The focus of the last couple of trade deadlines in Edmonton has been on selling players who can help now for assets that might help the Oilers to win in the future. Last season, the team sold Dustin Penner for futures. The year before that they sold Denis Grebeshkov and Steve Staios for picks (and Lubomir Visnovsky for Ryan Whitney, but that was more straight-up trading than it was selling). With the deadline approaching, Steve Tambellini's rebuild is finishing its second year. I fully expected this to be another year of suck, but I also think that there will be some urgency heading into next year to show real on-ice progress. That doesn't mean a playoff spot, but it does mean at least being on the fringes of the hunt.
For Steve Tambellini, that makes the team's on-ice performance a lot more important, which should mean that the Oilers, despite their place near the bottom of the standings, should be inclined to use some of their secondary picks and prospects to buy at this year's trade deadline. Not rental players, obviously, but undervalued assets that might be able to help in both the short and medium term. There was an example of exactly this kind of trade yesterday, and I'll take a look at why Antoine Vermette would have made a lot of sense for the Oilers after the jump.
I was writing a different version of this article yesterday, in which I was talking about a couple of prospective candidates for the Oilers to acquire. One of those players was Antoine Vermette, but as I was writing, it was announced that Vermette had been traded to the Phoenix Coyotes for a 2nd round pick in 2012, a 5th round pick in 2013, and Curtis McElhinney. It's exactly the kind of deal I'm talking about!
Vermette is signed for three more seasons after this one at a cap hit of $3.75M, and will be thirty-two when the contract expires. He also has an excellent track record. In his first two years with the Blue Jackets, Vermette was always among the top six forwards in all three quality of competition categories, and he usually did quite well in that match-up. So you know he's a player that you can trust to play against real NHL competition.
His offense is also pretty good. He has scored at least forty points in each season from 2007-08 to 2010-11, and was among the NHL's top 100 even strength scorers in three of those years. He'll probably fall short of both those marks this season, but a very poor PDO number (95.2) and a career-low 7.5% shooting percentage are no doubt major contributors. I wouldn't count on him to get back to his previous high of 65 points (he had a career-high 17.3% shooting percentage in that season), but he's a guy that you can rely on to play against real competition and provide offense too.
Vermette is also able to contribute in other areas. He's averaged over a minute of ice on the PK in each of the last three years, so he's got some ability there, and he's one of the best in the league on faceoffs with a career EV FO% of 56.5%. He's the kind of player that can provide excellent support for the Oilers for the next several seasons at a good price, and the cost to add him would have been minimal.
The Blue Jackets are jettisoning salary, so Vermette, a quality player, was available for a song. Even if the Oilers weren't able to send a player back to Columbus, a deal like this would have given them much more flexibility because if would have provided them with more quality depth at forward from which to deal for other needs. Sadly, the Oilers did not capitalize on this excellent opportunity. Hopefully, between now and the deadline, they're able to find another one.