Looking for Love in all the Right Places

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So, Rexall is officially closed, we’ll be drafting somewhere in the Top-5, and the search continues for a right-handed defenseman.  We’ve all heard and endlessly discussed the idea of obtaining Trouba, Vatanen, Shattenkirk, Hamonic, or signing Demers, however, there’s a few teams out there we haven’t really looked at who might be more natural trade partners.

Now, although right now the Oilers aren’t exactly high on this list (we’re 26th in league scoring), we can presume with a healthy club, they would be better than this.  Having said that, we’re going looking for right-handed defensemen, and what we have to sell are scoring Top-6 forwards, so our natural trade partners are those teams with even more scoring issues.  Those are Carolina (2.40 goals/game), Toronto (2.34), Vancouver (2.25) and New Jersey (2.19).  We can also note that Vancouver and New Jersey, from that list, don’t have any young scoring D to give up, because those two clubs are the only teams in the NHL without a single defenseman in the Top-60 in scoring this year.  So, we can probably write both of them off as logical trade partners.

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That leaves us with Toronto and Carolina.  However, Toronto’s not exactly deep on the back end, and they have plenty of forwards with potential so they’re unlikely to give up anything we really need on defense.  That leaves us with Carolina.  Now, this team is rumored to be relocated to Quebec City in the off-season, which may be true, or may not.  What it likely means is they’re going to be looking for scoring help either way, and they have a talented young defense group.

First, what high ticket prospects do the Hurricanes have?  There’s Sebastian Aho, a left-winger drafted in 2015, who may make the NHL next season.  There’s Alex Nedeljkovic, a hot goalie prospect drafted in 2014.  And there’s Haydn Fleury, a 1st round pick from 2014, who’s a 6’3 207lb left-shooting defenseman (why are they always lefties…).

Now, next question, what is their existing roster?

As of the last game, this is their forward and defensive roster

Line 1:  Joakim Nordstrom (RFA)-Jordan Staal-Patrick Brown (RFA)

  • Nordstrom has 23 points in 63 games, and is a natural center who spent some time in Chicago. His NHL totals are 29 points in 123 games, and his scoring totals in the Swedish Elite League and the AHL are underwhelming. This is a bottom-6 forward
  • Staal is one of those players who is an ok left-shooting 2C or an elite 3C, but other than a few 50 point seasons with a loaded Pittsburgh team, he trends as a 40-point two-way center and should not be a team’s first line center
  • Brown is a right-shooting center who has never been a point per game at any level of his career, and had 10 points in 60 AHL games last season, and 23 in 66 this season. Another bottom-6 player who should not be in an NHL top-6

Line 2: Jeff Skinner-Victor Rask (RFA) -Riley Nash

  • Jeff Skinner is the leading scorer for the team with 50 points in 80 games, and is a pure left-winger. He’s had a 30 goal season before, but has had concussion issues. Having said that, he’s the star of this offense.
  • Victor Rask has had a very good year for a very bad team with 47 points in 78 games, and he did hit a point per game in his WHL career two seasons in a row (essentially). His one long AHL season was unspectacular, but he’s been improving at the NHL level, and as a right-shooting center he has the versatility to slide over to the right-wing or play center, preferably as a 2C.
  • Nash had some good success in the ECAC, and an ok performance at the AHL level, but his NHL numbers have been unspectacular and have remained in the 20-point range. He’s a right shooting center who is also better suited to a bottom-6 role.

Line 3: Chris Terry (UFA) -Elias Lindholm-Derek Ryan

  • Terry is a classic depth player, nothing here to really analyze
  • Lindholm is a right-shooting center with potential also, and has had a 39 point and a 37 point NHL season, so we can call him a solid 2nd line player or a very good 3rd line player.
  • Ryan is also a right-shot center who’s had good AHL numbers, but he’s a 29-year-old rookie, he’s their equivalent of Andrew Miller, he’s a depth scoring addition at best.

Line 4: Nathan Gerbe (UFA) -Jay McClement-Brad Malone (UFA)

  • These are all old-school NHL veterans playing bottom-6 roles, nothing to see here

Pair 1: Jacoob Slavin-Justin Faulk

Pair 2: Noah Hanifin-Brett Pesce

Pair 3: Ron Hainsey-Ryan Murphy (RFA)

Depth defenseman: Michal Jordan (RFA)

And they have James Wisniewski, Andrej Nestrasil, Phil Di Giuseppe on injury reserve

Now, the Hurricanes have 6 forwards, 6 defensemen and 1 goalie under contract for next season, using only $38 million of their cap, so they have room for a major retooling at forward.

So, looking at their Top-6, the following players can be considered Top-6 capable:

  • Jordan Staal (left-shot center), Jeff Skinner (left wing), Victor Rask (right-shot center), Elias Lindholm (right-shot center).  We can pencil in Sebastian Aho here as a potential left-winger, and the Hurricanes will probably get a decent player in the draft, but not likely one of the NHL ready Top-3 players.
  • Of that list, Skinner can be considered a first line left-winger, and we could consider Rask a first line right winger, and on the second line we could see an Aho-Staal-Lindholm second line. There’s been talk about how much help the Hurricanes need on the wings, but more than anything, they need a first line center (to replace Eric Stall’s theoretical role) who can handle a scoring role.
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So, the player they need would be Ryan Nugent-Hopkins.  Sure, if the Oilers once again win the NHL draft, there’s more trade options involving Leon Draisaitl or Auston Matthews, but we can assume they’ll keep both if they can.

Now, the Hurricanes suddenly look much better if we pencil in this Top-6: Skinner-RNH-Rask, Aho-Staal-Lindholm.  Sure, it’s not spectacular, but it’s significantly better than what they had, and a player like RNH would adapt well to the East.  So, we know we have a piece they can use, the question is then whether they have anything we could use.

Looking at their back end, we know we need a Top-2 caliber player if we deal RNH.  Before we assume we need a RHD however, there are options on the table to deal a guy like Klefbom for a guy like Hamonic, so we can work with finding a Top-2 left handed defenseman.  However, anyone we find has to be able to put up some points on the back.

First, let’s look at Brett Pesce.  He’s a 21-year-old right-shot defenseman, 6’3 200lbs.  All of that looks promising.  And in a brief AHL audition this year he had 3 points in 3 games, also promising.  However, his Hockey East numbers don’t indicate an elite defenseman, and he’s not overly physical.  This year he has 16 in 67 NHL games.  In short, he’s not the kind of guy we take in a deal for RNH.

Next up, Ron Hainsey.  We can stop there, he’s 35 years old and on their bottom pairing.  This isn’t a fit.

From there, we have our obvious target, Justin Faulk.  He’s on their top pairing, he’s a right handed shot, he leads their defense in scoring, and, well, yeah, let’s be realistic, this team lacks scoring on the back end also, and he’s by far their top defenseman and their best right hand defenseman by a mile.  They aren’t going to deal him to us for Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, and they need him more than they need a skill winger.  If we’re talking Matthews or Draisaitl they’ll pick up the phone, but that’s about it.

So, that leaves us with the alternative scenario I proposed, looking for a high end left-handed defenseman that allows us to deal an Oscar Klefbom for a Travis Hamonic (or the left-handed guy we get here for one).  Now, the Hurricanes have two possibilities here, Jaccob Slavin or Noah Hanifin.  First, let’s look at Slavin:

  • Had a good college season where he had 25 in 32 for Colorado in the NCHC, led the team in scoring as a freshman, was on the all-conference first-team. Had 7 points in 14 AHL games this season. Has 20 in 61 in the NHL for his first season.
  • Was a 4th round pick in 2012.
  • 6’2 205lbs and he’s 21.
  • Is considered to be a solid two-way defenseman with Top-4 potential

Ok, he looks like a solid player.  Having said that, he’s also their top-pairing left-side defenseman at the moment, and I’m not sure he has all that high of a ceiling, at least not high enough of one to justify trading away RNH for him.  We walk away from this deal.

This takes us to our logical trade target, Noah Hanifin.  He was the #5 overall draft pick last year, and made the NHL as a rookie at 19 years old.  He had 23 in 37 games in his rookie season with Hockey East, and has 20 points in 77 games as a rookie defenseman.  Now, by comparison, Ekblad had 39 points in his rookie year, but he had a better partner in Brian Campbell.  He’s viewed as a near lock as a top-pairing defenseman, and is 6’3 206lbs.  Now, I know, we all want Faulk on this team, but this is the guy Carolina can probably afford to part with to get a Top-6 center, and based on the Seth Jones trade, this is about proper value for RNH.  You can be sure the Islanders would be willing to trade Hamonic for him, and he’s got much higher upside than Klefbom as a top-pairing left defenseman.  This is the deal you try to do here.  If you do this deal and then deal off Klefbom for Hamonic, this is how the Oilers D now looks.

Pair 1:  Sekera-Hamonic

Pair 2: Hanifin-xxxxxxxx

Pair 3: Nurse-Davidson

Ok.  That’s starting to look better for sure, but we could still use that second pairing guy who has some use..  But wait, we’re not done in Carolina yet..  It so happens they have an older veteran named James Wisniewski, 32 years old, and for his career he’s tended to be a .50ppg defenseman, with no sign of regressing yet.  Now, the Hurricanes picked him up cheap, and he has one year left on a $5.5-million-dollar contract.  This is on the pricey side for this club, and he’s spent the entire season on the IR, so they’ve never really used him.  However, and this is important, he’s a right-handed shot who can move the puck.

Now, as it happens, we have a cheaper right-side defenseman who performed far better in the east named Mark Fayne.  His style would suit the Hurricanes, and he’s cheaper and younger with more term.  They might be open to this deal.  So, we end up with a Ryan Nugent-Hopkins + Mark Fayne deal in exchange for Noah Hanifin + James Wisniewski trade.  From there, that sets the Oilers up to consider a deal for Trouba or Vatanen involving a guy like Davidson along with a player like Yakupov.  Winnipeg could use cheap scoring and a cheap top-4 left-hand defenseman like Davidson, so for the sake of argument, let’s say we bring Trouba in that deal (with whatever to balance it out)

The Oilers now go into next season with the back end like this:

Pair 1: Sekera-Hamonic

Pair 2: Hanifin-Wisniewski

Pair 3: Nurse-Trouba

We now have a shut-down defenseman in Hamonic, a power-play quarterback in Wisniewski, and a strong prospect right-side defenseman in Trouba who can move up to the second pairing in a year when Wisniewski becomes a UFA (at which point maybe Bear is ready for that 3rd pairing role).  I know, this isn’t the makeover we all thought of on the back end, but one has to admit, this looks much better than we iced this season.

And then, at forward, we can assume we likely draft one of Laine or Puljujarvi, so we end up with this:

Line 1: Maroon-McDavid-Puljujarvi (all big guys who can handle even strength, powerplay and penalty kill, this is our Chicago-style first line who can do it all like Ladd-Toews-Hossa)

Line 2: Hall-Draisaitl-Eberle (I know, no defense to speak of here, but Chicago runs a pure scoring second line also of Panarin-Anisimov-Kane, they just play 5v5 and PP, no reason we can’t do the same.  And if Eberle gets traded here, assume it would be for a different winger)

Line 3: Pouliot-Santorelli-Kassian (Chicago treats their 3rd line as more of a secondary scoring line, less emphasis on the PK duties, and a 3C UFA like Santorelli could get the job done very well here for a good price)

Line 4: Hendricks-Letestu-Pakarinen (This line is the pure PK line, their job is to shut people down, like the Krueger line in Chicago, we don’t need to expect scoring from them because we have 3 other lines who can score)

So, there’s my idea for the day folks for how the Oilers could significantly overhaul their defense in a way that maybe, just maybe, our first season in the new rink could see a post-season.  Thanks for reading, flame on below

Micah Kowalchuk Written by:

  • GCW_69

    Interesting thoughts. I don’t think Winnipeg makes that deal for Yakupov and Davidson, and I don’t think the Oilers have the assets to even it out unless they throw in the 2017 first.

    Also, the team is better if you push Kassian to the fourth line and put Parenteau in his spot. Parenteau is a good secondary scorer and had a track record of decent possession.

    There is big risk in that top six asking Maroon and Puljujarvi (or Laine) to play tough minutes. Maroon’s possession numbers have been up and down through his career. I guess you have Pouliot as back up for Maroon, but it still seems like a big risk.

    There is also some big bonus numbers in that line up, meaning the team probably has to bridge deal Trouba rather than sign him longer term.

  • Careyon

    RNH Is so over valued. Has he ever play a full season? Hanifin will become an elite dman, Trouba’s not going anywhere either especially for that crap.