An area on the roster that the Oilers could look to improve on is their center depth. With Draisaitl getting an extended stint on the top line with McDavid, there is a bit of a weakness as their current third liner is a rookie and ranks last on the team in points/60.
One player that will get some attention at the deadline is 29 year old centerman Martin Hanzal. He’ll be an unrestricted free agent this summer, and with Arizona having been out of playoff race for a while now, the club will likely try to acquire picks and prospects for him. He’s coming off of a 5-year, $15.5 deal ($3.1 million AAV)
A quick glance at his numbers and relative-to-team stats tells us he’s a top six player that improves the teams overall play when he’s on the ice. He’s been pretty consistent over the last four years when it comes to shot rates and point production. This season, he’s seen his points/60 rate drop, which could be due to his on-ice shooting percentage drop from 9.04% to 5.86%, and his overall PDO is down to 96.57. What’s interesting is that his own individual shot rates (iSF/60) and individual shooting percentage (iSH%) are fairly close to his historical numbers, which makes me think his linemates are letting him down. Just a hunch at this point.
Here’s how his relative to team stats look like. I’ve included Corsi, Fenwick, Scoring Chances, Expected Goals and Goals at 5v5.
Now while Hanzal would be a fine rental for a playoff bound team looking to add depth, I don’t think it makes a lot of sense for the Oilers.
First, the Oilers really can’t afford to send away picks or prospects as their talent pool is quite shallow at this point. Second, the Oilers have to fill a few more holes on their roster before they can consider themselves legitimate Stanley Cup contenders. Now Hanzal could give their team a boost, but I doubt it’ll be enough to get out of the first round against San Jose or Anaheim. He’s also a left shooting player, something the Oilers have an abundance of, both up front and on defence. The other issue too is that Hanzal would cost a lot to retain. He’s 29 and coming off of a contract that paid $3.1 million per season. This will be his last chance to cash in, and you can bet a team will pay for an experienced centerman with size and good underlying numbers.
Now if the Oilers were actually interested in acquiring Hanzal at the deadline AND retaining him, they would have to move out one of the existing, heavy contracts and play him higher up in the roster to justify the deal. Really, this only makes sense if RNH is on the way out, and a cheaper third-line option was coming in. Again, the Oilers would be paying Hanzal significant dollars, which won’t make sense as he’s likely past his prime at this point.
Now, if the Oilers did want to add a centerman and were okay with paying him less than $4 million per season, they should probably consider someone younger who may be undervalued by the market. One player that could make sense is Nick Bjugstad of the Panthers. He’s 24, has size, shoots right and has four more years left on his deal that pays him $4.1 million per season. Issue for him is that he’s been dealing with injuries, and the Panthers have Barkov (21, $5.9 million per season until 2022) and Trocheck (23, $4.75 million per season until 2022) playing center ahead of him right now.
Bjugstad’s PDO is just abysmally low right now, and it’s hard to say what his career averages truly are. His individual and on-ice shooting percentages are the lowest on his team, and I suspect it’s a mix of his injuries derailing his season and his teammates that are impacting things.
The Oilers would be taking more of a risk with acquiring Bjugstad than with Hanzal, but the team would at least get Bjugstad in his prime. I don’t think this player is as bad as his numbers are this season, and would think he’ll get back to more respectable numbers eventually.
Another player that the Oilers could look at is Calle Jarnkrok, a 25 year old center, right shot, who is signed with Nashville for $2 million per season for the next five seasons after this one. His numbers are down slightly, which could be impacted by his poor on ice save percentage and slightly lower than average on ice shooting percentage. He doesn’t appear to be much of a volume shooter, but he can still contribute in a depth role.
Jarnkrok is a little older, and he’s signed until he’s 30 at a very, very reasonable deal. The issue for the Preds is that they may not be able to protect him for the upcoming expansion draft as they have a core of defenceman worth protecting and have some no movement clauses for some of their forwards. Vegas would likely take Jarnkrok if he’s available, so it might in Nashville’s best interest to get something for him before they have to expose him.
Every move the Oilers make has to be geared towards winning the cup. With a need at center, the Oilers could get a rental like Hanzal at the deadline, but it would be in their best interest to find a reasonably priced contract for a player that is still in his prime. The objective has to be establishing a long term window where the team can be a legitimate championship contender. It makes little sense dealing away picks for temporary help when those assets could be put towards players that can help for the long run. And the Oilers have to take advantage of teams that may need to shed salary or ones that are in a tough spot because of the expansion draft.