Assistant general manager Bill Scott, who was the Oilers’ representative at the 2015 NHL Draft Lottery, was asked during Sportsnet’s broadcast whether his team would be willing to trade the first overall pick. His answer made it clear that it was extremely unlikely.
“I think that would be very tough to do given the circumstances of this draft,” he told Elliotte Friedman. “But you never know what can happen.”
Still, it’s an interesting idea to think about, if only as a mental exercise. Edmonton has struggled badly for years, despite three first overall selections. They already possess significant talent up front. While it is extremely improbable, what might they be willing to accept—and able to land—in a trade for the No. 1 pick and the chance to draft phenom Connor McDavid?
There is precedent for trading such a player, albeit not voluntarily. The Quebec Nordiques were forced to deal 1991 No. 1 overall selection Eric Lindros after the power forward refused to join the team. Despite being under considerable duress they were able to command a substantial return from the Philadelphia Flyers, one which eventually helped the team win the Stanley Cup.
Going the other way for Lindros in June 1992 was the following list of players/pieces (via PropSportsTransactions.com):
- Mike Ricci: 20-year-old NHL forward who had finished second on the Flyers in scoring with 56 points
- Ron Hextall: 28-year-old No. 1 goaltender
- Steve Duchesne: 27-year-old NHL defenceman who had finished first among Flyers rearguards in scoring with 56 points
- Kerry Huffman: 24-year-old NHL defenceman who had finished second among Flyers rearguards in scoring with 32 points
- Peter Forsberg: forward prospect who had been the No. 6 pick in 1991
- Chris Simon: power forward prospect who had been the No. 25 pick in 1990
- No. 1 picks in 1993 and 1994
- $15 million
That’s a pretty incredible return. Quebec landed one blue-chip prospect, one excellent prospect, two first-round draft picks, a starting goalie, a young star NHL forward and two quality defencemen in the primes of their careers.
It’s a different world now. Teams aren’t allowed to trade cash, and the NHL salary cap makes the kind of parcel that Philadelphia offered to the Nordiques harder to manage. Still, it’s a pretty reasonable approximation of what the Oilers might command in trade.
It’s tough to imagine with descriptions rather than names, so let’s try and translate that return into today’s terms. For the purposes of this exercise, it should be an Eastern Conference team with a high draft pick. Toronto’s the obvious choice. What might that trade look like?
We need to duplicate the set of futures Philadelphia sent Quebec’s way. The Leaf’s No. 4 overall pick in 2015, as well as the 2015 pick it received from Nashville and its 2017 first-rounders are reasonable stand-ins for Forsberg and the two picks the Flyers dealt. Prospect Stuart Percy was a No. 25 overall selection; he can fill the role of Simon.
Toronto would also need to send immediate NHL talent, with the Oilers’ holes being at centre, on defence and in net. If we were to pick four NHL veterans, with an emphasis on youth and those positions, we might end up with Dion Phaneuf, Jake Gardiner, Nazem Kadri and Jonathan Bernier. That group is a little older, but on the whole they seem like reasonable stand-ins for Duchesne, Huffman, Ricci and Hextall.
The Maple Leafs wouldn’t be allowed to send $15 million the Oilers’ way, but they likely would need to take some salary back to balance the equation somewhat (while Edmonton does have some cap space, it couldn’t accommodate all four newcomers without sending anyone back). The obvious options are Nikita Nikitin and Teddy Purcell, each with one year left on their respective deals and combining for $9 million in total cap hit.
In sum total, the deal might look something like this:
- Edmonton trades Connor McDavid, Teddy Purcell and Nikita Nikitin to Toronto in exchange for Jonathan Bernier, Nazem Kadri, Dion Phaneuf, Jake Gardiner, Stuart Percy, Toronto’s first-round picks in 2015 and 2017 and Nashville’s first-round pick in 2016.
It doesn’t say here that either team would agree to that deal, but in terms of assets, that’s probably the appropriate value range for McDavid. Generational talents don’t come along very often, which is why the price would be so dear.
That’s also the reason Edmonton isn’t likely to accept even that sort of overwhelming package in exchange, as entertaining as it is to think about.
Jonathan Willis covers the NHL for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter for more of his work.