Amidst the rumours and speculations of the NHL offseason, we might look to the deals already made to find the trends that might define the offseason ahead. Early on, no-trade clauses, cap clearing deals, and players openly shutting down extension talks have dominated headlines. Each team scrambles across various negotiations, possible futures, clamouring for a path to greener pastures.
Within the chaos, the Edmonton Oilers find themselves in a relatively stable position. After back-to-back seasons with a playoff series win, the Oilers are well within the rarefied air of perennial contention. Although the roster certainly has areas from which we could hope for more, especially from an angle of cap efficiency perspective, it must be admitted that the Oilers have a competence and complement of talent throughout their lineup.
With a notably weak free agent class lacking in top tier talent, there might well be some value to be found deeper in free agency. The largest market for significant upgrades to the roster, however, might come in the form of a trade. Without further ado let’s break down the types of trades we might expect to see around draft night.
The most likely possibility is a trade that nets the Oilers very little in terms of player value, even costing young talent or draft capital, in the form of a cap dump. Of course, the main thing the Oilers would gain in such a circumstance is the cap flexibility to re-sign players or bring in lower priced free agents.
The most popular candidates to be shipped off, or those whose salaries are most cumbersome, are Jack Campbell and Kailer Yamamoto. While both can be reasonably counted upon for NHL calibre play, their cap hits and performances have left something to be desired in the minds of many across Oil Country.
Yamamoto, the most likely to be dealt, should be quite movable thanks to a short-term, modest $3M cap hit, and RFA eligibility heading into his next deal. At just 23 years of age, Yamamoto should have some good years ahead of him. Naturally, any team taking on his salary would need the cap space, but Yamamoto might even provide some value in an increased role, complete with power play time. Younger or rebuilding teams might see a chance in Yamamoto being something of a reclamation project that could stabilise their forward group and be a part of the program for several years. The Arizona Coyotes, for example, would be upgraded by Yamamoto’s presence, and would likely appreciate a young NHL player of his quality.
Campbell, meanwhile, might be less likely to be dealt, given how Oilers GM Ken Holland stayed put on Mikko Koskinen in the past. Still, despite a sub or season, Campbell should still be thought of as a bonafide tandem starter. Depending on circumstances, including decisions higher up the goaltending pecking order, there might be teams that can afford Campbell as an upgrade to one of their goaltending spots. The San Jose Sharks seem like a potential fit at this point, though other options might present themselves. Ultimately, Campbell does have some say in the process, sporting a modified no-trade clause.
After Campbell and Yamamoto, the cap dump style trade possibilities become a bit more murky. Some have expressed interest in moving off of, and upgrading, defencemen Cody Ceci or Brett Kulak. While Philip Broberg might be able to backfill one of these defencemen at a fraction of the cost, particularly Kulak as a left shot, it will be difficult for the Oilers to upgrade at these positions without it costing more against the cap.
Disgruntled vets, new horizons
With a number of NHL teams under new management, or adopting new directions in general, a large portion of the trade market will revolve around players under contract looking for a change of scenery. The advantage of this option is that the Oilers might be able to acquire a player at a reduced cap cost with salary retention. These deals will have to be facilitated with significant draft or prospect capital.
The Sharks, for example, have decided to help find Erik Karlsson a new home. With a significant cap hit, acquiring Karlsson would be difficult for the Oilers to manage cap wise, especially with any salary retention involved. The Sharks might be willing to drop the price overall to facilitate a deal, but it might still be too much for the Oilers to afford. Perhaps other players on the Sharks roster are available, as a capable middle six winger like Alex Barabanov might be available with retained salary. Other wingers, such as the Calgary Flames Tyler Toffoli, might make sense under similar circumstances. Toffoli does fit quite well from a stylistic aptitude, as a scorer with decent defensive impacts.
Elsewhere, any team at a crossroads might be one to watch. The Philadelphia Flyers are among these teams, and Travis Konecny has already been linked to the Oilers in the rumour mill. Konecny is a high quality player, but there might be other opportunities throughout the Flyers roster. Defenceman Travis Sanheim has all the makings of a quality top four option stuck on a middling team. Scott Laughton is more affordable cap wise, a competitive centre who might be best served as a checker. The final point of intrigue from the Flyers might be goalie Carter Hart, though it does seem strange that the Flyers would entertain moving off of him.
An interesting course of action might be to acquire a younger player, more unproven but with a smaller cap hit, from these teams. As the Nashville Predators turn to the Barry Trotz GM era, a right shot defender like Dante Fabbro might be able to fit within the Oilers cap structure. In Toronto, with the Maple Leafs under new GM Brad Treliving, another right shot defenceman Timothy Liljegren might be available. Though Liljegren has yet to fully assert himself into the Leafs top six, he has logged significant minutes. All the tools are present in Liljegren, it is more so a matter of putting them all together consistently. In that sense such a move would be a gamble, but with only a $1.4M cap hit Liljegren does provide upside value.
Assets that can be dealt away
The Oilers most valuable assets to give up are fairly simple to identify. Top prospects, Dylan Holloway and Philip Broberg, join the Oilers 2024 first-round pick as the main assists rebuilding teams would covet. A larger trade for a player of significance and with salary retention would almost undoubtedly begin with two of these pieces heading out of Edmonton. This is a stiff price to pay, but it is the price of doing business, as the Oilers would need to make a compelling offer.
Other picks, such as this year’s second-round pick, or lower level prospects might serve as sweeteners in any deal as well.
The final type of deal we might see from the Oilers on draft day is a trade up or down the draft board, navigating value. The Oilers might well elect to prioritise volume instead of quality due to their limited number of selections. The 2023 second-round pick might be turned into two or three lower round picks if the right situation arises.
In all, only time will tell how bold the Oilers are willing to get. With such a strong team and such slim cap margins, it might be most likely of all that the Oilers make minimal changes through trade, instead opting for lower price free agents, such as a possible re-signing for Mattias Janmark or Nick Bjugstad if they are without bigger contract offers on the open market. Connor Brown has been openly linked to the Oilers as well. The key might be that with such a strong team some free agents are compelled to take a short, low cost deal in the cap flattened offseason for a legitimate chance at competing for a Stanley Cup with the Oilers.
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