It probably doesn’t need to be said, but when it comes to things going on behind the scenes with the Oilers that Ryan Rishaug is just a little bit more in the know than someone like you or I. And so when we see tweets like his from yesterday afternoon about Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Jordan Eberle it’s easy to think that where there’s smoke there’s fire and that the Oilers are looking at making a big deal that’ll shake the team up, and hopefully get them headed in the right direction once again.
Ryan Rishaug and I don't see eye to eye on a lot of things Oilers ("only so much room for softer skill" for example) but, as I said before he's more in the know than I am, and I think it's fair to assume that he's getting this from somewhere as opposed to just making things up in an attempt to fill his Twitter mentions during an otherwise slow Tuesday afternoon. And in this case he might well be taking his cue from the Oilers' head coach who, although not naming names made it clear that he's not happy with the play of a few of his forwards.
"When I look at this trip as a whole, we had some key, key people really underperform on the trip," McLellan told reporters. "Significant minus numbers, not hitting the score sheet. It can’t always be [the top line] that provides that."
I don't think any of us need a magic decoder ring to figure out that Eberle and Nugent-Hopkins are at least two of the players that McLellan is talking about. Both were -8 on the recent road trip, and Eberle went pointless while Nugent-Hopkins at least had a pair of assists. A struggling team and an underperforming player or two, the jump form that to the possibility of a trade isn't entirely unreasonable. Unfortunately what the Oilers have to trade, what they need in return, and the salary cap make a deal very unlikely right now; something Ryan Rishaug touches on in the first tweet of the above string.
By now I think most fans have come to the conclusion that at some point the Oilers are probably going to have to trade one of their younger offensive talents to find some help on the blue line. This isn't new either, this was true last summer, the summer before, and the summer before that as well. There are certainly some good pieces on the Oilers blue line, players who might be very good one day - Oscar Klefbom and Darnell Nurse are two names that come to mind - but this team is burning daylight on the some very team friendly contracts for both Taylor Hall and Connor McDavid right now, and waiting for the defence to fix itself while those contracts go up in smoke isn't something that the team can afford to do.
So with that in mind, trading a player like Nugent-Hopkins or Eberle does make a lot of sense. Personally, from an overall team perspective, I think trading Eberle makes more sense but that's just me. In both cases though the Oilers would need to get a very good defenceman in return. Not a player who might be good in a year or two, a player who is ready to play near the top of the Oilers defence right now.
For Nugent-Hopkins you'd need to get a legit number one coming back; for Eberle the ask would be a little less but not a whole lot less. Unfortunately for the Oilers those types of players are hard to come by at this time of year. Think back over the last couple of seasons, how many times has the type of player that the Oilers would want been traded during the season? It's a really small number. And the salary cap is a big reason for this.
Good old fashioned, straight up hockey trades don't happen all that often any more. The dollars rarely make that possible. To make these deals work an extra piece or two tends to be needed to make the numbers balance. And the more players involved, the harder it is to make a deal during the season. In July when a hole in the roster can be filled through free agency, you might roll the dice. In December when you'd be stuck promoting from within or needing to make a second trade, a GM is likely to be a little more cautious. Unless it's a deal that you simply can't turn down, but the Oilers aren't in a position to make anyone an offer that they can't refuse.
All is not lost though, that same salary cap that's making it difficult to get a deal done right now will become a benefit to the Oilers next summer. A couple of high priced AHLers will come off the books, the captain could be bought out, and suddenly the Oilers will find themselves with somewhere around $14M worth of cap space. Add in a cap that's only expected to go up by about a million dollars and suddenly options will be presenting themselves left and right. Perhaps a free agent can be found, or maybe another team needs to shed some salary. Either way forcing a trade now, a deal that's not likely to bring back the player that the team really needs, when these options will be available in just a couple months simply doesn't make sense.
Throughout the Oilers' seemingly infinite rebuild I've thought that the team was too patient. Season after season was lost while the team did little or nothing to address the same problems that plagued them year after year. Steve Tambellini and Craig MacTavish will both be remembered for this. That lack of motivation to fix the obvious problems was beyond frustrating to watch. At least it was for me. And make no mistake we're about to watch it again as the Oilers take their hands off the wheel and let this ship steer itself for a couple months. But in this case that is the right thing to do. Really, it's probably the only thing that they can do.