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Kris Letang for Jordan Eberle

January 10, 2014, 11:37 AM ET [687 Comments]
Ryan Wilson
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The Pittsburgh Penguins will make their lone visit to Edmonton tonight as they take on the struggling Oilers. The Oilers are currently holding down the last place spot in the Western Conference. The Oilers have had a rough go of things since their Cinderella run to the Stanley Cup Final in 2005-2006.

There are many factors that come into play on why a team is successful and why a team fails. When sifting through some of the Oilers statistical data I found one stat that jumped off the page.

From 2007-2013 the Edmonton Oilers have been the worst possession team in the NHL. They rank 30th overall in Fenclose% with 45.6%. This is where the Oilers problems begin and end. You cannot be successful in the modern NHL with numbers that bad. The Oilers terrible puck possession highly correlates with their terrible record the past number of seasons.

So why do the Oilers continue to do so poorly with their puck possession?

The Oilers have had a plethora of high draft picks to acquire very good hockey players. I would argue that they have acquired very good hockey players with their top picks.
The problem hasn’t been the quality of player the Oilers have selected with their premium picks; it has been the position of those players chosen. The Oilers have gone extremely top heavy with selecting forwards. The defense position has been all but neglected with the exception of the Darnell Nurse selection.

By neglecting the defense position with their highly valuable top draft picks the Oilers have left themselves exposed to an extremely substandard quality of defense play.

A perfect example of this would be the decision to select Nail Yakupov with the #1 overall pick instead of taking somebody like Ryan Murray or trading down. Yakupov’s selection was overkill and did not fill a need for the Oilers. The biggest need was and still is quality puck moving defensemen.

Here is a breakdown of the 12 most common Oilers defenders during the 2007-2013 sample size where Edmonton ranks dead last in puck possession:

The Oilers defense corp. has been bad for a very long time; one could argue that it has not been the same since Chris Pronger left after the 2005-2006 season. The Oilers have been riddled with defensemen who cannot move the puck at a high level.

What good are all the forwards the Oilers have drafted if the defensemen cannot get the puck to them?

Not a single Oilers defender has had positive Fenclose% for the past 6 years, not one.
Given that the Oilers have a surplus of very talented wingers (especially with Perron in the fold now); it is about that time for the Oilers to flip one of them to help bolster their struggling defense.

How can the Oilers dig themselves out of this hole? By trading from a position of strength, their top 6 forward depth.

A trade that has made sense to me since the beginning of last summer has been a Kris Letang for Jordan Eberle swap. This would be a straight up hockey trade and address needs for both teams.

In Kris Letang the Oilers will get their first defenseman who can actually drive possession. During the 2007-2013 sample size where the Oilers have been dead last, Kris Letang has had a Fenclose% of 54.0%. That is an enormous boost.

Some might point out that Kris Letang’s possession numbers are a direct result of playing with players like Crosby and Malkin. Playing with those kinds of players has certainly not hurt his numbers, but Letang would be surrounded with a talented group of forwards in Edmonton as well.

Furthermore, if you look at a player like Ryan Whitney who has played for both Pittsburgh and Edmonton, you will notice that his Fenclose% did not significantly alter based on the change of scenery. Here are Whitney’s Penguin numbers from his last two seasons as a Penguin:

2007-2008 45.7%
2008-2009 47.6%

Whitney with the Oilers has been at 46.1%, right in the middle of his final 2 Penguins seasons.

I do not believe a move to Edmonton would have a significant negative impact on Letang’s possession numbers. I do think it would have a significant positive impact on the Oilers forwards that he plays with.

Think about players like Taylor Hall and Ryan Nugent Hopkins actually getting support from the back end with a player like Letang. It would be a breath of fresh air for them. Letang would create time and space that the previous Oiler defensemen have not been able to generate.

As for the Penguins side of this deal, I believe that they have the in house assets to replace Letang by committee. No one player will replace Kris Letang’s excellent skill set but the Penguins certainly have enough quality puck moving defensemen to make up for Letang’s offense.

Paul Martin, Olli Maatta, Simon Despres, and Matt Niskanen have more than enough puck skills to drive possession and chip in offensively. Additionally it’s not like Rob Scuderi and Brooks Orpik are skating out there with oven mitts on. Even though they do not carry impressive offensive statistics they are certainly not bad with the puck either.

By acquiring a player like Jordan Eberle the Penguins would also be shoring up their 3rd line depth problems. Eberle would be slotted to play on the Crosby line with Chris Kunitz. This would allow a guy like Pascal Dupuis (who is coming off major knee surgery) to drop down to the 3rd line in the future and finally provide some much needed help for Brandon Sutter.

Depending on if the Penguins retain the services of Jussi Jokinen you could potentially have Beau Bennett and Jussi Jokinen filling out the LW position for the 2nd and 3rd lines moving forward.

The 4th line gets a huge boost by having a player like Jayson Megna on it.

I believe that Eberle would be a terrific complement to Sidney Crosby and Chris Kunitz . Each player on that line has a high work ethic, the willingness to battle in all areas of the ice, and also play a very simple give and go kind of game. It would be very fun to watch on a nightly basis.

There is however one red flag with any potential acquisition of Jordan Eberle and that is if he can be considered a top notch goal scorer. Eberle did score 34 goals in the 2011-2012 season, but that happened when his shooting percentage was significantly higher than his career average.

In 2011-2012 Jordan Ebelre had a 18.9% shooting percentage (34 goals on 180 shots). During the other seasons in his career he has a shooting percentage of 11.7% (48 goals on 412 shots).

Eberle’s goals per game average in the 2011-2012 season was 0.43 goals per game.

His average for the rest of his career has been 0.29 goals per game.

Was the 2011-2012 season an aberration or can Eberle improve his shooting percentage in the 14% range playing with Crosby and bump his goals per game average up towards that .43 average from 2011-2012?

I think the safe bet is that Eberle would play great with Crosby, because everybody except for Ryan Malone plays great with Crosby .

I do not believe that Ray Shero will move Kris Letang before his no trade clause kicks in, but I do feel strongly that a hockey trade like this would benefit both teams greatly moving forward.

The Penguins would take a short term hit on the defense position while they wait for some of their high end prospects to mature, but in the long run they would be set up perfectly to take advantage of the rest of Crosby and Malkin’s prime.

Edmonton would finally get a competent puck moving defensemen who has all the physical gifts that their defense unit has been severely lacking all these years. Kris Letang, Darnell Nurse, and Justin Schultz could set the table for a renaissance at the defense position for the Oilers as they look to dig themselves out of the hole they have been in for the better part of 7 seasons.

Both teams get to trade from a position of strength in order to improve their clubs needs. I think this is a great blockbuster hockey trade, what do you think?


Here are the results from yesterday’s poll:

The overwhelming favorite was for the Penguins to use moderate assets to shore up the 3rd line. Clearly in today’s blog I have taken the trade for a top 6 winger approach.

Thanks for reading!

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