The National Hockey League’s trade deadline is fast approaching, and unlike any other year, nobody knows what it’s going to look like. It could be that teams will avoid trades, with worries about COVID-19 protocols and expansion draft considerations causing an atypical abundance of caution. Or the opposite may be true, as the dominos fall, with general managers, seeing their opponents’ rosters improving, jumping into the fray in a year where their path to at least a Conference Final might be easier than others, given the differing divisions. For Edmonton Oilers general manager Ken Holland, it should be clear that his team’s window to win is now, and the players he adds should reflect that fact.
The Oilers’ roster is imperfect, but has it pieces that are the envy of the league. Connor McDavid has amazingly found an even higher gear this season, and Leon Draisaitl’s scoring seems almost automatic. The defensive corps is contributing to the score sheet on a consistent basis, with both Tyson Barrie and Darnell Nurse sitting in the top 15 for points amongst defensemen, but their depth on the back end is questionable. Any of the next four on the depth chart (Adam Larsson, Ethan Bear, Caleb Jones, and Kris Russell) have their doubters, and it’s a good general idea to add depth for a long playoff run since injuries are almost unavoidable through several playoff series. But there’s an area of need that is even more important if Edmonton wants to compete for the Cup.
Forward Scoring Depth Should Be the Number One Priority
Ken Holland made several moves this offseason in an attempt to increase the scoring contribution from players who don’t have the numbers 97 or 29 on their jerseys. Draisaitl’s former junior teammate, Dominik Kahun, who is a proven scorer at the NHL level, was brought in, as was former Arizona Coyote, Ottawa Senator, and Nashville Predator Kyle Turris. Results have been mixed, with Kahun struggling to play a strong enough 200-foot game and Turris showing his age to the extent that he was recently put on and cleared the waiver wire.
Edmonton is amongst the NHL’s top 10 in average goals per game this season at 3.19, which is a slight improvement over last year’s 3.14, but the best teams in the league, despite not having McDavid or Draisaitl, score at a noticeably higher rate, and that is simply because of their superior depth. To make a significant improvement in that area, the team needs to bring in a consistent scorer. Two names on the trade bait lists stick out in that regard are Mike Hoffman and Taylor Hall.
Hall Has a History in Edmonton
There are some potential issues with either player. Hoffman left Ottawa under a cloud of negative energy related to issues outside the rink. While it might not be fair to pin the blame for those events on the player, there’s no question that it affected the team at the time. Still, on a diminished St. Louis Blues, he is still producing and would be on pace for more than 20 goals in an 82-game season. His teams have rarely made the playoffs, though, and he is a career minus player. There’s a chance he’d click as a top-six addition in Edmonton, and Holland should consider him if he strikes out on the other option.
Hall has not had a great year. Buffalo, much like the Oilers during his first years in the league, cannot get out of their own way. As they look to set a record for missing the playoffs, the team, which prior to their season opener looked set to improve over their 2019-20 results, boasts a massive goal differential deficit and has numerous players amongst the worst plus/minus ratings in the NHL. Hall cannot be blamed for all of those issues, but there’s no question that he was expected to provide more offence than the two goals he has scored in 37 games.
There’s a chance that lingering COVID-19 symptoms are to blame, and in fact, the significant outbreak in Buffalo just prior to their losing streak could explain a lot about their woeful season as a whole. His health situation is something Holland will need to confirm prior to executing a trade for the speedy left winger. All these factors will serve one beneficial purpose for the Oiler GM: they should lower the expected price for a former league MVP. Buffalo will have to retain salary to move Hall, and they’re not likely to expect or get an amazing return. All of this should benefit a team like Edmonton, who have a relatively bare draft pick cupboard and very little wiggle room with the cap.
With so few draft picks, the Oilers are probably going to have to move a prospect in the deal, as well as a roster player to free up the salary. James Neal would be the obvious choice if there’s a way to get Buffalo to agree to it, but someone like Kyle Turris might be more likely. With only a single year left on his deal, the younger Turris has a chance to fill a portion of the hole Hall’s departure would leave in their roster. This would all require some other small move to fit under the cap, but the gap it creates is small, and certainly, there’s a way to do it.
Hall would immediately find himself in an improved situation and will hopefully flourish. Edmonton is all but guaranteed to make the playoffs, and the addition of a player who can keep up with their speedy forwards has a familiarity with many of the team’s current stars, and he was a great soldier in his first stint as an Oiler. It seems a fitting fate for the player who was the initial building block in an Oilers rebuild that seems, at long last, to be complete.
Canadian, Hockey Fan since birth, Husband, Father, and follower of all things Oilers and Kraken.