As the trade deadline quickly approaches (April 3rd @ 3:00), our thoughts have turned to the Edmonton Oilers and the Toronto Maple Leafs.
A quick look at the standings will reveal that Toronto and Edmonton are at opposite ends of the spectrum. That said, Edmonton and Toronto are two of the NHL’s youngest teams and are expected to be very competitive in the coming years. While both teams have “potential” they also have glaring needs.
For Toronto, despite a very good first half of the season and with apologies to Tyler Bozak, there is still a need for a young player to round into a first line centre. For Edmonton, despite the emergence of Justin Schultz as a legitimate offensive defenseman, there is still a need for a shutdown defender and an all-round defenseman.
A quick look at the two organizations reveals that Toronto might just have the most depth on defense in the entire NHL. Outside of Toronto’s top-six of Dion Phaneuf, Cody Franson, Mark Fraser, Carl Gunnarsson, Mike Kostka and Korbinian Holzer, the Maple Leafs also employ the likes of Mike Komisarek, John-Michael Liles and a plethora of young prospects which includes, Jake Gardiner, Morgan Rielly, Stuart Percy, Jesse Blacker, Petter Granberg and Matthew Finn.
Prior to his concussion issues, Jake Gardiner was regarded as a top-prospect around the league. Gardiner’s seven goals and 30 points as a rookie last season ranked him ninth in rookie scoring and best amongst rookie defenders.
Despite Gardiner’s strong offensive capabilities, there are concerns about his defensive game, which is why he is currently with the Toronto Marlies of the AHL where he has registered ten goals and 28 points through 39 games played.
Meanwhile, Morgan Rielly has been dominant in the WHL where he has been amongst the leagues best with the Moose Jaw Warriors this season. Rielly’s 12 goals and 50 points through 57 games with the Warriors (who are a horrific 23-36-4-4 this season) ranks him fifth amongst WHL defensemen.
With Rielly turning heads at the WHL level, Gardiner might just be expendable, which may be intriguing for a club like the Edmonton Oilers, who are stacked up front, but painfully thin on the backend.
At the NHL level, the Oilers have accumulated one of the most impressive groups of young talent since Edmonton had Wayne Gretzky, Mark Messier, Jari Kurri and Glen Anderson (amongst others) within their system. Names like Sam Gagner, Taylor Hall, Jordan Eberle, Nail Yakapov, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Magnus Paajarvi have many Oiler fans looking at the current group the way they once looked at the Oilers of the 1980’s.
Edmonton also has a stable of young prospects to offer, including the likes of Tyler Pitlick (C), Ryan Martindale (C), Tobias Rieder (RW), Danil Zharkov (LW) and Teemu Hartikainen (LW).
That said, if the Oilers do not find a way to keep the opposition off the score sheet, they will be hard-pressed to win in today’s NHL.
Many articles have been written suggesting the Oilers will have to trade away one (or more) of their young assets in order to get a stud defenseman. With Edmonton continuing to struggle to win and with the fans and management’s patience seemingly starting to erode, the time is now, or in the not so distant future, to explore the possibility of trading from a position of strength (forward depth) for some much needed defensive help.
Of course, Edmonton is not completely void of young defensive talent. They do have the aforementioned Justin Schultz playing at the NHL level as well as youngsters Mark Fistric (26), Theo Peckham (25), Jeff Petry (25). Edmonton also have Oscar Klefbom, David Musil and Martin Marincin developing their skills at various levels.
Klefbom will be a star in the NHL some day and David Musil should be a bottom four defenseman at the NHL level when everything is all said and done. Still, Edmonton will need more defense if they want to be a dominant NHL team. When you consider the struggle it has been to attract free agents to Edmonton, it appears as if change will have to come from within or from trades, although that will change once the Oilers’ start winning.
If I was Edmonton Oilers general manager Steve Tambellini I would be interested in three of Toronto’s young defensemen, Morgan Rielly, Jake Gardiner and Jesse Blacker. Rielly for his offensive prowess and overall game, Gardiner for his offensive gifts and upside and Blacker for his skating and rushing ability.
Conversely, Toronto Maple Leafs general manager Dave Nonis would be interested in a number of the Oilers top forwards. Clearly, Taylor Hall, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Jordan Eberle are pretty much untouchable. That leaves Nail Yakapov, Sam Gagner and Magnus Paarjavi to choose from, with Tyler Pitlick (C), Ryan Martindale (C), Tobias Rieder (RW), Danil Zharkov (LW) and Teemu Hartikainen (LW) also garnering some interest.
I will leave it to the readers to put the pieces together for a trade, but there is plenty of talent to choose from, with all kinds of possibilities available.
What would your trade between the Maple Leafs and Oilers look like?