As we approach the holiday season the Edmonton Oilers sit alone at the top of the Pacific Division. With a record of 18-10-3, the Oilers have shocked the hockey world as being one of the better teams in the league as we quickly approach the halfway mark of the season. This has been a result of, yes, insane production from both Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl, but also a combination of great goaltending and team defence.
Ethan Bear’s quick transition to the NHL game helped the team survive an early injury to Adam Larsson in the season opener and the goaltending tandem of Mikko Koskinen and Mike Smith has given the team a chance in just about every game they’ve played.
Alongside this, the Oilers are finding some offensive production from guys like James Neal, Zack Kassian and, of late, Jujhar Khaira. All these factors have helped them to the top of the division standings as we enter mid-December, but it isn’t all sunshine and lollipops in Oil Country. After a very hot start the team has run into some adversity as of late, going 2-3 in their last 5 games played. The two wins that they did pickup came as a result of good goaltending and could have easily gone the other way.
For GM Ken Holland, this should be cause for concern. The team is in a great position to push for a playoff spot and it is reaching the time where Holland should be scouring the trade market to find pieces to help find some more consistency down the stretch.
Among the most pressing needs are another top-6 winger and a third line centre. While the line of Nugent-Hopkins and James Neal has had some success this season they have yet to find a consistent third member to the line. The third-line center position is currently occupied by Riley Sheahan, who has looked more mediocre than anything. Gaeten Haas could be a solution there but it is a risky gamble to take.
To make a trade you have to give up something, so I decided to split this article into two parts. Today’s article will focus on players that could find their way off the team before the end of the year while the next article will focus on potential trade targets.
Without further ado, let's get into it.
The most valuable trade chip that Ken Holland will have this season is Darnell Nurse, a pending RFA at the end of the season. While the fan-base may be split on whether or not trading Nurse is a good idea or not, it cannot be denied that his next contract has the possibility of exceeding a 5 million AAV. The Oilers will be strapped for cash yet again this summer and Nurse’s demands might not fit the team’s model.
Nurse is coming off a career year in 2018/19 where he picked up 41pts to lead Edmonton defencemen in scoring and he is on pace to pick up a little under that number this season. He’s a throwback defender that can throw around the body in the defensive zone and jump up in the rush from time to time. At the age of 24 he still proves to be a very valuable defender with plenty of potential to blossom into one of the leagues more dominant defenders.
If Ken Holland decided to trade Darnell Nurse it would signify an increased sense of confidence in the defensive pipeline. Ethan Bear has emerged as a legitimate defender in the league that can handle skilled opposition and guys like Caleb Jones, Evan Bouchard and Philip Broberg are coming up in the next few years.
It would be a risky move to say the least, but if Ken Holland can find a bonafide top 6 winger that is around the prime of their career, Nurse should be apart of those discussions.
The last few seasons have not been kind to Adam Larsson. After a very good first season with the Edmonton Oilers, the right-handed defender has been plagued with both injuries and personal issues. His play was directly impacted by both of these reasons and it has caused some to wonder what his value on the open market would be.
He has only played in 9 games so far this season after suffering a foot injury on opening night and his play in those games has been a mixed bag. He has periods of awful hockey followed by periods of okay-ish hockey. His foot-speed has been a concern for quite some time as well as his ability to move the puck up the ice.
Despite his shortcomings he is still a competent NHL defensive defenceman. He can throw the body and be a pain in the rear-end for attacking forwards. Larsson is also able to log quite a bit of minutes on a night-to-night basis.
While I don’t think Larsson alone could yield the Oilers anything significant in a trade, there is a good possibility that he could be packaged with another asset to get something useful. There is plenty of risk in a move like this as well, but the team was able to play just fine without him for a large portion of the season to-date. So maybe the writing is on the wall for an Adam Larsson trade.
One of the more intriguing names on this list has to be Caleb Jones. The young defender has bounced between the NHL and AHL since last season and nobody is completely sure what to make of him quite yet. His first NHL stint during the 2018/19 season, which lasted 17 games, showed both the good and bad sides of his game. He showed impressive puck skills and was able to move the puck up the ice smoothly. On the flip side his defensive zone positioning could use some tweaking.
He failed to make the team out of camp this season but was able to appear in 9 games, but did not impress enough to stay for an extended period of time. At the young age of 22 it is far too early to write off Jones as a certified NHL defender. He has shown plenty of promise in the AHL and he could very well blossom into a full-time NHLer as soon as next season.
It is safe to say that Ethan Bear’s rise as a full-time NHLer has had a dramatic impact on Jones’ place on the organization’s depth chart and he could be the perfect trade target for a rebuilding team looking for young defenders.
This may be a surprise to many who watch the team but in the end it all boils down to the fact that Kassian is a pending UFA at the end of the season. He is currently making 1.95 million dollars on his current deal and, if he continues on his career-high pace of 54pts, will be due for a raise this summer. If that price-tag exceeds 3 million dollars it might be smart of the Oilers to offload him before losing him in free agency.
Kassian has found a comfortable home next to Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl on the team’s top line and has proved to be compatible fit. He provides more speed than you would think and is tenacious on opposing players. To add to this he has showed off a great shot on a couple occasions and can hold onto the puck in the corners. There is, of course, also his tendency to be a physical player and an agitator.
Kassian is the perfect example of an old-school type of player that has adjusted to the modern era. A lot of teams will question his ability to produce without playing alongside superstar players, but I still think a contending team would have interest in him as a rental.
However, I assume that if Edmonton continues to push for the playoffs that they would rather keep him as a rental for themselves.
Of course there is always the possibility that Ken Holland could wager some draft picks in exchange for a player as well but, given his reluctance to give up futures, I decided not to focus on that.
These are the 4 player currently in the organization that I think could yield the best returns on the trade market! We’ll dive into who they could be traded for in the second part of this series.