Yesterday morning's news that Jeff Petry had been traded to the Montreal Canadiens for what amounts to a couple of lottery tickets was hardly surprising. There was hope that the return would be more that it was, but for the Oilers and their fans it never is. It had long been rumoured that Petry wanted to test free agency, likely in an effort to maximize his earnings, or have a chance to play on a competitive team, or some combination of the two. Although not surprising, it was nonetheless disappointing and served as a reminder that the rebuild, whatever versions were onto now, is nowhere near complete. It also makes one wonder if the men tasked with rebuilding the franchise have a clue as to what they're doing.
I'm of the opinion that Petry was this teams best defender, a player entering the prime of his career, who would be very good on the second pair and potentially capable of handling top pairing minutes alongside a bonafide number one. You're welcome to disagree with that assessment, but regardless of what you think of Petry as a player, there is no credible argument that this deal makes the Oilers better today or tomorrow. At best the money that could have been used to sign Petry can now be used to upgrade the team through some other means. Considering how desirable NHL players find Edmonton right now that seems like a stretch though. And that's the absolute best case scenario since the picks acquired by the Oilers today likely won't have any real impact on the team for at least four years, if ever.
Moves like this - quality players for hopefullys - were supposed to be a thing of the past by now, the rebuilding having been a resounding success. Unfortunately it's been anything but. The Oilers are again in an epic battle for the right to pick first in the upcoming entry draft. On the off chance that the Oilers win the lottery, and I've long been a doubter that they will, one more teenager will not make this team a contender. For that to happen the Oilers will need what they've needed for the better part of a decade, more quality NHL players.
As someone much smarter than me so brilliantly put it, get good players, keep good players. And moves like this make it that much harder for me to believe that Craig MacTavish has a clue what a quality NHLer looks like. Nowhere is this more true than on the Oilers blue line. He began his tenure by bringing in Andrew Ference on a four-year deal, a deal that had little or no chance of looking good by the contracts mid point. Then last summer he continued to reshape the blue line by signing Nikita Nikitin for way too much and caving in negotiations with Justin Schultz. Both paid more than UFA-to-be, Jeff Petry.
To be totally fair, it needs to be pointed out that not everything with Petry, and the long term deal that he didn't sign, is on MacTavish, Steve Tambellini didn't do him any favours signing Petry to a deal that brought him within a year of unrestricted free agency, but when you look at the contracts given to Nikitin and Schultz compared to what was supposedly offered to Petry just recently it certainly seems as if Petry was an afterthought for the organization. Maybe Petry didn't want to be here, but an offer like that tells me that the feeling was mutual and that's a problem.
MacTavish has already talked about bringing back most of this year's blue line next year. Just let the absurdity of that wash over you for a second. A team with a terrible defence would be okay if they only upgraded (again, a big if) there best defender. In what world does that even make the slightest bit of sense? Yes, Oscar Klefbom and Martin Marincin might take big steps forward, Schultz might learn to play defence, and Ference and Nikitin might look better than a number six on occasion, or none of those thing might happen and the 2015/16 season feels a lot like 2014/15, which was a lot like 2013/14, which was … you get the picture.
if this team is to have any chance of being average, not good just average, one of Schultz, Ference, or Nikitin has to be playing for an organization other than the Oilers when next season starts. Not one is worth the money they're being paid (I'm assuming Schultz will sign his qualifying offer), having all three around while trying to fill holes elsewhere is an impossible combination. That MacTavish didn't find a taker today for the last two on that list doesn't mean that he won't move them between now and October, but his statements and his offer to Petry make me think that he probably won't, that he's happy with what he's got. And to make things even better - or worse depending on your perspective - he'll go big game hunting in July, trying to land Johnny Boychuk. To get him here the Oilers will have to offer too much, for too long, for a player who play will probably start to decline three years into what will probably be a seven-year deal. Hands up if you know how that ends.
Given the alternative, I'd have been thrilled with Petry at $5.5M times five. Probably an overpayment, but no worse than what they're going to probably end up doing anyway, and at least it would have been for a player not yet on the wrong side of his career peak, a player who'd at least be a good bet to come close to earning his contract. MacTavish has a different vision for the Oilers blue line though. A vision that has me reaching for a 2016 draft guide.