The Edmonton Oilers are in trouble.
It’s not too late to salvage this season, but a 9-13-2 mark and a seventh-place seeding in the Pacific Division are reasons to be very concerned about this team’s ability to qualify for the playoffs this spring.
How they got here and what they need to do next are up for debate, but every struggling club finds itself in an undercurrent of trade talk as a method to fix what ails it.
The Oilers, six points out of a Western Conference Wild Card slot entering Tuesday evening’s NHL action, are no different.
“He’s been working the phones like crazy,” indicated hockey Insider Pierre LeBrun of Oilers general manager Peter Chiarelli during a Tuesday evening appearance on Montreal’s TSN 690. “I talked to a GM today who said no one is busier and as active as Peter Chiarelli.
“The thing is, he’s not one trade away from fixing this. I think the answer is much, much more within the room than anything else. But it certainly would help to upgrade their blueline, which is I think an area where he’s looking at.
“But they’ve got to get more saves from Cam Talbot. They’ve got to be quicker with the puck. They look so slow some nights. They need the leadership group to really be strong. They can’t leave everything just to Connor McDavid. That’s too much.
“So there’s lots of things. I could go on and on.”
LeBrun’s colleague, Bob McKenzie, shared a similar sentiment during a Tuesday evening appearance on Toronto’s TSN 1050.
“There’s no question. I think Peter Chiarelli wants to try to make a move,” noted McKenzie. “I’m not sure it’s the seismic blockbuster that people would anticipate or want to see for a team that’s struggling as much as the Edmonton Oilers are. I think he wants to try to create a spark, move one piece for another piece and see if that lights a fire under some support players.
“But I think what they really think in Edmonton – Chiarelli did a news conference today, and he’s obviously under the gun. What he didn’t say, but what I could imagine him wanting to say – and it’s just me projecting this for him – would be, ‘Hey listen. If Cam Talbot and Oscar Klefbom and Adam Larsson don’t play a lot closer to the way they played last year versus how poorly they’ve played this year… we could make 10 trades and it’s not going to make a difference if the guys who we’re counting on to be core players… the No. 1 goaltender who had Vezina numbers last year, although he didn’t win the Vezina, and a top-pairing defense that was lights-out good especially in the playoffs – if those guys don’t play better…’
“You’re at the mercy of your best players, and when they’re not going they’re not going.”
“How much better would they be instantly if those three guys all played 25 percent better than they’ve been playing. Never mind Draisaitl, who’s got two or three more gears to see. Even McDavid, and he’s been fine, but he can be so much better. And then you’ve got to count on some of the guys you bet on – Caggiula and Slepyshev and Puljujarvi. And if you’ve got be patient, I guess you’ve got to be patient.
“But it’s easier to be patient with those guys – you can’t be patient with the big boys because they’ve got to lead the way for you.”
Part of McKenzie’s radio hit on TSN 1050 included a discussion on defenseman Ian Cole of the Pittsburgh Penguins, who is seemingly available for trade.
“Edmonton has got interest in Ian Cole,” asserted McKenzie. “And right away, the fans in Pittsburgh, they start dreaming in Technicolor. ‘Okay, great. You guys get Cole, we get Ryan Nugent-Hopkins.’
“No. that’s not happening. That’s not happening.”
Immense difference in value aside, Cole is in the final season of his three-year, $6.3 million contract and will be an unrestricted free agent this summer.
Nugent-Hopkins has three additional seasons left on his contract after 2017-18 and comes with a $6 million cap hit.
Neither player has any trade protection written into his contract.
McKenzie had a lengthier discussion on Cole in that 1050 hit, but also covered the situation more succinctly on TSN’s Insider Trading on Tuesday evening.
With McKenzie having mentioned Edmonton’s interest in the rearguard, it’s worth relaying what the Insider had to say here.
“After three straight healthy scratches (for) defenseman Ian Cole, the Pittsburgh media suggesting he may have played his last game with the Penguins,” described McKenzie. “Now, the media in Pittsburgh are citing the fact that maybe Pittsburgh doesn’t want to lose this guy as an unrestricted free agent at the end of the year; or that they’re trying to protect the asset, that they’re so interested in trading him right now they don’t want him to get injured until they find that deal.
“Listen, my understanding of the situation is the Pittsburgh Penguins are absolutely prepared to trade Ian Cole, but only if they get a prime asset in return – probably a quality center. Cole’s on an expiring contact, that might be difficult deal to do. But right now he is on the outs with head coach Mike Sullivan.
“But in the grand scheme of things, if they get the right deal they’ll move him. If not, I could see him back in the lineup at some point.”