Just for fun, let’s play NHL general manager.
You are Craig MacTavish and your Edmonton Oilers are about to start a make-it-or-break-it road trip Tuesday in Florida against one of your equally hapless peers, the Panthers. All the things that have been going wrong for you – limited scoring, mediocre goaltending and disorganized defensive play – are also going wrong in Sunrise, too.
Misery may love company, but misery really appreciates finding an equally fragile opponent on the NHL schedule at the point where you’re trying desperately to right your listing ship.
The only difference is that while nobody in South Florida was busy promising bold moves to vault their team into playoff contention last summer – because, oh boy, that kind of talk can blow up in your face – you spoke bravely of making changes and improvements, and not in some faraway down-the-road time frame either, but coming right up.
Accordingly, you survey the damage of a 3-10-2 start and you wonder: how do you fix this mess? And probably, if you’re smart, you think it has to start with defence because defence is usually the bedrock of championship teams, and teams that play good defence often use it as the springboard for good offensive play.
Of course, making trades in the NHL is all about relationships and the one out-of-conference team you have a great relationship with is the New York Rangers.
The Rangers GM, Glen Sather, coached the Oilers to four Stanley Cup championships and then managed them to a fifth. Sather has been running the Rangers since June of 2000, and has a long history with both you and the second-to-last GM before you, Kevin Lowe, who replaced Sather after he went off to Broadway.
What does New York need?
Well, in the absence of Rick Nash, out indefinitely with a concussion, they could really use a winger or two to play with centre Brad Richards. You, the Oilers, can spare a winger or two – Ales Hemsky, who has undeniable skill level, but really needs a change of scenery; and Nail Yakupov, who was the No. 1 overall pick only two NHL drafts ago, and has the kind of upside that might make New Yorkers think of Alexei Kovalev.
What does New York have to give?
Well, the Rangers have developed a nice nucleus of similar, quietly effective defensive defencemen – Marc Staal, Dan Girardi, Ryan McDonagh. They were all big-minute munchers the last time the NHL played an 82-game season and, along with Michael Del Zotto, give the Rangers exceptional depth on the blueline.
Is there a match there?
Hemsky’s contract, at $5-million (U.S.) per season, would be difficult to integrate into New York’s payroll now, but as the games click off, that will change. Yakupov is on his entry-level deal and so his contract wouldn’t be the same burden. But can you, Edmonton, legitimately give up on a young player so early in his career? And if you determine the answer is yes, does the lure of Russia’s KHL make the Rangers leery of paying a heavy price to land him?
In hindsight, the Oilers likely would have been better off drafting Ryan Murray, who went second overall to the Columbus Blue Jackets in 2012, and just allowed him to develop into the steadying defensive presence they lack. But they didn’t, and they also didn’t solve their goaltending woes this summer, when a couple of teams, the Vancouver Canucks and Los Angeles Kings, had players to deal (Cory Schneider and Jonathan Bernier, respectively).
However you might want to lament an opportunity lost there, it doesn’t change the fact the Oilers look like a mess. Your hand-picked replacement for Ralph Krueger, head coach Dallas Eakins, doesn’t seem to have any fresh solutions. The team’s confidence is flagging and their makeup is, frankly, is suspect.
The decision to fire a teaching coach, Krueger, after just one season, is looking more and more suspect. And the inability to make the sort of “bold” deal you promised is reflecting badly on you.
Could the Rangers perhaps offer you a lifeline? Or throw you an anchor? Knowing Sather the way you do, you probably know the answer to that already.
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