As the 2015-16 season begins, it’s safe to say that the Edmonton Oilers will be a much improved club.
Still, this is an organization in transition and more moves are going to be needed before this roster resembles anything close to a Stanley Cup contender.
The two more popular names to throw out there are the bigger name players like Jordan Eberle and Nail Yakupov who have been constants in the rumour mill, but both these guys are prominent players in the Oilers lineup and under new head coach Todd McLellan it would not be due process to move one of them during the season while still trying to figure out if they are apart of the future core or more so the Peter Chiarelli version of the Oilers.
Hockey writers/bloggers writing stories saying things like: #Oilers must trade Eberle, Hall or RNH!!!!! What a load of rubbish.
— David Staples (@dstaples) April 29, 2015
The line of Benoit Pouliot, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Eberle was one of the few bright spots for the Oilers in 2014-15 and moving him at this time would be a step back for a franchise trying to finally move out of the NHL basement.
At the current time they can’t get out of the basement without a 20-goal, 60-point player like Eberle who led the team in scoring last year.
Nail Yakupov turns 22-year’s-old when the season starts and enters his fourth season in the NHL, more importantly he’ll be under his fourth coach in four years. That’s not going to do anything for his development.
Chiarelli will want a full year out of Yakupov under the highly-regarded McLellan because in the end if McLellan can’t find a way to utilize and bring the most out of him a trade will be their only option.
It just doesn’t make sense at this point to move either of the two so squash those names being moved with some common sense.
Here are five likely Oilers to be on the trade market regardless of their value or even negative value in some cases:
5 Trade Candidates
#5 RW – Tyler Pitlick
Age: 23 Contract: $761K (RFA 2016)
2014-15 Stats: 17GP 2G 0A 2PTS
Pitlick enters his third year as a pro but the former 2010 second-round pick hasn’t been able to make himself an NHL regular. He’s played well in the AHL but injuries have limited him to just 27 NHL games and 53 AHL games over the past two seasons.
For Pitlick to be successful he has to stay healthy otherwise he’ll continue staying as a 13-15th forward on the organizations depth chart. He projects as a third-line forward with good speed, ability to forecheck and throw a bonecrushing hit every once in a while.
But he’s approaching a make or break point with the Oilers and will be an RFA next summer.
There are plenty of forwards in the prospect pool that will soon be chomping at the bit to take his spot on the depth chart. Jujhar Khaira and Bogdan Yakimov are two bigger forwards that can play a similar role as Pitlick. Kyle Platzer and Greg Chase are two other forwards that might have higher offensive ceilings than Pitlick as well.
The Skinny: If Pitlick can’t find his way into a regular role in Edmonton look for the Oilers to cut ties with the forward and look for a later-round draft pick or another lagging prospect from another organization.
#4 RW – Teddy Purcell
Age: 30 Contract: $4.5M (UFA 2016)
2014-15 Stats: 82GP 12G 22A 34PTS
Like a lot of other players on this list this is a contract year for Purcell in his second season with the Oilers after coming over in the Sam Gagner trade.
Purcell is going to be given every chance to prove himself and it’s looking like he’s going to get the much coveted RW spot on the Taylor Hall, Connor McDavid line.
The knock on Purcell is that he doesn’t use his 6’3 frame to his advantage physically, yet he still drew in the opposition to create room for Steven Stamkos when he was with Tampa Bay. That’s the hope if he does get the spot with Hall and McDavid.
He may never go back to his career-year in 2011-12 when he scored 24 goals and 65 points alongside Stamkos or the 36 points in 48 games during the lockout shortened 2012-13 season but getting between 40-45 points should be the target.
The Skinny: Purcell has a high cap hit which will prove harder to move without taking a bad contract back. He’s had some inconsistency issues over the past few seasons and that also hampers his value. If there is no future in Edmonton by the Trade Deadline the Oilers should move him as a rental and try to secure a prospect in return or at the very least a mid-draft selection.
#3 D – Nikita Nikitin
Age: 29 Contract: $4.5M (UFA 2016)
2014-15 Stats: 42GP 4G 10A 14PTS
Nikitin has been shot in the foot with expectations off the start having a grossly inflated contract for a third-pairing defender who can play spot duty minutes in the top four if injury calls for it.
You can’t have any worse of a year than he had in 2014-15 having eventually lost half the season because of injury, let alone coming into camp out of shape as reported.
Nikitin can help any team looking to shore up their PP with a trigger man, he’s got a hard point-shot and that’ll come in handy come playoff time. He’s also got a long reach and if he works on his mobility he can help out on the PK.
However Nikitin currently starts the season battling for a third-pairing job with Andrew Ference, Erik Gryba, Darnell Nurse, Griffin Reinhart and Brandon Davidson.
The Skinny: $4.5M is too much money to have sitting in your third-pairing or press box in today’s NHL. The Oilers made a lot of errors financially under former GM Craig MacTavish and they need to call a spade a spade when it comes to Nikitin. It’s just not a fit in Edmonton, the contract just makes it that much worse.
He’s a UFA this summer so if the Oilers get nothing in return, getting $4.5M in cap space next summer is still a win. Still shopping him for a late-round pick or taking some money back for a player they can insert into the lineup is still the hope.
#2 D – Andrew Ference
Age: 36 Contract: $3.2M (UFA 2017)
2014-15 Stats: 70GP 3G 11A 14PTS
Off the ice Ference is a tremendous human-being and great role model for the young players coming through the organization, however his on-ice performance is well past his best years.
The Oilers overvalued Ference when they brought him in on his four-year deal and thought they had a top-four defenseman. In the end Ference was over-utilized and stretched as a top four.
Edmonton has young players like Reinhart, Nurse and Davidson looking ready for NHL jobs this season but two if not all three of them will spend a majority of the season in the AHL because of the contractual logjam on the Oilers blueline.
Edmonton is also going to have to need that cap space to prepare for the monster deal McDavid will get in three seasons and to get a long-term deal for Cam Talbot if things work out.
The Skinny: This is going to be a very difficult contract to move as Ference is currently a No. 6/7 defenseman being paid like he’s a No. 3/4. He still has a year left on his deal so one of the options could be to deal him to a team looking to stay above the cap floor like Arizona, New Jersey, Carolina, Winnipeg and even Florida. Don’t expect much more than a bad contract coming back that hopefully expires this season instead of next or packaging him along with a higher pick for a lower one.
#1 G – Ben Scrivens
Age: 29 Contract: $2.3M (UFA 2016)
2014-15 Stats: 57GP 15W 3.16GAA 0.890SV%
This isn’t exactly a surprise but with Anders Nilsson competing for the backup job the loser of that battle could find themselves on the way out because Edmonton can not go forward with another three-headed monster in goal.
It hasn’t worked in the past, and it won’t work today.
The likely option is that one of Nilsson or Scrivens will be eventually waived and possibly claimed on waivers for a team looking for a backup. Aren’t we all come playoff time?
Unfortunately backup jobs are few and far between right now and even where there are some spots he could land, do you really want to be paying $2.3M for a guy that might play 20 games for you?
The Skinny: The scary reality for Scrivens is that yes he does have value, but he needs to regain his form after a horrendous 2014-15. Scrivens has arguably the worst year amongst the Oilers roster. If he is moved expect a mid-round pick, other wise it’ll be a waiver wire pick up.