We’re at the point where the Edmonton Oilers will try anything and everything to climb out of the NHL basement. If you’re all up to date on the Oilers this season, you know the stat lines. If you’re not, here are the quick hits. Heading into Tuesday’s game against the New York Islanders, the Oilers were second to last in the league with nine points in 16 games. Edmonton was dead last in goals for (30). The special teams have been a nightmare. The power play was operating at 14.6 percent (24th), and the penalty kill was running at 67.4 percent (31st).
Something needs to give.
Last week Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman brought forth the thought that maybe the New York Rangers are looking to re-stock. The Rangers are currently in the playoff conversation, but the question is for how long? This team has some aging forwards and is middling in the Metropolitan Division. The likes of the Columbus Blue Jackets, Pittsburgh Penguins, and Washington Capitals are the powerhouses of that division. New York is a step behind and then some.
Friedman states that he believes the Rangers are starting to refill those prospect cupboards. Could the Rangers be looking to move a few bodies in exchange for setting themselves up for the future? Either way you look at it, it’s appealing to think New York might have some players that could help the Oilers’ stagnant offense.
Rangers’ Trade Chips Could Help Oilers’ Offense
At last year’s draft, the Rangers moved Derek Stepan and Antti Raanta to the Arizona Coyotes. They got back Anthony DeAngelo and the seventh overall pick (Lias Andersson). They also picked up Filip Chytil 21st overall later in the first round. General manager Jeff Gorton also has Igor Shesterkin, a 21-year-old Russian goalie who could be the heir apparent to Henrik Lundqvist.
The Rangers also have Pavel Buchnevich, Brady Skjei and Mika Zibanejad in the fold. The pieces are there for a youth movement in the Big Apple. So how do they get there? Well for starters they’ve got to move out some bodies and find future stars through the draft. When you look at the Rangers roster for trade chips, there are a few interesting names to think about.
I can’t see them moving a Pavel Buchnevich, a Brady Skjei or a Mika Zibanejad. But what I do see is the Rangers testing other possibilities. Not necessarily offering certain players, but checking their value.
– Elliotte Friedman, 31 Thoughts (Sportsnet)
The obvious is Rick Nash, who carries a big ticket contract that would require some maneuvering. There’s also Michael Grabner. Both are pending unrestricted free agents this summer. Chris Kreider is in the second year of a four-year contract, and J.T. Miller is a versatile forward who’s a restricted free agent (RFA) with arbitration rights this summer.
The 33-year-old is in the final year of a deal that pays him $7.8 million. He’s got a modified no-trade clause (NTC) that gives him a 12-team trade list. Nash had a tumultuous season in 2016-17 and scored just 23 goals and 38 points. He’s got three in 16 games so far this season. The Rangers will be looking to get something in exchange for the asset.
Would Gorton be willing to retain half the cost? Nash’s best years of being a 30- and 40-goal scorer are gone, but can he still be a consistent 20-goal scorer? He’s a scorer, but he’s not the swiftest of skaters anymore. Yet, he has size, skill, and hands around the net. Nash could help the Oilers’ power play and give them a much-needed triggerman alongside Connor McDavid. Say what you will about Nash’s declining skills, but his 56 shots this season are more than any Edmonton player has so far.
The 30-year-old Grabner has bounced around the league the past few years. He’s had pitstops with the Vancouver Canucks, New York Islanders, Toronto Maple Leafs and now the Rangers. After floundering for a few years, Grabner exploded for 27 goals with New York last season. He’s not a prolific point producer, but he did get 40 points last year. This year Grabner’s already netted seven goals in 16 games, which projects him to duplicate last year’s totals.
Grabner also solves the Oilers’ issue with speed. Edmonton’s not a fast team, and after re-assigning Kailer Yamamoto to the WHL this week, they’ll need to replace that horse. Grabner can move, and if he gets a shot next to McDavid, Leon Draisaitl or even Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, you can bet he’ll be able to convert. He’s currently shooting at a 19.4 percent rate, which is better than his 12.7% career-average. He’s an unrestricted free agent this summer with a very digestible cap hit of $1.65 million.
Last summer the Rangers signed Kreider to a four-year deal worth $18.5 million. He rewarded Gorton and New York with a career-year that saw him score 28 goals and 53 points. So why were there some reports, notably Friedman’s, mentioning Kreider might be available a year after the Rangers’ commitment? Friedman suggested that the Montreal Canadiens and the Oilers might be interested in the 26-year-old.
Kreider’s been known to Ranger fans to be inconsistent on a nightly basis. There’s potential for more, but the question is always, which Kreider will show up? He scores in bunches and started this year off cold. Kreider’s beginning to rebound with five goals in 16 games, but he’d be a player of interest for Edmonton. He’s a bigger guy at 6-foot-3 and 224 pounds, and he also skates well for a man of his size. He won’t come cheap, however.
Miller is an RFA this summer and will command a sizeable raise from his current $2.75 million cap hit. He scored 22 goals and 56 points last season and has eclipsed the 20-goal mark in back-to-back years. The 24-year-old is young and is averaging nearly a point per game in 2017-18. This is going to be arguably one of New York’s most expensive players to acquire. A majority of Miller’s points are coming at five-on-five, somewhere Edmonton struggles scoring as well.
Getting Miller isn’t going to be an immediate deal, and it doesn’t seem like the Rangers are shopping him. If Edmonton is going to acquire Miller, it’s going to be later in the season or next summer. A lot of this is dependent on where negotiations are going with Gorton and New York. If there’s a stalemate, similar to the one Kyle Turris had with the Ottawa Senators, maybe they shop him.
Oilers Shopping for Goal Scorers
The Rangers are going to want to load up on picks and prospects. They’re in no way shape or form tearing this down and rebuilding. It’s a youth movement. The Oilers have plenty of youth to help in this department. It’s just a matter of what combination of players can entice the Rangers into moving a player or two north of the 49th parallel. The easy targets for Edmonton are going to be the pending UFAs like Nash and Grabner.
Both would be a sizeable upgrade on what the Oilers currently have on the wings. Does Gorton see value in any of Peter Chiarelli’s wingers presently on Edmonton’s NHL roster? Drake Caggiula (23), Anton Slepyshev (23), and Ryan Strome (24) would all fit that bill. The question is if any of them are players of interest for Gorton. The slow starts for each of those three would be a stumbling block in negotiations.
The reality is that the actual value for the Rangers might be in 24-year-old center Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, who’s been a valuable player for the Oilers. Edmonton does have a cap crunch coming up, and there’s belief the Oilers might have to eventually trade Nugent-Hopkins. That said, there are plenty of ways for Edmonton to be creative with the cap. Selling him for a rental like Nash or Grabner might not be the best move. Would the Rangers have interest in a young puck-moving defenseman like Matt Benning? Tough to say.
Edmonton needs short-term help. The cavalry is coming from the likes of Kailer Yamamoto, and Jesse Puljujarvi bubbling beneath the surface. It might take a Puljujarvi or a Nugent-Hopkins to get a deal done for a Miller or Kreider. Either way, there’s a million ways to Sunday to look at this. In the end, the Oilers need help offensively. Maybe there’s an answer from the Big Apple.