I did some quick, back of napkin calculations this morning and determined that with the NHL entry draft still a full month away I should still be able to read 93 more stories, listen to another 126 hours of talk radio, and come across 11,546 tweets all dedicated to what the Oilers will/should do with their first round pick, the fourth overall selection.
As much as the endless speculation is overkill, it's also completely understandable. The Oilers have been a bad team for a long time and patience with the team's never ending rebuild is wearing thin. Simply put, people are tired of losing and they see a potential trade of that pick as a way to address one of the team's short term needs - the defence - in a way that using the pick wouldn't be able to do. And so speculation about trading the pick and what could be gotten in return is hardly surprising.
Which brings me to last night's Memorial Cup broadcast when Oilers GM Peter Chiarelli talked about the possibility of trading the fourth overall pick:
I’m looking at all options. We’ve got to improve now but there’s some pretty good future players out here and elsewhere. There’s a lot of chatter going on right now and we’ve got a month and a half to go, so we’ll see what happens, but I have to listen to everything.
Would I look to move it? We want to win. I took the job in Edmonton to win, so as I said earlier, we’ll look at all options. There’s some pretty good players that are going to be available at four but we may look to move down and still use a pick to get an asset as part of a larger deal.
We owe it to the fans to get better in a relatively short period of time and we’re going to look at all options to allow us to do that.
This is fantastic example of GM speak right here. He wants to win and he's going to look at all available options to help make that happen, unlike the other 29 general managers who have no interest in winning or improving their teams. He was asked the question so he has to give an answer but it's a question that he's never going to answer with information that would be in anyway useful.
Still there was something in the exchange that grabbed my attention, that the Oilers "owe it he fans to get better in a relatively short period of time." GM speak or not, this was music to my ears. Obviously I'd like to know how Chiarelli defines a short period of time, but after five years of management showing little to no interest in winning hockey games, or at least no urgency to win, it's refreshing to at least have the team's management acknowledge some sort of need to win games sooner than later.
Even though Chiarelli appears to understand the urgency to win, I still believe that it's unlikely that the Oilers will move their first round pick. I wrote about this a month ago and until Gary Bettman announces a trade I can't see my position changing very much. I would love to see the Oilers make a trade involving that pick, I just don't see the stars aligning to make it happen. Not unless they're willing to risk losing a deal to make it happen, and there is nothing about Chiarelli that makes me think that's a thought he's actively considering.
Top five picks rarely get traded - going all the way back to the 2000 draft a team has traded out of the top five on just five occasions and only once has it happened in the last decade - and there are reasons for this. The most obvious is that the teams with these picks value the pick more highly than those teams looking to move into the top five. Another factor that could be at play, and would help explain why these trades have become so infrequent in recent seasons, is that, thanks to the salary cap, teams are now much more aware of the need for cheap talent on entry-level contracts, something that a top five pick is very likely to produce.
Gazing into my crystal ball I see the Oilers being very intersected in making a deal but still making a selection in the first round of the draft, somewhere in the mid to late teens. That sounds great to me but it leaves the Oilers with a limited number of trading partners, something that tends to make a deal more difficult not less. Could it happen, of course it could. Do I think it's likely, not at all. All is not lost though, the draft won't be the Oilers only opportunity to improve and if Chiarelli approaches the summer with a little bit of urgency who knows what we might see. And at this point, I'll take it.