The Edmonton Oilers have a few needs this offseason. Among them are a bit more well-rounded defense, a third-line center, and a backup goaltender. But, key to their potential long-term success moving forward is their ability to add a winger to help in the top six and complement stars like Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl.
Most insiders believe that while the top-end of Edmonton’s blue line isn’t where it needs to be, the depth is there to move a piece from the corps in an effort to add a forward. That’s why the bulk of the conversation around what Edmonton might do includes talking to teams who have forwards to give, a la the Toronto Maple Leafs.
On a recent 31 Thoughts podcast, Elliotte Friedman and Jeff Marek took a look at the Oilers struggles and their plans to move forward. They asked, ‘What does Edmonton do?’ Both admitted the team needs to do something after an early exit from the NHL play-in round, but they also hint there are some things the Oilers won’t contemplate, including trading any of their young pieces on defense.
What About the Veterans?
If the young guys are safe, who does Edmonton find expendable? Perhaps more importantly, who doesn’t fit into the long-term growth plan of the franchise moving forward?
When valuing what the Oilers have to work with on the blue line, GM Ken Holland said:
“Defencemen are at a premium in the National Hockey League. We’ve got some good pros back there. They’re all under the age of 30. I want to make sure that we’re all not just reacting to a four-game series in the middle of August.”
Holland makes a good point and as Marek rightfully pointed out, when you add the fact that the Oilers have some good young talent transitioning their way into the NHL, Edmonton might be in a position to make a move.
Knowing young guys are staying — which means players like Ethan Bear, Evan Bouchard, Caleb Jones, and Philip Broberg are safe –, Marek suggested these youngsters will start playing more regular roles with the team. As such, the Oilers have some flexibility and too many defenseman that can and probably should get a look on the main roster next season.
He suggested it was only natural that the Oilers try to move someone outside the group.
Friedman agreed but added that Edmonton sees big things in Darnell Nurse and has no desire to move him despite some fans are calling for the team to do so after a poor postseason showing. That Nurse’s salary jumps considerably this offseason hasn’t helped his cause. Still, according to Friedman, it sounds like Nurse is not going anywhere.
Who Does That Leave?
One of the obvious answers is Kris Russell, but the idea that Russell will land the forward Edmonton needs doesn’t seem likely. Instead, Friedman wonders about Edmonton’s designated top-two in Oscar Kelfbom or Adam Larsson.
Suggesting the Oilers would think about moving either of their two best defenders sounds absurd. That said, the argument for doing so is that neither is truly a number one in the NHL. Both have played like they could be and Klefbom offers big minutes with a great contract, but there’s too much inconsistency and that they’re both on the verge of being top-two means there would be value for them around the league. For Klefbom, his injury history is also a concern.
Klefbom leaving is by no means a slam dunk decision. Friedman worries that in moving Larsson the Oilers would be left with minimal options for right-shooting defensemen. He’s right. But he also points out that Larsson only has one year remaining on his current contract. There’s no guarantee he’ll be back with the team come the end of next season.
So What’s the Right Move?
If the Oilers can do it, the right move is to shop Russell and hope that his cap hit being so much bigger than the salary he’s actually owed ($4.0 million cap hit, he only has to be paid $1.5 million the rest of the year) attracts a few buyers. He’s not a bad defenseman and he’ll offer teams a strong shut down option. A cash poor owner might bite. The question is, what is he worth in the marketplace?
If not much, the Oilers need to be prepared to move Larsson or Klefbom. For cap reasons, Larsson is probably the guy.
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