Namestnikov, 26, $4M through 2019-20 and others

The Rangers have quite a few other two-year deals they could move. Getting more for Namestnikov would only increase the quantity of assets they’ve garnered from moving Ryan McDonagh and J.T. Miller.

There are other, cheaper options, too. Someone might like Jesper Fast, 27, at a cool $1.85M. Jimmy Vesey (25, $2.275M) and Ryan Strome (25, $3.1M) could fit into more complicated trades. Similarly, Matt Beleskey’s $1.9M cap hit might work for cap fodder.

THE WHOPPER

Henrik Lundqvist, 36, $8.5M through 2020-21

Back in a May episode of The Hockey PDOcast, former Rangers staffer William Kawam described essentially being laughed at when bringing up trading Lundqvist during a discussion that a bunch of team execs, including Rangers GM Jeff Gorton.

The Rangers were courageous in sending out a rebuilding press release last season, but are they trade-Lundqvist brave? I’m not so sure. Especially in the event that Lundqvist wouldn’t want to relocate, which would limit options to local rivals, like the goalie-needy Islanders.

But it’s a topic that should be broached, however gingerly, for a wide array of reasons.

And it’s not just about brushing their long-time icon aside. Lundqvist wants to win a Stanley Cup, so a change of scenery would make sense for the competitive goalie. (Granted, that argument wouldn’t go too far if the only option really is the Isles. Yes, they’re better than expected, but a contender? That’s a tough sell.)

There really might not be a better time for the Rangers to trade Lundqvist and still get something back for him, particularly if he actually would leave his comfort zone. A wide array of teams would find their ears perking up by the concept of landing Lundqvist. Imagine how much interest might rise if the Rangers ate at least some of that $8.5M cap hit to make something work?

So, there’s already a lot of demand for goalies, from the Islanders, Flyers, and Hurricanes to, perhaps even the Flames?

If courageous enough to do so, the Rangers would be wise to be proactive, especially if the Blackhawks decide to bite the bullet with Corey Crawford and/or the Kings embrace reality and move Jonathan Quick.

It helps that Lundqvist’s enjoyed a pretty strong 2018-19 season, at least for a 36-year-old. King Henrik has a .916 save percentage through 23 games, and that’s with a tough mini-stretch (nine goals allowed in two contest) putting a slight damper on his numbers.

Moving Lundqvist would require “ice water in the veins,” yet you can argue that there might not be a better time to do it than between now and the 2019 trade deadline.

***

The Rangers could get really creative with this situation, if they’d like.

Would they absorb problem contracts from contenders either during the deadline or during 2019 NHL Draft weekend, maybe taking a bribe to accept the last year of Ryan Callahan/Patrick Marleau/etc.? Might they go even further by stomaching even tougher, longer deals (Brent Seabrook? Milan Lucic?) if they view this as a rebuild that requires more drastic surgeries? Things could get really interesting if they instead convinced someone else to take on Marc Staal or Kevin Shattenkirk.

One thing’s clear: the Rangers would likely miss out on some golden opportunities if they did nothing.

MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule

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.

WATCH LIVE: Blues host Oilers on Wednesday Night Hockey

NBC’s coverage of the 2018-19 NHL season continues with Wednesday night’s matchup between the Edmonton Oilers at St. Louis Blues at 8 p.m. ET. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports App by clicking here.

The Edmonton Oilers experienced something they never want to endure again (at least for … 20 years?) on Monday: life without Connor McDavid. As you likely expected, it didn’t go well, as they lost 4-1 to the Dallas Stars.

McDavid is expected to play against the St. Louis Blues on Wednesday, however, so do you really need any other reason to tune in? You have seen the guy play, right?

Luckily, there are some other storylines to follow.

[WATCH LIVE – 8 P.M. ET – NBCSN]

Ken Hitchcock is still getting his bearings with his new team, the Oilers. He likely feels some sympathy for Craig Berube, who’s an in-season replacement in St. Louis, much like Hitchcock was — and then how Hitchcock left.

Vladimir Tarasenko vs. Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl against Ryan O'Reilly, and Chief vs. Hitch. The Blues are in a very tough spot, while the Oilers’ playoff hopes are very much alive (yet by no means guaranteed), so this will be one to watch.

[EXTENDED PREVIEW]

What: Edmonton Oilers at St. Louis Blues
Where: Enterprise Center
When: Wednesday, Dec. 5, 8 p.m. ET
TV: NBCSN
Live stream: You can watch the Oilers – Blues stream on NBC Sports’ live stream page and the NBC Sports app.

PROJECTED LINES

OILERS

Alex Chiasson / Connor McDavid / Leon Draisaitl
Jujhar Khaira / Ryan Nugent-Hopkins / Jesse Puljujarvi
Milan Lucic / Kyle Brodziak / Zack Kassian
Ryan Spooner / Patrick Russell / Ty Rattie

Oscar Klefbom / Adam Larsson
Darnell Nurse / Kris Russell
Kevin Gravel / Matt Benning

Starting goalie: Cam Talbot

BLUES

Zach Sanford / Ryan O’Reilly / Robert Thomas
David Perron / Brayden Schenn / Jordan Kyrou
Patrick Maroon / Tyler Bozak / Vladimir Tarasenko
Jordan Nolan / Ivan Barbashev / Oskar Sundqvist

Joel Edmundson / Colton Parayko
Vince Dunn / Robert Bortuzzo
Jay Bouwmeester / Chris Butler

Starting goalie: Jake Allen

MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule

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.

WATCH LIVE: Oilers visit Sharks as Hitchcock returns behind the bench

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NBCSN’s coverage of the 2018-19 NHL season continues with Tuesday night’s matchup between the San Jose Sharks and Edmonton Oilers at 10 p.m. ET. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

Ken Hitchcock makes his return to coaching Tuesday night hours after the Oilers announced that Todd McLellan had been relieved of his duties. There’s a lot to be fixed in Edmonton.

• After starting the year 8-4-1, the Oilers have lost six of their last six games, with all six losses coming in regulation.

• Edmonton is allowing 3.30 goals per game this season (t-24th in NHL)

• When Connor McDavid scores 2 or more points, Edmonton is 6-1-1

• When McDavid scores 1 or fewer points, Edmonton is 3-9-0

It’s a top heavy team, as evidenced by the 28 goals and 70 points recorded by McDavid, Leon Draisaitl and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. The other 22 skaters? 29 goals and 81 points.

“It seems like when we get down we get down too much,” said defenseman Adam Larsson. “The lows seem to be really low right now. If we can just get that out of our game and keep it an even keel we should be good…it’s Game 20 and we’re right in the hunt. I don’t sense anything like the team we had last year. This is a hungry group.”

[WATCH LIVE – 10 P.M. ET – NBCSN]

What: Edmonton Oilers at San Jose Sharks
Where: SAP Center
When: Tuesday, November 20th, 10 p.m. ET
TV: NBCSN
Live stream: You can watch the Oilers-Sharks stream on NBC Sports’ live stream page and the NBC Sports app.

PROJECTED LINEUPS

OILERS
Drake Caggiula – Connor McDavid – Leon Draisaitl
Ryan Spooner – Ryan Nugent-Hopkins – Alex Chiasson
Milan LucicCooper MarodyTy Rattie
Jujhar KhairaKyle BrodziakZack Kassian

Oscar Klefbom – Adam Larsson
Darnell NurseKris Russell
Kevin GravelMatthew Benning

Starting goalie: Mikko Koskinen

[Can Ken Hitchcock save the Oilers?]

SHARKS
Evander KaneJoe PavelskiJoonas Donskoi
Tomas HertlLogan CoutureTimo Meier
Marcus SorensenJoe ThorntonKevin Labanc
Barclay GoodrowAntti SuomelaMelker Karlsson

Joakim RyanBrent Burns
Marc-Edouard VlasicJustin Braun
Brenden DillonErik Karlsson

Starting goalie: Martin Jones

Randy Hahn (play-by-play) and Bret Hedican (‘Inside-the-Glass’ analyst) will call Oilers-Sharks from SAP Center in San Jose.

MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule

How much longer can Oilers go on like this?

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The Edmonton Oilers are in year four of the Connor McDavid era, and at the risk of becoming a broken record here it looks like they are headed toward yet another wasted season if things do not dramatically turn around.

Soon.

Given that McDavid himself has met every expectation the hockey world could have had for him as a player, they should be on their way to becoming contender in the Western Conference. At the very least, they should be a group that is a consistent playoff team and is just a couple of tweaks away from being a contender. It has been enough time for the front office and coaching staff to assemble the right pieces around the game’s most dominant offensive force, especially given the assets that were already on the roster and in the team’s possession when McDavid was drafted in 2015 (they had a future league MVP on the roster, after all).

They are most definitely not that team, or anything close to being that team.

After dropping back-to-back games over the weekend to the Calgary and Vegas — the latter of which being a particularly ugly 6-2 loss on Sunday night to a disappointing Golden Knights team that has been crushed by injuries — the Oilers are on pace to finish with the exact same record they finished 2017-18 with.

A record that saw them miss the Stanley Cup playoffs by 17 points.

That is more than baffling; it is completely unacceptable.

They have now lost six out of their past seven games (and seven out of 10), have been outscored by nine goals on the season, and are still as top-heavy and overly reliant on McDavid to carry them as they have been during the first three years of his career. Just about the only reason for optimism here is the fact they do have McDavid, and the rest of their division is so completely mediocre that it has left the door open for them to maybe — emphasis on maybe — steal a playoff spot.

But when you have an MVP caliber player at the top of your roster (and another star-level player in Leon Draisaitl) you should not have to depend on the rest of the teams around you to simply be more inept than you are just to give you a chance to get in the playoffs.

Last year’s disastrous results should have put everyone in a position of power — from general manager Peter Chiarelli, to head coach Todd McLellan — on the hot seat.

You would also have think that with yet another slow start the temperature is only starting to increase. Especially since all of the same problem exist, from terrible special teams play to a stunning lack of depth at pretty much every position.

The biggest issue has, once again, been with the asset management of the roster. It was highlighted once again this past week when Ryan Strome was traded straight up for Ryan Spooner, a shuffling of the deck chairs type of move where both teams hope a fresh start might spark the middling players involved.

Bigger picture, though, is with that trade the Oilers managed to turn a top-line winger in Jordan Eberle — a position where the Oilers have zero quality NHL depth — into a reclamation project in just a little more than one year.  It just continued a disturbing trend of taking high value players and working backwards. As I pointed on the day of the Strome trade, the cupboard wasn’t totally bare back in 2015. It is astonishingly bare today.

You just can not win by moving in the wrong direction, talent-wise, on so many trades.

The result today is a team whose top wingers are either one of their natural centers (Ryan Nugent-Hopkins or Draisaitl), or the likes of Drake Caggiula, Alex Chiasson, and Tobias Rieder. The latter trio are the top-scoring natural wingers on the tea so far this season.

None of them have more than 10 points entering the week.

None of them have ever topped 40-points in a single NHL season.

So again, the question remains, how much longer can this continue before meaningful changes get made?

And perhaps the more concerning question: What is there to make you believe the Oilers will get it right when they do make changes? Because they have made changes before. Todd McLellan is not the first coach to fail in Edmonton over the past decade-and-a-half. They changed coaches six other times between 2005-06 and McLellan’s hiring in 2015-16.

General managers have come and gone as well, from the end of the Kevin Lowe era in 2008, to Steve Tambellini, to Craig MacTavish, to Chiarelli.

They have had No. 1 picks. They have promising prospects. They have reasons for optimism that maybe this version of the rebuild was going to be the one to return the Oilers to glory.

The results: All the same. That points to an even bigger problem at the top — above even the head coach and general manager — because that has been the one constant in the organization. It also paints a disturbing picture for Oilers fans because it should be obvious that the current organizational structure is not working and that changes probably need to be made. But what faith do you have that the people in charge are going to make the right changes?

If history is any indication, you probably should not have much. It is a devastatingly frustrating cycle.

MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule

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.