The 2016 edition of the NHL's annual frenzied trade deadline is an odd one for the New York Islanders. While they are expected to stay relatively quiet, they have multiple players who seem destined to no longer be on the roster this summer after surviving the league's fourth-quarter in-season auction.
Kyle Okposo is the most-discussed unrestricted free agent, and the reported lack of substantive talks with his agent puts odds on an exit this summer. Frans Nielsen and Matt Martin are also UFAs, though more people expect those two to find ways to stay in the fold.
Then there's Travis Hamonic, whose summer trade request leaked early this season but who, like the three UFAs, is not expected to depart until the summer, if at all. Even his agent acknowledged there just hasn't been a fit for two teams to pull off a Hamonic deal.
For now, anyway.
But looking toward the summer, it increasingly appears that one team most logically fits the criteria and timing for a Hamonic trade.
With his request oriented around being closer to his Winnipeg home, the destinations are limited. The Jets' re-signing of Dustin Byfuglien and the scuttlebutt around Jacob Trouba's contract expectations make that a difficult match. The Calgary Flames will have an opening on their blueline, but they have a lot of money tied up in the position and won't want to part with the key defensemen cogs the Isles would want back.
The Oilers do not have the "like for like" defenseman the Islanders were originally believed to be seeking in a Hamonic trade, but that stipulation dissipates if the trade doesn't happen in-season. And it's in that context -- a trade holding off until the summer -- a fit between the Islanders and Oilers starts to emerge:
- Edmonton needs an upgrade on defense to move forward and the right-shooting Hamonic would fit perfectly.
- Oilers GM Peter Chiarelli probably needs to move one of his young forwards (who now expect it themselves) with $6 million cap hits: Jordan Eberle (signed through 2018-19), Taylor Hall (through 2019-20) or Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (2019-20).
- If Okposo walks this summer, the Islanders will be looking to replace him as a scoring winger.
- If Ryan Pulock, ironically expected to debut against Edmonton Sunday, continues his development curve, he'd plug in-house hole on the right side, though not exactly a Hamonic clone.
It doesn't hurt that Chiarelli and Islanders general manager Garth Snow have done plenty of trade business together, most recently last summer with the swap of Griffin Reinhart for draft picks.
Each of the three aforementioned $6 million Oilers forwards has been rumored to be on the trading block at some point, with the latest conventional wisdom having a Hall trade appear possible (if foolish) for the first time while Eberle, whose unsustainable shooting percentage during his contract year earning him a $6 million overpay, suddenly looking less "touchable" after finding recent success on Connor McDavid's wing.
But honestly, McDavid looks like he will turn any winger into a productive player, and of their three candidates, it's Eberle that the Oilers should be looking to deal. He is the most replaceable, with the least "franchise cog" potential, yet good enough to fetch a return that would execute a strategic asset reallocation like...Hamonic.
What's more, it's not hard to picture Eberle slotting in next to John Tavares, at a cap hit lower than what Okposo is believed to command, and signed for the next three seasons while the next crop of Islanders forwards is groomed. A deal built around Eberle seems the best "fit for both sides."
When the whole Hamonic trade watch frenzy began in the fall, the focus was on which team -- and which team near Western Canada -- could accommodate the Isles' need to replace him during a season where they expect to make a playoff run. Oilers media in particular posted story after story about how the team could land him, even though they completely lacked what the Isles wanted.
But once the story shifted to an off-season trade, the dynamics shifted. The Oilers' needs are unchanging -- their fans would say infinite and unending -- but the Islanders' needs now are different than their needs this summer when free agency arrives.
It's still months away and doesn't much affect Monday's trade deadline other than via omission, but if a Hamonic-Edmonton match is to be consummated this summer, the writing is already on the wall now.