NHL Pacific Division Notebook: It’s Time For Change In Alberta

NHL Pacific Division

The Edmonton Oilers entered this hockey season as a favorite of many to not only make the playoffs, but in some cases win the Pacific Division. If that wasn’t enough, many also picked them to make the West Final and in some case win the conference. I was one of those who bought in, picking the Oilers to lose in the Stanley Cup Final to Tampa Bay. At least 50% of that prediction looks good right now.

The Oilers are currently 18-23-3 following last night’s loss in Nashville, and have dropped seven out of their last eight games. After a four game winning streak got them to 17-17-2 at Christmas, the wheels have once again fallen off this group. The playoff dream is dead, and the death march is on in Northern Alberta.

How could a team like the Oilers, that has reigning MVP Connor McDavid on the roster, be so bad? There are a lot of factors, but the biggest for me is roster construction. The team simply isn’t built well enough and they are suffering because of it. In fact, Edmonton, out of all 31 NHL teams, is getting the least production out of its wingers than anyone. That’s a bitter pill to swallow.

It is especially bitter when you realize that, since taking over almost three years ago, GM Peter Chiarelli has traded skilled wingers Jordan Eberle and Taylor Hall for pennies on the dollar. He’s also bought out Benoit Pouliot and gave away Nail Yakupov for nothing. There’s a lot of talent that has been bled by this hockey team under Chiarelli.

As Edmonton embarks on another meaningless second half, it would be wise for ownership and upper-management to consider a change in this spot come the off-season if Chiarelli can’t come up with a plan to fix the team’s lack of skill on the wings.

It would be a lot easier for everyone if Chiarelli could simply figure things out and straighten this out, but I don’t believe that is likely to happen. Best case for the Oilers? A change is made in this spot either at the bye week or after the season.

To The South We Go:

The Oilers aren’t the only team that has change on the mind. The Calgary Flames are apparently closing in on dumping one of the greatest players in NHL history. Things simply haven’t worked out for the Flames and Jaromir Jagr to this point, and a divorce appears imminent according to Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman.

This sucks to see because Jagr is a legend of the game and has always been one of my favorite players to watch. That said, it is amazing that Jagr was able to get an NHL contract at his current age and even more impressive that he was a solid contributor up until this season. Without doubt, Jagr will be a Hall of Famer when the time comes.

It is too bad it ended this way, however. Was hoping we would get to see Jaromir get one last shot at another Stanley Cup.

Vancouver Sellers Club:

A nice story in the season’s first half, the clock has struck midnight on the Vancouver Canucks. You can put them with the Arizona Coyotes and Edmonton Oilers as the firm sellers out west. Vancouver’s latest slump, a current 1-7-2 stretch, has basically killed their slim playoff chances. Now, GM Jim Benning should be looking to sell of assets as we get closer to the trade deadline.

Vancouver has a few interesting pieces, including defender Erik Gudbranson. The former third overall pick in 2010, Gudbranson is a right-shot defender that plays a tough style and can help on the PK. Ideally, he’s a third-pairing player, but it is possible a team sees him in a higher role ala Kris Russell in Edmonton. Gudbranson, although a polarizing player, should garner interest and a decent return should Vancouver look to move him.

Among the other assets the Canucks should, and likely will, move? Forward Thomas Vanek, defender Ben Hutton, rumored to be drawing interest, and the Sedin twins. It is unlikely Vancouver will move Henrik or Daniel, but trading those two as rentals could help kick-start a much needed rebuild in the Pacific Northwest.

The Rest Of The Crowd:

– The most interesting team to watch between now and the deadline? The Vegas Golden Knights. Many people thought Vegas would clean up as sellers, but the Knights are all but assured a playoff spot at this point. If anything, Vegas will be looking to buy come the end of February. I wonder if they will try and lock up a few of their many pending free agents. The Knights have already signed Brayden McNabb and Jonathan Marchessault to long-term extensions in season.

Among the prime candidates to re-sign? Forwards James Neal and David Perron, who many thought would be their top trade chips come this time.

– Speaking of the deadline, Arizona might be the most solid seller in the NHL. It appears the Coyotes are on a course for a date with 31st place, the first NHL team to earn the dubious honor. As for them at the deadline, the Yotes will be interesting. An Oliver Ekman-Larsson trade would break the internet, but that’s more of an off-season endeavor for Arizona.

Possible pieces to sell to a team? Defender Luke Schenn will garner some interest, especially in a market starving for defensive options. Forward Brad Richardson could be another interesting trade chips, while goalie Antti Raanta is a wild card after a disastrous first season as a starter.

– The Ducks are finally healthy, but they still aren’t putting together wins on a consistent basis. If that isn’t bad enough, Anaheim’s underlying metrics aren’t very good at this point. Is it possible this Duck team simply isn’t as good as previous editions? Not only that, but Anaheim is sorely missing the scoring of winger Patrick Eaves, who is expected to miss the entire season.

GM Bob Murray has two options here if you ask me. He could retool on the fly, moving veterans like Antoine Vermette, Jared Boll, Kevin Bieksa and Francois Beauchemin for futures and promoting players like Kevin Roy, Kalle Kossila, Jacob Larsson and others, or he could add at the deadline. I’d probably go with option one, but suspect Murray looks to add to this veteran group.

– Elliotte Friedman brought up a great point in his 31 Thoughts article yesterday, connecting the Sharks to Buffalo’s Evander Kane as they look to replace Patrick Marleau’s production in the lineup. I concur with Elliotte and think that is a good fit. I wonder if Edmonton’s Patrick Maroon could be a good fit for them as well. He’d come a lot cheaper as a trade chip one would imagine, and likely would be cheaper to re-sign too.

– The LA Kings are currently on their bye week, so there isn’t much to talk about here. That said, the Kings are 24-13-5 and sit second in the Pacific Division with a five point cushion on the San Jose Sharks. Impressive first half of the season from the Kings. I suspect Jonathan Quick, arguably their best player right now, will be named to the Pacific Division All-Star team later tonight.

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Photo Credit: Connor Mah/Flickr C.C 2.0

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