July 20th, 2024

Additions of Henrique, Carrick, Stecher help Oilers keep pace in Pacific arms race

By Steven Sandor, The Canadian Press on March 7, 2024.

Anaheim Ducks centre Adam Henrique, left, reaches in on New Jersey Devils center Jack Hughes during the third period of an NHL hockey game Friday, March 1, 2024, in Anaheim, Calif. With their Pacific Division rivals beefing up before the playoffs, the Edmonton Oilers did their best to keep pace.Despite being tight to the salary cap, Oilers general manager Ken Holland was able to add forwards Henrique and Sam Carrick and veteran defenceman Troy Stecher ahead of Friday's trade deadline.THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP/Mark J. Terrill

EDMONTON – With their Pacific Division rivals beefing up before the playoffs, the Edmonton Oilers did their best to keep pace.

Despite being tight to the salary cap, Oilers general manager Ken Holland was able to add forwards Adam Henrique and Sam Carrick and veteran defenceman Troy Stecher ahead of Friday’s trade deadline.

The Oilers are in “Cup or bust” mode. That’s been the team mantra from the start of the year.

But the defending champion Vegas Golden Knights are not going to go quietly, despite having slipped to fourth in the Pacific Division. They added defenceman Noah Hanifin from Calgary and forward Anthony Mantha from Washington.

The Pacific-leading Vancouver Canucks already added forward Elias Lindholm from Calgary last month and were able to extend star forward Elias Pettersson for eight more years. Canucks president of hockey operations Jim Rutherford told reporters Wednesday that the team’s priority was to bring in a top-six forward, and, if the stars align, maybe two.

The Oilers are were second place in the Pacific, nine points behind the Canucks, but with four games in hand, heading into a game against Columbus on Thursday night. Henrique and Carrick were both with their new team before the morning skate.

Henrique is expected to play wing on the Oilers’ second line with Leon Draisaitl, who is ninth in the NHL with 80 points.

“You come in, and at first you don’t really know where you’re going to slot in, how things are going to shake out,” Henrique told reporters Thursday. “But it’s exciting for me, to get an opportunity for the playoff push and a deep run. That’s what we play for.

“I’m sure things will get shifted around quite a bit. It’s nice to be able to play centre and wing – the versatility. I’m just looking forward to the opportunity, just going to go out there and play some hockey.”

Henrique, like Carrick, is an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season. He was used mainly as a centre in Anaheim, where he amassed 42 points in 60 games for a team that’s near the basement of the Western Conference. Carrick had eight goals and three assists as a fourth-liner and penalty killer with the Ducks.

“I love it,” said Carrick of the move from Anaheim to Edmonton. “The hockey is unbelievable. The weather is hockey weather. It’s great, it’s what I am used to. I grew up in Ontario”¦ Maybe I’ve got a little softer over the years with the cold weather, but that’s all right, I’ll take it. I’m just grateful for the opportunity here.”

The Oilers gave Anaheim a first-round pick in 2024, and received the Oilers’ seventh-round pick. Anaheim retains 50 per cent of the players salary, but the Oilers knocked another 25 per cent off Henrique’s US$5.825 million salary by sending a conditional fourth round pick to Tampa Bay. The Oilers also received goalie Ty Taylor.

Carrick’s hit is US$850,000.

Corey Perry played with Henrique in Anaheim. And the former NHL MVP, who signed with the Oilers in January, is thrilled they are teammates again.

“I played with him for a few years,” said Perry. “He’s a tremendous person, tremendous guy. On the ice, he’s a competitor. He’s got the attitude that he wants the puck and he’s going to do anything to have it. He’s going to be a great addition to this team, and he’s going to help this lineup a lot.”

Oilers captain Connor McDavid gave Wednesday’s additions his seal of approval.

“I thought yesterday was a great day for our team,” he said. “Not just adding two great players, but great people as well – character guys who help our room. Obviously, their on-ice game is strong, as well. And, obviously, the fact that we don’t have to send anyone else away helps a lot.”

The Oilers added Stecher along with a 2014 seventh-round pick on Thursday, sending a 2027 fourth-round pick to Arizona in exchange.

No salary was retained by Arizona in the deal, which comes a day before the NHL’s trade deadline. Stecher, a pending unrestricted free agent, has a salary of US$1.1 million this season.

Stecher has a goal and four assists and a plus-5 defensive rating in 47 games this season.

While the Oilers didn’t send a player away, Holland had to dispatch veteran forward Sam Gagner and young winger Dylan Holloway to the team’s AHL affiliate in Bakersfield. Holland said Gagner would return as soon as the cap math works out. But, the time leading up to trade deadline is tough on players, saud coach Kris Knoblauch.

“It’s obviously very difficult,” Knoblauch said. “You try and ease their anxiety, talking with them and tell them their situation. Players are very uncertain about their future, but if you look at how valuable they are to our team”¦ there’s so much out of my control, and the last thing I want to say is to tell a player something is OK when it might not be.

“There’s a room full of guys, I appreciate what they do. I think we’re a pretty good hockey team, and I can’t imagine not having them.”

While consistency is nice, there’s no ignoring that the Canucks and Golden Knights are making key moves. It’s a three-way arms race in the Pacific Division.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 7, 2024.

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