As part of a series, writer Benjamin Benya will be forecasting the plan of the five worst NHL teams as the trade deadline nears. Will they be big sellers or stick to their guns and stomp through the trenches?
Another season has seemingly passed the Edmonton Oilers by, so we once again find ourselves wondering who, if anyone, Edmonton will attempt to dispatch this season. Since making the Stanley Cup Finals five years ago, it has been pretty much a steady decline for fans wearing the Oilers sweater.
Coaching and management changes, the ongoing saga of Sheldon Souray, and ridiculous contracts like those given to Dustin Penner an Shawn Horcoff locked Edmonton into an unenviable position of poor play and last place finishes. But the 2010-11 season started with such promise when the Oilers debuted three top fleet rookies to lead them into the future: Taylor Hall, Magnus Paajarvi, and Jordan Eberle.
Still, despite a few highlight reel moments and flashes of brilliance, this team evolution takes time and the Oilers are the only Western Conference team that, at press time, clearly won't be making the playoffs. Saying that things could be better would be an understatement, and when looking at the salary chart to determine who is a viable trade option, further headaches ensue.
The Oilers have just over $45.8 million committed to the cap this season, a stark contrast from years past. In fact, that gives them a lot of money to toy with in the coming year. But if Edmonton were to be defined as traditional "sellers" come the trade deadline, they'd probably need a few more rentals to sell. In total, of the $45.8 million in question, $41.8 million will be committed to the cap next year.
There's not much you can do with $4 million if you want to buildup prospects and draft picks, and those scant few players available for trade may not be all that desirable either.
Defensemen Jim Vandermeer and Jason Strudwick are the only real veteran options the team can make expendable, and neither of them has played the full season. Strudwick hasn't even played in almost a month.
Offensively, Ryan Jones could be dealt for a very modest return, but his 11 goals in 51 games are indicative of a third or fourth line player and, in most systems of contenders, those roles have been filled.
Even Andrew Cogliano, a restricted free agent at the end of the season, has been underwhelming. He'd still be a potential client for another team, but he is by no means at the top of anyone's list.
Where this Oilers reconstruction could stand to improve would be in the catalyst position of dropping a contract that isn't expiring. But finding a team willing to take a chance on a player with a big salary and deal that extends past July 1st is even more difficult. All totaled, the Oilers best options would be the Phoenix Coyotes and Carolina Hurricanes, both of whom have cap space to spare and have in recent years had a good work relationship with Edmonton.
Looking forward, the least likely candidate to move is Shawn Horcoff. Horcoff's ridiculously long deal combined with his $5.5 million annual cap hit makes him the Chris Drury of the Western Conference. It should come as no surprise either, then, that Horcoff has a no trade clause.
But the Horcoff experiment has been a catastrophic failure from all sides and he'll be relegated back to second and third line duty as the youngsters take over in the coming years.
Both Ales Hemsky and Dustin Penner are still too young and too talented to honestly be options worth bartering over. And on offense, that brings us back to the loaded RFA front from the Oilers, none of whom are moving anytime soon.
On Defense, Ryan Whitney has a no-trade clause in his contract and Tom Gilbert remains a long-term project for the team. This leaves the only real option to be Kurtis Foster, who has a year remaining on his contract after this season and is a low-cost defender.
In net, one would have to suspend nearly all belief to honestly think that Nikolai Khabibulin will be on the move. Khabibulin's over-35 tag already scares most teams, not to mention the fact that he's still got two more years against the cap and he's seven years removed from his only Stanley Cup. Khabibulin wouldn't be much of a quick fix for teams that already firmly believe they've got the goalie situation locked down.
So in case you haven't figured it out to this point, Edmonton is very, very low on options at the deadline and, short of a blockbuster deal nobody saw coming, they may be awfully quiet by the end of the month. The comeback trail is paved in an awful lot of ways for teams, but this one seems to be less about fire sales and more about staying the course.
Fun Fact: Sheldon Souray would be owed $5.4 million this and next year should be allowed to return to the Oilers.
On the Move:
1. D Jim Vandermeer
2. RW Ryan Jones
3. C Andrew Cogliano
1. C/LW Shawn Horcoff
2. G Nikolai Khabibulin
3. LW Dustin Penner