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Trading a Six Million Dollar Man and Who's Really Untouchable on the Oilers Roster

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With the trade deadline looming Peter Chiarelli spoke to the media yesterday. It might not happen before the deadline but a big deal is coming.

Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports

Oilers General Manager Peter Chiarelli spoke to the media yesterday and said pretty much exactly what you would expect the man in charge of a last place team to say. He’s not happy with where the team is right now, the defence is a "work in progress," and he’s going to be a seller at the trade deadline, "it just has to be the right player or future asset coming back." None of what he said should really come as a surprise to anyone, if you watched only five minutes of Oilers hockey a month you probably already knew these things.

Still it was interesting to hear him answer a question from Mark Spector about trading a "six million dollar player, not naming any names." For those who might not be able to crack Spec’s super-secret code, he’s talking about Taylor Hall, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, and Jordan Eberle. The question got a shrug and an "anything is possible" answer from the Oilers General Manager but that’s more open to the idea that either of the team’s past GMs would have been. Chiarelli also clarified that a deal involving those players is less likely to happen at this time. So if you’re expecting fireworks on deadline day you might be disappointed.

As the Oilers have struggled through another disappointing season, the idea of trading one of those three players is something that most Oilers fans have come to accept as inevitable. The Oilers’ roster is very flawed and acquiring the pieces necessary to transition the Oilers into a contender will likely be impossible to acquire without moving a player that under better circumstances you would rather not move. The same was also true last season, and the year before, and the year before, but there was still hope back then that the team would be able to develop the defencemen necessary to round out the team’s roster. That obviously hasn’t happened and so here we are, in the same place we started.

But we’re still Oilers fans, so even though we can agree on the idea that a big name player needs to be traded to fix what ails this team, we’re far from agreement on which player or players that should be. And this has led to a lot of discussion about what players on the roster today should be considered untouchable. And as far as I’m concerned, the list that a lot people have is far too long, the list should be exactly one player long: Connor McDavid. Everyone else can be had for the right price.

There are plenty of other players on the Oilers roster that I like, that I think are excellent hockey players, but if the right deal was there, a deal that makes the team better now without sacrificing too much, it needs to get made. And I don’t think that this should be a controversial idea.

Yes, trading, for example, Nugent-Hopkins will leave the team looking for a centre to replace Nugent-Hopkins, and that’s less than ideal, but it’s also the reality of making trades in a salary cap world. With limited dollars to spend, every dollar spent on x is a dollar not spent on y, so it’s unlikely that you’ve been able to stockpile so much of x that trading it for y doesn’t create a hole. So long as the team as a whole is better after the trade, the new hole isn’t a reason in itself to not make a trade. The Oilers aren’t one trade away from being a contender so worrying about having to replace the player traded away is, at this point, premature.

If you’re a regular reader of this site you might be thinking that my list of untouchable players used to be longer. And you’d be right. For me that list, even as recently as a month ago, used to include Hall. The reason being that I believe the Oilers have to be on the verge of being a great team when McDavid’s entry level contract expires two years from now, and I wasn’t sure that McDavid would be good enough to lead the team by then. Having seen him play a little more hockey it’s clear that I was underselling him and that the Oilers can make this train roll with him leading the charge, and so I’ve dropped Hall from my untouchable list.

Going from where the Oilers are today to the cusp of something great in two years might seem like an unreasonable goal to some but it pretty much has to happen. By then, not only will McDavid’s entry level deal have expired, but so will Leon Draisaitl’s and Darnell Nurse’s. Eberle will be a year from unrestricted free agency; Hall will be two years away. If the Oilers don’t make moves now with two to three years as their timeline for success they’re going to get pinched by the second contracts of the players they acquired in their effort to lose-to-win before they actually win anything. And this means that every option has to be considered.

Does a package involving Nurse land a defenceman already at Nurse’s ceiling, thereby skipping another couple development years? Then do it. McDavid/Draisaitl is a dreamy 1-2 punch to have but you could always "settle" for McDavid/Nugent-Hopkins. Even Hall, I have trouble envisioning a team making an offer good enough to make a deal worthwhile, but if it’s there then the trigger needs to be pulled. Even the team's first round pick, once you know where it is, start taking offers. With expiring entry level deals on the horizon and the team moving into a new building next year, patience is a thing of the past, the Oilers need to start making things happen.

Chiarelli said all the right things yesterday. That’s the easy part. Finding the right partner and making the deals necessary to finally right the ship in Edmonton will be much more difficult, which is why he gets paid the big bucks.