In the moments between Game 5 of the 2022–23 Stanley Cup Final ending and the hoisting of the Stanley Cup itself, the Conn Smythe Trophy for playoff MVP was awarded to Jonathan Marchessault of the Vegas Golden Knights. The Knights were a stacked team with a deep roster, with a plethora of worthy candidates for the award from the betting favourites to captain Mark Stone to top defenceman Alex Pietrangelo. Ultimately, Marchessault won the award for his scoring prowess, despite finishing behind teammate Jack Eichel in playoff points and tied for playoff goal scoring with the Edmonton Oilers own Leon Draisaitl.
While this could springboard worthwhile and fool-hearted arguments in favour of Draisaitl’s candidacy for the award, the more pressing conversation spurred might be that of improving the Oilers this offseason. Despite the excellence of Draisaitl and teammate Connor McDavid, as well of our poll of Oilers fans thinking that improving the blueline is more important, arguments that the Oilers should be aggressively pursuing an upgrade to their offensive abilities persists.
Among the rumours stirring early into the offseason is that Oilers potentially acquiring Travis Konecny of the Philadelphia Flyers. Let’s take a look into who Konecny is as a player, how the Oilers might navigate both the cost and the fit of the player, and perhaps drawing some conclusions on the thought process of the concept as a whole.
Koecny’s style of play
A top pick in the 2013 OHL Entry Draft, Konecny has always had a visible quality to his game. Despite injury concerns affecting his NHL draft stock, Konecny has proven to be a reliable offensive option in the NHL, even on Flyers teams that have left something to be desired.
At one point a centre, Konecny is likely to stay on the wing in the NHL. Although not the biggest player, Konecny plays with intensity and reckless abandon. Combined with a level of skill that allows him to score at even strength, Konecny is a legitimate top six forward and a fan favourite. Able to drive offence, Konecny was one of the foremost creators for the Flyers this past season. Though his flow of play metrics don’t suggest that Konecny is a great contributor to team defence, he is a willing competitor in puck battles all over the ice.
Konecny hit career highs in goals, points, and points per game in 2022–23, though in part thanks to an elevated shooting percentage of 16.9% up from his career average of 12.3%. Still, with a good shot, playmaking and puck handling skills, as well as the speed and agility to attack as a puck carrier, Konecny should continue to be a good offensive option. As far as comparisons to current Oilers, Kailer Yamamoto’s game does bear a lot of stylistic similarities, though Konecny is clearly of a higher overall quality.
Konecny would undoubtedly improve the Oilers top six forward group, providing a level of play above and beyond what either Yamamoto or Jesse Puljujarvi could in the recent past. While Konecny might still have a hard time finding his way onto the best power play of all time, his abilities would improve the Oilers scoring at even strength.
What it would cost the Oilers
As a big name on the trade market, Konecny will demand a premium return. It’s easy to imagine that the Oilers best trade packages would involve their 2024 first-round pick and one of their top prospects, Philip Broberg or Dylan Holloway. Thanks to the NHL’s salary cap, transactions are more complex than that.
The Oilers will need to shed salary to afford Konecny. As it stands, the Oilers are already in tough to re-sign their own free agents, even contemplating a one-year deal to keep Evan Bouchard’s cap hit as low as possible for next season. Adding a player of Konecny’s calibre and compensation would almost certainly require the offloading of other salaries.
Several peripheral options on the Oilers roster have been identified as potential cap casualties, from forwards Kailer Yamamoto and Warren Foegele, to defencemen Brett Kulak and Cody Ceci, perhaps even the more expensive option of offloading goaltender Jack Campbell. Konecny makes enough that two of these players would have to be offloaded. In the case of acquiring Konecny, it makes sense for the Oilers to prefer moving off of the forwards in this group, as any player removed from the team will have to be backfilled with a prospect or a bargain player. It is highly unlike that a better player would sign for less than Kulak or Ceci, for example.
Even if neither of Kulak or Ceci will be nominated for the Norris Trophy, both are still contributors to the blueline. As previously stated this is an area that many Oilers fans feel that the team needs to improve. It would be incredibly difficult for the Oilers to possess the cap space or assets required to upgrade the blueline after a Konecny trade.
Other options for the Oilers
The highly aggressive manoeuvre to acquire Konecny is likely too rich for the Oilers to pull off. Perhaps, finding a comparable forward either at a lower cap hit or of a smaller acquisition cost might be easier to stomach.
Rarely is there a scorer of significant calibre without a contract offer, meaning hopes of a UFA signing cheap and bolstering the top six are quite low. Some potential options here might be Evan Rodrigues or Michael Carcone, a pair of forwards who could feasibly add to the top nine for a lower price. Presumably, this route would allow the Oilers to keep top assets like Broberg, Holloway, or their 2024 first-round pick, even if only for another bigger trade.
Another option is to spend a similar amount of money on a more established UFA. The Oilers likely can’t afford the biggest free agents, but the right talented veteran on a short term deal. Some potential options might be James van Riemsdyk, Tomas Tatar, or Gustav Nyquist, if either has enough left in the tank in a favourable situation. These players could easily have other bidders, but the Oilers have a strong enough program that they choose Edmonton. The Oilers would still have to offload salary, so this player would need to be a short term upgrade on Yamamoto and/or Foegele for a similar cap hit to make sense for the Oilers, narrow margins.
If the Oilers aren’t sold on any of the UFA options, the secondary trade market might be worth exploring. Rumours often surround the very best players that might be available, meaning fans are often left in the dark about some of the deeper options. The tip of this iceberg might start with Connor Garland of the Vancouver Canucks. Perhaps there are several mid level forwards to be had at a much lower trade and cap cost than Konecny. In some sense, Yamamoto may occupy this space, meaning the Oilers might be rolling the dice or trusting their evaluations in making a seemingly lateral move.
The cheapest, and best options are often those in the developmental pipeline. The Oilers have a volume of players that might fill this need in the years to come. Holloway might be the best option in terms of skill and cap hit if he’s able to continue his improvement. Raphael Lavoie could be an interesting option for this season, albeit a longer one, after blooming into a top scorer in the AHL last season. Ryan McLeod seems to be on an upward trajectory still. Players like Xavier Bourgault, Maxim Beryozkin, Tyler Tullio, or Matvei Petrov might prove to be options, but these players are more than likely at least another season away from that, at least.
Considering the Oilers have key young prospects at defence, like Philip Broberg, and a starting goalie in Stuart Skinner, who might well take steps forward next season, the Oilers are in a healthy balance going forward. While of course the goal is to push for a Stanley Cup each season, the Oilers have a bigger scale goal of maintaining a healthy franchise until McDavid and Draisaitl are up for their next contracts, three and two seasons from now, respectively. These young players won’t all hit their potentials, but their doing such would align nicely with those horizons.