With the lottery over and the draft set, we now know that the Edmonton Oilers will have first dibs on Connor McDavid. McDavid is a generational talent with skills that are making people compare him to the next Sidney Crosby. As great as he is though, McDavid doesn’t solve many of the Oilers’ needs. Are they better off looking for a trade?
Some may think that trading away a player such as McDavid is insane. Oilers general manager Craig MacTavish said himself that there was “zero” chance at trading the first overall pick. However, The Oilers are set on offense for the time being. The team is in need of a second line center at the moment, but 3rd overall pick Leon Draisaitl is meant to take that spot in a few years. Up front, the Oilers also have $18 million invested in Taylor Hall, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, and Jordan Eberle for at least the next 4 years. While bringing McDavid in would be of little issue at first, he will demand a significant pay raise in the upcoming years, making it difficult for the Oilers to have any significant money left to spend on forward depth and other positions. Combined with Draisaitl hitting his potential, the Oilers look to be facing an issue in keeping the spending amount to a reasonable rate.
In the best case scenario, Edmonton will be able to keep the team under cap by getting free agents to sign to reasonable contracts in return for an opportunity to play alongside Connor McDavid. However, this will likely only attract forwards to Edmonton, which makes one wonder how the team will handle the back end. Oscar Klefbom and Darnell Nurse are turning out to be bright defensive prospects for the team, but beyond them, there isn’t much. The team also lacks a proven goaltender anywhere in the farm system. Without a solid core to defend against opponents, it’s hard to see the Oilers having any success. One only needs to look at this year’s Dallas Stars to see this. This isn’t the high-octane hockey of the 80s; you can’t win without depth and defense.
The Oilers have the option of trading one of their young talents to fill a positional need, but how much can one of them realistically fetch? Eberle, Nugent-Hopkins, and Hall will easily garner a first round pick and a prospect or two, but a top-pairing defenseman will be much harder to come by. While those draft picks and prospects will certainly be beneficial, they will only begin having an impact several years down the road. With how poorly the team has done in the last 10 years, fans and management alike would probably wish to start racking up wins sooner. A goalie would also be an option, but few proven goaltenders appear to be on the trade market at the moment and even fewer goalies are on the free agent market. The only goalie that may be worthwhile to look at is Antti Niemi, but he is already 31, and was 23rd in save percentage this past season. He isn’t going to miraculously get any better, and probably isn’t the solution the Oilers are looking for.
Trading McDavid, however, can easily garner the defense and goaltending Edmonton needs, and then some. Teams are willing to overpay for a generational player like McDavid, and will sell the entire farm to get him. One only needs to look at the Lindros trade to see how much a team is willing to pay for such a talent. Trades like these show the potential return the Oilers can get. Within a few years, they may even be raising the cup in Edmonton.
Some suggest that the return for such a player is usually never as high as originally thought at the time of the trade. The Seguin trade, for example, seems extremely lopsided in hindsight. Loui Eriksson has yet to hit 50 points, and Reilly Smith is just below Eriksson with 40. Seguin, on the other hand, netted the same amount of points as Smith in assists alone. However, the hockey world knew how talented Seguin was at the time. He is 23, and already a known commodity. As good as he is (really good), he’s not the generational player that turns heads, like Crosby and Lindros were when they entered the league. McDavid has that special quality to him that will make it difficult for teams not to overpay. Because of that, it’s almost impossible to see how trading McDavid could hurt that much. The Oilers are already a bad team at the moment. Is a single player enough to turn the team around, or is management better off bringing in several pieces at once to become competitive again?
The point of this is not in any way to state that Edmonton needs to give up first overall. What the team should do, however, is entertain offers. The interest for such a player is there. Teams will make offers. Some offers will be poor. Others will make the Oilers think twice. The point is, however, that there may be a better option for Edmonton than just picking McDavid. The team won’t know them though unless they consider a trade.