SUNRISE, FL - Peter Chiarelli moved through the tables on the draft floor on Saturday June 27, 2015, as a man on a mission. The night before, the Oilers President of Hockey Operations and General Manager acquired a defenceman - Griffin Reinhart - and on Saturday, he was looking to again bolster the backend, this time between the pipes.
About five picks into the second round, Chiarelli walked over to the end of the draft floor to have a discussion with player agent George Bazos. He then walked over to the New York Rangers table and tapped GM Glen Sather on the back and the two engaged in a discussion. Chiarelli left the Rangers to chat with his own organization toward the stage. The dance continued.
Oilers Assistant GM Bill Scott approached the Rangers table, trade card in hand. Together, he and Rangers Assistant GM Jeff Gorton had further discussions. Talks went back and forth with phone calls between tables and eventually the two team representatives, Scott and Gorton, retired to the exit leading to the NHL Central Registry and Trades table.
Shortly thereafter, the trade was announced. Cam Talbot was an Oiler, and for the price of the 57th, 79th and 184th overall picks in the 2015 NHL Draft.
"It's just a matter of the communication," said Chiarelli. "Keep going with the communication and see where the market is going. I wanted to use the 33 in that other deal. I always think there are more goalies than teams right now. Slats was good to deal with. He was a little difficult but he was good and he was good to us."
The dance was done and Chiarelli got his man. But the process of bringing in a goaltender began much earlier than the fifth pick of the second round and discussion between GM and agent.
The rushing around, the intrigue of conversations between NHL teams and the willingness of the Oilers GM to get things done was fun to watch.
It's a highly involved process that, in the end, netted the Oilers a goalie whom they were very interested in. The patience paid off.
INTEREST TURNS TO NEGOTIATION
The Oilers were up front and honest of their intentions of acquiring a goaltender, hoping to do so before the draft.
When Chiarelli spoke to the media that Monday before heading to Sunrise, FL, he said his guess would be they'd have one locked up before Friday night, but wasn't "completely sure."
Trades are never done deals until the cards are submitted and put into the NHL system. Also, Edmonton was in discussions on multiple goaltenders, keeping their options open in case one fell through. One goalie they've openly admitted to interest in was Ottawa's Robin Lehner. More on him in a minute.
As the draft approached, the Oilers made their intentions even more clear. They were in on various types of goaltenders, including the experienced and inexperienced - but promising - young ones.
Chiarelli also made it clear the team would not part with the 16th-overall selection, the one they acquired from Pittsburgh, for an unproven goaltender. With Talbot, rumours swirled in the media that the Rangers were looking for a first-round pick. The Oilers were not willing to overspend based on their value. Besides, that pick was in play elsewhere. Again, more on that to come.
"There are goalies that are available now today because of the enticement of the first-round pick but we're not trading that pick for a goalie so it may not happen today then," Chiarelli said ahead of Friday night's first round.
Despite the team's steadfast opinion on not parting with the 16th pick for a netminder, they did have a lot of interest. So when Lehner was traded with David Legwand to the Buffalo Sabres for the 21st overall selection, that was OK. The Oilers had a list of targets and Lehner was just one. The price was too high, so they waited patiently.
The truth with the interest in Talbot was that conversations began much earlier than the draft.
Talbot himself indicated he and his agent knew the Oilers were a lead trade candidate almost as soon as the season had ended.
"I knew Edmonton was one of the most interested parties in the negotiations so I had a pretty good feeling it would be Edmonton," said Talbot.
"Obviously, we've had a lot of interest in Cam Talbot for a long time now," said Scott. "He's a good, young goalie. He hasn't played a ton of games in the NHL yet but he's had great success and all the reports on him are that he's going to continue that success as a number one goalie."
The Oilers weren't the only teams in on Talbot or, at the very least, searching for a goaltender. The Dallas Stars were looking to add between the pipes and they were one of the first chips to fall on day two of the draft, trading for the rights to pending unrestricted free agent Antti Niemi. They sent the 193rd overall pick to the Sharks for him.
The Vancouver Canucks also traded their goalie, Eddie Lack, to Carolina in exchange for a third-round pick in 2015 and one in 2016.
As dominos began to fall, the Oilers-Rangers talks heated up.
It was now time to see if the Oilers patience paid off. Did waiting cause a market spike on goaltenders or did the asking price drop?
"It can go either way," said Scott. "You don't know which way it will go as teams get eliminated. The teams may get eliminated, but goaltenders get eliminated too at the same time. If a team doesn't have to get rid of their goalie, they can hold him as a little bit more of an expensive backup they can do that and squeeze you a little bit. Timing and patience is everything. You don't know what the right time is or if the prices are going to go up or going to go down."
In the end, three picks, including a late second rounder, got it done.
"The timing I think worked out very well on this deal for us," said Scott, who excitedly handed in the trade card to the NHL.
Chiarelli saw the price go down as teams and goaltenders were knocked off the list.
"What you do is you try and equate teams with goalies and then it's supply and demand. But once one is gone, it doesn't mean the price goes down. Sometimes, it goes up. Usually the next guy is the next guy for everybody. You have to be wary of that and (the price) went down," said Chiarelli.
All-in-all, the Oilers feel they got a good deal on a young goaltender that they think has upside.
"First of all, he's a mature-inexperienced goaltender," said Oilers Head Coach Todd McLellan. "When I say 'inexperienced' it's due to a lack of games played. But he's played a lot of big games in the limelight of New York City, he's had tremendous coaching there in New York, he's been able to experience playoff hockey at a high level. There are a lot of positives about that. On the other hand, I think his ceiling hasn't been reached yet. The ultimate end for him is still pushing the limits, it's further out and that's a positive thing. The pressures will change now because it is a Canadian market and he'll earn a lot of starts and that will change a bit. When (Henrik) Lundqvist went down he started to prove he's extremely capable of covering that."
Talbot, 27, played 36 games in 2014-15, posting a record of 21-9-4 with a 2.21 goals-against average and .926 save percentage. During a long stretch, in which Lundqvist was out with a vascular injury, Talbot took the reins and went 16-4-3 with a 2.16 GAA and .929 SV%.
"Peter was working that deal with Glen and obviously got it done. Those deals take time," said Scott. "I think our patience paid off on this deal in the price in the end. I think it's fair value. He's got one year left and you certainly don't want to overpay when there isn't a long term on a contract and he's a UFA after a year. That's something that we'll have to look at on January 1, when we're able to extend him at that time… We walked over to the Rangers desk to make sure we got everything in order and their version of the trade is the same as our version of the trade. We're obviously flipping picks there late in the draft. Myself and Jeff Gorton went over to the Central Registry table and we got it done."
BOLSTERING THE DEFENCE
Talbot was the second of the Oilers trades in that two-day span. Chiarelli made it clear before the draft that the 16th pick wasn't in play for any of the available goaltenders, but also made it clear that it was in play for the right offer to help the team elsewhere. That happened to be on defence.
Right before the Oilers were to announce their 16th overall selection, media and fans began to hear rumblings of a potential trade. Instead of announcing a pick, the Oilers announced a trade.
Edmonton sent the 16th and 33rd overall picks to the New York Islanders for the 21-year-old Reinhart. The former Edmonton Oil Kings captain and Memorial Cup Champion had been on the Oilers radar for quite some time.
Although Chiarelli told some of the media the Oilers were in on the Dougie Hamilton derby, he later admitted he didn't feel like they were really contenders on that trade. Hamilton instead went to Calgary.
With that trade done, the Oilers looked to their own organization to help identify a target.
"We've been hunting for defencemen and there's a lot of intelligence on Griffin internally," said Chiarelli. "I've always liked him as a player. He's been behind a lot of good defencemen in Long Island. I'd had discussions with Garth (Snow), on and off over the last month or so. We just kind of ramped up those discussions. I saw him in pro a couple times last year. I saw him in London at the Memorial Cup and he was just a horse. Happy to get him. We had some guys at 16 we liked but this was something we decided to act on. He's ready to play and he's going to be a very good part of our D."
Negotiations started ahead of Friday night's first round as tentative conversations. The Oilers weren't quite comfortable with the Islanders asking price early on in those talks. But then, on the draft floor Friday night, things started to come together. The Oilers weren't completely sure the deal would get done, even leading right up to pick 16. The player they targeted in the draft at that spot had yet to be taken and the deal wasn't done yet. Back and forth the Oilers and Islanders went about whether or not the deal would get struck. But eventually, it all came together.
"We felt like we made a great trade," said Scott. "It was a great trade for them as well. They have a surplus of defencemen so I think Griffin was a big asset that they were able to move to improve their team and improve their depth down the road. For us, we get an immediate return, which we wouldn't have gotten at 16 and 33. We're very happy about it. He's got a great pedigree, he's a champion with the Oil Kings so we're looking forward to having him in the lineup next year."
Again, it was Chiarelli wheeling and dealing with another GM that helped pull the deal together. Chiarelli and Snow agreed to the terms and Scott brought the paperwork to NHL Central Registry.
"Central Registry will check the contracts so everybody is aware of all the details in each player's contract in case there's anything that might be different or something you wouldn't normally expect," said Scott. "They make sure there's no surprises when a trade goes through, make sure there's no injuries and everyone signs off that the players are healthy or they at least disclose an injury ahead of time so everything is on the up and up. Then once they've gone through their whole process making sure everything is legit, and they go through it with a fine-toothed comb. It seems simple. A player for two picks, but they want to make sure they get it right because obviously it would be embarrassing for everyone if it didn't happen, if a trade didn't go through or needed to be taken back or something like that."
Fortunately for both teams, everything went through smoothly and the Oilers got their defenceman. The price was high because Reinhart, taken fourth overall in 2012, is a player Edmonton feels like is not only for right now but also the future.
"He's a young defenceman. He's still finding his way but he's big, he's strong, he's very smart, can play a lot of minutes. And you know what? He's a young D that we're happy to have in our mix, that can grow with us and help us right away," said Chiarelli.
"You don't get picked at that level by accident," said McLellan. "He obviously performed very well as a young man and his past speaks for itself, his Memorial Cup, his World Junior participation and that type of stuff is obviously something that no one can take away from him. He has a tremendous amount of experience. Moving forward now, it's about playing at the National Hockey League level. We feel that we have a staff that not only has the coaches, but the support staff around us that can further his career and build it. I think he'll fit in with our group and as we improve as an organization, I think he can have a positive impact."
ADDING ANOTHER INGREDIENT
The Oilers also made a play for another defenceman later in the draft. On Saturday, Chiarelli walked over to the Ottawa Senators table and talked momentarily with their GM, Bryan Murray. Bill Scott then talked with their representation as well. The Oilers also began talks with the Toronto Maple Leafs. Chiarelli and Scott split between the two teams. The trades moved quickly.
Edmonton sent Martin Marincin to the Leafs, in exchange for the 107th overall pick and forward Brad Ross. The Oilers then immediately flipped pick 107 to the Senators, along with forward Travis Ewanyk, for Eric Gryba .
Chiarelli is very familiar with Gryba, having scouted him before while working for the Bruins. The Oilers GM also claims to have always had a "soft spot" for the 6-foot-4, 225-pound third-pairing, right-shot defenceman.
"I think he's a good, strong D. He plays a heavy game, he hits, he'll back up his teammates and I've seen a lot of him over the years in Boston," said Chiarelli.
McLellan is another member of the Oilers organization who is a fan of Gryba. He talked about wanting to add certain "ingredients" to the makeup of the roster in order to be successful. Gryba is one of those.
"He's got a bite to his game, he's got a nastiness to his game, he enjoys the physical part of it and he plays it fairly well," said McLellan. "You have puck movers and those guys jumping up in the play, and Eric's very capable of that, but his bread and butter is his tenacity and passion he brings night in, night out. To add that ingredient to our blueline is something we were looking for."
Beginning in the meetings amongst the Oilers hockey operations staff, targeting a bigger, stronger, good-teammate guy on the blueline was something on the to-do list.
"We felt we needed to beef up the backend and add a little toughness to that group," said Scott. "He's a right-handed shot, which is nice to add. They are hard to find. He's a player that Peter does know very well. He scouted him extensively in junior and knew him in his draft year. He's seen him a lot, he knows who he is. Our scouts knew him as well and I think he's going to add just a different package to what we have on our backend right now, especially in the Western Conference. Gryba is big and heavy. He plays that kind of game, he can box guys out, play hard and just make our team harder to play against."
Add in the fact that Gryba, 27 has already played 165 games in the NHL. He's not a wide-eyed rookie and he keeps his game simple enough that he can just get the job done.
The Oilers head coach was at the draft table this past weekend, taking in his first draft as a member of the Oilers organization. Watching Chiarelli work and the movement of picks and players was a fun experience.
On top of drafting the sensational Connor McDavid first overall, the Oilers were able to move out picks for three players who are expected to immediately make an impact by stepping into the lineup. They secured two defencemen and a goaltender, two areas of need on a team that was desperately searching for an improved backend.
"It was an exciting two days for me as an individual but more importantly for our organization," said McLellan. "The first pick, there wasn't much secret there obviously, with Connor joining the organization, but to finally have it happen and to be able to sit down and talk to him as an Oiler versus a prospect is real important. That went very well. The second thing is the player movement. The ability and the opportunity we had to go out and acquire players we feel can step into the lineup and help the club and move it forward. When you look at the goaltender and the defencemen that were added, you get different age brackets, different maturity levels but all three we think can come in and contribute to this upcoming season."
The Oilers were able to get these moves done partly because of the work previous GM Craig MacTavish did in gathering assets. He helped line up 10 picks heading into this draft, including seven in the first four rounds.
"I've got to give MacT some credit here because we had a lot of picks here and we were able to shift some picks around and we were able to get some players. I've got to say that first and foremost," said Chiarelli. "As far as getting some good, I think NHL, pieces today, I'm happy to get the goalie. I think he's got good upside. He did a lot for the Rangers when Lundqvist was down. I've always had a soft spot for Gryba. I think he's a good, strong D. He plays a heavy game. He hits, he'll back up his teammates and I've seen a lot of him over the years in Boston. The efficiency or the success of picks really levels off after a certain round, maybe halfway through the third. So it made me feel a little better that we were able to get picks that were still on our list. These scouts, they work hard. They log a lot of miles. I appreciate what they've done but we also have to improve the team."
The Oilers now look to the free agency period, which opens on Wednesday. The research the scouts have put together over the last several years will be used to help make decisions on possibly more trades or free agents. The work done at the draft is never over.
"I don't think the draft ever ends," said McLellan. "The hard work that the scouts put in is very valuable and it's not only valuable these two days but three days from now we could be accessing an asset from another team that the scouts have seen and they continue to follow the progress of all of these kids. This is the beginning of many years of work ahead of them. It's not always about picking the player. It's about following the player. From a coach's perspective, you want the best possible teammate you can have and that's what the fans and players want too. They want teammates that are strong and can contribute to the team's overall success."
Chiarelli says the work done at the draft and the three players brought in make it so there is less pressure to force moves in free agency. He feels content with the trades made and can sit back and see if something comes across his desk that can help improve the team.
McLellan is also happy to have secured three players who are expected to contribute from opening puck drop, even if a couple are young and still growing.
"Coaches are more immediate," said McLellan. "They want their Christmas presents and the ability to open them up right away. They don't have the patience to wait and that's the case when you get players that can step in right away. It's often fun watching young men grown up and become dominant players and you've had an impact on development too."
Watching Chiarelli work the draft floor this weekend for the first time with the Oilers, you could see a GM willing and able to make moves to ignite progress. It's clear that more personnel moves in the name of progress are in his future.