Depending on how you look at it, the Oilers either house one of the game’s elite offences, or one in desperate need of help.
On one hand, they’re led by the top two scorers in the league, with Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl amassing an absurd 95 combined points through 27 tilts so far, and threatening to break games open every time they step on the ice.
On the other hand, the pair have accounted for roughly 41 per cent of Edmonton’s goals in 2019-20, meaning the rest of the lineup is coming up short in pulling the club’s overall goals-per-game clip higher than its current 13th-place league-wide ranking.
While the star duo has been willing their club to wins through October and November, it’s fair to assume their current strategy won’t look quite as good when the games matter most.
“That’s not a formula that works in the playoffs, generally speaking,” said longtime NHL executive Brian Burke during Hockey Night in Canada’s To The Point segment Saturday. “That’s where you see defensive schemes, you see shutdown lines. And the risk of injury to this team is staggering.”
Asked by David Amber how GM Ken Holland might take these Oilers from playoff calibre to genuine contender, then, Burke reiterated that it all comes down to that lacklustre depth.
“I think his wish-list would start and end with a top-six forward. I mean, right now, [to] address this need for secondary scoring, you want to go out and get a top-six forward, in my opinion,” Burke said. “…The problem is they’ve got salary-cap issues up to their chin, and they’re not going to be able to add a player like that unless they can move some money back.”
So goes the current conundrum for the Oilers.
The need is obvious — finding some quality forwards to slot into the bottom six and beef up the club’s overall attack when Nos. 97 and 29 aren’t on the ice. The problem is Edmonton doesn’t have much to put on the table in a potential deal.
Usual trade chip Ryan Nugent-Hopkins seems a necessity at this point given the team’s lack of centre depth. And while the star duo is tearing it up, is Edmonton in a position to sacrifice future assets like Evan Bouchard or Kailer Yamamoto to make a big splash and try and win now? Not likely. Nor is it likely they look to ship out a quality defender like Oscar Klefbom, Darnell Nurse, Adam Larsson or Ethan Bear — another noteworthy wrinkle given there isn’t much up top to entice trade partners.
And, as Burke mentioned, the salary cap won’t make things any easier on Holland, as the Oilers sit with just $1,015,219 in cap space, per CapFriendly.
All that said, who’s out there that could realistically fit in a deal to solidify the Oilers’ depth scoring? A few teams and names to consider:
Calgary Flames: Andrew Mangiapane, Mark Jankowski, Michael Frolik
Whether the Flames are willing to engage in any more trade talks with Edmonton after how the James Neal-for-Milan Lucic swap went remains to be seen, but if the Oilers are looking for depth options that won’t break the bank, Calgary may be their best bet.
Andrew Mangiapane is one name that comes to mind. The 23-year-old has shown flashes of great potential in a limited role for the Flames — his strong numbers in the AHL hint at the chance to be a quality depth option as well. And, more importantly, he’s cheap, counting just $715,000 against the cap.
While the Flames have little reason to ship Mangiapane out of town, it’s worth remembering he and the club went through a tense contract negotiation over the summer that had the winger at one point seeking $200,000 more than the club was willing to give him. He ended up settling for much less than his original $1-million ask, but not until mid-September.
If, perhaps, that negotiation changed the relationship enough to give the two sides reason to part ways should the opportunity presents itself, the quick-footed winger could certainly help the Oilers’ cause.
In his latest 31 Thoughts column, Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman noted two other Flames names that could be available to help the Oilers — centre Mark Jankowski and winger Michael Frolik.
Struggling so far this year, with goose eggs across the board, Jankowski has been solid for Calgary for the past two years, posting a combined 31 goals in that span. How much of an improvement Jankowski would be over the Oilers’ current bottom-six options is debatable, but he does bring a noteworthy mix of size (six-foot-four, 212 pounds) and potential to the table.
A more established option would be Michael Frolik, who’s also available, according to Friedman. Though he’s seen his role diminish of late, and has only three points to his name this season, the Czech veteran posted a respectable 16 goals and 34 points last season, and has seven campaigns of 15-plus goals on his resumé — enough to suggest he could still be of use to the Oilers
Ottawa Senators: Jean-Gabriel Pageau, Vladislav Namestnikov
In terms of value for their dollar, few are getting more for less than the Senators are for Jean-Gabriel Pageau. The 27-year-old is off to a dominant start to 2019-20, scoring at a career-best clip and sitting with 13 goals and 17 points already this season. All that for a $3.1-million cap hit for the pending unrestricted free agent.
Would Ottawa be willing to move their leading scorer? It wouldn’t be the first time the club’s parted with a marquee name, and there’s no question he has the skill to help bolster Edmonton’s secondary scoring. That said, Pageau’s a hometown boy and a fan favourite, so it may be tougher to pry him out of the capital.
A name on the roster not so high-profile may be Vladislav Namestnikov. The 27-year-old is on to his third team in the big leagues, but a 20-goal, 44-point effort a couple years ago (through only 62 games, no less) hinted at the ceiling of his capabilities in the right situation. Though out injured at the moment, the pivot is back practicing with the team, and has 12 points on the board through 20 games so far.
New Jersey Devils: Nikita Gusev
After stocking up in the off-season to build what looked like an Eastern Conference dark horse — adding P.K. Subban and Jack Hughes to a club that already featured recent Hart Trophy winner Taylor Hall — the Devils have fallen flat so far this season. Their eight wins through 22 games leaves them just three points out of last place in the East.
Does GM Ray Shero look to shake up his squad to spark a Blues-esque comeback?
One option if he does could be KHL standout Nikita Gusev, who joined the club in the off-season after a string of dominant seasons for SKA Saint Petersburg. He’s posted just eight points for Jersey so far, while the club’s faltered as a whole, too.
Should both sides decide the experiment isn’t taking, perhaps Shero looks to flip Gusev to fill holes elsewhere on the roster. Though he isn’t putting up numbers at the moment, the Russian winger’s KHL dominance make clear he has enough offensive ability to do some damage. Of course, a $4.5-million cap hit means there’d be some work to do to fit him into the club’s financials.
New York Rangers: Chris Kreider
Take a quick glance at the Rangers roster from just a few years ago, the 2016-17 team that made it to the second round: Only one of that team’s top seven scorers is still in New York.
Chris Kreider remains — Mats Zuccarello, J.T. Miller, Derek Stepan, Kevin Hayes and Ryan McDonagh are gone.
Suffice it to say, it’s not inconceivable to think the Rangers could move the big-bodied winger, as the team leans into their new era headed up by dynamic talents like Artemi Panarin and Kaapo Kakko.
The pending UFA would likely only be able to help the Oilers for this season before he prices himself out of Edmonton’s range in the summer, but with 28 goals to his name last season and three other 20-goal seasons under his belt, he’d be the most established and dangerous scorer the Oilers could realistically target.
Los Angeles Kings: Tyler Toffoli
Another somewhat established name on a club in transition, Tyler Toffoli’s seen his role change significantly this season.
After winning a Cup with Los Angeles in 2014, and becoming a fan favourite as part of the trio affectionately dubbed That ’70s Line (along with Jeff Carter and since-traded Tanner Pearson), Toffoli was pushed to the press box as a healthy scratch in late October.
Should the club be looking for a change as they hope to shake things up and break out of these past few seasons of mediocrity, Toffoli could be an intriguing option for Holland. Still only 27 years old, and with 24 goals potted just two seasons ago, there’s still plenty the Scarborough, Ont., native could offer Connor McDavid’s club.