Struggling Flyers & Oilers Reportedly Talking Trades

Sitting at 14th in both the Eastern and Western Conferences, the Philadelphia Flyers and Edmonton Oilers certainly are not happy with how their seasons have gone so far.  For the Flyers, they have been completely unable to score goals, both at even strength on and the power play, where they were very good last year.  The Oilers, on the other hand, are the worst defensive team in hockey, allowing a league high 3.83 goals a game.

On Friday, the Oilers traded defenseman Ladislav Smid to the Calgary Flames in exchange for center Roman Horak, and goaltending prospect Laurent Brossoit.  Smid is known as a physical, shot-blocking, stay at home defenseman, so it makes little sense for a team that has problems keeping the puck out of their net to trade one of their better defensive defensemen, who led the team in hits and blocked shots before he was traded.

According to Behind the Net, Smid started just 37.4% of his shifts in the offensive zone, the lowest of all the Oilers defensemen.  That shows the Oilers coaching staff clearly trusted him defensively by starting his shifts in the Oilers’ defensive zone more than any other Oiler defenseman.  For trading Smid to make sense, the Oilers must have some other type of move planned to make up for his departure.  It’s unlikely the Edmonton front office was enamored by either Horak or Brossoit, who are decent but nothing special prospects.  The move rid Edmonton of Smid’s $3.5 million dollar cap hit.

Rumors Swirl on Friday

On Friday, there were a number of rumors that the Flyers and Oilers were discussing various deals.  SportsNet reported that Flyers GM Paul Holmgren was listen to offers on any player that was not Steve Mason or Claude Giroux.  A number of different names were thrown around, on Edmonton’s side they were Jordan Eberle and Ales Hemsky.  On the Philadelphia side, the main names mentioned included Wayne Simmonds, Braydon Coburn, and to a lesser extent Andrej Meszaros and Luke Schenn.  Mark Spector fired off the following tweet, and Tim Panaccio corroborated that the Flyers were having talks about Eberle.

Looking at the names, it makes sense that the two teams would be interested in a trade.  Two of Edmonton’s biggest needs right now are quality defensemen, and a power forward winger to complement their young, skilled players.  When I attended the NHL Draft over the summer, I saw Paul Holmgren spend an extensive amount of time visiting the Edmonton Oilers table.  The speculation was that the Oilers were after Flyers defenseman Braydon Coburn, a large, minute munching defenseman that would be a valuable upgrade on Smid.  Looking at Edmonton’s top six forwards, they boast an enviable amount of skill, but lack size, toughness, and players that are willing to go into the corners and in front of the net to battle.  For the Flyers, many have clamored for an elite winger to play next to Claude Giroux.

Philadelphia Flyers - Claude Giroux - Photo by Andy Martin Jr
Philadelphia Flyers – Claude Giroux – Photo by Andy Martin Jr

Who Should Be On Giroux’s Wing?

When Jaromir Jagr was in orange and black, the chemistry he had with Claude Giroux was evident.  Although Jagr’s legs and speed were not what they once were, having someone with elite hockey sense that thought the game at Giroux’s level did wonders for his game.  Jagr and Giroux knew what each other was thinking out on the ice, and the result was Giroux’s best season of his career, finishing with 93 points, good for third in the league.  Last year, Jakub Voracek displayed tremendous offensive talent and vision on a line with Giroux and Hartnell, and many believed Voracek could be the long-term answer on Giroux’s wing.

So far this season, the entire Philadelphia forward corps has struggled, and Voracek hasn’t looked anything close to the player he did last year.  Although Giroux’s linemates have been constantly changing recently, according to Behind the Net his most common two linemates have been Hartnell and Voracek.  I absolutely agree that Giroux needs to have an elite winger on his wing to maximize his talents.  However, I believe it is too early to write off Voracek as the answer on Giroux’s wing and make a franchise-altering trade for Oilers star right wing Jordan Eberle.

Acquiring Eberle Just Isn’t Realistic

No matter how much the Flyers may want Eberle, the Oilers have to agree to moving him. Since he entered the league in 2010-2011, Eberle is ninth in points among right wings.  He’s certainly benefited from spending most of his time on a line with #1 overall picks Taylor Hall and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, but Eberle is still an elite winger.  Trading for Eberle because the offense has struggled in the first sixteen games would be a poor knee-jerk reaction move.  That doesn’t even take into account the fact that I don’t see the Oilers moving Eberle anyway.

There are a number of underlying factors as to why the Flyers offense has not kicked into gear this year.  Other than the defense’s inability to break out the puck to start the transition offense at even strength, the two biggest ones are that both Giroux and Voracek began the season playing injured.  Both claimed they were healthy, saying injuries are no excuse, and despite the fact that both have played in all of the games thus far, it is clear they were not 100%.  Giroux suffered a hand injury in the offseason playing golf, and Voracek was felled by an upper body injury sustained during the preseason.  You could see that they were tentative in their play, and were not operating at full speed.

The third reason the offense has failed to get going is a byproduct of those two injuries.  In the past two seasons, the power play has been Claude Giroux’s bread and butter.  In 2011-2012 and 2012-2013, the Flyers were sixth and third in PP%, respectively.  In that span, Giroux had 59 power play points, the most in the league.  In the preseason, the Flyers were unable to practice with their true number one power play because both Giroux and Voracek were hurt.  Add in the fact that the team acquired Vinny Lecavalier and Mark Streit, there were a number of talented new faces that needed to be integrated on the power play through practice, and the Flyers didn’t have the time to do it.  The lack of continuity on the power play has been obvious; there is no chemistry or fluidity to it.

In no way am I saying that the injuries are a valid excuse for the paltry offensive production.  This team has a deep, talented forward corps and it’s not just Voracek and Giroux that aren’t producing, it’s the entire group.  My point is that there is reason to believe the poor play we’ve seen from Giroux and Voracek so far this season is just a blip on the radar, and the dynamic duo we saw last year is likely to reappear, sooner rather than later.  Patience is the best course of action here, and I firmly believe that Giroux and Voracek will pick their games up and elevate their level of play to last year’s standards.

What about Ales Hemsky?

The other name mentioned in rumors that I haven’t touched on is Ales Hemsky.  For seemingly years now, it has been reported that Hemsky was on the Oilers’ trade block.  A pending unrestricted free agent, Hemsky simply isn’t the player that could bring a return of Coburn or Simmonds, who are both signed for multiple years.  He has played just 194 of a possible 312 games the past five seasons, and his points-per-game has been on a steady decline in that span.  Hemsky also is not the level of offensive player that Claude Giroux would need to capitalize on his skills.

As much as the Edmonton Oilers would like Wayne Simmonds and Braydon Coburn, I don’t see any type of deal materializing because the Flyers won’t pay Eberle’s price tag, and Hemsky is not good enough to return what the Oilers want from Philadelphia.