After making the case for the Edmonton Oilers to do whatever it takes to acquire the rights to the second-overall pick from the Buffalo Sabres in the upcoming NHL draft, it became apparent that there is a second side to that coin. It would take a full blow up of the current Oiler roster to entice the Sabres enough to give up the ability to draft Jack Eichel. Since Edmonton hasn’t had much luck with that roster, blowing it up isn’t really that big of a loss. But what if this roster simply hasn’t had enough time together, inconsistent leadership or a combination of both? What if the Oilers doubled down on what they have already built and sold the piece that would give them highest possible return? What if Edmonton traded the first overall pick?
Sean Mcindoe of Down Goes Brown fame wrote a piece about the history of trades involving the number one draft pick. The majority of the trades happened in the early years of the draft and in the mid nineties, when there weren’t a lot of top flight, sure fire franchise guys appearing. The last trade involving the number one overall pick (the actual pick, not a player drafted first overall) came in 2003, when the Panthers dealt it to Pittsburgh.
The interesting takeaway from the piece was how many times the number one pick that was traded was used on an underwhelming player. Guy LaFleur, Vincent Lecavalier, Rick Nash and Marc-Andre Fleury were four of the nine number one overall picks that were traded. LaFleur is a Hall of Famer, Vinny was one of the league’s top ten players for years, Nash is still very good and Marc-Andre won a Cup. They were the best of the nine, with the other five players being busts. That isn’t likely to be the scenario for this draft and McDavid is hyped almost to the point of hyperbole. Where does that leave us?
There was a tenth trade on the list and it was included even though it didn’t truly involve the number one draft pick. It was the infamous Eric Lindros deal involving the Quebec Nordiques and the Philadelphia Flyers (and the New York Rangers technically, but that’s a story for another time). It was chosen as the closest analog to what a trade for this year’s number one pick would cost.
Lindros was widely considered the next great player, expected to follow in the steps of Wayne Gretzky and Mario Lemieux. Philly gave up a ton to get Lindros and he was great in the City of Brotherly Love. For a while. But injuries (back and then concussion issues) would derail his career far sooner than it should have ended. No doubt, while he played, Eric was a true force. He was a better than a point a game player for each of his first nine seasons before the injuries really took away his edge. Lindros was a shining star for a few years while one of the assets the Nordiques acquired for him became a supernova.
The Nordiques received Steve Duchene, Ron Hextall, Kerry Huffman, Mike Ricci, two first round picks (that became Chris Simon and Nolan Baumgartner), $15 million and Peter Forsberg. Forsberg became one of the greatest players of the nineties and early 2000’s, eclipsing Lindros’ performance and being far more likeable. He was elected to the Hall of Fame last year. Colorado won two Stanley Cups, the Flyers have been beaten in two Finals since making the deal.
Philly paid a tremendous price to get their hands on Lindros. If he doesn’t suffer the concussions, maybe it would have been worth it for them, but as history stands, the Nordiques made out like bandits in the deal (aside from the fact that they had to switch countries and conferences to do it).
Edmonton should absolutely be looking into trying to emulate what Quebec did in that deal and its aftermath (outside of the whole relocation bit). Two to three established NHL players with preferably at least one of them being a defenseman, one or two prospects and one first round pick at minimum. It’s a terribly high price to pay for any team, especially in the salary cap era, but the Oilers need to try and get it.
A roster that starts with Taylor Hall, Jordan Eberle, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Darnell Nurse, Leon Draisaitl, Oscar Klefbom, and Nail Yakupov is on the way to being good. Add more NHL talent, particularly on the blueline, Pittsburgh’s first rounder this year, plus whatever other bounty they receive from a trade, and you could have a playoff contender next year. Find a goalie in free agency or another trade or get lucky and discover your own Andrew Hammond.
Yes, drafting Connor McDavid seems like a no-brainer. But the Edmonton Oilers have been stuck in a rut for years, doing the expected thing. Now is their chance to shake things up in a big way and give themselves a tremendous boost in talent. Trade the number one pick and watch the accolades come in.