Believe it or not, the Oilers’ lottery odds are better this year than they were last year, when they won. What should GM Peter Chiarelli do if he lands Auston Matthews?
Welcome, everyone. Thanks for coming. Just walking through the door is a courageous first step. There’s coffee and donuts on the table in the corner. When you’re ready, sit with me in the circle.
Everyone join hands. It’s time to discuss the real possibility the Edmonton Oilers win the draft lottery this Saturday and pick first overall for the fifth time in seven years.
Their chances: 13.5 percent. It doesn’t make the Copper and Blue the favorite – that would be the Toronto Maple Leafs at 20 percent – but Edmonton has the second-best odds. The Oil sat third-best a year ago at 11.5 percent and still managed to win the Connor McDavid Ping-Pong Sweepstakes, so we know they have a chance, technically a better one this time around.
Nothing against the Edmonton Oilers personally, but I will break my veil of objectivity and root against them winning on Saturday. I have no bias against Edmonton as a franchise. If Connor McDavid leads them to a Stanley Cup someday, good for them. I do have a bias, however, against severe boredom. It just isn’t much fun for the sport as a whole if one team picks first overall five times in seven years, whoever that team is. Sorry, Oilers Nation. I hope you understand my reasoning.
That said, it’s time to ponder what happens from the Oilers’ perspective if (when?!) they do win the No. 1 selection this Saturday.
One idea floated around earlier this season: trading the No. 1 overall selection if they get it. The Oil already have a franchise center to build around in McDavid and, really, if you keep Leon Draisaitl in the middle, that’s two franchise centers. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins is at worst a good No. 2. So it’s interesting the No. 1 overall pick would force the Oilers to draft the position they need the least. Sooner or later, the franchise has to stop piling up first overall picks and start sculpting a roster with the intention of ascension. Matthews projects to be an NHL-ready prospect in the mold of Jack Eichel, but the Oilers’ best path to competitiveness lies in improving their blueline. One way to do that could be to dangle the Matthews pick in a trade. As the Edmonton Journal’s Jim Matheson suggested this winter, the Arizona Coyotes makes sense as a team to try and tempt as they represent Matthews’ home state. General manager Don Maloney refuted the idea in March but, er, is no longer the general manager. Might the new Arizona regime give up franchise defenseman Oliver Ekman-Larsson for Matthews?
Ekman-Larsson would instantly transform the Oilers’ blueline, which already has a chance to improve next year if Oscar Klefbom stays healthy, Brandon Davidson continues to be a pleasant surprise and Darnell Nurse grows into his 6-foot-4 frame. Not sure if it makes any sense for Zona from a hockey perspective, however. The Desert Dogs are loaded with forward prospects, including Dylan Strome and Christian Dvorak at center and Max Domi, Anthony Duclair and Brendan Perlini on the wings. Would it be smart to weaken themselves so significantly on ‘D’ when they’re already set at forward for the future? Probably not, though it might be prudent from a business standpoint, as building around a local boy as a franchise pillar could fill more seats at Gila River Arena. If the Coyotes don’t win one of the three lottery spots, they’ll select between seventh and 10th. They could nab a D-man like Olli Juolevi or Jakob Chychrun in that slot. Then a Matthews-for-OEL swap might be slightly more realistic.
Still, I’ll believe Edmonton trades the No. 1 overall selection when I see it. The Matthews hype might seem hyperbolic this season, but that’s only because he follows McDavid and Jack Eichel one year later. This isn’t a case of merely talking up the No. 1 prospect each year. If McDavid and Eichel didn’t exist, we’d be calling Matthews the best prospect since John Tavares in 2009. Matthews is a generational talent in his own right. Oilers GM Peter Chiarelli thus might have no choice but to keep Matthews should Edmonton win the lottery.
Doing so, however, would create a logjam of skilled forwards. As has been the case for years in Edmonton, that roster makeup would be victimized by the law of diminishing returns. Matthews and McDavid and Draisaitl and Nugent-Hopkins and Taylor Hall and Jordan Eberle and Nail Yakupov sure make for a fun team to control in video games, but Chiarelli would be smart to deal at least one, if not two, from that group to shore up his needs in other categories. Nugent-Hopkins makes the most sense should the Oilers want to build around Matthews, McDavid and Draisaitl. Chiarelli could also listen to offers on Eberle or Hall, as Draisaitl showed early in 2015-16 he can play the wing, too.
The first phone call I make if I’m Chiarelli this off-season and I’ve won Matthews: St. Louis Blues GM Doug Armstrong. Colton Parayko’s emergence makes the rumored Kevin Shattenkirk trade even more plausible, and the Blues could seek a pivot should they opt not to re-sign David Backes. Nuge for Shattenkirk, anyone? We know the Oil want a right-shooting blueliner to play in their top four. Shattenkirk seems like a slam-dunk option. Should Chiarelli want to think big, he could kick the tires on P.K. Subban in Montreal. Subban’s no-trade clause doesn’t kick in until July 1, remember. One idea recently floated in the Edmonton Journal: Subban for Hall and Klefbom. Lastly, even though Ryan McDonagh shoots left, the New York Rangers might suddenly be vulnerable for major trades. There’s a whiff around the team of a Cup-contention window closing. A rebuild could make some prominent players available, and McDonagh could transform any team into a playoff hopeful. It just so happens his no-movement clause kicks in July 1. If GM Jeff Gorton really wants to blow things up, the Oilers could offer any number of foundational forwards to kickstart a new-look Rangers squad.
It feels far-fetched to speculate on such big names, but if the Oilers land Matthews to accompany their stable of exciting young forwards, they have trade possibilities no other team has. They’re a virtual lock to make at least one blockbuster deal this off-season.
Matt Larkin is a writer and editor at The Hockey News and a regular contributor to the thn.com Post-To-Post blog. For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, subscribe to The Hockey News magazine. Follow Matt Larkin on Twitter at @THNMattLarkin