Edmonton Oilers general manager Ken Holland understands the perception about the odds of a team making the playoffs, depending on where they are in the standings, by the time American Thanksgiving arrives. His team was only two points out of a playoff spot by Nov. 24, and in an interview with The Athletic, he recognized that the Oilers give up a lot of Grade-A chances, realizes the team is at the bottom of the NHL in goals against but also acknowledges they’ve felt the impact of the Evander Kane and Kailer Yamamoto injuries (from ‘Oilers GM Ken Holland Q&A: Can the Team Be Improved? If So, How?,’ The Athletic, 11/25/22).
With that in mind, it begs the question if he’ll make any significant trades to improve his club. He mentioned there won’t be significant deals for a major shake-up anytime soon, but alluded that he’s thought about smaller deals and has had discussions with teams that are currently struggling, saying:
“Will I talk to some teams here in the next few days? Yeah. But I’m going to talk to teams that are struggling, because teams that are going good, they’re not looking to do anything. They’re happy with their team. They like where they’re at, they like the group. They’re not making any changes to their team. It [has] to be teams that are struggling.”
– Ken Holland
(From: Oilers GM Ken Holland Q&A: Can the Team Be Improved? If So, How?” The Athletic, 11/25/22)
On that note, let’s take a look at three potential smaller-scale trade targets that could benefit the Oilers, that are currently playing on struggling teams.
Zack MacEwen From the Philadelphia Flyers
The Philadelphia Flyers had a 10-game losing streak in November, and it’s probable they’re one of the teams that Holland has had conversations with. Additionally, forward Zack MacEwen’s name has been making its rounds as of late in Oil Country.
Oilers’ colour commentator Bob Stauffer and host of “Oilers Now” has been mentioning MacEwen as a player of interest to add more grit and toughness to the club’s bottom six. MacEwen is 26 years old, 6-foot-3, 205 pounds, and is in his fifth NHL season. He’s averaging 14:25 minutes a night, has scored three goals this season (more than some of the Oilers’ bottom-six players), has 24 career NHL fights and is second on the Flyers in hits with 81 in 22 games. His salary is $925,000, and his contract expires at the end of this season.
With the emergence of Oilers’ forward Klim Kostin and his physicality in the bottom six, the team might not need the additional toughness. However, hockey pundits continue to discuss the need for a different dimension in the Oilers’ bottom six.
Sportsnet’s Mark Spector said Holland has built a bottom-six that’s “too vanilla”, with no personality and no discerning style of play. Moreover, hockey insider Frank Seravalli mentioned, “Oilers need more from their bottom six, they need more juice— they just do. And I think the numbers go and back that up.” He added, “I look at the bottom six and I say— too many players that are one dimensional, that do a lot of similar things, that have a strong skill game, but nothing else, no bite, no juice.”
On the forefront, a player like MacEwen may seem like a five-minute-a-night goon, but he actually plays a few more minutes a night than the Oilers’ fourth-line players Devin Shore and Derek Ryan. In fact, he also has more points (seven), than both those players combined. As for a trade, a possible deal could include sending Shore, and his $850,000 cap hit, along with a late-round draft pick to acquire MacEwen’s services.
Max Domi From the Chicago Blackhawks
When discussing the Oilers’ roster, Seravalli also mentioned that the club would benefit from adding a centerman with grit, saying, “There’s a center component that would really help this team in terms of versatility and flexibility for Jay Woodcroft in his lineup — [and that’s] having a center that is really strong and in fact, may have some of those elements [of skill and grit] in his game, and I think, could really boost this team moving forward.”
The Chicago Blackhawks have lost their last eight games and could also be a struggling team that Holland has had discussions with. On that note, I’ve previously mentioned that Max Domi would be the perfect fit with his mixture of skill and grit that the Oilers could use. He’s tough, isn’t afraid to drop the gloves, and he’s on pace for 60 points this season. Most recently, the Oilers were able to see his work firsthand, when he scored two goals against them in their meeting on Nov. 30.
Domi has played center for most of the season with Patrick Kane, so that shows he can play alongside players with elite skill and could potentially play the wing on a line with Connor McDavid or Leon Draisaitl. Or, he could give the Oilers a different look as the third-line center, and have Ryan McLeod, who is currently on injured reserve, slot in on the wing in the top six. Moreover, Domi is having a career year in the faceoff circle, at 55 percent, and could take important draws in crucial moments.
I’ve previously mentioned Domi as a good trade target for the Oilers, and his most recent two-goal outing against them reaffirms this idea. The Oilers are very tight against the salary cap, so to acquire Domi and his $3 million cap hit, they would have to send money the other way and get Chicago to retain some salary. As per Puckpedia, the maximum salary a team can retain is 50 percent, so Edmonton could send Derek Ryan ($1.25 million cap hit), in combination with another bottom-six player making $750,000, and they would likely have to add a second-round pick as the sweetener for Domi.
Vladislav Gavrikov of the Columbus Blue Jackets
The Columbus Blue Jackets are in last place in the Eastern Conference, and I’d imagine Holland has had discussions with the struggling club. A player of interest could be defenseman Vladislav Gavrikov, who has a $2.8 million cap hit, which expires at the end of this season.
The dimensions he could bring to the Oilers are exactly what has been missing since physical defenceman Adam Larsson left for the Seattle Kraken. Gavrikov isn’t a big point producer, but he’s a 6-foot-3 and 213-pound left-shooting shutdown defenseman who averages 22:55 minutes a night and plays against the opposition’s top lines, night in and night out.
As per Natural Stat Trick, some notable forwards that he’s played the most minutes against this season are Nick Suzuki (30:40), Cole Caufield (29:37), Kirby Dach (27:28), Matthew Barzal (24:45), Travis Konecny (23:40), Brock Nelson (18:25) and Aleksander Barkov (17:52). Moreover, he averages a hit a game and blocks two shots a game on average. Also, while he’s not known for his offence, his two goals this season happen to both be game-winners.
He also leads the Blue Jackets in penalty-killing minutes and isn’t afraid to sacrifice his body to get in front of a shot — an element that’s been missing in Edmonton since Kris Russell left the team, and he would be a huge addition to the Oilers’ 27th ranked penalty kill. So, what would it take to get him?
The Hockey Writers’ Jim Parsons noted recently that Gavrikov seems like an obvious choice as a trade target and described that the Blue Jackets would want draft picks and prospects, and the Oilers would need to send salary back. He also mentioned if names like Yamamoto, Jesse Puljujarvi, and Warren Foegele would be of interest to the Blue Jackets. It’s certainly worth exploring, as I feel Gavrikov would help the Oilers lower their goals against and bring an element of physicality that’s lacking on the Oilers’ backend.
Where there’s smoke, there’s fire, and the Oilers have been rumoured to be in the mix for a bottom-six player, a centerman, and additional help on defence. Holland doesn’t appear to be in a rush to make any panic moves, but the results of the Oilers’ upcoming four-game homestand may be a deciding factor if his roster needs a shakeup.
Do you feel MacEwen, Domi or Gavrikov would be good additions on the Oilers? Have your say in the comments below!
Explore everything hockey with THW’s Hockeypedia pages.
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.