Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl lead the Edmonton Oilers night in and night out as their first and second-place rankings in the NHL scoring race would indicate. Yet, on nights when they’re not clicking, other than Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Zach Hyman, and Evander Kane (before his injury) the rest of the team, and more specifically their bottom six, have struggled to produce offence thus far.
The Oilers need their support players to step up, but it isn’t as easy to just tell them to “score more goals”. This may be an old-school way of thinking, but what they need is more toughness and physicality in the bottom six. Why? Because they don’t have the cap space to acquire more goal scorers, and if their current cast isn’t able to provide offence, then why not have players in the bottom six that could affect the game in other ways? Why not have a bottom six that could change the momentum of the game with a big hit or a good fight?
Former NHL player, head coach, and now studio analyst on TNT, Rick Tocchet recently spoke of the relevance of toughness in hockey still, saying it’s to, “Change the momentum (when) teams are sleeping, I’m not saying go and hack guys and get a stupid penalty, but go in there and cause some problems.”
With Kane sidelined for a few months, the Oilers are severely lacking toughness and physicality. Oilers’ colour commentator Bob Stauffer recently spoke on the “Oilers Now” show about two players that can provide those dimensions to Edmonton’s bottom six — the Chicago Blackhawks’ Sam Lafferty and the Philadelphia Flyers’ Zack MacEwen.
Oilers Lost Toughness When They Traded Kassian
Hockey insider Frank Seravalli was also on the “Oilers Now” show and he assessed the Oilers’ play as of late, talking about the team’s lack of physicality, saying, “You know what they need? They need edge, they need someone who makes your team really difficult to play against.”
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A recent example of how toughness and edge benefited a team was in the game between the Vancouver Canucks and Nashville Predators on Nov. 6. Vancouver scored three goals in the first period. However, Predators’ forward Tanner Jeannot changed the momentum of the game with his physicality. In the beginning minutes of the second, he drilled Ethan Bear with a heavy hit, Tyler Myers responded and he and Jeannot fought, with Myers picking up an additional instigator penalty on the play, which the Predators scored on. That hit and the fight seemed to give Nashville a boost of energy and they clawed back and eventually won the game 4-3 in a shootout.
The Oilers had a player like that in previous seasons with the now-departed Zack Kassian to the Arizona Coyotes. It was time for him to move on as he had lost his effectiveness, but when he was on his game in Edmonton, he was able to change momentum with a big hit, or a fight and in the process, create energy in the building. He certainly lost that edge near the tail end of his time with the team, but the Oilers would benefit from finding players that can bring that element again.
Oilers Would Benefit by Acquiring Lafferty & MacEwen
Let’s take a look at the two players Stauffer alluded to that could bring added grit to the Oilers’ lineup. Lafferty is 27 years old in his fourth season in the NHL and he’s on pace for a 44-point campaign. He’s 6-foot-1, 200 pounds, can skate, is a right-shot, leads the Blackhawks in penalty-killing minutes, and is good in the faceoff circle at 52 percent. At the same time, he plays with an edge, hits with conviction, and has six career fights, meaning he’s not afraid to mix it up when the situation calls for it. Additionally, he has a $1.15 million cap hit until 2023-24.
MacEwen is 26 years old, 6-foot-3, and 205 pounds and is in his fifth NHL season. He’s averaging 13 minutes a night, has scored three goals this season (more than some of the Oilers’ current bottom six), has 22 career NHL fights in five seasons and is second on the Flyers in hits with 40 in 11 games. His salary is $925,000 and his contract expires at the end of this season.
Both Lafferty and MacEwen would make the Oilers’ bottom six harder to play against, with Stauffer saying, “And that’s why Lafferty at 1.25 million and MacEwan at $750,00 dollars — those guys have dimensions, and Lafferty at this stage is a third line right wing for the Blackhawks and he’s an excellent penalty killer, which the Oilers could use and MacEwen is what he is. He’s a fourth-line guy that runs around and bangs. He doesn’t scare anybody fighting-wise, but at least you’ll know he’ll be there.”
In order to make a deal work, the Oilers would have to send contracts the other way. Lafferty is essentially a more effective version of Derek Ryan, and with the Blackhawks rebuilding, they’ll likely want a sweetener in the deal — I wonder if Ryan and a third-round pick could get the deal done?
The Oilers would have to trade Devin Shore and his $850,000 cap hit, along with a late-round draft pick to acquire MacEwen. Shore averages just under eight minutes a night, and since he doesn’t produce much offence, wouldn’t a player like MacEwen, that can crash and bang in those minutes (and has scored three more goals than Shore), be more effective? Additionally, the Oilers would be saving $100,000 in a Ryan for Lafferty trade, which would offset the additional cost to acquire MacEwan.
The Oilers desperately need a shake-up in their bottom six and they need to become tougher to play against when their offence isn’t rolling. Lafferty and MacEwen seem like an upgrade that could help solve that problem.
What do you think about acquiring Lafferty and MacEwen to add more toughness to the lineup? Have your say in the comments below!
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He’s the first ever Ultimate MVP fan of the NHL as declared by Upperdeck – He’s been featured on CBC Radio providing hockey analysis for the Edmonton Oilers – He’s a freelance writer and Edmonton Oilers’ Sportswriter for the Hockey Writers.