Signings and trades in Oilers’ plans

Photo: Jason Franson/CP

When your roster has as many itches to be scratched as Craig MacTavish’s, the Edmonton Oilers GM must feel at times like he has hives.

As the draft approaches however, The Big Scratch—trading one of the core group of young Oilers—is what everyone talks about. Everyone, that is, except for MacTavish.

Why is that?

“Because I know how difficult it is to acquire those pieces,” says MacTavish, who has had this discussion with his own people, with other GMs, and today, with Sportsnet. “You’ve got to build your team around somebody. I know you need advancement, but for me… I know the character of the people. They’re budding stars, and they’re doing that on a team that’s had very little team strength.

“As our team grows and gets better, the performance level of the group you’re talking about is going to be off the charts. I want to buy them some time to get the development they need, by (acquiring) guys I can surround them with.”

That means Ryan Nugent-Hopkins stays, but Sam Gagner would likely be available. On the right side, Jordan Eberle isn’t moving. But would David Perron bring back something good, considering he is 26 and coming off a career year?

Justin Schultz or Taylor Hall? Forget about it.

It is the time of year for roster movement, and in fact, the NHL Draft has become the new trade deadline. There is more meaningful roster change happening in June and July than you’ll see in March, which means a guy with cap space and a 29th-place roster has plenty of opportunity over the next three weeks.

“We’ll add bodies through the UFA market, which is always a little dangerous, the draft, and potential trades,” MacTavish says. “We’re in the process now of making those phone calls. We’re a team that can take some salary, so we’re in that market too.”

What are the Oilers’ priorities? Again, when you’re drafting No. 3 overall, it’s a good bet you’ve got plenty of needs.

“We need a puck-moving defenceman, another one,” says the second-year GM. “Justin (Schultz) is developing, and is going to be very good at that. But we need somebody to challenge open ice, and open up ice for our forwards.

“We’d like to get a five-six defenceman who is a good penalty killer and good shut-down player. So, we’re looking at both extremes of our defence. We’re trying to get bigger up front. We’ve got the toughest element to get (skill), but I think we can augment that with players who are bigger, stronger and more productive than what we’ve had.”

As the GM of the team with the longest active streak of non-playoff seasons (eight), MacTavish feels the heat. But with every potential trade, he tries to determine whether it will help build a Cup winner in next three or four years? Or will it help now, but ultimately undermine those Stanley Cup plans.

“That’s the friction point,” he says.

Watch for Edmonton to again approach Philadelphia in hopes of helping the Flyers alleviate their glut of salary on defence. MacTavish has liked Braydon Coburn for some time. The Flyers have nearly $27 million committed to six defencemen, the priciest blueline in hockey. If he can’t trade for what he wants, MacTavish will shop for a Ron Hainsey or Matt Niskanen on July 1, should the latter reach UFA status. Or perhaps take a flyer on a potential UFA like Andrej Meszaros or Matt Greene.

Up front they require help at first- or second-line centre, but that’s an unlikely prospect. A more reasonable hope would be some second- or third-line size, like a Daniel Winnik or perhaps a Michal Handzus.

Of free agency, MacTavish promises: “We’re going to be active there,” though he sees his puck-mover coming on the trade market, as the UFA group is not strong.

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