Written by Craig Musselman, who can be found on twitter at @MussKeg
It has been another emotional roller coaster season for the Edmonton Oilers. At the start, it seemed they were poised to silence all the critics and bull their way into a playoff spot. Something this club hasn’t experienced since its magical cup run in 2006. Unfortunately for Oiler fans the out-of-this-world goaltending of Nikolai Khabibulin and Devan Dubnyk came back down to earth, young offensive dynamos Jordan Eberle, Taylor Hall, and rookie Ryan Nugent-Hopkins all went down with various injuries, and the over-achieving but relatively unknown defense core began to show that its stinginess was in fact an illusion precipitated by the aforementioned goaltending wizardry. And while there have been various bright moments along the way (several offensively explosive victories – most notably Sam Gagner’s 8-point night in particular), it has once again been another year of growing pains for this young and promising Oilers franchise.
Sitting at just 52 pts through 59 games, the Oilers once again find themselves at the bottom of the league, with only the catastrophe that is the Blue Jackets separating them from a 3rd straight season of finishing in last place. However, the glass half full view of this situation sees the Oilers in a position to further stock their talent cupboards at the draft, but more importantly for the present time, it allows them the luxury of knowing what category they fall under for Trade Deadline Day: SELLERS.
Other than a lottery pick, the great advantage of occupying a slot as far out of the playoff picture as the Oilers are is that they have a clear vision of what needs to be done at or before the trade deadline. With only a handful of other clubs in a similar situation, this puts the Oilers in a very advantageous position. And while the club may not have a large contingent of players to offer for teams looking to make a playoff push or put them over the top, they do have one extremely attractive asset available.
28-year-old Czech winger Ales Hemsky is set to become a free agent this off-season and has spent his entire 9-year career with the Edmonton Oilers to this point. This however appears likely to change come trade deadline day. With Hemsky looking for a long-term contract and the Oilers brass concerned about ensuring they have cap space to sign the likes of Hall and Eberle to contracts after next season, it seems to suggest that Hemsky’s departure is merely a formality. While his numbers leave something to be desired this season (25 points in 45 games) and with his perceived lack of durability impacting his value, there is no doubt that Hemsky is one of the more appealing assets available come trade deadline day with not that many top 6 forwards up for grabs. Names like Carter and Nash have had the rumor mill swirling lately, but both those players come with painfully long contracts and likely require an extremely strong package of players, prospects, and/or picks to get either them out of a Blue Jackets uniform before the trade deadline.
In return for Hemsky, it is almost guaranteed that the Oilers would be looking to add a defense prospect with some offensive flare to his game, who is close to being to being NHL ready. While they’ll also be looking to add draft picks where possible, the Oilers are at a point in their rebuild where more tangible assets are necessary when dealing a player of Hemsky’s caliber.
Potential Destinations: Nashville, New York Rangers, Detroit, and Los Angeles
While the Oilers would love to pry Ryan Ellis away from the Preds in order to reunite him with fellow World Junior alumni Taylor Hall and Jordan Eberle, the more realistic scenario would see them receiving an offer of a player like Jonathan Blum and a draft pick. The Rangers could offer up the likes of a Michael Del Zotto or Dylan McIlrath to entice the Oilers to part ways with Hemsky, and although they were burned on the Penner acquisition last year, it is well known that Los Angeles was pushing much harder for Hemsky at the time. Defensive prospect Slava Voynov might be enough to get the Oilers to start listening but if they could somehow get the Kings to offer up goaltender Jonathan Bernier the Oilers would jump on that in a heart beat.
Andy Sutton was a name most thought was a guarantee to get moved at the deadline for a team looking to stock up on defensive depth. However the veteran defenseman recently re-signed with the Oilers for one more year, so don’t look to see any movement from him until maybe next year’s trade deadline.
Nikolai Khabibulin looked like he could be close to packing his bags and heading back to Chicago to try and solve the Blackhawks goaltending woes, but a recent groin injury coupled with another year left on his contract at a cap hit of $3.75 million likely put a sudden stop to any potential trades involving the 39 year old goaltender.
Sam Gagner is an interesting case study for current trade rumors. His value has no doubt sky rocketed lately, and while many see the 22 year old centre as a strong fit for teams such as Toronto, Chicago, etc. it would take a very strong offer to steal this talented centre from the Oilers. An offer that contained anything less than a young stud defenseman, would probably draw nothing more than a laugh from Oilers management, who love Gagner’s attitude, work ethic, and character almost as much as they love his skill. The only name linked to Gagner in the past that would seem reasonable now is Zach Bogosian of the Winnipeg Jets. Many suggest Luke Schenn could be a good fit, but it is highly likely the Oilers would only start to listen if the offer for Gagner contained an offensive defenseman instead.
Lastly, depth defensemen such as Theo Peckham and Cam Barker could likely be had for little more than a mid-to-late round draft pick if a team was looking to shore up its defensive depth.
The next few days will be very interesting for fans and media in Oil Country. While the Oilers 2011-2012 Trade Deadline tracker might be sparse in the number of deals done, the availability of Hemsky and abundance of “Buyers” could lead to them walking away with quite the haul from cashing in their one poker chip.