RALEIGH — We’re inside two weeks to the National Hockey League Trade Deadline, so that means general managers are telephone mingling, letting their needs be known and airing their wants.
Acting Edmonton Oilers general manager Keith Gretzky’s needs are plain: He has to shed some money and start bringing in some wingers for next season.
He’s got three centres you could win a Stanley Cup with in Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. But he doesn’t have a top-six winger in his organization, and he’s pretty much capped out with a non-playoff roster.
The first job will be to get rid of approximately $1.3 million by Tuesday, the sum required to fit in Andrej Sekera, who Gretzky expects to have back on the Oilers blue-line against the Arizona Coyotes. The team and player mutually extended Sekera’s stay with AHL Bakersfield on Tuesday, to allow the player a fourth and fifth game at the AHL level before he must come up to the NHL.
“He needs two more games. And he felt like he needed two more games,” Gretzky said. “He’s so smart, and he played great down there. But he’s coming up, and it’s a different league. And he’s been out for so long. But his game sense is elite and his passing is great.”
That means the GM has to somehow pare $1.3 million off of his payroll by Monday night. “We’ll get something done. We’ve talked to teams, but at the end of the day, it still has to happen. I don’t count anything until it’s done.”
The talk on Thursday had Gretzky dealing goalie Cam Talbot to the Philadelphia Flyers for a cheaper goalie, and solving his cap issue that way. We’re not sure why Philly, which has Carter Hart, Anthony Stolarz, Mike McKenna, Brian Elliott (long-term injury), and Michal Neuvirth (injured reserve) under contract, needs another goalie. But where there’s smoke…
Word is that Hart is wearing down in his first NHL season and needs a healthy backup, and Hart has a relationship with Talbot, having trained together in the summer. Hart called Talbot the night before his first NHL start, and the pair would make a good veteran-rookie tandem next season, with Talbot becoming a free agent on July 1.
Gretzky could solve his immediate cap issues by moving Talbot, but he’d much rather trade a player with years remaining on his contract, like a Ryan Spooner, Brandon Manning, Milan Lucic, Zack Kassian or Kris Russell.
“We’re trying to get rid of some contracts that have term on them, but it’s hard,” Gretzky said. “Not just for now, but for next year.”
Sometimes that means “sugaring” a deal by attaching a draft pick to a player. Say, moving Manning and a third for a fourth or fifth round pick, something Gretzky does not sound ready to do.
“That would be the last thing we want to do,” he said. “That’s our bread and butter for getting better, our picks. If we have to do it, we have to do it. But I don’t see that being something we have to do.”
The goalie market is not a good one, especially for a guy with Talbot’s numbers: a 3.36 GAA and an .893 saves percentage. Asked how much action he’s had on Talbot thus far, Gretzky said, “Nothing going on. Zippo.”
Teams are calling about Alex Chiasson, who has gone cold after scoring 17 goals. He has not dented the twine in his last 13 games. But Gretzky will be wary to deal his highest scoring winger. “I still need NHL players on my roster,” he said.
He’d even bring a top-six winger in if he could find one with some term left on his deal. “We’re still in (the playoff race), so if we get a chance to add something for the future we’ll do that too.”
The thing about Gretzky is, from the outside, some people link him in with Edmonton’s old boys’ club, simply because his brother is Wayne Gretzky. But he is nothing of the sort, coming to the Oilers from the Bruins as a true bird dog, that scout who works tirelessly in rinks across the hockey world all winter long.
He can spot a player, and the 13-game winning streak Bakersfield is currently on is a testimony to that. Now he’s getting a taste of being a GM, with one of the biggest messes in hockey to clean up, left behind by his old boss, Peter Chiarelli.
“It’s good. You talk to a lot of people, but you’ve got to use your staff. You put everything together, decide what’s best,” he said. “We need to get rid of money. That’s our biggest thing.
“We want to add wingers. Our defence, I think, is going to be fine, maybe tweak it a bit. But we need forwards. That’s what we need and we’re looking.”