Exactly 51 weeks after the explosive fan favourite Taylor Hall was dealt to the New Jersey Devils for unknown Adam Larsson in a trade that was met with outrage in Edmonton, right-winger Jordan Eberle has been sent to the New York Islanders in exchange for the flagging right-shot centre/winger Strome.
This trade will be met with more of a shrug in Oil Country, in part because of how well the Larsson deal worked out and in part because even the most orange-bleeding Oilers fan realizes that NHL teams only get to pay two superstars. Chicago gets Kane and Toews, Pittsburgh gets Crosby and Malkin, and Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl have firmly established themselves ahead of Eberle in Edmonton.
So now Eberle is gone, the first of many good players who will leave E Town a la the Chicago Blackhawks, as the Oilers learn to deal with the cap perils of having a couple of young superstars in their midst.
This deal was only marginally about talent. On the whole, it was a salary dump.
Draisaitl is due for a major raise this summer, maybe as high as $7-8 million being added to Edmonton’s payroll with his entry-level contract having expired. Yes, the Oilers could handle that raise in their cap structure, but not for long.
After next season, in a deal that could be announced any time after you awake on Canada Day, Connor McDavid’s second contract will kick in. That will result in as much as $8 million more on Edmonton’s cap — an estimated $12-14 million between the two players. So somebody had to go.
Like Hall, Eberle and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins are both living off the $6 million deals offered up by former Oilers GM Craig MacTavish — money given far too soon and too young, most NHL front office men would tell you.
One of the two were obvious targets for this divesting. And get used to it Oilers fan, because this is only the beginning.
General manager Peter Chiarelli did fantastic work last summer when he dealt Hall and freed up almost $2 million in cap space by acquiring Larsson. As it turned out, Larsson was exactly what the Oilers required on the blue-line. An upgrade in quality for a downgrade in pay, you might say.
Now it’s Eberle’s turn, with Strome making only $2.5 million (and becoming a restricted free agent at season’s end).
Strome can shoot, has better than average vision and should be able to play with a centreman like Connor McDavid, two scouts we spoke with on Thursday said. His issue is his skating, which is average at best.
But Patrick Maroon figured out how to score a career-high 27 goals on McDavid’s left side last season, and he’s no Pavel Bure. So the question begs: Why can’t Strome do it as well?
The Oilers organizational goal is to establish Draisaitl as the second-line centre, which would open the door to move Nugent-Hopkins next. If McDavid is the No. 1 centre, Draisaitl the No. 2, then all Edmonton requites is a steady, draw-winning third-line centre like an Antoine Vermette or Manny Malhotra, a decent number four, and they’re set.
Along the way, you’ll see players play with McDavid, have career seasons like Maroon’s 27 goals, and then quench their contract thirst elsewhere. Because with Milan Lucic at $6 million per, there just isn’t room for anyone to make Lucic the fourth-highest paid Oilers forward any time soon.
As for Eberle, his demise became clear when the Oilers sought a right-shot sniper to come off the left wall on their power play this season. They tried Eberle in that role, burying one-timers or rebounds with a quick release, and he disappointed. He dusts the puck off, a flaw he’ll have to solve one day.
In the end fourth-line centre Mark Letestu stole the job, scored 11 power-play goals in the regular season (to Eberle’s four), and led the Oilers with four more in the playoffs. When the guy making $1.8 million steals the job from the guy making $6 million, the next step becomes an obvious one.
Now comes Strome’s opportunity.
Drafted fifth overall in 2011, he is a 23-year-old coming off a 30-point season in Brooklyn. If he doesn’t get McDavid as his centreman, he’ll get Draisaitl. Or Nugent-Hopkins.
The rising tide in Edmonton will raise all boats.
If I’m Ryan Strome, I’m waxing the hull right about now.