There are rumors, which likely originated from TSN Hockey Insider Darren Dreger's comments on TSN 1050, that the Edmonton Oilers would be open to trading star left wing Taylor Hall in an attempt to improve a perennially bad team.
Does trading an elite, young talent under team control through 2020 make sense for a team as poor as the Oilers? Are the Oilers in such tatters that they should consider making the move? Dave Lozo and Jonathan Willis had an email exchange about just this situation and here is what they think the Oilers should do.
Dave: Hi Jonathan!
So here's how I heard about the Taylor Hall trade rumors. I had absorbed all the tweets from the Craig MacTavish press conference about firing Dallas Eakins and had to take a Twitter break. When I returned to Twitter, everyone I followed had a tweet with the words "Hall" and "trade" in them.
It seemed odd. Why would the Oilers, an obviously bad team loaded with players who aren't very good, want to trade not only their best player but one of the best players in the league? Did MacTavish say this? If so, why?
Then I found the tweet mentioning the Darren Dreger report that set off the Twitter Hall-storm (trademarked) and shrugged.
I'm not saying that Hall should not be traded under any circumstances, but they would need to be extremely specific circumstances that include two first-round draft picks because this team has to be about the distant future. Again.
Jonathan: I was wondering what you were thinking about this and sort of figured we'd be on the same page, but not so much I guess. We're starting from the same place—why on earth would a terrible team trade an elite player who hasn't even hit his prime years yet and is locked up long term—but we've come up with different answers to the question.
I don't think this team can be about the far future, not again. We're talking about a franchise that traded Chris Pronger for "five assets" back in 2006, bringing back Joffrey Lupul and a bunch of magic beans. The team reset when it made that trade, becoming a tomorrow team (and not a tomorrow team in the Doug Wilson sense, where the team is literally going to be good when you make up tomorrow morning) and putting the future in a group led by Sam Gagner.
It worked out badly, that group was scrapped and the future was placed into the hands of a cluster of top young picks led by Taylor Hall. Now the Oilers have a lost decade in the rear-view mirror and we're talking about another reset.
No, if the Oilers trade Hall, it has to be a positional move for a young centre or defenceman playing at almost the same level. Looking around the league, I can't imagine a team willing to do that.
Dave: The Oilers are bad. They are so, so bad. They are so, so bad right now, too. It doesn't matter if they traded Chris Pronger or did whatever with Sam Gagner in the past. They are bad now. It doesn't matter if the team doesn't want to be about the far future: It should be about the far future. It needs to be about the far future.
Ideally, I'd keep Hall, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Oscar Klefbom, Leon Draisaitl and get everything I can for anyone else. I'd strip the team and sell it for parts. What move can the Oilers possibly make that transforms them into a playoff team next year? Or the year after that? There isn't one.
At best, they are this fringe team that gets into the playoffs as a wild card and gets destroyed. And even that seems far-fetched.
This team is four to five years away from being a threat for a championship, especially in the West.
I'd treat the Oilers like an expansion team that starts with Hall and Nugent-Hopkins. I'm scraping for future assets with everyone else. But if someone blows me away for Hall, I'd have to consider it and then look at the Oilers like an expansion team with RNH.
Jonathan: How far out are they, really, though? I know, I know, they're brutal down the middle and thin on defence. But look at what the Islanders did over the summer and what happened as a result. If Craig MacTavish goes out next year and adds the equivalent of Jaroslav Halak, Nick Leddy, Johnny Boychuk and Mikhail Grabovski, where is Edmonton sitting?
This is a club that has historically bad goaltending and a wretched shooting percentage, but it's also a team that's in the middle of the pack in terms of the shot metrics; if not for the fact that this is the Oilers, stats guys would be coming out of the woodwork to say that a lot of the club's problems are pretty quickly correctable.
We're talking about a team that made a six-point jump in its Corsi percentage at even strength, going from 44.3 percent last year to 50.9 percent this year.
If the Oilers add a bona fide goalie in the offseason, draft someone useful with a high 2015 first-round pick and trade one of their surplus wingers (say Jordan Eberle) for help on defence this summer, do you really think that roster has no chance at fighting for a playoff spot?
Dave: None whatsoever.
I take that back. Is it "fighting" if I get in the ring with an MMA fighter? Then, yes, they could fight in that same fashion.
You can't compare the Oilers to the Islanders. For one, the Oilers play in the West and Islanders play in the East, where the Sabres are now pushing for a playoff spot. For two, the Islanders had way more happening in every area. They had John Tavares, Frans Nielsen, Brock Nelson, Travis Hamonic, Lubomir Visnovsky, Kyle Okposo, Ryan Strome, Calvin de Haan, Josh Bailey. They had way more going for themselves before all those additions than the Oilers do now.
And who is this goalie the Oilers are going to add that's as good as Halak? Antti Niemi? Jhonas Enroth? Perhaps...Devan Dubnyk?!?!?
The best thing the Oilers can do is tank as hard as anyone has ever tanked, draft (hopefully) Connor McDavid and then anyone else they can with picks they acquire in tank trades this season.
Feel the tank. Love the tank. Be the thank. The future is 2018-19.
Jonathan: While it's true that the Oilers have it tougher because they play in the NHL's real conference, let's not forget that the Calgary Flames needed five straight losses to fall out of a postseason berth in the West.
But here's the thing that really matters: Teams don't start winning until they put in an active effort to start winning. The Islanders were a bad team forever because they were either hanging their hopes on draft picks or trading away the young players they drafted for middling older players.
They finally turned a corner when their young talent started to mature and they were backed into a corner because the GM had dealt away his 2015 first-rounder in a fit of exuberance and had no choice but to gun for all he was worth for the playoffs.
If anything, that's what the Oilers should do. There are a lot of good young players on the team or very close to it—Hall, RNH, Eberle, Nail Yakupov, Draisaitl, Darnell Nurse, Klefbom, Justin Schultz, Martin Marincin, the list goes on—and even the veterans are guys like David Perron, Benoit Pouliot and Mark Fayne; there are only three guys over age 30. Now's not the time to rip it down and start again; now's the time to do everything possible to push that group over the hump.
Dave: It's a hump the same way Mount Everest is a hump. And the Flames are going to miss the playoffs by about 15 points, so I don't know if that helps the argument.
I say keep Taylor Hall unless Robert Redford walks through that door with a million-dollar offer. Actually, that ended up being bad for Demi Moore and Woody Harrelson, right? What a weird movie.
One problem when teams trade guys like, say, Tyler Seguin, is they want a bunch of average-to-good now pieces. It never works out long term for the team getting those pieces. You always want to get the best player in any deal, and the problem for the Oilers would be every trade would have them dealing the best player.
The other issue is: What has being around all this losing and sadness done to the young corps? Is Yakupov ever going to realize his potential there? Is Eberle going to score 30 again? Because he gets paid like a guy who is supposed to score 30 every year. At what point do you stop plugging the holes on the ship and let the ship sink to get the insurance money to a buy a new ship?
Hall is on pace for 26 goals. He's below average possession-wise on a team that has improved in that area. Maybe he's infected by the sadness and losing. Maybe he never realizes his potential in Edmonton. As good as he is, I'm willing to entertain the idea that he may never be what he could be in his current situation and that it's time to start fresh with new players and picks.
Jonathan: How long has this team even really been plugging holes? The Oilers big free-agent addition in the summer of 2013 was Andrew Ference; the first time in half a decade that Edmonton really put a concerted effort into getting better in the here and now was this past summer.
Is it worth wondering what all the losing has done to the young stars? Absolutely, but that's not a good reason to throw them all out, start again with new players and hope that the third rebuild is the charm. Edmonton has rested its hopes on draft picks for far too long and it hasn't worked. It's time for the club to try building through some method other than burning the current structure to the ground.
As for Hall's potential, he's still only 23. We're talking about a guy who would have been a second-team All-Star a year-and-a-half ago except that the PHWA (Professional Hockey Writers Association) didn't know what wing Alex Ovechkin played, a guy who scored 80 points last year.
You and I both agree that the Oilers lose in a trade involving him. Unless Hall walks into the general manager's office and says, "Move me," the only sensible plan is to put up with whatever disappointment he's feeling because he's one of the few things working well in Edmonton.
Dave: I'll conclude by saying I hope when Hall says, "Move me," the entire Oilers fanbase doesn't turn on you for giving him the idea. Unless Hall says, "Move me" and Kevin Lowe reads him some poetry he wrote. I can live with either of those outcomes.