Approaching the quarter mark of the 2018-19 NHL schedule, the St. Louis Blues and Edmonton Oilers found themselves outside the Western Conference playoff picture.
Fearful of falling further out of the contention, both clubs fired their head coaches last Tuesday. The Blues moved first, relieving Mike Yeo of his duties and promoting associate coach Craig Berube. Later in the day, the Oilers brought long-time NHL bench boss Ken Hitchcock out of retirement to replace Todd McLellan.
It’s too early to tell if these moves will bring about a significant reversal of their respective fortunes. The Blues dropped two of their first three games with Berube behind the bench, while the Oilers went 1-1-1 under Hitchcock.
With no immediate help available in the trade market, the respective managements of both clubs felt a coaching shakeup was their best option to get their clubs back on track.
The general managers – Doug Armstrong of the Blues, Peter Chiarelli of the Oilers – will obviously scour the trade market for help. Finding a season-saving deal, however, is easier said than done.
Last summer, Armstrong made a blockbuster deal by acquiring center Ryan O’Reilly from the Buffalo Sabres. O’Reilly is the Blues’ leading scorer and best all-around player but he can’t help them overcome their shaky goaltending and sloppy defense.
That’s not to suggest there aren’t any clubs unwilling to deal with the Blues and Oilers. The problem for Armstrong and Chiarelli is potential trade partner hope to poach away some quality talent without giving up much in return.
The Blues have several players rival clubs would love to land. Winger Vladimir Tarasenko recently surfaced in the rumor mill, though Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman believes it would be hard for the Blues to win that trade. Defensemen Alex Pietrangelo and Colton Parayko have struggled this season but would be attractive to clubs seeking skilled blueline talent.
It’s doubtful Armstrong would go to that extreme by moving out those core players. If he does, however, such moves typically take place in the offseason, when teams have more cap flexibility to swing deals for high-salaried players.
If Armstrong makes a midseason move, he could try moving a lesser light. The Athletic’s Jeremy Rutherford considers struggling defenseman Jordan Schmaltz as the most likely trade candidate but wondered what real interest he would have.
As for the Oilers, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins frequently popped up in media trade chatter over the last two seasons but he’s not going anywhere. Teams would love to land physical defenseman Darnell Nurse but the Oilers have no intention of trading him.
Promising left wing Jesse Puljujarvi‘s difficulties in cracking the Oilers’ roster full time has some observers wondering if he has a future in Edmonton. So far, however, they’re staying patient with the young Finn.
Barring a significant shift in the trade market in the coming weeks, the Blues and Oilers likely have little choice but to stick with their current rosters and hope they can turn things around under their new head coaches.
If they fail to improve between now and January, one or both clubs could become sellers before the Feb. 25, 2019 trade deadline.
Even then, it’s unlikely they’ll swing any blockbuster deals. Instead, they’ll look to offload pending free agents who they can’t or won’t re-sign before July.
The Oilers, meanwhile, could attempt to peddle winger Alex Chiasson and defensemen Chris Wideman and Jason Garrison. They could even consider moving Cam Talbot or Mikko Koskinen, though either move would leave them thin between the pipes.