Reprinted with permission from hockeybuzz.com
With the Edmonton Oilers once again at the bottom of the league despite having four No. 1 overall picks in their lineup to start this season, word on the street in is that the core that got them to this ignominious point may begin to be torn apart.
From Robert Tychkowski of the Edmonton Sun:
"Is this the last chance for the Edmonton Oilers core group of forwards? The sense around the team and the league is that the players this organization has been building around since 2010 have come to a point where they either prove they can be cornerstones of a winning team or be used as trade bait to bring in players who will.
"With the Oilers sitting in 30th place again, out of the playoffs by the first week of December again and wrestling with the same mistakes and inconsistencies, the mood in Edmonton is understandably sour. The longer this goes on the more likely [Oilers GM Peter] Chiarelli is to pulling the trigger on something big.
Jordan Eberle or Ryan Nugent-Hopkins big."
Eberle was an Oilers first-round selection in 2008 (22nd-overall) and is in his sixth season in the NHL. The 5'11" 189 lb. right wing has played in 369 NHL games registering 123 goals and 164 assists while logging a minus-50 plus/minus rating.
Nugent-Hopkins (2011) was the second of three consecutive 1st overall picks Edmonton had (Taylor Hall, 2010; Nail Yakupov, 2012) and has a slightly larger frame chiming in at 6' 0" 190 lbs. He is in his fifth NHL season with the Oilers, has played in 283 games with 71 goals and 134 assists and is a minus-29.
Chiarelli took over the Oilers GM position this off-season after he built a bruising Boston Bruins club that would go on to win their first Stanley cup in almost 40 yrs. Names like Zdeno Chara, Milan Lucic, Greg Campbell, and Johnny Boychuk are as rugged as they come the likes of which aren't found in Edmonton right now, especially amongst the forward ranks and neither he nor head coach Todd McLellan are happy with what's transpired thus far. "You can’t accept some of the things that have gone on here. Patience is when you get the effort and the results aren’t there," said McLellan in the Tychkowski article. "When you don’t get the effort, you can’t be patient, you have to push, you have to make changes.
“Patience is one thing, accepting below normal standards is a different thing, and we don’t want to do the second.”
Sportsnet's Mark Spector lays out the scenario where one of Hall, Eberle or Nugent-Hopkins "would return the required level of defenceman, perhaps alone or as the major cog in a package." Spector takes Hall out of the equation (rightfully so) and writes, "that leaves Nugent-Hopkins and Eberle in the cross hairs of the trade rumors, as softer skill players who would be of greater use on a team that could surround them with bigger linemates."
Buffalo Sabres fans should cringe at the thought of adding a "softer skill" player having gone through too many years of "the core." Yet, with the way the Sabres have been built up-front with size, speed and a touch of edginess, there's room to bring in a highly skilled player that isn't exactly a Lucic-type. And since they're deep down the middle (which is a far cry from "the core" years) what they could really use is a top-line right wing that can move well without the puck, dish and score and Eberle would seem to fit that mold rather nicely.
The good part about the position the Sabres are in right now is that GM Tim Murray doesn't need to do anything to the roster at this juncture. At 23rd in the league overall Buffalo is right about where they should be after coming off of consecutive 30th-place finishes. In fact one could say that they might be a little ahead.
They're pretty well stocked with right-wing prospects as they have powerforward Justin Bailey and strong, two-way winger Nick Baptiste cutting their teeth in Rochester with the Amerks. They also have 6'2" 207 lb. powerforward Hudson Fasching playing his junior season in Minnesota with the Golden Gophers. All three could eventually land in a top-six role while it's yet to be determined if their upside will take them to the top line.
Eberle has played on the top line and entered this year on the heels of consecutive 20-goal seasons (24 last season, 28 the year before.) In his last three full seasons he's never had under 63 points while the Oilers were near the bottom of the league, and that includes a career-high 76-point season in 2011-12.
However, this season hasn't been kind to Eberle as he began the year injured and didn't return until November 6th. In 12 games he has three goals, zero assists and is a team-worst minus-11.
Things were supposed to change in Edmonton once Chiarelli took the reigns, McLellan was behind the bench and franchise center Connor McDavid hit the ice, but the Oilers were, once again, exposed on defense and in goal. And when McDavid went down, what they were left with was essentially the same team that finished no higher than 28th over the last three full seasons.
“I think my name has been in the mix for the last three years," said Eberle in the Spector piece. "Things haven’t gone well for our team, and that’s just how it works,” “I know I have to play better and start impacting. I know the impact I can have. I need to bring that.”
The pros for bringing in a player of the Eberle's caliber are right in line with some of what Murray wants to build with--he's a younger veteran at 25 yrs. old, has obvious skill and can skate real well. He can score, set up, has good vision without the puck and would more than likely be at home in a complimentary role to a player like Evander Kane or Jack Eichel, both of whom like to have the puck on their stick. Plus he's constantly driving to the net despite his size.
Although Eberle is somewhat suspect on defense, it seems as if he's well aware of where he needs to be on the ice and oft-times is caught up in situations featuring constant Oilers breakdowns on defense and/or less than stellar goaltending.
Eberle has a bloated $6M cap-hit through 2018-19 which doesn't come close to matching his production. He'll be difficult for Chiarelli to move as that's a big chunk of change for any team. But the Sabres have the space to take on a hit like that, at least for the next two and a half years. The 2018-19 season will present an interesting scenario as Kane will be a UFA while Eichel and Reinhart will be RFA's coming off of their entry-level deals, something that \ could present a problem dependent upon where the cap is at the time.
What Chiarelli would want in return may also present a problem as the Oilers, like Spector wrote, are looking for "the required level of defenseman" coming back to Edmonton. Murray just shipped out a defenseman of that ilk in the Tyler Myers/Kane trade and he sent another d-man, Nikita Zadorov to Colorado in the Ryan O'Reilly deal. Not to be forgotten is Murray sending d-prospect Brayden McNabb to Los Angeles for Fasching and Nic Deslauriers.
Probably the most logical base for a hockey trade between Edmonton and Buffalo would be that of Eberle for d-man Mark Pysyk. Although Pysyk is an Edmonton native and it would make for a nice story off the ice, having his intelligent defensive game would stabilize the Oilers defense and at 23 yrs. old, Pysyk has plenty of room to grow with their young core.
This is not to say I'd want to move Pysyk, as he could be a key top-four piece moving forward, but I'm pretty sure Chiarelli won't go for a trade involving Cody Franson. Even though they made inquiries at the start of free agency concerning Franson and he has a two-year contract at a much smaller cap-hit now as opposed to then, methinks that won't be quite enough.
Is it worth it to trade Pysyk for Eberle?
Yeah, why not? The No.1 d-slot is seemingly locked up by Rasmus Ristolainen and the emergence of rookie Jake McCabe gives the Sabres a young, homegrown, capable top-four d-man. Although the pipeline might be a little thin now, they still have Brendan Guhle and Anthony Florentino coming up the ranks as options in the not too distant future. Bogosian's signed long-term while Josh Gorges is signed through 2017-18 and options will present themselves for immediate help via free agency.
Perhaps it's the last two seasons of goal-scoring futility that has me wanting the team to add as much scoring as they can, but Eberle is a right-winger and the Sabres can use one right now. I'm willing to give to get.