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The Oilers Summer Plans: Looking at Scott Hartnell and David Savard

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Most people see Columbus' cap situation and think "Seth Jones", but there are other ways to leverage the Blue Jackets' cap hell.

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Russell LaBounty-USA TODAY Sports

Alright here me out here...

This is not a plan A scenario. Or even a plan B...it likely falls somewhere around the middle of the alphabet if we're assigning letters...let's call it plan L, fair?

Ok...that being said, there's some potential to the notion that if plans A through K don't come through for Edmonton that a trade with Columbus could bring some resolution to Edmonton's blueline issues and change the mix of their forward group in the process.

Everyone knows Columbus is in a horrible cap predicament at the moment. Click here for a full summary of their cap situation courtesy of General Fanager. They were one of the worst teams in the league last year, they have less than $4M in cap space left despite not having made any improvements to their roster yet AND they have to re-sign their prized blueline acquisition in Seth Jones before he receives an offer-sheet that further damages their situation.

Trying to trade or offer-sheet for Seth Jones is an obvious course of action, but if the Jackets do find a way to sign Jones, even if it temporarily puts them over the cap (which is allowed in the off-season by up to 10%), they will still need to shed salary and then try to make some improvements to their roster.

One of the most often-discussed cap casualties in CBJ is Scott Hartnell. They aren't buying out either of the Brandons (Saad and Dubinsky) or their Captain in Nick Foligno. The disaster that is the David Clarkson contract is actually buy out proof. So that leaves Hartnell, Fedor Tyutin and Jack Johnson with Hartnell's name coming up most often. His contract is for $4.75 million for the next 3 seasons.The team has discussed buying him out, but that would carry a cap penalty of over $1 million for the next six seasons, which isn't ideal on a team struggling for cap relief.

What the team would prefer to do is to find a trade partner who would take Hartnell's contract off their hands and to entice them by adding another asset of value into the deal. This is where Edmonton could potentially take advantage. Particularly as it relates to David Savard.

With Columbus' desperation to alleviate cap issues, there's a real possibility that they would entertain the notion of packaging Hartnell's contract with David Savard...something that would clear exactly $9 million in cap space for the team in each of the next three seasons (Savard's contract has him earning $4.25 million for the next 5 seasons).

What kind of players are Savard and Hartnell today?

Let's start with Hartnell...

Most hockey fans know Hartnell best for his days in Philadelphia or Nashville, and at 34, there's no question he's absolutely on the downswing of his career...but here's the thing...Hartnell can still play. He put up 1.99 pts/60 at even strength last year in Columbus, which would have placed in right in 2nd line territory for the Oilers last year. Also, his primary points per 60 minutes (1.39/60 min) would also have placed him in Edmonton's top six last year. Hartnell doesn't kill penalties, but led the Blue Jackets in power play time last year (something that wouldn't likely continue in Edmonton). Still he played about 13 minutes at even strength so he can handle top 6 or top 9 minutes, particularly if you reduce the powerplay time (although he can likely help there too).

Hartnell's possession numbers were also still very strong. He posted positive shot suppression totals relative to his teammates and very strong shot generation numbers. Bottom line...while it may not last too much longer...as of today, Scott Hartnell is still an effective NHL player.

What about Savard...

Savard is the real target here. Most of this piece is really dedicated to selling everyone on the idea that "eating" Hartnell's contract in order to land Savard is not that bad an option, but Savard is the guy I could see Edmonton identifying as a target.

Savard is a 25 year old top 4 right-shot Dman. His numbers aren't breathtaking, but he has played the last two seasons joined at the hip with noted possession black hole Jack Johnson. More than half of Savard's ice time in those years has been spent with Johnson and last year in particular, his possession numbers jumped from a poor 45.9% to a much more respectable 49.1% when he was separated from Johnson. Savard also played a huge amount of minutes in very difficult circumstances. He had among the toughest assignments in regard to both zone starts and opposing players along the CBJ blueline and he played a HUGE amount of hockey. Savard was played nearly 18 minutes 5v5 and averaged more than 2 minutes per game on the powerplay (in a 2nd pair role) and was the team's top penalty kill option, averaging almost 3 more minutes in that capacity. That's a LOT of hockey for a young blueliner.

Savard isn't my first choice and he's definitely not perfect, but I suspect there's a bit of Jeff Petry-itis to him. If you stop asking him to play a top pairing role, he can be a very effective 2nd pair defender. Overall, he's a decent bet and the acquisition cost is likely not all that high if you agree to "take" Hartnell's contract as well.

What would the cost be?

Honestly, I don't know the answer to this, but my instinct is, not much. Whatever it is, Columbus wouldn't be looking for someone they had to pay a lot of money to in the present tense. Playing fantasy GM is difficult when you don't know what GMs are looking for, but Columbus needs inexpensive assets or prospect/picks back to make their cap situation work, so whatever the cost...it wouldn't be a significant player off the current roster.

What does this do to Edmonton's roster?

A few things actually, most of which I can live with. First, it adds a top 4 all situations right-shot defender who is under contract and fits the age range of the team. Edmonton has got to be hoping to acquire two of these kinds of assets and while Savard isn't what I consider a top pairing guy, he could certainly serve as the 2nd piece to that puzzle.

It also changes the look in the Oilers forward group by adding Scott Hartnell on the left-wing. I know..."ANOTHER left shot winger?" you're likely saying...but what this would do would be to have the Oilers move Benoit Pouliot without having to replace his role. Pouliot is a very good secondary player who could be a solid part of a package to acquire another blueliner. It basically gets the Oilers 2 assets in the "top 9F/Top 4D" group without likely taking from that group at all, which puts them in a greater position of strength to make additional moves.

What are the downsides?

For one thing, it eats cap space. Depending on the return in the trade, if Mark Fayne were not included (though I could definitely see him being included to balance the $ a bit and replace Savard on CBJ's blueline) it would be a lot of money tied up in two bottom 4 right-shot blueliners who don't bring a great deal of scoring prowess. In fact, I don't see how Edmonton does this deal if Fayne is not going back the other way.

Another item of note is that Hartnell has a no-movement clause, which he has apparently told the team he would likely waive due to their financial situation. This might scare some people due to the upcoming expansion draft, but it doesn't need to. According to my analysis of the CBA (and smarter people than me agree with me on this)...should any other team acquire Hartnell, no-movement clauses are not-transferable which means the acquiring team would not have to honour any such clause and Hartnell could therefore be exposed in the upcoming expansion draft.

The final potential downside is that if Hartnell's play does fall-off, which if will at some point...and he is not taken in the expansion draft, then you are stuck with an ineffective player for the remainder of his contract. This is true, but Hartnell's deal actually back-dives in terms of actual salary over the final two seasons, and in the final year (which is when the Oilers need to find space to pay McDavid) Hartnell's salary drops to nearly $2M below his cap hit, which makes the contract quite movable to places like Arizona who have a history of taking on these contracts to help them meet the requirements of the cap floor.

Final Thoughts

This isn't an ideal situation and it wouldn't be my first choice, but if Edmonton were able to negotiate a deal to acquire Hartnell and Savard without robbing significantly from their current roster, it would give them one of the top 4 RDs they are looking for AND make Benoit Pouliot more expendable to use in helping to acquire the 2nd piece of the puzzle. It also brings a different mix and some veteran leadership to the Oilers forward group and while there is some risk to both players, I don't think they are unreasonable bets to take.

So, what do you think Oiler fans? Is Scott Hartnell worth a look for the Oilers?