It's an exciting time to be an Oiler fan.
I've written that statement no more than twice over the last eleven years, and one of the times was when the Oilers were about to draft Connor McDavid. The tide has turned a little bit this season. The Oilers are looking realistically at a shot at the second season for the first time since they were Western Conference Champions back in 2006. They've got one of the most electrifying players in the league at age 20. Cam Talbot is playing well. Things are pretty good right now.
Some of your favourites from Copper and Blue are here with answers to some of the questions you've asked about the Oilers. We've got Shona, Sunil, Minnia, Scott, Corey and Matt to tackle all the burning issues in a three part series that begins today.
Today's topics: the trade deadline and Patrick Maroon's surprise season.
1. The NHL's annual trade deadline is coming up in less than a month. If the Oilers are going to make just one move, what's one realistic move they should make?
Shona: Realistic moves are more difficult because I’d like them to do something that moves cap space to another team. I know that’s next year’s concern, but a little preplanning never hurt anyone. Honestly, a realistic move is that the Oilers need to acquire a back up goalie they’re willing to play. I don’t care where they get him from but they haven’t had one all year and if they make the playoffs, Talbot can’t have played 70 games and still look sharp. This need could be mitigated if they’d show some faith in Brossoit, but they haven’t yet so I don’t see that happening. Maybe they shift someone from the third or fourth lines packaged with a prospect for a rental goalie.
Sunil: The team needs to improve their depth at center. The future plan should still be to have McDavid, RNH and Draisaitl down the middle, but with Draisaitl playing well with McDavid, and Caggiula not producing at an acceptable level in a third pairing role, the team should look for another option. With the expansion draft coming up, they could take advantage of a team like Nashville that may not be able to protect Calle Jarnkrok, a right handed centerman on a reasonable contract ($2M AAV until 2021/22).
Minnia: Trading away one of the defensemen who will eventually be exposed during the expansion draft seems to make sense. For the Oilers to be truly competitive, however, it seems they still need a bona-fide veteran defenseman and we'll see if Chiarelli can get something done.
Scott: If the Oilers are going to add a really big piece long term it'll be on defense, but that's not the kind of deal that usually gets made at the deadline. My expectation is for the Oilers to pursue another forward in the next month, possibly a centre with some offense and faceoff skills who has another year (but no more) on his deal. I'd probably aim a little higher than they will because I'd be pretty open to dealing the first round pick. Names that fit that profile who might be available if the Oilers are willing to part with their first round pick are Tyler Bozak and Bryan Little. Players who might be available if the Oilers are only willing to part with a mid-round pick and/or secondary prospect are Brian Boyle and Dominic Moore.
Corey: Obviously trades are fun, but I don't see going out and looking for one as a great idea right now. The Oilers are (spoiler alert for a later question) probably a playoff team this year, but still definitely a few moves from being a contender at the moment. Teams always pay a steeper price at the deadline than they would in the offseason, but can justify it if they think it improves their title chances by enough. The Oilers are neither a buyer or a seller. Sure, they could use an upgrade at backup goaltender, but that should have been taken care of last offseason. There's nothing wrong with kicking tires, in fact, any GM who isn't on constant lookout for a trade to win isn't doing their due diligence, but I don't think there's a trade that needs to be made before the offseason.
Matt: If I'm the Oilers I'm trying to find out what the 'price you pay' is for a guy like Kris Russell. I saw Sunil's column from a little while back about the subject, and I agree. Turning him into an asset of any kind is, for me, good business.
2. Patrick Maroon's eighteen goal season has been a fun distraction from the unevenness on the wings, but the well has seemed to go dry. His last goal was on January 14th versus Calgary. Pretend you're Todd McLellan. Do you let him ride on the top line, or do you try and switch things up?
Shona: I say let him stay. Because realistically, who do you replace him with? Eberle who’s had an awful season or Pouliot who may have had a worse one? Drai needs to stay on the second line so the Oilers have more than one line, and promoting Letestu over his head hasn’t worked well in the past. Besides all that, Maroon adds a physical presence to the top line and he’s used to not keeping up with McDavid. Separate from all of that, McDavid is now used to where Maroon normally is during the course of play. I’d be more concerned about if a change of line mates throws the Oilers offensive engine off his game.
Sunil: I look to switch things up. Not because Maroon is on a bit of a cold streak, as it's a fairly normal thing for players to score in bunches and then go cold for a period. Maroon has actually been a pretty good driver this season, even without McDavid, and could give the second and third lines a boost in production. Away from McDavid, Maroon has a Corsi For% of 54.3%, which is only a slight drop off from the share of shot attempts when they're together (55.4%). To put things into perspective, when Lucic is away from McDavid, the team's CF% drops to 47.1%.
Matt: If I'm Run TMC, I'm splitting up the top line anyway. The Oilers were a one-line show before McDavid, Maroon and Draisaitl started playing together, and for me still are. Maroon has shown he can help push a line in the right direction, and McDavid can even make Kris Russell look good, so I would start to move guys around in the name of balance, even if Maroon was still running good.