There are several facts surrounding the Edmonton Oilers this fall that lend themselves to the idea of a blockbuster trade:
- The team’s general manager is entering what is likely his final season at the helm of an NHL team. The pressure on Ken Holland to win the Stanley Cup is enormous, both for the organization and for his legacy.
- The team has significant issues despite being a strong contender to win it all.
- There are young players on the roster who are not yet established as significant contributors. The organization could move on from several by packaging two or three in a trade for a more reliable solution in areas of need.
It’s one thing to ponder a major move for one more impact piece to a roster teeming with elite talent. It’s another to find cap room and available assets to make it happen.
What would a blockbuster look like? What assets could be made available? What targets would be ideal?
Here’s a look.
Ken Holland’s past
In looking for trades between October and the trade deadline that qualify as blockbusters, there are several such Holland deals over the years.
- Acquired defenceman Chris Chelios at the 1999 deadline for Anders Eriksson and two first-round picks.
- Acquired centre Igor Larionov from the Florida Panthers in December 2000.
- Acquired defenceman Mathieu Schneider at the 2003 deadline for a package that included Sean Avery and a first-round pick.
- Acquired centre Robert Lang at the 2004 deadline for Tomas Fleischmann and a first-round selection.
- Acquired defenceman Mattias Ekholm for Tyson Barrie, Reid Schaefer and a first-round selection.
Holland makes huge moves at the trade deadline.
He also made a deal to bring Larionov back to the Detroit Red Wings in 2000. The story involved a Florida Panthers franchise taking a direction change with management and player, with Holland stepping in at the right moment. Larionov was an older, still productive player. That kind of target is a Holland trademark.
It’s fair to say Holland is a big name hunter and will make a move during the season if opportunity comes available.
From a needs perspective, young Ottawa Senators centre Shane Pinto fits what the Oilers require and is having a contract issue with his controlling club. The problem for Holland is Pinto’s situation requires more cap than the Oilers can afford at this time. He’s also very young to be the focus of a Holland deal, but the other elements match a typical target.
The player to target
One of the issues for Holland in making a trade before the deadline is the number of areas on the roster that could spring a leak.
Edmonton’s goaltending, right-hand defence, right wing scoring depth and fourth-line centre/penalty kill are not completely settled as the season draws closer.
If management makes a deal early for a right defenceman, it’s possible the assets needed to address other areas won’t be available at the deadline.
Teams who are in contention now won’t be later, meaning the pool of available talent will be larger.
The best targets for Edmonton’s need, without regard to cap or availability:
- Goaltender Connor Hellebuyck is on an expiring contract that pays more than $6 million. His save percentage last season was .920, meaning he would have saved dozens more goals than Jack Campbell if facing the same number of shots in 2022-23. It’s a massive swing in quality and goaltending could be the target at the deadline. Hellebuyck will cost the moon but Edmonton will have a run at him if there’s a need.
- Right defenceman Brett Pesce would be an ideal fit for the current Oilers roster. Adding another substantial veteran to the current group, this time on the right side, might be even more powerful for the Oilers than an elite goaltender (assuming Campbell and Stuart Skinner are doing the job). The odds of the Carolina Hurricanes falling out of the race are not strong, but as a potential target, Pesce is top drawer.
- Right winger Daniel Sprong is on a value deal ($2 million) for one year with the Detroit Red Wings. Sprong has taken forever to become a truly useful scorer but his shot volume (10.6 shots per 60 at five-on-five) and scoring prowess (1.45 per 60 at five-on-five, No. 3 among NHL wingers) would make him a fantastic option for the loaded Oilers. He’s fast as lightning and could help at even strength and on the power play.
- Right centre Jake Evans of the Montreal Canadiens would be an ideal solution to the No. 4 centre issue in Edmonton. Evans’ utility and how much he could help the Oilers is detailed here. He is not a pending free agent (two years left) and it would not be a “blockbuster” deal, but the fit is ideal and worth noting.
The asset cost
For the Oilers to reach out now to acquire a player in the first portion of the season would require heavy payment. Options are also limited.
The return would have to include draft picks (including first-round selections) plus young players like Philip Broberg and Raphael Lavoie.
Add the salary cap issues faced by Edmonton and the idea is borderline impossible.
One more candidate
Travis Konecny has two years left on his $5.5 million AAV contract and the Philadelphia Flyers are going nowhere in a hurry.
Konecny is a versatile winger with a complete skill set. He has encountered injury issues but enjoyed a productive season in 2022-23.
Edmonton would need to offload at least one big contract (Cody Ceci the most likely) and the Flyers would need to retain in order to make things work.
The best bet right now
Understanding that both teams need to have a willingness to make a trade, Holland would probably be best served by dealing for Hellebuyck in Winnipeg.
There has been much talk about the changing defensive structure this year in Edmonton. The idea surrounds improved net-front presence and not allowing defencemen to abandon the high-danger slot area.
The problem with that theory is no matter the coverage it comes down to execution.
The Oilers are built on freewheeling forwards and defencemen often misidentify the real danger. Coverage is an issue in Edmonton.
A goaltender like Hellebuyck would solve a lot of problems. He would instantly give the Oilers a boost and could save the team dozens of goals over the long season.
Will it happen?
The Jets are focused on winning the Stanley Cup and a big trade that includes the best player leaving town is a terrible message to send a fan base at the start of the year.
The payment would be dear.
What makes the idea worth discussing is Holland’s unique position at this time.
Holland isn’t the riverboat gambler Edmonton fans saw in Peter Chiarelli, but he’s playing his final hand and is laser-focused on winning it all.
Acquiring Hellebuyck early would be a brazen move that could tip the scales in favour of Edmonton.
Is giving up some combination of the first-round pick, Stuart Skinner, Dylan Holloway or Philip Broberg too much to contemplate?
For Holland and the management team, it’s worth a conversation. Now and later.
(Photo of Connor Hellebuyck: Nick Wosika / USA Today)