Something that seems to have gotten lost in the shuffle in the last week, what with the cancelation of the Winter Classic and the renewed and possibly-positive negotiations for the new CBA, is the fact that Edmonton Oilers radio guy Bob Stauffer was conducting an interview with Kevin Lowe last Thursday and the team president dropped what would have, in any normal week, been a Hiroshima-quality bombshell.
Obviously people have been speculating for some time now that the Oilers would do well to move someone from their glut of ultra-promising and very good young forward prospects for someone who knew how to play defense a little better than Theo Peckham, and who could play with slightly more reliable healthiness than Ryan Whitney. Now, before you go writing your Nail Yakupov- and Jordan Eberle-related trade proposals on HFBoards, let’s first acknowledge that no such thing would ever happen in a million years. Nonetheless, Lowe had this to say:
You’re going into a game with lots of trump cards. That’s the only way you can make deals is if you have assets that are attractive to other teams. When you have assets then you can make deals.
So, absolutely, we’re at some point, whenever that is, we’re probably not too far down the road, we’re going to have to make some tough choices and maybe move some players, or a player, draft picks, to get a piece or two that finishes off the formation of what you feel is a championship team.
And again, before you go off the deep end, he also acknowledged that he doesn’t exactly think the Oilers are even close — what with their having not made the playoffs in forever — to being anything resembling a championship team, but nonetheless, his statement that, “we won’t have a tough job selling anybody on anybody that we have in the event we’re interested in a player on another team,” seems to indicate that they’re more than willing to move a few pieces of they need to. It’s one thing to say they have the pieces, it’s another entirely to say that it’s going to happen in the fairly near future. And the fact that he’s bringing up “tough choices” in all this indicates that the Oilers are indeed, as the saying goes, willing to “give to get” one high-quality asset from one of the team’s meager few positions of strength in exchange for another to bolster its various weaknesses.
As fun as it is to make fun of Devan Dubnyk’s chances for future success in the NHL (and it’s very, very fun) one must also take into account that the 82 appearances he’s made in the last two seasons have been behind the Edmonton Oilers’ defense, and his stats aren’t, like, hysterically bad. Certainly, he’s nowhere near the lost cause Ondrej Pavelec already seems to be. You try keeping your GAA below 2.67 when Tom Gilbert and Jeff Petry are your Nos. 1 and 2 defensemen in terms of time on ice.
So then the obvious answer for the Oilers is “Oh my God they need to trade for a No. 1 defenseman so badly it makes my face hurt to think about it,” isn’t it? Like, that is their only recourse, is it not? They’d probably also like one that’s already signed for at least a few years since they likely want some sort of cost certainty with Ryan Nugent-Hopkins’ contract coming up to Eberle-and-Hall size in the next few years, and Nail Yakupov’s second contract not that far behind.
One thing you gotta think — and, if you’re an Edmonton fan, hope — they don’t do is go get a big-name guy for the sake of doing so. Someone like, I don’t know, Niklas Kronwall or Dan Boyle, who have star credibility but not the juice to back it up here in 2012.
But then the question becomes, “Where do they go and get that?” The answer that seems to have been bandied about most is “Chicago,” where both Brent Seabrook and Duncan Keith are locked up for the next few years to not-ridiculous money (though with Keith, you’re paying him until 2023, so maybe you focus on Seabrook). The problem is why would the Blackhawks trade one of their two No. 1 defensemen when they don’t have a remotely stable goaltending situation, and goalscoring isn’t a problem? One suspects you’d have to knock their socks off with a deal, and unless they’re particularly enamored of some of Edmonton’s B+ prospects (Teemu Hartikainen, come on down), it seems silly to make such a trade given how long the core of the forward group is locked up. And by the way, both Seabrook and Keith have either limited no-trade or straight-up no-movement clauses, and no one should want to move from Chicago to Edmonton for any reason.
I’d be more interested to see if they pursue someone who can kind of grow into the role. Again, this isn’t a team that’s a Zdeno Chara away from making the Cup Final, and they are going to need a few years to become even good in this league. Would prying a guy like Mike Del Zotto — who’s currently unsigned, by the way — out of the Rangers make more sense? Maybe a Toby Enstrom type? The answer is yes. For the record, my guess is someone whose name rhymes with oh I dunno something like Yeith Kandle.
The fact of the matter is that if you’re running a National Hockey League team, there are three things you’re pretty much looking for every day of your life: A No. 1 center, a franchise goaltender, and a No. 1 defenseman. None of them are easy to find in the best of times, and those that are currently under contract likely will cost more than most Edmonton fans would be happy to part with. Edmonton needs a lot more help than just a No. 1 defenseman, which isn’t something Steve Tambellini is likely to find just anywhere, so dialing back expectations a little bit, and focusing on a solid solution rather than a splashy one, seems the wisest course of action here.
Of course, I would have said the same thing during the last lockout, and they went out and got Chris Pronger for Eric Brewer, Jeff Woywitka, and Doug Lynch (who?), so there’s that to consider as well.