After watching his team stumble to a 4-11-2 start, Edmonton Oilers GM Craig MacTavish finally made a couple of moves on Friday to shake up his moribund roster.
Acknowledging the Oilers need for experienced goaltending depth, MacTavish signed free agent Ilya Bryzgalov to a one-year, $1.75-million contract. He also shipped defenseman Ladislav Smid and goaltending prospect Olivier Roy to the Calgary Flames for forward Roman Horak and goalie prospect Laurent Brossoit.
The Brzygalov signing was roundly panned by fans and pundits fearful the flaky netminder would make a bad situation worse. MacTavish, however, had no choice. Goalies Devan Dubnyk, Jason LaBarbera and Richard Bachman are struggling and no affordable help can be found in the trade market.
Given the Oilers defensive woes, trading Smid – their best shot-blocking blueliner – was a puzzling move. The Edmonton Journal’s Jim Matheson explained first-year Oilers Anton Belov and Philip Larsen would off-set Smid’s departure, plus clearing his $3.5 million annual cap hit frees up dollars for other additions.
Following these moves there was rampant speculation MacTavish was working on a deal with the Philadelphia Flyers.
Sportsnet’s Mark Spector claimed the Oilers were trying to acquire Wayne Simmonds. He also cited sources claiming Flyers GM Paul Holmgren was willing to listen to offers for everyone except captain Claude Giroux and goaltender Steve Mason.
At one point wingers Ales Hemsky and Jordan Eberle were rumoured to be heading to Philadelphia for Flyers defenseman Braydon Coburn and Simmonds.
MacTavish finally took to the airwaves to dismiss the rumors, claiming no other moves were imminent and “hopefully none for quite some time.”
The trade speculation was winding down by the time the Oilers and Flyers faced off on Saturday in Philadelphia (a 4-2 win for the Flyers), and by Sunday had completely died out.
Simmonds later shrugged off the trade talk. “Rumors are rumors,” he told Dave Isaacs of the Camden Courier-Post, acknowledging such talk was part of the business.
CSNPhilly.com’s Tim Panaccio cited a source saying the Flyers asked about Eberle, but the Oilers dismissed it as “laughable.”
Panaccio believes Holmgren was facing pressure from Flyers owner Ed Snider, who called his club’s lacklustre performance in a 3-0 loss last Thursday to the New Jersey Devils “pathetic.”
Given MacTavish’s unwillingness to move his young core players, the 30-year-old Hemsky and his $5 million salary is the GM’s only trade bait – and it’s not enough to land Coburn or Simmonds.
Holmgren could attract more interest from other clubs if Giroux and Mason are his only untouchables, but with his limited cap space he’ll find it difficult to land a substantial upgrade for his roster in a dollar-for-dollar swap.
That the GMs of the worst teams in the league were reportedly engaged in trade talks highlights their desperation. With their seasons already slipping away, MacTavish and Holmgren are reduced to grasping at straws.
Given the weak trade market, they don’t have much choice. With 23 teams having $3.5 million or less in cap space, most aren’t willing at this stage in the season to add salary, preferring more affordable options (waivers, call-ups) to address potential roster problems.
The Florida Panthers and Buffalo Sabres are among the few clubs with more than $3.5 million in cap space, but they have issues of their own to address.
Having traded Thomas Vanek to the New York Islanders last month, the rebuilding Sabres seem content to wait until later in the season to shop pending free agents Ryan Miller and Matt Moulson.
The Panthers, meanwhile, fired their entire coaching staff on Friday. GM Dale Tallon will assess his roster’s performance under his new coaches before making significant roster moves.
It will be very difficult for the Oilers and Flyers to make a major trade in the coming weeks, which would not only improve their rosters, but also fit within their cap space. By the time those moves are made, it’ll be too late to save their seasons.