This piece is a pure speculation piece; I do not and never claim to have any insider info to back this up, and the point of this, first and foremost, is to provide you with some speculation that might entertain you.
On June 18th through to the 20th the NHL’s newest franchise, the Vegas Golden Knights, will be holding their expansion draft. They will be taking a player from each of the other 30 teams to fill their roster out and the Oilers will lose a player; I suspect the two most likely candidates are Jujhar Khaira or Griffin Reinhart.
While either will be a hit to the Oilers’ depth, I wouldn’t consider them to be detrimental losses.
Khaira, a forward, has played a total of 35 games and has amassed 3 points. I really like his tenacity and he fits the Oilers new mold well, but he projects as a third liner at best right now.
And Griffin Reinhart had a really nice developmental year in the AHL this year but He’s looking like a 6th or 7th defenseman (somewhat unbelievable since he played such a key role in the Edmonton Oil Kings’ Memorial Cup championship).
I get that Peter Chiarelli gave up two picks for Reinhart, and Matthew Barzal may end up being a pretty good player, but since the Oilers acquired Reinhart he has played 27 more NHL games than the two players he was traded for combined. The trade doesn’t look great optically but I’m not ready to call it a flat out loss by the Oilers.
Brandon Davidson made huge strides in his career last year chipping in 11 points while playing 51 games. He was playing solid second pairing minutes (average 19:12 per game) and looked to be a valuable piece of the Oilers blue line going forward. Looking back on last season though, while taking the events of this season into consideration, I would guess his “climb up the ladder” had as much to do with a questionable NHL defense corps as it did his development.
Of the 28 games Davidson played for Edmonton this season only twice did he exceed that 19:12 average time on ice, while also more often being a minus than a plus player while only tallying one assist. I think he is a solid depth defenseman but his 2015-16 season may have been a bit of a mirage. Nonetheless, Las Vegas likely would have taken him in the expansion draft and now they can’t, at least not from Edmonton.
David Desharnais, of course, isn’t exactly a dynamo offensively at this point in his career though, and his faceoff wins percentage doesn’t scream of a solid third line centre on a cup contender. His size definitely stands out, but not in the right way (only 5’ 7”). It really didn’t make much sense, at least at the time.
So, What Was it All About?
My theory: it was about trying to solve cap problems going forward.
Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl are likely lining up to be the Oilers top two paid players, and the issues their salaries are going to bring to the Oilers’ team cap situation are well documented. Before we all have panic attacks maybe we should remind ourselves that having two centres that are as dynamic as they are is a good problem (see Pittsburgh Penguins for reference). The need to shed some money is real though, and even with next year’s cap likely being manageable problems are on the horizon. If approached properly the expansion draft could present to the Oilers an opportunity right now to solve an issue they will have in two seasons.
I believe the Oilers sacrificed Brandon Davidson in order to increase the chances of the Golden Knights agreeing to take Benoit Pouliot in the expansion draft more than they brought in David Desharnais to help with this season’s playoff run. Keep in mind that Pouliot is a much better player than the numbers he put up this year would suggest. But, he is a $4 million cap hit. If he was getting $2 million I don’t think we’d be having any discussions about him, but he’s not. It’s likely going to cost the Oilers something as a throw in; maybe their third round pick this year or maybe Reinhart or Khaira as well.
The issue isn’t that Pouliot doesn’t have a spot on the Oilers roster, it’s that his salary doesn’t have room under their cap. Remember, the Golden Knights have plenty of cap room, need NHL caliber players (Pouliot is still an NHL caliber player despite his performance this year), and need to load up their prospects cupboards as quickly as possible if hockey in Sin City is going to work out.
In the next few years, I see there being some significant pieces added to the Oilers roster at the trade deadlines every year. I believe they are on track to make a Stanley Cup Finals appearance in the next two years and sacrificing some future for a chance at the Cup might be a thing for them in the near(er) future. I don’t believe that Chiarelli was under the impression that the Oilers were a small, underperforming centre away from being a legitimate cup contender this season.
Bottom line, I don’t think the Brandon Davidson for David Desharnais trade pulled off on February 28th of this season was “going for it”.
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