Not fair to lump Strome-Eberle deal with other Oilers whiffs

Watch as Ryan Strome breaks out of his zone and Jujhar Khaira finishes off the play to give the Edmonton Oilers a shorthanded goal.

What tends to get overlooked was, it was a salary dump.

Edmonton general manager Peter Chiarelli had to move a big contract before Connor McDavid’s deal kicks in this summer, so he traded Jordan Eberle for Ryan Strome, and hung on to Ryan Nugent-Hopkins.

He could have waited a year to make the move; he could have spent his excess cap space more wisely. But Strome for Eberle was a salary dump, plain and simple.

So when Strome stumbled through his first 40 games as an Edmonton Oiler, the deal wound up on the very same pile as Griffin Reinhart for picks, or Taylor Hall for Adam Larsson.

“We expected him to produce when he came in here … and we didn’t get enough from him,” admitted Strome’s coach Todd McLellan. “It began to feel negative.”

Eberle, meanwhile, had 13 snipes by Christmas. And the narrative got away on Chiarelli.

But remember: Jordan Eberle makes $6 million. Ryan Strome makes $2.5 million. If he scored as many goals as Eberle — as consistently over seven seasons — Strome would still be an Islander.

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As Eberle brings his 23 goals and 47 points back to Rogers Place for a game against the Oilers on Thursday night, the numbers say he is producing at exactly the pace he had produced over seven seasons in Oilers silks.

There he’ll meet Strome, who has 12-19-31 in an identical 66 games this season. That puts Strome on pace for 15 goals and 39 points — just slightly better than his career average in the four full seasons he has spent as an NHLer.

Both teams, it seems, are getting exactly what they’re paying for.

“I’m really not sure what to expect,” said Eberle, upon his initial road game against the team that drafted him 22nd overall in 2008. “I’ve got a lot of good memories from here, still tons of friends on the team. It was an awesome place to play. The crowd, hopefully they don’t boo me. Hopefully they give me a warm welcome.”

It was Eberle’s production down the stretch and into the playoffs last season that sealed his fate as the salary that Chiarelli would move. He found the net in only one of 15 key games as the regular season came to a close last spring before adding four goals in a relatively meaningless home-and-home against Vancouver.

Then, in his first playoff appearance as an NHLer, the kid who made his name as that clutch scorer for Canada at the world juniors went dry. He had zero goals in 13 playoff games. It was that drought that had Eberle talking earlier this season about how tough the Edmonton media can be, a stance he backed off on after practice Wednesday.

“Struggling, then not playing well at all in the playoffs last year and being criticized — rightfully so — it’s never fun,” he said. “I’ve always said the media has never been unfair. They just (tell it) like it is. If you’re not playing well, they’re going to tell you.”

The narrative surrounding Eberle for Strome has also begun to swing, as Strome puts together a decent second half as McLellan’s No. 3 centre. He has nine points in his past nine games, and is playing like the player that Chiarelli saw value in at $2.5 million and a pending restricted free agent.

“Me and Todd had a talk. Kind of, ‘What’s your role on the team?’” Strome said. “Being put on the penalty kill has been a big responsibility … and I haven’t played this much centre in my whole career. Getting on the power play too. Get those touches. Get some confidence.

“I’m one of those guys who, if I can solidify my role on this team, it will help in the long run.”

For Strome, this marks the point in the career of a fifth-overall pick where he finds true opportunity — as a third-line centre.

“It’s hard when you come in as a top-five, -seven, or -10 pick,” McLellan said. “You’re expected to produce like Connor (McDavid) does. Or Leon (Draisaitl), Patrik Laine, or (Auston) Matthews. … You’re usually evaluated based on numbers, and in Ryan’s case the numbers aren’t so significant, so there becomes a negative feel to them.

“Over the last month and a little, when we put him the middle and he has commanded his own line, in the seven-eight-nine role … we’ve seen his best hockey in the past three weeks to a month.”

Eberle is always going to be that top-six right-winger. Strome, meanwhile, is at a place in his career where he just wants to help any way he can.

“The No. 1 centre is pretty locked up on this team,” he said with a chuckle. “The No. 2 centre, whether it’s Nugent-Hopkins or Draisaitl, they’re world-class players.

“In practice I try to compete against them every day. You want to try to be as good as them. That’s how I try to help the team.”

Keep playing well, and he’ll help the GM’s trade record as well.

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