This is desperation mode for the Edmonton Oilers. There’s no other way to explain it. In the midst of a slide that has seen a suddenly resurgent second-quarter team slip back out of the wild-card, the Oilers pulled the trigger on two deals Sunday to shake up their blueline.
The first swap of the day saw Edmonton send blueliner Chris Wideman and a third-round pick to the Florida Panthers for defenseman Alex Petrovic. The second saw the Oilers send winger Drake Caggiula and Jason Garrison, who was waived Monday morning, to the Chicago Blackhawks with rearguards Brandon Manning and Robin Norell, currently playing in Sweden with no expectation he’ll be in the NHL this season or possibly any time in the future, coming back the other way.
Blockbuster deals, these are not. In fact, they’re deals that would hardly register in the dog days of the off-season, let alone at the midpoint of the campaign when teams are looking to flip parts and pieces in pursuit of the post-season. But they’re noteworthy for the Oilers in that both are deals that have potential to turn out as losses, which is the last thing Edmonton needs more of right now.
In acquiring Petrovic, the Oilers get a mid-pairing defenseman whose best asset through the early part of his career has been his physical presence. In 254 games, he has 358 penalty minutes, with career-bests of two goals and 17 points in a single season. He’s not an overly proficient puckmover or point producer. He won’t quarterback a power play. What he will do, however, is use his 6-foot-4, 205-pound frame to crash and bang with opponents. His underlying numbers in Florida, too, were suspect. Despite a heavy offensive-zone start percentage at 5-on-5, Petrovic had a negative relative Corsi percentage, shots percentage, scoring chance percentage and his minus-17.4 goals for percentage was the worst among all Panthers defensemen.
And while the Oilers didn’t exactly give up all that much to land a bottom-three defenseman on an expiring deal — Petrovic playing out a one-year, $1.95 million deal — there’s a wrinkle in the deal that’s a head-scratcher. While giving up Wideman doesn’t amount to much at the moment, the third-round pick has an unfortunate condition. Edmonton has two third-rounders in the 2019 draft. As per the deal, the Panthers get whichever is the better pick out of the two. Granted, third-round picks can amount to a throwing a dart while blindfolded, but losing the higher of the two picks hurts an Oilers club that could use all the picks it can get its hands on.
And that brings us to the trade with the Blackhawks. Garrison and Norell amount to nothing in this deal. They are extraneous pieces. The former, as noted, has been waived and is likely to spend another campaign in the minors. The latter could very well spend the remainder of his career in Europe. The meat of this deal, then, was Manning for Caggiula, one-for-one, which is a puzzling deal, at best.
When Manning was inked to a two-year deal by Chicago in the off-season, it was a bewildering addition by a team that needed blueline help. And that the Oilers have gone out and acquired Manning, who has the remainder of this season and next left on a two-year, $4.5-million deal, amidst a season in which he’s been a healthy scratch more than a dozen times, including each of the Blackhawks’ past eight games, boggles the mind. Manning has tools similar to that of Petrovic, but neither is about to turn heads with their play.
None of this is to mention, either, that Manning had some bad blood with Connor McDavid. It was Manning whose hit on McDavid resulted in the Oilers captain’s broken collarbone during his rookie campaign. The two have reportedly buried the hatchet, with McDavid giving the go-ahead to acquire Manning according to some reports. Even still, that makes for an odd start to a new relationship between two teammates.
As for giving up Caggiula, who was once a sought after signing out of the University of North Dakota, the hope seems to be that Edmonton has seen him at his peak. But there’s a distinct possibility that there’s more to give. He’s on pace to score 17 goals and 27 points this season, and he could be a suitable third-line addition in Chicago. And even if Caggiula had reached his pinnacle, one has to wonder where the Oilers turn for secondary scoring. He was fifth in goals for Edmonton with seven through 29 games. The next-highest scoring forward with Caggiula gone? Kyle Brodziak. He has three goals.
Truly, when breaking down the deals piece by piece, it’s difficult to see the thought process and the upside for the Oilers. Then again, what else was Edmonton to do? They had already executed the first play in the Struggling Team Playbook earlier this season when they sacked Todd McLellan and brought veteran bench boss Ken Hitchcock aboard. And while the early returns were good — albeit potentially propped up by quality goaltending despite some mediocre underlying metrics — the results of late have been abysmal, frankly as bad as they have been at any point this season. Not only has Edmonton lost six of their past seven, they’ve done so in defensively inept fashion. In each of the six defeats, the Oilers have allowed at least four goals against, with three games in which they’ve allowed five or more.
At this point, though, it feels as though Edmonton’s only hope is to ride out the remainder of the year and re-assess at season’s end. That might — at long last, Oilers fans will likely say — mean a new voice in the GM chair, shuffling some pieces on the roster and making some bold moves. There doesn’t appear to be anything that can realistically be accomplished in-season to overhaul this roster, however; nothing that will turn these Oilers from an also-ran into the contender it appeared primed to become during McDavid’s sophomore season. Sunday’s trades are proof of that.