Major changes were anticipated after the Edmonton Oilers failed to qualify for the Stanley Cup Playoffs for a 10th consecutive season.
General manager Peter Chiarelli expressed a desire to bolster the defence in the off-season, a plan that was expected to involve trading a forward.
That move came June 29, four days after the 2016 NHL Draft, when the Oilers traded left wing Taylor Hall to the New Jersey Devils for defenceman Adam Larsson.
"It's a significant trade for the Edmonton Oilers and the New Jersey Devils," Chiarelli said. "Taylor had been a longstanding member here, he was a very good player here and a guy that leaves everything on the ice, and I respect that.
"In the last four or five months, I've been very public in saying we were looking for defencemen and we really had to shore up our defence. We pounded the pavement and this is the price that you have to pay. It's unfortunate that's it's a player of Taylor's caliber, but we're getting a really good player back."
The trade was unpopular with many Oilers fans, who believed the return was not enough for Hall, the number one selection in the 2010 draft and Edmonton's leading scorer last season (26 goals, 65 points). But the Oilers felt the trade was necessary to improve the roster and fill a void.
"We had to make some changes to our hockey club, and Taylor was the price we had to pay to get a defenceman," Oilers coach Todd McLellan said. "Losing a player of his quality, it doesn't matter if you're the Edmonton Oilers or the Pittsburgh Penguins, he's a hard guy to replace. He had been part of the fabric of the Oilers organization for years, he gave us everything he had to try and lead the team towards success and we will miss him."
Larsson, 23, is a young, talented, right-shot defenceman coming off a breakout season. He had three goals and 15 assists in 82 games and averaged 22:31 minutes of ice time playing on the Devils top defence pair with Andy Greene.
Larsson joins a young Oilers defence that includes Oscar Klefbom, 23; Brandon Davidson, 24; Darnell Nurse, 21; and Griffin Reinhart, 22.
"Peter and I talk all the time and the common denominator [with the Hall trade] is: Will it help us win?" McLellan said. "That's the questions we ask all the time. Losing Taylor is a big hit to our hockey club, but gaining Adam, we think over the long run, we needed to shore up that back end."
|Photo by Andy Devlin / Edmonton Oilers Hockey Club. |
Larsson was one of three major acquisitions Edmonton made in the off-season. The Oilers selected right wing Jesse Puljujarvi with the number four pick in the 2016 draft, and then signed free agent forward Milan Lucic to a seven-year, $42 million contract on July 1.
"Puljujarvi is a really good player and we were fortunate to get him," Chiarelli said. "Yes, [getting Puljujarvi] did make it easier [to trade Hall]. You don't want to say, 'This guy is filling this guy's role,' because he's a young player (18) and he's growing and he's just beginning his career, but it did make it easier."
The Oilers have offensively talented forwards on their roster, including three players taken number one in the draft: Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (2011), Nail Yakupov (2012) and Connor McDavid (2015).
McDavid is now the undisputed face of the franchise and likely will be the Oilers next captain. He will help usher in a new era in Edmonton this season with the Oilers moving into their new downtown arena, Rogers Place. Lucic said McDavid and the new arena were two reasons he decided to sign with Edmonton.
"I truly believe that in a couple of years, we're going to be contending for a Stanley Cup because we have a player like [McDavid]," Lucic said. "It's just finding the right pieces in order to make that happen."