On last week’s 31 Thoughts podcast, Jeff Marek and Elliott Friedman spent forty minutes talking about the Edmonton Oilers. For good reason, too. The Oilers had just fired Peter Chiarelli as President of Hockey Operations and General Manager and, after Bob Nicholson’s press conference, the hockey world was buzzing about how this team was going to make it into the playoffs.
It won’t take much. At the time of this writing, the Oilers are a mere three points out of a playoff spot. One of the easier ways Keith Gretzky can get them there is by making a trade. The Oilers don’t have a lot of secondary scoring or the top talent defense that Stanley Cup Champions possess. There’s a good chance that the latter is already in their prospect pool, but if Gretzky can somehow add one or two pieces to improve one of these areas now, it might be enough to nudge them into one of the two available wild card spots in the Western Conference.
That brings us to Andreas Athanasiou. On the podcast, Friedman stated that he heard the Oilers were asking about Athanasiou earlier this season, but that the price would be high.
Athanasiou is a coveted asset inside the Red Wings organization and among its fanbase. After a rocky start to his NHL career and a mild contract holdout last year, the young winger/center has shown continual improvement year-over-year. This season, he’s one of the few players who are making an offensive impact for the Red Wings.
For the very low AAV of $3-million for this year and next, it makes sense why Athanasiou is such a valuable asset. He’s an electric player who is able to score goals and assist on them with his unrivaled speed.
That being said, if the right deal should present itself, the Red Wings absolutely should trade him. Here’s the thing. Athanasiou is a young, versatile player who will still be an RFA at the end of his current deal. That makes him even more valuable. The Wings would not be off-base in asking for a top defensive prospect in return (an asset that they are in desperate need of).
Athanasiou is a good player. Hell, he’s a really good player. But he is not a great player on the level of Dylan Larkin and he’s certainly nowhere near the kind of elite game breaker that the Red Wings truly need. When the team is in position to contend for a playoff spot again, they’ll have Filip Zadina, Joe Veleno, and their first round selection from the 2019 draft in the lineup. What they’ll need to compliment that is a solid top-2 defenseman.
That is the kind of player they can get in return for Athanasiou. That’s the only kind of player they should be asking the Oilers (or anyone else) for.
I know that in his press conference, Nicholson said the team won’t be trading away the farm for rental players, but Athanasiou is not a rental player. He’s a 24-year-old club-controlled player who can add value for many years to come. He’s got the kind of elite speed that’s required to keep up with Connor McDavid. If you dropped him into the Oilers lineup today, they’d be much closer to locking down that playoff spot.
Is he worth an Evan Bouchard? Probably not. But what about a Darnell Nurse? The Oilers have the pieces in place to make a deal like this work for the Red Wings, but at the end of the day the question for them is whether or not Andreas Athanasiou is worth giving up a young talented defensive prospect for.
If the answer is yes, then the Red Wings should pull the trigger. If the answer is no, then maybe he’s not as valuable as we all think he is.