Earlier today I pointed out in the NHL Rumors Rundown post that the Chicago Blackhawks are in an enviable position heading into this year’s NHL Trade Deadline. One of the few teams that has salary cap room and the flexibility to add a variety of contract types, they could be a team willing to take on money.
Interestingly, that’s exactly the type of team the Edmonton Oilers need to be doing business with if their plan is to add before the deadline. The Oilers, by GM Ken Holland’s own admission, are dollar in, dollar out.
I quoted Pope from that piece who also said:
Now that defenseman Brent Seabrook is on long-term injured reserve, the Blackhawks’ salary-cap outlook looks a lot better than it used to…. The Hawks could add another $21 million in salary this year with their LTIR space and probably will have quite a bit of space next season, too.source – ‘How the Canadiens’ trade deadline plans are impacted by the injury to Ben Chiarot’ – Arpon Basu – The Athletic – 03/15-2021
Pope added there were risks to the strategy, but also suggested the team could make sure the fit was right and take advantage of teams that are up against the cap heading toward the trade deadline April 12.
The Oilers Are a Fit in this Scenario
Pope offered up a handful of examples and among them, he included the Oilers. Specifically, he cited James Neal as player Chicago might be asked about. That said, Neal isn’t necessarily the only player that works in a situation like this.
With that mind, we’ll start with Neal and look at a couple other names as well:
James Neal in Albatross Territory
I’ll be the first to admit I loved the trade from an Oilers’ perspective when they moved Milan Lucic for Neal. This season, however, Neal isn’t playing, at least not regularly. He’s often been a healthy scratch and when he is in the lineup, he’s being limited in his minutes.
It’s one thing to be paying $5.75 million to a player who pots you 19 goals in a given season. But, to have Neal on the books for two more years after this one and not playing doesn’t make sense. He’s the ideal candidate if the Oilers are going to look to Chicago to take on some of their committed money issues.
Kyle Turris Hasn’t Worked Out As Planned
If the Oilers are going to target a third line center at the deadline this season — perhaps someone like Eric Staal — they may want to move a player like Kyle Turris. He’s not worked out in the role he was signed to fill and Edmonton has committed to him for one more season beyond this one.
Turris isn’t the main reason the Oilers have cap issues, but freeing up $1.65 million would go farther than most would expect. The key here is that this is a smaller move for the Oilers and Blackhawks and the sweetener the Oilers would need to offer wouldn’t be as big.
Is Mikko Koskinen Expendable?
Mike Smith seems to be the guy in Edmonton now. Koskinen did what he could at the start of the season and he kept the Oilers in the mix, but his record wasn’t great over the course of nine games. With Smith now back, the veteran has clearly become the starter. The Oilers also picked up Alex Stalock on waivers and he’s got another season after this one.
Moving Koskinen’s salary doesn’t give the Oilers as much breathing room as moving Neal’s salary does, but if the Oilers could ship out $4.5 million before the trade deadline, that could go a long ways. Edmonton could then go fishing for a goalie in the offseason and run with Smith and Stalock the rest of the way.
The nice thing here is that the Blackhawks may be more open to adding a netminder who can play than a forward who might not. Chicago has some up-and-coming talent in Malcolm Subban and Collin Delia, but Koskinen could be a nice 1B to Kevin Lankinen who is playing well for the Blackhawks right now.
How Do the Oilers Tempt Chicago?
Because the Blackhawks will not only be selective in who they consider this type of trade with, and because some players will be better suited for the Blackhawks than others, Edmonton will have to be open to adding some pretty good assets to any trade. The goal here is to entice Blackhawks’ GM Stan Bowman.
Obviously, if the Oilers hope to move a player like Neal, they’ll have to offer a lot. I won’t begin to suggest I know what Bowman would ask for, but it could be a decent draft pick and a prospect. Could that be a player like Caleb Jones, along with a second or third-round pick? It’s a hefty price to pay but the Oilers would have to decide how worth it moving Neal’s contract would be. I’d argue for the move, even if Edmonton had to retain $1 million in salary on the deal.
At the very least, one would hope Holland is picking up the phone and calling Chicago to see where Bowman’s head is at. The Blackhawks are fighting for a playoff spot as well. They may have needs of their own.