Could Alex Plante find himself doing this elsewhere? Photo courtesy of Steven Christy Photography. All rights reserved.
Whether we are ready for it or not, February is now here which means that the NHL trade deadline is now fully in our peripheral. About this time each season, we fans begin to speculate on contract size, future potential, and the various aspects of moving this player versus moving that player. There are times where trade deadline fodder is easy to digest and predict. Yet, there are rare seasons where a player is moved and virtually no one saw it coming. This is what makes the deadline so intriguing. For as much as we over hype the situation, there are times where a certain move can pay off dearly for an organization.
Last season, the Oilers made a few deadline moves with minor league implications. It goes without saying that the Dustin Penner trade weighed heavy on the hearts of Oilers fans everywhere. Despite your feelings now about that situation, one thing lost in that move was that Colten Teubert became an Oiler. Subsequently, and in a separate move, the Barons upgraded the dinged up Shawn Belle for Kevin Montgomery. Now for most, these seem like un-important milestone on the Oilers timeline of "rebuild", and truthfully they aren't NHL impacting to some degree. However, those two moves strengthened a minor league core which has panned out into a successful 2011-12 Barons campaign in the chase for the Calder Cup.
So as we begin the trade deadline talks, I feel it might be important to know what might be on the table. Yes, there are a few American League Barons that might be interesting trade pieces that might further sweeten (or spoil depending on how you look at it) the final deal. I mainly looked at those that were in their final season of a contract, or were nearing that point. Why? Because these seem like the most affordable enticements to other teams needing some immediate help even in the minors. I've broken it down based on position as well as their likelihood of being moved.
You may find yourself wondering why it's important to discuss minor league players involved in NHL trades. Simply put, sometimes these moves can bolster a minor league roster, and sometimes they indeed can effect the major league team. Colten Teubert may not have been the greatest defender, but it was certainly nice to have him around when call-ups were made. With that in mind, let the gossip begin.
Ironically, this discussion begins with defenders in Oklahoma City. There is no denying that the Oilers need solid NHL defenders, so look for the organization to unload some defensive players in the minors to make room for things to come.
Alex Plante is probably the most viable candidate for being moved. Despite his improvement each and every year, and his ability to survive NHL call-ups, Plante is in a little bit of a tough spot. The Oilers have given him ample amounts of time to "wow" the masses. He's not done so. As a physical defender, he's just simply too slow, and careless with the puck to make the jump now to a permanent NHL roster. However, in the minors, he's become a top ten league defender in terms of plus/minus. He's reeled in the minor penalty taking. And has gained alot of ground in the puck moving department. He'd no doubt be a cheap get, and for a team needing a somewhat decent callup in a pinch, he might be hard to pass up. Look for Alex Plante to get bundled in some kind of Western Conference deal. Perhaps for another defender or for a future pick.
Taylor Chorney is another name, that like Alex Plante, is an enticing player for several reasons. The Oilers seem done with him in terms of futuring. They've run their course on both his contract and average NHL play. Earlier in the season they were more than willing to succumb the puck moving defender to the waiver wire, and the St. Louis Blues snatched him up. Of course, the Oilers would claim him again just as quickly, but with their NHL defensive lineup, they needed a viable option to at least finish the season if need be. Chorney is probably the best puck moving defenseman that the Barons currently own. This has paid off dearly for the minor league team. Look for Chorney to get moved possibly in an AHL-only fashion. Sometimes a change of scenery can help a player greatly.
Two names that have gotten a lot of conversation over the last few months are Teemu Hartikainen and Linus Omark. Both have suffered untimely injuries that have kept them out of game play for differing lengths of time, but both are important to this conversation.
For Teemu, the transition to North American pro hockey has been a good one. The Oilers organization seems ready and willing to patiently await his blossoming. The shoulder injury is a non-issue given his age and track record of health. However, his ice time in the NHL lately has been poor. The things that make him great (puck possession, strength on boards, play making) haven't been on full and glorious display. Then again, even when playing with decent linemates he's struggled. If he were to be moved the deal would need to be top notch. Mainly because he's a player that so many teams like, even if in its infant form.
For Linus, the inevitable return to the Barons lineup also means that his trade value again will be evaluated. The slewfoot from early November caught Linus in a 7 points in 7 games stretch. He's a naturally gifted goal scorer and puck dangler. He's had time in the NHL to prove his worth. Some find his role in the lineup a welcome sight. For others, the feeling is that if he isn't going to get NHL minutes, then he needs to be moved. This will be a tough player for the Oilers to consider. The kid has skills, no doubt. He also will come with a heavy price tag. He's a guy that can play in an NHL lineup right now (injury excluded). If he were to move on it would probably be a similar player trade. Meaning that the player the Oilers receive will be cut from a similar cloth. Said player in return would also need to be NHL ready. This might be an interesting trade negotiation to grumble about.
Another name to keep tabs on would be Chris VandeVelde. Chris, the solid shut-down center, has had a quietly fantastic minor league season. He's runs the even strength closer role very well. He doesn't get enough credit for it in my opinion. He's also more than capable of winning over 50% of his face-offs, and is a penalty killer with speed and tenacity. He, like Alex Plante, has had years of nurturing. He's also had NHL experience. As his RFA contract will be up after this season, I'm not sure where the Oilers rank him in order of importance. If he's not part of the potential future, he'll be dealt elsewhere. If the decision has already been made, perhaps the trade deadline might produce something in return. He's a hard player to replace for sure, but when has that stopped NHL GM's from moving center closer men before?
Another player in the same boat as CVV is Ryan O'Marra. With a similar RFA contract, also expiring after this season, O'Marra is the third line grinder that doesn't get enough credit. He too has been given time to mature as well as time in the majors. But for O'Marra, the edge with which he plays with is quite different that CVV. He's a tenacious checker, unafraid of dishing out some roughness. He doesn't produce often offensively, but is able to play a supporting role for those that do. I'd imagine that if someone won't bite on O'Marra they might give him another season, but if the offer is right he might finish 11-12 elsewhere.
The fact is that both VandeVelde and O'Marra are key to how the Barons fare in the Calder Cup Playoffs. I'd be timid as an NHL GM to move these two players for that reason alone. Wait until summer, then proceed. Hartikainen and Omark are much bigger named players, and despite their importance to an AHL squad, the team has proved they can indeed win without them. Both are clearly not long for the AHL as their promise demands some major league eyes. They both have more lingering NHL effects, and thus are higher bidding options.
Other players with contracts expiring this summer are Yann Danis, Ryan Keller, and Josh Green. All three are UFA's and will inevitably remain in OKC (call-ups excluded) for the rest of the season. Milan Kytnar and Hunter Tremblay are the other two RFA's expiring after this season. For Kytnar, the days of Oilers play are seemingly over. And Tremblay, a rookie, is playing lights out hockey in both a penalty kill role, short handed goal scorer, and heads-up goal getter. He'll likely be given another year as he's both young and heavily tested in the pros.
Here's how I'd rank the players most likely to be moved at the trade deadline. In order:
- Alex Plante
- Taylor Chorney
- Linus Omark
- Chris VandeVelde
- Ryan O'Marra
- Teemu Hartikainen
Keep in mind, Copper and Blue has a history of not reporting rumors. These are not rumors, just my opinion on how these Oklahoma City Barons would fall in a trade deadline scenario. I have no insider knowledge of these players being moved.
So how about a little more opinion. I think the big three at play here are Alex Plante, Taylor Chorney, and Linus Omark. Simply put, the Oilers will need defenders that are good now. To do so, they'll attempt to unload future contracts in those same areas. Plante and Chorney are the obvious defensive candidates. Omark just seems like an odd man out within this organization. With competition from Hartikainen and Magnus Pajaarvi it's hard determining where he falls into this lineup.
But remember, this is the Oilers. In the end, you really never know what might happen. Stay tuned.