APPROACHING UNICORNS

On the morning of June 29, 2015, in the hours before Taylor Hall was traded, I wrote an item for this blog called “Approaching Unicorns“. If the Oilers trade for Brent Seabrook today, I promise never to use this title again. The post on 29 June last year discussed Jesse Puljujarvi as a scoring option, Milan Lucic as a possible free agent, and Edmonton’s roster producing three scoring lines. Approaching unicorns.

One year on, the dream may well be farther away, as there are more questions about the young forwards on this roster:

  • Can Leon Draisaitl drive his own line?
  • Can the Oilers deploy linemates for McDavid who are not in their damnable contract year?
  • Will any of these young wingers emerge as 20-goal men?
  • Will Milan Lucic find the range at 5×5 scoring?

PROJECTED 2017-18 ROSTER

  • Benoit Pouliot and Jordan Eberle have had success with Connor McDavid and neither man is in a contract year. 97 will no doubt play a lot with Leon Draisaitl and others, but this is a veteran crew and maybe they all have career seasons.
  • Leon Draisaitl had some chem with Milan Lucic and Anton Slepyshev and it might be a line that can drive results in the coming season. Both wingers have question marks, but there are options if one or both stumble.
  • Nuge should get some softer opposition this year and maybe Patrick Maroon can help him cash some of those chances. I have Jesse Puljujarvi here, but Zack Kassian or Spencer Foo (should he sign) might be more attractive options.
  • Zack Kassian can move up, Caggiula can too (played some with McDavid) and Letestu gets a lot of special teams time.
  • As we get deeper into the offseason, that second pairing really stands out as a massive worry. I have to admit to chuckling a little when I thought about the Russell worriers contemplating life with Brent Seabrook and Russell. I am a bad man.

BRENT SEABROOK?

No. Peter Chiarelli did acquire a truckload of old people while in Boston, though. The game has changed and changed again since 2006 and speed is more important every year. Seabrook gets caught flat-footed often nowadays and his contract is so acidic that even trading Benoit Pouliot and Mark Fayne for him straight up would be a massive loss for Edmonton. No sir.

WILLIE, MICKEY AND THE DUKE

Do you remember the days of Petry, Chorney and Wild? Long before the blog posts with titles like “How is that crazy trade going?” I was monitoring the progress of three college defensemen (here’s an old post as an example). The mystery there is over, as Jeff Petry (445 NHL games) pummeled Taylor Chorney (141 NHL games) and Cody Wild (no draft pedigree) couldn’t get out of the starter’s blocks. So Petry will play 1000 games, Chorney has probably played most or all of his, and Wild is now coaching.

We have a four man race from the 2015 draft, and I’ll bet you we get at least two who play in an NHL game at some point. Caleb Jones, Ethan Bear, John Marino and Ziyat Paigin have progressed very well since draft day, and the strength of that year’s draft suggests a third-round selection is probably equal to a second rounder in a normal year. Will any of them play 445 NHL games, as Petry has already? That’s a high hill. We’ll see.

If that race is the Petry sweepstakes, then the 2016 draft may be the Cody Wild Derby. In the third round of the draft this past season, Peter Chiarelli and the boys drafted three defensemen and two of them had some issues in their draft+1 season. Here’s a quick reminder.

  • No. 63 overall Markus Niemelainen. He had one of the most baffling seasons by an Oilers prospect in recent memory. His point total went from 27 to nine, but the reports I got about Niemelainen had him playing well, or at least well enough to make the dive in points mysterious. He has signed with HPK in the Sm-Liiga for next season, probably best to get him a fresh start.
  • No. 84 overall Matthew Cairns. Cairns started in the USHL but wasn’t playing enough, so zipped over to the BCHL. He posted 18gp, 2-14-16 (NHLE: 9.5 points) and we’re wondering if there’s some offense to his game. He is big, got flagged for speed in some of his draft day scouting reports, has a big shot but scored two goals all year. I’m not sure what he is, maybe we will know more a year from now (off to Cornell University).
  • No. 91 overall Filip Berglund. The most positive story of the trio. He spent the entire season in Sweden’s top league (SHL) and even posted some crooked numbers (47gp, 0-9-9, averaging 9:30. Oscar Klefbom averaged 17:28 a night, same age, same league). Berglund has expressed a desire to remain in Sweden next season, which makes sense (he is clearly going to play based on his handling this season). Encouraging year, while also recognizing there is much road to travel for this player.

Berglund had a good year by my estimate, and I’m encouraged he is going back to get increased ice time in the same spot. Niemalainen is the most famous prospect in the group, we spent quite a bit of time on him a year ago (he compared well in some elements to Logan Stanley). I would say he is clearly behind Berglund today but would also add his size and speed give Niemelainen an edge long term. Cairns is not yet in photo.

SHOPPING EBERLE

My guess is that Peter Chiarelli is shopping Jordan Eberle now, and this is the period a year ago where we were hearing “Nuge for Dumba” rumors. If Eberle doesn’t fetch a worthwhile return, the smart play of course is to keep your powder dry. The issue for PC is that he may not have a lot aside from Eberle to offer this year. If he is willing to dangle Nugent-Hopkins, the discussions become more interesting, but is he willing to do it?

After those two men, it’s the department of youth, represented by names like Jesse Puljujarvi, Anton Slepyshev, Caleb Jones and Ethan Bear, and by numbers like No. 22. I wish there was another answer (if there is, it’ll be a LHD) but the fact is other NHL teams appear to be shopping more prominent names than Jordan Eberle.

It’s a good time to remind ourselves about how important the Nuge is/was to this organization. Here is his player card from this past season. Notice the percentage of time spent against elites (via Woodmoney):

  • 5×5 points per 60: 1.45 (6th among regular forwards)
  • 5×4 points per 60: 4.01 (5th among regular forwards)
  • Corsi for 5×5 %: 49.1
  • Corsi Rel 5×5 %: -1.6
  • DFF Elite 5×5 %: 44.3
  • DFF Elite Rel 5×5 %: -3.6 (42 percent of TOI v. elites)
  • Shots on goal/percentage: 200 shots/9.0%
  • Boxcars: 82, 18-25-43
  • (All numbers via Stats.HockeyAnalysis.com and hockey-reference)
  • Special thanks to GMoney and Woodguy for sharing the DFF’s

In his first three (non-lockout) seasons, Nuge scored 50+ points. In the two years since, he posted 34 points (in 55 games) and 43 this past season. Some of that has to do with usage (less power-play offense) and some to do with injury. The usage portion (42 percent of 5×5 time against elites) is approaching Horcoff levels when he was stone alone. Nuge is too valuable to trade. His offense is way below what you should expect from a $6 million man, but the fact is his power-play totals were always a major factor in what he posted. Less time on the 5×4 means points totals in the 40’s. Is he worth the price? I think he is, for this team, and hope Chiarelli doesn’t deal him. That said, he is the one player who can fetch the kind of RHD Edmonton may need to add over the summer. What this team needs is a pro scout who can identify a Steve Staios or a Jason Smith. Is that player Alex Petrovic? We wait.

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47 Responses to "APPROACHING UNICORNS"

  1. Zack says:

    I remember the year they drafted Curtis Hamilton (Taylor Hall draft) and if you look back I even posted here mentioning Alex Petrovic as a draft choice. I met Kevin Lowe at Rebels game (I also think I posted this here years ago or maybe the old blog) talking about them scouting Curtis Hamilton. They ended up selecting Pitlick and later Curtis Hamilton, funny how things turn out.

    I really hope Nuge isn’t lost this summer. I think his play is extremely undervalued. We do however need to add up front whether it’s via trade or UFA.

    I think it’s pretty clear, Maroon and or Draisiatl should be a staple on Connor’s line. Lowetide, a while back I think you wrote a post on how certain coaches keep a center and a winger to a line and then mix up the third option from time to time. I think we just need to figure out that second line.

  2. LMHF#1 says:

    The rumoured dman on the move from the Hawks I’d read about was Hjalmarsson. I take it that would suit everyone much better?

  3. leadfarmer says:

    Dumba isn’t as bad as people here make him out to be. He had a lot of nagging injuries this year that impacted his play. The problem with acquiring him is you need a strong and steady veteran like Sekera to guide him and that’s not happening this year. Nurse and Dumba pairing would be a tire fire.

  4. Lowetide says:

    LMHF#1:
    The rumoured dman on the move from the Hawks I’d read about wasHjalmarsson. I take it that would suit everyone much better?

    Yes. Absolutely.

  5. teddyturnbuckle says:

    Hope they keep Nuge. Always thought he wouldn’t peak until 25. That said he has been a disappointment over the long haul. After his first 30 games in the NHL we all thought he was a lock to be a 1st line centre. Maybe he should have spent a few more years in junior like Mark Sheifele did.

    Bob and Spec were chatting about how it sounds like Eberle and his agent want a fresh start also. I’d say 99 percent chance he is gone. Another down season here and I think the boo birds would come out when Eberle touches the puck.

  6. teddyturnbuckle says:

    I have time for Dumba. He still has time to grow into a top 4 guy.

  7. Diablo says:

    The dominos are going to fall once Duchene gets traded.

    There are a number of teams that are probably waiting for the winner to be announced – once that happens they’ll move on to the Plan B option (Eberle).

    We know that NYI is trying to pry Duchene loose, but a team like Columbus could also make a pretty attractive offer (Jenner, Murray, picks or prospects) since they have some very good players that are going to get exposed in the expansion draft. Anaheim, Nashville and Minnesota too. Maybe Carolina, but if I were them I’d hold on to Hanifen, since Duchene is not a huge upgrade over the centres they already have.

    If Chia can’t tango with one of those teams, then the fall back is probably trading Eberle to LV for expansion considerations (selecting Pouliot) and a RHC (Jarnkrok and his 5 years x 2 million is my preferred target) or a RHD (Pulock, Pysyk, Petrovic etc) or both (hopefully).

    RHD are going to move back and forth as well – Vatanen, Hamonic, Demers, and maybe Spurgeon.
    This expansion draft will probably increase the parity in the league for a few seasons with all these D moving to crappy teams who have the room to protect them.

    Hopefully the Pens beat the Preds in game 6 (I don’t want to see another Western conference team win the cup until the Oilers do) and then the fireworks can begin.

  8. D says:

    It would be a mistake to part with Nuge. He gives the coach a lot of options game in and game out and a lot of his good play really does go unnoticed.

  9. GMB3 says:

    At the Elephant and Castle In Seattle last night. There was a pretty solid let’s go Oilers chant in the bar.

  10. Lowetide says:

    GMB3:
    At the Elephant and Castle In Seattle last night. There was a pretty solid let’s go Oilers chant in the bar.

    Nice. This team has incredible range.

  11. Bad Seed says:

    GMB3:
    At the Elephant and Castle In Seattle last night. There was a pretty solid let’s go Oilers chant in the bar.

    Did we advance further than I thought?

  12. Woogie63 says:

    I can’t see Seabrook waiving his NTC to come to Edmonton. He will look for a good team with less travel, better winters and city with more privacy for him and his family.

  13. Rondo says:

    Woogie63:
    I can’t see Seabrook waiving his NTC to come to Edmonton.He will look for a good team with less travel, better winters and city with more privacy for him and his family.

    Like Vancouver

  14. Woogie63 says:

    Rondo: Like Vancouver

    No

  15. Oil2Oilers says:

    Does Maroon leave at the deadline? McDavid making his next contract unaffordable.

    Calm before the storm weekend, next few weeks look like they will qualify as interesting times.

  16. OF17 says:

    Oil2Oilers:
    Does Maroon leave at the deadline? McDavid making his next contract unaffordable.

    Calm before the storm weekend, next few weeks look like they will qualify as interesting times.

    Only way he moves is if the Oilers are way out of it at the deadline, which seems unlikely. Otherwise, keep your player, hope to make a run, and if you lose him, you lose him. It comes with the territory.

  17. Bag of Pucks says:

    Diablo:
    The dominos are going to fall once Duchene gets traded.

    There are a number of teams that are probably waiting for the winner to be announced – once that happens they’ll move on to the Plan B option (Eberle).

    Good point. That does tend to be the way these things play out.

    How the mighty have fallen. Ebs used to be Charlize Theron in that perfume commercial. Now he’s the waitress you chat up at last call.

  18. gadot10 says:

    If Nugent-Hopkins gets Justin Faulk, the Oilers should do that deal. But there should be no rush to trade him unless real value is coming back.

    Nugent-Hopkins is on his last Oilers contract. For his benefit, the sooner he gets a chance for a fresh start elsewhere, the better. He is blocked by others from being able to reach his full potential here. And ultimately that is not good for the player or the team.

  19. Bruce McCurdy says:

    leadfarmer:
    Dumba isn’t as bad as people here make him out to be.He had a lot of nagging injuries this year that impacted his play.The problem with acquiring him is you need a strong and steady veteran like Sekera to guide him and that’s not happening this year.Nurse and Dumba pairing would be a tire fire.

    Russell & Dumba?

  20. Professor Q says:

    Bruce McCurdy: Russell & Dumba?

    A good buddy cop movie.

  21. --hudson-- says:

    Looks like Marcus Kruger to Las Vegas is all but official now. Will be interesting to see what the return is.
    https://twitter.com/StevenAlbritton/status/873542595636588546

    I don’t think this helps the Blackhawks cap situation much, probably more to happen there.

  22. leadfarmer says:

    Bruce McCurdy: Russell & Dumba?

    I think Russell is ok when paired with a better dman like Sekera. Dumba will help him move the puck but I just don’t think Russell can survive Dumba’s wobble. I guess d pairings won’t be ideal until Sekera fully recovers. I do think Sekera can survive Dumbas wobble

  23. Genjutsu says:

    I like Nice just fine. He’s a terrific option to have and after years of not having a C of his quality I would only trade him if Edmonton was getting the best player in the trade.

    Thomas Plekanec makes the same cash and plays a similar roll. His last five seasons: 33 (in 47gp) 43 60 54 and 28 points.

    Considering the roll 45 to 55 points is good value with what else he brings.

    If the offence spikes and face off percentage is improved this could be a value contract.

  24. leadfarmer says:

    Genjutsu,

    I would not use Plekanec salary in any positive comparison. At least for Montreal it’s gone in a year.

  25. Diablo says:

    Bag of Pucks: Good point. That does tend to be the way these things play out.

    How the mighty have fallen. Ebs used to be Charlize Theron in that perfume commercial. Now he’s the waitress you chat up at last call.

    Ebs still has value around the league – but never once was he considered to be a better player than Duchene. So if you’re one of those teams who thinks they have a shot a Duchene, then you might as well wait … Ebs will be available pre and post expansion draft. Perhaps you take a run at Oshie first, then circle back around to Ebs if that avenue is unsuccessful.

    Chia is in no rush to move Ebs, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t teams that don’t value his scoring ability.

    I’m still firmly in the camp that if you can get LV to take Pouliot and get a RHC like Jarnkrok or a RHD like Pulock back in exchange for Eberle, then you can use the cap savings to go shopping in the UFA market. Focus should be on money out versus money in … is the roster deeper and better without Ebs cap hit or not … not who won the trade.

    If you can get a Williams, or Vrbata on a 2 year, 3-4 million dollar deal (which is the max you would have Eberle for anyways), then you can replace his offence from the RW, while also improving another position like C or D at a lower cap hit than you could hope for by signing a free agent, and dumping Pouliot’s cap hit (which may let you keep Nuge or resign Russell), and avoid losing Reinhart/Khaira/Brossoit in expansion.

  26. trencan says:

    –hudson–:
    Looks like Marcus Kruger to Las Vegas is all but official now.Will be interesting to see what the return is.
    https://twitter.com/StevenAlbritton/status/873542595636588546

    I don’t think this helps the Blackhawks cap situation much, probably more to happen there.

    I would say something like 3rd round for Hawks for Kruger and LV takes Trevor van Riemsdyk on expansion draft.

  27. fifthcartel says:

    I don’t know why Vegas would be so high on TVR. I haven’t seen much from him that would be worth taking Kruger’s contract.

  28. dustrock says:

    fifthcartel:
    I don’t know why Vegas would be so high on TVR. I haven’t seen much from him that would be worth taking Kruger’s contract.

    The narrative was TVR was the Hawks’ best d-man this playoffs

  29. Bruce McCurdy says:

    dustrock: The narrative was TVR was the Hawks’ best d-man this playoffs

    That’s like saying it was sunnier on the port side deck of the Titanic.

  30. JDI says:

    @Bruce:

    Like the Titanic, the Hawks were unbeatable this spring – until they hit the ice!

  31. JDI says:

    Hmmm… not sure why the ‘Quote’ and ‘Reply’ links aren’t working for me today.

  32. russ99 says:

    We’ll never win a cup chasing unicorns.

    Balance should be the goal, not all offense all the time.

    Glad the guys running the team get this.

  33. Kinger_Oil.redux says:

    – Great post LT! It was fun reading that post when the Hall trade broke

    – Question LT or anyone: how do I search this site for your post by date, or comments by poster?

    – The vitriol from that trade was interesting to read. A few posters though seemed to get it though…

  34. GCW_69 says:

    Anyone thinking of trading for Seabrook should look at what Nashville did to him in that series. They targeted him for zone entries and shredded him like paper.

    Getting him would be monumentally stupid.

  35. jtblack says:

    Seabrook is 32 and has 7 more years left @ $6.9 per. Horrible

  36. Diablo says:

    GCW_69:
    Anyone thinking of trading for Seabrook should look at what Nashville did to him in that series. They targeted him for zone entries and shredded him like paper.

    Getting him would be monumentally stupid.

    Agree – the wheels are starting to fall off.

    No thanks to trading with Chicago – I’d rather watch as they slowly decay and become what the Kings are today – that’s the price you pay for being sentimental – they should have cut bait with Seabrook instead of signing him to monster dollars till the end of time. No way he should have been paid more than Keith.

  37. gadot10 says:

    One could see a three-way with Seabrook.

    Say Seabrook to LA, Brown to Vegas, and Chicago (and LA) sending draft picks/prospects/Kruger/vanReimsdyk to Vegas.

    Seabrook would a least be a somewhat useful player for LA compared to Brown.

  38. Diablo says:

    Friedman is reporting in his 30 thoughts that Florida may have asked Yandle to waive his NMC, and Ottawa may have asked Phaneuf to do the same.

    Not sure I’d want either of those contracts but I do wonder how many other teams have done this with declining vets on big tickets with NMCs.

    Really puts into focus why throwing around big money to UFAs over 30 is just a bad idea.

  39. JDI says:

    @Kinger OR

    If you google this phrase:

    site:lowetide.ca caramel batman

    You will get page hits from LT’s site with caramel batman results. Unfortunately the links don’t go directly to the comment, you have to press ‘CTRL’ and ‘F’ to find within the page.

  40. Kinger_Oil.redux says:

    Diablo:
    Friedman is reporting in his 30 thoughts that Florida may have asked Yandle to waive his NMC, and Ottawa may have asked Phaneuf to do the same.

    Not sure I’d want either of those contracts but I do wonder how many other teams have done this with declining vets on big tickets with NMCs.

    – I’m not sure how “salary retained” effects cap,but if you could get Phaneuf or Seabrook and their salary/cap to us is less than/same as Klef/Larson @ $4.2MM, I’d find a way to make that happen

    – Thanks JDI. Also, any way to search LT’s blog for his post on specific dates?

  41. Chachi says:

    JDI:
    @Kinger OR

    If you google this phrase:

    site:lowetide.ca caramel batman

    You will get page hits from LT’s site with caramel batman results. Unfortunately the links don’t go directly to the comment, you have to press ‘CTRL’ and ‘F’ to find within the page.

    I’ll save you the trouble. Here’s the winning post from that thread from that nice chap Caramel Batman/Bruce Wayne/Cassandra:

    “It’s the dreaded 1 for 3 deal without the 3
    I hate being right. I’ve disliked Chiarelli since the beginning and he’s only gotten worse.
    I make this vow. I will poison this board with hatred for Chiarelli for as long as he lives. I don’t care if the Oilers make the playoffs. It they do, they would have made it anyway. It they don’t, it is his fault.
    I don’t even care if they win the Stanley Cup. If they do, it is in spite of this move.
    Anyone who defends Chiarelli from here until the end of time will be trolled mercilessly. Begone traitors. Your attitude has aided and abetted the ruination.”

  42. JDI says:

    @Kinger OR

    any way to search LT’s blog for his post on specific dates?

    I tried searching for dates using the site’s search box, but didn’t find anything that worked. It would be nice if you could use the /YEAR/MO/DY/ format that appears in every article’s URL, but that didn’t work for me.

    Maybe try that Google site:lowetide.ca trick with a specified date range?

    I’ve got to go cut some holes in an acoustic guitar.

  43. Diablo says:

    Chachi,

    Lol I remember that. I was one of those that valued Larsson over Hall when the deal went down (given the gaping hole at RHD and the fact that I liked Larsson a lot and thought Hall was a bit over-rated by the Oiler’s fanbase) and didn’t have much of a problem with the trade.

    After reading that comment though, I stopped reading the comments section on LT’s blog for the rest of the summer. The attitude here was so poisonous.

  44. Glass says:

    Any way that we are able to keep Nuge in the McDavid cap era? Trading Ebs for Hamonic gives us 1.2m in cap savings. Within the next couple of years all of Hendricks, Fayne, Ference, and Pouliot’s contracts will be off the books.

    But next off-season we have to sign Nurse, Benning, Caggiula, Maroon, Slepyshev, Letestu…

  45. Bruce McCurdy says:

    JDI:
    @Bruce:

    Like the Titanic, the Hawks were unbeatable this spring – until they hit the ice!

    Haha, well done.

  46. Diablo says:

    Kinger_Oil.redux: – I’m not sure how “salary retained” effects cap,but if you could get Phaneuf or Seabrook and their salary/cap to us is less than/same as Klef/Larson @ $4.2MM, I’d find a way to make that happen

    – Thanks JDI.Also, any way to search LT’s blog for his post on specific dates?

    Even with money retained, Seabrook’s contract is just poison – 7 years left – EVERY year has a signing bonus attached to it, which pretty much ensures that you can’t buy him out (check it out on CF .. doesn’t matter which year you buy him out in, the buyout cap hit is staggering).

    Yandle’s a sieve defensively, but really can move the puck – LHD though with a long contract. We might have to move out Sekera to make it work. I prefer just keeping Rej.

    Phaneuf was slow when came into the league, and is even slower now that he’s 32, and he still takes far too many undisciplined penalties. He’ll end up being a very expensive 3rd pairing D-man once Nurse passes him. He’s also LH.

    I prefer Chia to just remain patient and collect assets – Carlsson is UFA next summer, and Doughty, OEL, Karlsson, McDonough and Ellis are UFA’s the year after. Keep the cap space available and trade assets in hand, cause one of those D may shake loose in next 1-2 years, and all of them would be young enough to have 4-7 good years left.

    In the meantime, I’d want Chia to try to convince McPhee to select and trade Pulock to us.

  47. N64 says:

    JDI:
    @Kinger OR

    any way to search LT’s blog for his post on specific dates?

    I tried searching for dates using the site’s search box, but didn’t find anything that worked. It would be nice if you could use the /YEAR/MO/DY/ format that appears in every article’s URL, but that didn’t work for me.

    Maybe try that Google site:lowetide.ca trick with a specified date range?

    I’ve got to go cut some holes in an acoustic guitar.

    Examples searching for your handle for a day , month and year:

    site:lowetide.ca/2017/05/01 jdi
    site:lowetide.ca/2017/05 jdi
    site:lowetide.ca/2017 jdi

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