Starting at about 10 PM on June 20, the dark recesses of NHL trade rumor twitter sprung to life on two coasts. Islander fans and Oiler fans both struggled to figure out whether, and to what extent, a freelance hockey writer from Boston might be right about a blockbuster deal sending Taylor Hall to Brooklyn and someone(s)—maybe Johnny Boychuk or Travis Hamonic—to Edmonton.
Hearing Oilers & Isles discussing possible trade involving Taylor Hall. Oilers interested in Travis Hamonic but nothing close to done yet.
— Jimmy Murphy (@MurphysLaw74) June 21, 2016
Regarding Isles-Oilers talks, don’t be surprised if Johnny Boychuk is discussed. Chiarelli knows him and he’s from EDM so may waive NMC.
— Jimmy Murphy (@MurphysLaw74) June 21, 2016
Skepticism aside, a deal centered around Hall and Boychuk, from the Islanders’ perspective, makes a lot of sense. Boychuk is 32 and has six years left on a contract that averages $6 million against the cap per season, according to Spotrac. That’s a lot of dough to pay an aging player on an otherwise young team, especially since Boychuk’s level of play seemed to slide down the stretch and in the playoffs.
Hall, on the other hand, is exactly the sort of player the Islanders need to be serious about adding this offseason; he’s a top six forward, a wing who could play on John Tavares’s left (if only he was a righty shot and could slide in for likely departing Kyle Okposo, but that would be too perfect), and he’s owed the same exact $6 million per year that the Isles are set to pay Boychuk.
As usual, the devil is likely in the details. On the Islanders’ side of things, the primary question is whether, Boychuk, who has a full no-move clause, would sign off on the deal. Sure he was born in Edmonton, but according to Newsday he’s also been working on building a new house on property in Garden City that he bought in November. While he’s apparently having difficulty because the current home is landmarked, that doesn’t necessarily mean Boychuk wants to up and move 2,000 miles across the country. Moreover, the fact that he’s one year into a brand new seven year deal with the Islanders—and that he bypassed a shot at free agency in the process—probably indicates that Boychuk does not have his sights set on leaving any time soon.
Boychuk or Hamonic?
Across the country—or countries—Oilers fans reacted to the rumor of any trade involving Hall with mostly disgust, and they seemed ready to storm Rexall Place over the idea that Boychuk, and not Hamonic, might be their return. Even if the Islanders add a first-round pick in this year’s draft, the compensation for the 24-year-old top-six forward seems to be a likely sticking point.
Oilers fans were quick to counter that rather than Boychuk, Hamonic, 7 years younger than Boychuk, also a top-pair defenseman, and having of course requested a trade to the west coast during the season, would be a more logical starting point for any deal. But trading Hamonic is likely a non-starter for the Isles. He has publicly rescinded his trade request, called being an Islander “one of the best things I do with my life,” and is playing out a team-friendly deal that spans through the 2019-20 season.
— IslesBlog (@IslesBlog) May 8, 2016
Hamonic also ate up more minutes of ice time than any skater on the Isles, and losing him would leave a huge hole in the Isles’ backline that an aging Boychuk likely could not fill. Trading Boychuk—assuming he waives his no move—on the other hand, would release the Islanders from a huge investment in an aging player who is coming off of a comparatively quiet season and even worse post-season.
Questions of age aside, while Hamonic played more minutes than Boychuk in 2015-16, there’s a decent argument that Boychuk actually had the better year statistically. Despite scoring ten fewer points in 2015-16 than the year before, Boychuk led the Islanders in +/- at +17 to Hamonic’s -5. Admittedly this can likely be attributed in part to Boychuk’s role on the power-play, but Boychuk’s point share was also tops on the team among skater’s not also named John—he was second only to Tavares —and Boychuk’s defensive point share led the team. Boychuk also blocked a nominal 12 more shots than Hamonic and had 14 fewer giveaways. The only area where Hamonic really edged out Boychuk was in Corsi For: Hamonic’s Corsi For was second on the team only to Nick Leddy, and while Hammer and Boychuk’s Corsi For percent were close, Hamonic’s 49.7% was still better than Johnny’s 48.9%. Perhaps most notable about Boychuk’s Corsi For percent was not that it was slightly lower than Hamonic’s, but instead that it was nearly 7% lower than last year’s, when Boychuk put up a 55.2%.
The playoffs tell a more troubling story for Boychuk. He spent an average of seven fewer minutes per game on the ice for the Islanders, and when he was skating he looked dead. The stats bear out his downturn in production: Boychuk’s -7 for the playoffs was a team worst, whereas Hamonic’s -2, while nothing to celebrate, was still above average for the team.
From a production standpoint, the gap between Hamonic and Boychuk is not nearly as large as the Oilers fans crying bloody murder about a Boychuk/Hall trade would have you believe. And if the Oilers are looking to add a veteran presence who has won a cup and can lead its young core, Boychuk can certainly provide those intangibles. For the Islanders, given Boychuk’s downturn in production in the playoffs, if the team has any desire to move him in the future, it is hard to imagine the timing getting any better. As a good friend pointed out to me this morning (h/t James Arnone), making the timing even more fitting is the continued emergence of Ryan Pulock on the blue line. Shifting Pulock and his blistering slap shot into the role currently filled by Boychuk is a natural fit, would help continue Pulock’s growth and, given his young legs, might open up the power play in a way that Boychuk could not.
That being said, Boychuk alone certainly would not be enough to get this done. That doesn’t mean that the Isles shouldn’t go after Hall—they should, he is exactly the sort of player they need to add to take the next step and would come with half of the cap hit of a Stamkos—but a reality check is in order before fans start ripping name plates off old #4 jerseys and stitching on Hall.
Using the Stars/Bruins 2013 trade of Tyler Seguin as a guiding metric might help determine what the Isles would realistically have to send the Oilers for Hall. In the 2013 deal for Seguin, the Stars gave up Loui Eriksson, then a 70-point player, Reilly Smith, at the time a 2009 third-rounder who was producing well in college, Joe Morrow, a 2011 first-rounder who had already switched organizations multiple times, and Matt Fraser, who had decent production in the AHL. The pieces the Stars got in return, in addition to Seguin, were not enough to shift the scales significantly.
With the Seguin trade as the bar, the Isles would do well to get Hall and give up Boychuk, a first-round pick this year, and either of Josh Ho-Sang or Michael Dal Colle. They might still even end up having to throw in someone like Alan Quine or Shane Prince to finalize the deal. With Boychuk as the Isles’ centerpiece instead of Hamonic, the Isles will have to pay a premium in additional players.
While it is likely that Mathew Barzal is close to untouchable, trading Dal Colle or Ho-Sang, both of whom play on the wing and neither of whom had the scoring output this year that was expected, might get the Oilers to bite. Trading either top prospect would be a tough pill to swallow, given that neither of them has gotten a real shot at the NHL yet. But after Dal Colle’s early season struggles with Oshawa and because of questions about Ho-Sang’s maturity, the move is one that I can see Garth making. Even more importantly, neither Dal Colle nor Ho-Sang is a shoe-in to make the Islanders out of camp this year; of the two, it seems more likely that Dal Colle is NHL ready, but he did not sniff the ice during his playoff call-up nor did he make any impact in his short stint with the Sound Tigers.
Regardless of whether either Ho-Sang or Dal Colle might make the team, Hall would immediately sure up an Okposo-less top line in a way that no prospect in the Islanders system can this year. Between Ho-Sang and Dal Colle, the upside and attitude of the enigmatic Ho-Sang have me more intrigued about developing into a superstar and at the same time also make it less likely that a team like Edmonton, who has had issues with Nail Yakupov’s attitude, will gamble on him.
If the Islanders can get a deal done that sends Boychuk, a first rounder, and Dal Colle for Hall, it would be a hell of a move. Even having to throw in another NHL/AHL go-betweener should not be too much to ask to get this done. However, given the drop-off in Boychuk’s numbers from 2014-15 to 2015-16 and the fact that Boychuk has the no-move clause, pulling off this move for the Islanders would be like hitting, well, oil.