Finding Help at Center

hanzalAn 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.

Season 2013/14 2014/15 2015/16 2016/17
GP 65 37 64 42
TOI 873.1 493.77 792.78 552.53
G-A-P 10-15-25 6-11-17 9-16-25 6-3-9
P60 1.72 2.07 1.89 0.98
iSF60 8.32 7.17 7.49 7.71
iSh% 8.26 10.17 9.09 8.45
Sh% 6.37 9.75 9.04 5.86
Sv% 92.54 89.27 92.84 90.71
PDO 98.91 99.02 101.88 96.57

Here’s how his relative to team stats look like. I’ve included Corsi, Fenwick, Scoring Chances, Expected Goals and Goals at 5v5.

hanzalrel

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.

Season 2013/14 2014/15 2015/16 2016/17
GP 76 72 67 23
TOI 980.62 917.19 810.09 253.11
G-A-P 15-18-33 13-14-27 9-8-17 1-1-2
P60 2.02 1.77 1.26 0.47
iSF60 9.06 9.94 8.52 7.35
iSh% 10.14 8.55 7.83 3.23
Sh% 7.95 7.11 7.23 1.45
Sv% 90.68 92.05 91.18 93.29
PDO 98.63 99.17 98.41 94.74

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.

bjugstadrel

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.

Season 2013/14 2014/15 2015/16 2016/17
GP 12 74 81 51
TOI 141.21 791.45 1023.79 580.66
G-A-P 2-6-8 7-10-17 11-12-23 6-5-11
P60 3.4 1.29 1.35 1.14
iSF60 5.1 6.82 5.86 7.23
iSh% 16.67 7.78 11 8.57
Sh% 16.42 6.57 7.34 6.62
Sv% 93.1 92.47 91.82 90.31
PDO 109.52 99.04 99.16 96.93

jarnkrokrel

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.

Data: Corsica Hockey, Cap Friendly

Trading Kris Russell

With the NHL trade deadline one month away, the Oilers will have a chance to make some important decisions that could impact their short term goal of qualifying for the 2017 playoffs and the long term goal of establishing a window where they can be legitimate Stanley Cupcontenders.

In terms of short term needs, the Oilers could use an upgrade to their center depth as well as their right side up front. There’s also an obvious need when it comes to goaltending as Cam Talbot, who has arguably been the Oilers MVP, does not have a reliable backup that can give him a night off from time to time. There’s also a case to be made that the team could use an offensive defenceman to support the powerplay, but the team should probably refrain from spending significant assets to acquire. The issue for the Oilers is that they don’t have a lot to give up, as their own prospect pool isn’t very deep and the picks they have for the upcoming draft are needed to replenish it.

The Oilers do have veteran players like Benoit Pouliot and Matt Hendricks that could draw some attention at the deadline, but the Oilers are not likely to acquire significant pieces by moving either of these two. Both have struggled this season, although Pouliot does have a history of contributing to a team’s offence and could provide a team with skill and experience in a top six role.

Where the Oilers could tap into to address their short term and long term goals is their defence. For the first time in a long time, the Oilers have an NHL-calibre defence core, with Andrej Sekera, Oscar Klefbom and Adam Larsson signed with the team for the next four years on reasonable contracts. Add to that core Brandon Davidson, Darnell Nurse and Matt Benning, players that will be under team control for a while, and the Oilers have a group that should provide stability on the back end.

This brings us to Kris Russell who was signed by the Oilers to a one-year deal just days before the start of the 2016/17 regular season. Serving as a well-priced stop-gap, having Russell on the roster allowed the Oilers to keep some of their defensive prospects like Griffin Reinhart and Jordan Oesterle in the AHL to continue their own development. The Oilers have been able to rely on Russell quite heavily, as he’s led the team in average ice time per game and has a respectable goal-share of 51.6%. He has spent a significant amount of time with Connor McDavid this season, which would help his numbers, and he’s also been benefiting from a 94% save percentage when he’s on the ice for most of the season, which is not exactly sustainable.

We also know that a team or players on-ice goal-share is not a good predictor of future success, so we look at the share of shot attempts which correlates better with future goal-share. Russell currently ranks last on the team among defencemen when it comes to on-ice Corsi For% (score and venue adjusted) at even-strength (5v5), as the team has had 46.55% of all of the shot attempts with him on the ice. When he’s not on the ice, the Oilers have a Corsi For% of 52.37%, which is a significant jump. Now it can be expected that the share of shot attempts would improve when Russell isn’t on the ice as he has faced better competition, but it should not increase that significantly. For instance, when Adam Larsson, who has also been playing top lines, is on the ice, the team has a 50.31% share of all of the shot attempts. That share increases only slightly when Larsson is on the bench, going up to 51.52%.

russellwowycf-0

Full article is at The Copper & Blue.

Talking Oilers on the CBC Edmonton News (TV) + Facebook Live

Joined Adrienne Pan on the CBC Edmonton News this evening to talk Oilers and preview the game against the Wild. We also touched on the upcoming deadline and the improvements the team has made in terms of shots and goals this season. Link to the full segment is here, clip starts around the 18:30 mark.

Just a quick note: I completely flubbed one of my responses and for that I apologize. I said that the Oilers played a lot of home games in January, when I meant to emphasize their six-game homestand. I also said that they didn’t play many back to backs in January when they actually played three sets. I take a lot of pride in the work and do my best to share the right information, and evidence to support my work. I prepare the best I can for TV and radio spots, and will definitely be better in the future.

Earlier in the day, Adrienne and I did another Facebook Live to talk Oilers and got some great questions from the community. Big thank you to everyone who sent their topics and ideas in. Below is the segment.

https://www.facebook.com/plugins/video.php?href=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.facebook.com%2Fcbcedmonton%2Fvideos%2F1375280752513765%2F&show_text=0&width=560

Improving the Oilers Penalty Kill

The Oilers penalty kill (4v5) currently ranks 15th in the league, with an 82.1% efficiency. If we look at it in terms of actual goals scored per 60 minutes shorthanded, which serves as a more accurate assessment of a team’s success, the Oilers actually rank 9th best in the league with 5.13 goals against. This has been in large part to their goaltending shorthanded, which ranks 4th best in  the league.

Team TOI Goals Against/60 Fenwick Against/60 Save%
CAR 214.76 3.91 56.16 90.07
TOR 280.87 4.06 65.58 91.08
BOS 310.30 4.25 61.10 89.57
CBJ 248.45 4.83 64.96 89.47
WSH 318.89 4.89 56.45 86.53
ANA 328.82 4.93 70.80 89.93
L.A 278.60 4.95 54.49 86.71
MIN 234.89 5.11 67.69 88.95
EDM 269.08 5.13 68.01 89.59
FLA 279.85 5.15 60.68 88.35

Among the 25 goaltenders who have played at least 150 minutes shorthanded this season, Talbot ranks 3rd with a 90.45 save percentage, only behind Frederik Andersen and Roberto Luongo. He has faced the highest rate of shots on goals against among this group, and ranks around the middle of the pack when it comes to the average distance of the shots against.

Player Team GP TOI Shots Against/60 Save% Avg Shot Distance
FREDERIK.ANDERSEN TOR 39 236.67 45.38 91.06 18.01
ROBERTO.LUONGO FLA 32 159.07 45.64 90.91 16.45
CAM.TALBOT EDM 45 237.62 50.25 90.45 16.61
JOHN.GIBSON ANA 39 234.29 45.33 90.40 15.17
TUUKKA.RASK BOS 41 238.39 39.01 90.32 14.73
MARTIN.JONES S.J 42 209.64 45.79 90.00 13.19
SERGEI.BOBROVSKY CBJ 39 202.77 45.57 89.61 15.88
JAKE.ALLEN STL 35 195.07 42.75 89.21 18.69
PEKKA.RINNE NSH 37 175.05 49.01 88.81 18.16
DEVAN.DUBNYK MIN 38 185.71 46.20 88.81 15.02

When it comes to the rate of unblocked shot against (i.e., Fenwick) however, which serves as a better predictor for future success than actual goals against, the team ranks 21st in the league, allowing 68.01 per hour. This is definitely an area of concern as team’s that can contain shots and scoring chances against are the ones that are likely to have long term success.

What I’ve done below is list the players that have been deployed for at least 30 minutes on the penalty kill this season for the Oilers, and see how the team has done in terms of unblocked shots against with the player on the ice and without the player (i.e., relative to the team). I’ve also included the rate of actual goals against when each player is on the ice and how that number looks relative to the team.

Player TOI Fenwick Against/60 Fenwick Against/60 (Rel) Goals Against/60 Goals Against/60 (Rel)
MATT.HENDRICKS 40.12 58.33 -24.48 7.48 3.42
CONNOR.MCDAVID 53.41 50.55 -19.35 3.37 0.22
LEON.DRAISAITL 40.69 57.51 -11.23 4.42 1.48
ADAM.LARSSON 89.29 62.49 -5.86 6.72 4.23
OSCAR.KLEFBOM 91.99 63.92 -3.12 3.91 0.69
BENOIT.POULIOT 67.79 61.96 -1.99 5.31 3.05
ANDREJ.SEKERA 108.7 66.79 -0.46 4.97 1.11
DARNELL.NURSE 44.11 70.73 4.37 5.44 2.68
ZACK.KASSIAN 55.06 68.65 4.56 3.27 0.18
ERIC.GRYBA 42.71 66.03 8.03 2.81 1.08
MARK.LETESTU 108.65 75.10 19.54 5.52 1.70
KRIS.RUSSELL 108.63 78.98 20.00 5.52 1.24
NUGENT-HOPKINS 100.83 81.52 23.15 7.14 4.54
ANTON.LANDER 38.88 77.16 26.21 6.17 5.04

In terms of the rate of unblocked shots against, the team as a whole has allowed 68.01 per hour. When players like Hendricks, McDavid, Draisaitl, Larsson, Klefbom or Pouliot are on the ice, the team tends to allow fewer unblocked shots against (negatives are a good thing). On the bottom end of the table, we see that when current roster players like Letestu, Russell and RNH have been on the ice, the rate of unblocked shots against takes a significant jump. That’s pretty alarming considering that these three have been deployed the most shorthanded.

Of the three, it’s been Kris Russell’s numbers that are the most surprising and I suspect could be what is driving down the numbers of RNH and Letestu. The rate of shots against has reached just under 80 per hour with Russell is on the ice shortanded, which is odd considering he’s had plenty of experience playing on the penalty kill, with his past team’s often doing better with him on the ice than without him.

Season Team GP TOI Fenwick Against/60 Fenwick Against/60 (Rel)
2012/13 STL 33 25.52 44.67 -2.89
2013/14 CGY 68 67.40 55.19 -6.83
2014/15 CGY 79 112.46 61.36 1.87
2015/16 CGY 51 100.37 63.37 -7.07
2015/16 DAL 11 26.33 41.02 -10.14
2016/17 EDM 44 108.63 78.98 +20.00

Over the past five seasons, Russell has spent plenty of time on the penalty kill, but will likely reach a new high when it comes to total ice time this season. It makes sense if the team wants to rely on him to play shorthanded, as he has had success in terms of unblocked shots against in St. Louis and Calgary. But what the Oilers have failed to do is keep Russell on his natural side, something he often did in Calgary, and have instead paired him with Andrej Sekera and deployed him on the right. In Calgary two of his most common linemates were Deryk Engelland and Dennis Wideman, both of which were right handed options. Something the Oilers need to consider is getting Russell back on his natural side, especially if they want to continue deploying him on the penalty kill.

It’ll be up to the coaching staff to maximize each shift, whether it be at 5v5 or on special teams, especially as the team gets ready for the playoffs. For the first time in a long time, the Oilers have a competitive roster, but each player needs to be in a position to succeed, especially the defencemen.

Data: Corsica Hockey

Also posted at The Copper & Blue.

Talking Oilers, All-Star break and trade deadline on The Lowdown with Lowetide (TSN 1260)

Joined Lowetide this morning on TSN 1260 to talk all things Oilers. Clip starts around the 18:30 mark.

We touched on young McDavid’s first All-star game and the different options the Oilers have heading into the deadline. We talked about possibly acquiring Martin Hanzal from Arizona, and also discussed the next week of games.

In case you missed it, a couple articles I published at The Copper & Blue over the weekend:

I’ll also be making an appearance on the CBC Edmonton news on Tuesday night to talk Oilers. We’ll also be doing a Facebook Live session at noon (MST) tomorrow to talk Oilers and take questions. You can catch it on the CBC Edmonton Facebook page.

The January Hot Streak + Radio Spot on CBC Radio Active

The month of January has been excellent for the Oilers, as the team has collected critical points in their pursuit of a playoff berth. Outscoring their opponents 31-20 at 5v5, the Oilers went 9-4-0 in the 13 games and moved into a tie for first in the Pacific with San Jose. With 31 games remaining, the Oilers will need to secure another 36 points to get to 100 for the season, which is higher than what’s being projected to make the playoffs, but would guarantee them a spot.

If we dig into these 13 games in January, we see that the team posted a score-adjusted Corsi For% of 48.53, which is slightly lower what they posted prior to the month this season. In the month of January, the club generated a lower rate of shots-on-goal than the previous months, but posted a shooting percentage of 10.56%, which ranks them 5th in the league, and is a 3.0% jump from the shooting percentage they posted between October and December 2016. The team’s save percentage remained steady at around 92%, as the club has received reliable goal-tending from Cam Talbot, who could arguably be the team’s most valuable player this season. Worth noting that Talbot’s individual save percentage has historically been around 92%, but he’s posted a 93.5% save percentage in January.

Term Games Record Corsi For% (adj) Goals For% Shooting% Save% PDO
Pre January 1 38 19-11-8 51.63 51.47 7.48 92.62 100.11
Post January 1 13 9-4-0 48.53 60.78 10.56 92.94 103.50

It’s usually when a team’s PDO (the combination of the teams save percentage and the teams shooting percentage at 5v5) is below 98.0 or above 102.0 that typically warrants attention. The fact that the Oilers PDO has been over 103 in January, which ranks them 3rd highest in the league for this month, indicates that the club is getting a little lucky, and likely won’t sustain this level of production.

Now this is not a knock on the Oilers at all. NHL teams go through their hot and cold streaks throughout the regular season. The Oilers, over the course of the full year, have been a good-to-average team and fully deserve to be in the playoffs. They’ve held an above average share of shot attempts, which is used to predict future goals, and have posted an above average share of goals without having to rely on the more luck driven factors like shooting and save percentages.

Term Games Record Corsi For% (adj) Goals For% Shooting% Save% PDO
2016/17 Season 51 28-15-8 50.85 54.01 8.24 92.73 100.97

The concern here is that the Oilers will be making some important decisions now to sustain their success and push for the playoffs, and hopefully do some damage once they get in. As fun as January has been, it’s not likely that they’ll continue outscoring their opponents like they have over these past 13 games and continue getting over 60% of the total goals score at even-strength. But because of this great run, the coaching staff will likely want to keep the line combinations as is, even though specific players, like forwards Drake Caggiula and Matt Hendricks, have struggled. Caggiula is a good prospect that should be able to help the club in the future. But he’s struggled in his transition to center and is currently last on the team among forwards in points per 60 at 5v5 with 1.01, and just behind Milan Lucic who has 1.09 points per 60. And with Hendricks, it’s become pretty obvious that he’s lost a few steps and can’t bring any offence to the team. Both players have been part of the winning roster, no question, but the coaching staff has to make adjustments and maximize every shift, geared towards scoring goals. Depth will be critical today and in the playoffs, so the team has to make changes and could look to their AHL roster to meet their needs.

The other issue is the impact a hot streak like this can have on the Oilers long term goals of being a legitimate Stanley Cup contender. The Oilers may begin considering themselves as legitimate championship contenders today, and look into moving away assets in the form of picks and prospects to secure rental players. The team could definitely use a centerman to play in the bottom six or add depth to their right side. But decisions like these could hinder their options in the summer , when they should be targeting long term solutions for their roster and establish a proper window of opportunity to win championships. The team is definitely good enough to make the playoffs this year, but they should not be making decisions that will impact their long term goals based on their recent stretch of games.

Data: Corsica Hockey

Also posted at The Copper & Blue.

Thoughts on the Expansion Draft

brandon-davidson

In case you missed it, I joined Lowetide this morning on TSN 1260 to talk all things Oilers, including the SWEEP of the Flames, the upcoming California trip and options at the trade deadline (LT has a great list of potential targets). Clip starts around the 17:25 mark.

 

We also discussed the expansion draft and who the Oilers should be protecting. The Vegas Golden Knights will be joining the Pacific division and announcing their roster on June 21, 2017. Vegas will be drafting 30 players, one from each NHL team, and will follow a set of rules as outlined over at NHL.com.

* Clubs will have two options for players they wish to protect in the Expansion Draft:

a) Seven forwards, three defensemen and one goaltender

b) Eight skaters (forwards/defensemen) and one goaltender

* All players who have currently effective and continuing “No Movement” clauses at the time of the Expansion Draft (and who to decline to waive such clauses) must be protected (and will be counted toward their club’s applicable protection limits).

* All first- and second-year professionals, as well as all unsigned draft choices, will be exempt from selection (and will not be counted toward their club’s applicable protection limits).

If I’m the Oilers:

  • I protect the following players: Talbot, Sekera, Klefbom, Larsson, Davidson, RNH, Eberle, Draisaitl, Lucic.
  • Excluded from the expansion draft: McDavid, Nurse, Benning, Caggiula, Slepyshev and Puljujaarvi.
  • I leave the following players unprotected: Pouliot, Maroon, Letestu, Lander, Kassian, Khaira, Fayne, Reinhart, etc.
  • Source: Cap Friendly

Now before I go on, I need to make one thing clear: the whole discussion around the upcoming expansion draft, and which players are worth protecting and which players are worth letting go is all dependent on a lot of ifs and maybes. We can make our lists today, in January, but it can easily be turned upside down if the Oilers start moving out assets and addressing their current (and future) needs. You can protect 7-3-1, but if the Oilers find a decent right-shot defenceman this week, then maybe you protect four defencemen and only four forwards instead of seven. You can protect four defencemen, but if one is moved to shore up the center depth, then you’re moving to the 7-3-1 list. My point is, we can speculate all we  want, but there’s no use getting too attached, especially with a potential playoff-berth.

The NHL really is just a competition to see which clubs can put together the best roster, under a set salary cap, to win the Stanley Cup. The expansion draft is obviously for a new team to enter the league, but its also a disruption to the long-term goals of the existing teams. Recognizing this, the NHL is really going easy on the 30 teams, setting rules that more or less cushion the blow.

But to make Vegas somewhat competitive, the NHL is trying to make as many defencemen available to them as possible. We know how hard it is to draft, develop and/or acquire talent for the backend. There are plenty of forwards in hockey that you can plug in and out of your line up, within different combinations and allocate ice time to. Defencemen on the other hand are at a premium in today’s NHL. They aren’t so easily shuffled around a lineup, and have to be ready to play regular minutes against various levels of competition.

There’s a clear incentive for teams to protect only three defencemen. Doing so, you get to protect seven forwards, which is kind of excessive when you think about it as a lot of teams have young players in their top six that are exempt anyways. But hey, you get to protect more of your precious assets. If you want to protect more than three defencemen, now you’re cutting into the total number of assets you can protect.

With that in mind, I’m leaning towards protecting four defencemen, and yes, leaving guys like Maroon and Pouliot, both of which I value highly, unprotected.

I’ve written plenty on Pouliot, who I view as a very good top six NHL forward that can contribute on offence and has meshed well with an array of forwards.

There’s a stronger case, however, to be made in protecting Maroon from the expansion draft.

  • He’s currently playing with McDavid and Draisaitl on the top line. In 164 minutes this season, the trio has outscored the opposition 10-4 at 5v5 (71.43% goal-share) and has a Corsi For% of 55.31%. (Source: Corsica Hockey)
  • He’s been a positive influence on any center he’s played with when it comes to their share of shot attempts. Here’s what I wrote on Maroon’s ability to drive offence back in November 2016 – The Driver (The Copper & Blue)
  • He’s on a value contract this season and next season, getting paid $1.5 million per season.

As much as I like this player, I see two issues. First, his shooting percentage is at a career high 19.28% this season. It’s not likely that he can sustain this, but I guess anything is possible if he continues to play with McDavid.

Season Team GP TOI G A P P/60 iSh%
2012/13 ANA 13 118.37 2 1 3 1.52 10.00
2013/14 ANA 62 636.35 10 15 25 2.36 12.35
2014/15 ANA 71 839.6 7 18 25 1.79 6.93
2015/16 ANA/EDM 72 752.58 7 12 19 1.51 8.33
2016/17 EDM 49 661.96 16 4 20 1.81 19.28

The other issue is that when Maroon’s contract expires at the end of next season, he’ll be 30 years old and likely looking for dollars and term to carry him into retirement. There is evidence that players who play a physical game tend to taper off as they age past 30 (Source: Hockey Graphs), so there’s a very real chance that what we’re seeing from Maroon today is his prime. It might be a smart move to protect Maroon today, but it might not be the right decision for the Oilers long term goal of winning a championship. With McDavid, Nurse and Draisaitl expected to get heavy, long-term contracts in the near future, it may not make sense to allocate dollars to a 30 year old, complementary winger, likely on his downswing.

Maroon’s value has never been higher, and likely won’t be higher in the future. The Oilers could potentially trade him in the summer to address their needs on defence, but it’s unlikely considering his current status on the roster.

In my opinion, the Oilers would be better off protecting defenceman Brandon Davidson, who played very well for the Oilers as a bottom four type player last season. Assessing the team’s possession numbers from last season, we knew that the team did better with him on the ice than without him, which is expected from someone playing in a depth role. But we also saw him gradually take on tougher competition, with his contributions being missed when he was injured. Couple pieces I wrote last season:

Davidson is only 25 years old, and is signed for this season and next at a very reasonable $1.425 million per season. The NHL cap system favors and rewards the owners, as young players who are drafted and developed by a team remain under team control,  right through their prime years. Davidson is on a value contract today, and could very well be a long-term value contract as well. Defencemen are harder to find than forwards, with the supply never quite meeting the demand, especially around the trade deadline when teams prepare for the playoffs.

The end goal is to win the Stanley Cup, and to do that the team needs to establish an extended window, at least a five year term, where they can be legitimate, championship contenders. Investing in young players, especially defencemen, who can be on team-friendly, value contracts is going to be key for the Oilers. The decisions they make at the deadline and for the expansion draft have to be geared towards winning the Cup.