With some of the biggest names league-wide rumoured to be on the trade block linked to the Edmonton Oilers, it is almost impossible not to get swept up in fantasy. Each of us might have our own version of possibilities that we see as ideal, yet only one version of events will ultimately occur. As for our collective desires for the Oilers deadline manoeuvring, and for the focus of rumoured inquiries, there is little cohesion. Defencemen, both left and right shots, are under consideration, so too are forwards of various aptitudes.
The blueline is historically an area of concern for the Oilers, but recent developments might well have changed that tune. Vincent Desharnais has filled a key vacancy as a secondary defensive option on the right side behind Cody Ceci. More importantly, former top ten draft picks in Evan Bouchard and Philip Broberg might too have changed the trajectory, representing low cost, controlled players just scratching the surface of their ascending NHL effectiveness. When healthy, the Oilers blueline is in the best shape it has been since Chris Pronger briefly patrolled the team to a deep Cup Final appearance.
The forward group, understandably, has often been described as the strength of the Oilers roster, but that hasn’t kept the Oilers out of chatter around some of the forwards on the market. For the most part the names linked to the Oilers up front have been the ilk of defensive options lower in the lineup. In some sense the emergence of both Mattias Janmark and Klim Kostin has quelled such discussions, with the hard nosed forwards bringing a lot to the table. In particular, Janmark’s work on the penalty kill has been instrumental in the Oilers increased effectiveness while shorthanded, though rarely discussed.
What do the Oilers need?
It is on this basis that thoughts of the Oilers adding legitimate scoring depth are based. Though already one of the top offensive teams in the league, it is fair to say that the Oilers offensive contributions are top heavy. Connor McDavid is otherworldly, lapping the field when it comes to individual production league-wide. Leon Draisaitl is a distant second in league scoring, even in an admitted down year. Zach Hyman and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins are on pace to shatter their career highs. Evander Kane, when healthy, tips the scales in the Oilers favour, making them among the league’s best quintet of forwards. Perhaps another top end scorer would transform the group as a whole from excellent to overwhelming.
By the same token, the Oilers top forwards take up a great deal of oxygen, not just on the power play, but in all offensive situations. In particular, the duo of Kailer Yamamoto and Jesse Puljujarvi have little room to step into their own. Yes, the duo is graced with the chance to play with some of the best players in the world, but often this is more of a burden than a boon. In seasons past, the duo posted higher scoring totals, but those often came with power play time, which boosts numbers and confidence alike. To an extent one might question how many mouths the Oilers can feed with but a single puck on the ice, at least to the point where the criteria for evaluating Yamamoto and Puljujarvi’s play should be adjusted.
Patrick Kane could be a potential option
Enter Patrick Kane. Hardly new to trade speculations, the Oilers have been increasingly mentioned as a potential destination for the dynamic scoring winger. Kane recently openly expressed disappointment in the New York Rangers acquiring Vladimir Tarasenko, effectively ending Kane’s potential fit on a contending team in his home state, not to mention a reunion with former linemate Artemi Panarin.
Kane is a pending UFA with a huge $10.5M cap hit, cumbersome to acquire in it’s own right, but the biggest hurdle might be Kane’s no movement clause, effectively allowing him the right to decide which team he is moved to, and if he is even moved at all.
The 34-year-old is a well decorated player, archetypal as a pure offensive winger. From incredible stick handling, passing, and shooting Kane can still work wonders with the puck. After the recent Rangers-Tarasenko trade Kane has gone on a (vengeful?) scoring streak, but he still sits below a point per game for the first time since the 2011-12 season.
Considering that scoring is up for top offensive players in general, Kane’s low totals might be concerning, with some wonderings if time has caught up to him. While some suspect that Kane might be dealing with some sort of injury, it is more likely that a combination of low morale and team performance have hindered Kane as much as anything. Still, in some ways Kane is not the player he once was, in that he will not be competing for any major awards this season. In other ways he might be exactly who he always has been, a defensive liability.
Kane has a troubling history off the ice, with several highly public incidents that range from concerning to outright vile. On top of his personal transgressions Kane is also part of the Chicago Blackhawks, a team that has been the centre of many moral issues and scandals in its own right. Without a doubt Kane is among the most controversial and polarising players in the league, and most will have their minds set in their thoughts, rightly or wrongly, one way or another.
Kane would fit in nicely in the top six
Kane would certainly find himself in the Oilers top six with at least one of McDavid or Draisaitl. Kane has shown the ability to develop chemistry with other high skill players who do their best work with the puck over the years, notably Artemi Panarin and Alex DeBrincat. A hypothetical deployment with Draisaitl on a line from which very little defence is expected is most likely, as Kane would appreciate a shooter to finish off his passes just as Draisaitl would appreciate Kane’s ability to transport the puck through the neutral zone.
The biggest question would come from how Kane would fit onto the power play. Kane operates best on the flank, where McDavid and Draisaitl are firmly entrenched. The Oilers use a great deal of movement on the man advantage, which would help in this sense, but having a designated defenceman and net front scorer seems unlikely to change. In short Nugent-Hopkins would likely see his power play time cut, though perhaps the Oilers would be more aggressive in employing two units when at full health, swapping in Patrick Kane, Evander Kane, and Evan Bouchard for Nugent-Hopkins, Hyman, and Barrie.
Perhaps this addition would make a 3C role for Nugent-Hopkins more likely, but it is more plausible that Jay Woodcroft elects for a more defensive-minded third line. Likely, a Patrick Kane acquisition would push the likes of Yamamoto and Puljujarvi out of the top six for good. Their salaries and value as trade chips are likely key pieces in a theoretical Kane deal, even more so due to their correspondingly diminished role upon his arrival.
What it would cost the Oilers
Naturally, with the Oilers operating on a dollar-in, dollar-out basis, finding a way to accommodate Kane’s cap hit is crucial. Unlike another high priced player rumoured to be Edmonton bound, Erik Karlsson, Kane has only one year left on his deal, making aggressive salary retention the most likely option. Recently Ryan O’Reilly was traded to the Toronto Maple Leafs under such a premise, the Leafs paying draft assets to both the St. Louis Blues and Minnesota Wild for retention.
Getting a third team involved to retain salary is likely the key for the Oilers in a Kane deal. This means at least two draft picks will be on the way out, one to each team, likely a first and a third, or a second and a third. Having the Blackhawks retain 50% and a third team to retain half the remaining cap hit, as in 25% of the original $10.5M brings Kane’s cost to about $2,625,000. Puljujarvi or Yamamoto might be overkill in terms of outgoing value, but either would be more than enough cap space to fit Kane at 25%, while Warren Foegele would not quite cover the cost.
Perhaps LTIR situations, currently with Evander Kane, can offer the Oilers enough relief to add Patrick Kane without losing a roster player. Again, for the time being Kane holds all the cards, meaning whether he wants to come to Edmonton specifically is up to him, but also that the price that the Blackhawks are able to extract for his services might be limited as well. Whether or not Ken Holland is willing to pay the price, or even prioritise the addition of a scoring winger, is another question altogether.