It may not be Russell or Davidson. It could very well be both.

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Given the choice between keeping Kris Russell and Brandon Davidson, the poll currently on our site suggests that readers of Oilers Nation would prefer the cheaper, younger Davidson.

That, though, may be a false choice. There is a strong argument that Edmonton should move out two defencemen, in which case both Russell and Davidson might find themselves on the chopping block.

The Need to Improve

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Yesterday we talked about the lack of an elite defenceman in the Oilers’ lineup. Obviously finding one would be a big step forward for the team, but is a difficult proposition. Less difficult is improving in areas of definite weakness—for example, by adding a right-shot, puck-moving defenceman to the top-four.

Barring at least one move, however, it’s difficult to find a spot for such a player. Oscar Klefbom and Adam Larsson are long-term building blocks on reasonable but expensive contracts. Andrej Sekera is the team’s best defenceman today, and is also signed long-term at a $5.5 million cap hit.

A trade is one possibility. Larsson and Sekera were both acquired by the current GM, making Klefbom the most likely candidate for such treatment. Klefbom has the most varied skillset of the group and my guess is that he’ll ultimately end up being the best of the bunch, so barring a mammoth return I think this would be a mistake.

Sekera is a more plausible trade candidate than Larsson, but he’s also the best of them today and I don’t think Edmonton would get the same return for him anyway.

That leaves pending free agent Kris Russell, whose future remains undecided. Given his age, this summer is probably the best chance he’s ever going to have to get a big contract, one with a high annual value and the security of term. If he re-signs in Edmonton, the Oilers will be committed to four expensive defencemen for years to come.

That doesn’t make it impossible to bring in a top-four defender, but it does make it more difficult. The Oilers could plausibly pay Russell and then run him as a special teams guy and a partner for Darnell Nurse on the third pairing, a move which would bump at least one of Brandon Davidson or Matt Benning off the roster. That probably isn’t ideal, though; given what the years ahead look like, Edmonton will probably need to find economical choices for depth roles and a Nurse/Russell third pairing would be quite expensive.

Cheaper Players in the System

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As the Oilers look for cheaper players to populate depth roles, they will undoubtedly turn to their prospects. Options are limited up front, but on the blue line the team has some real choices. Unfortunately, they’ve also run out of time to make a decision. Come next fall, Griffin Reinhart, Jordan Oesterle and Dillon Simpson will all require waivers to be sent to the minors. For Reinhart and Oesterle, clearing them seems unlikely.

Reinhart is coming off an entry-level deal with massive bonuses because he was a No. 4 overall pick, but should be amenable to a much cheaper deal next season given that he’ll be a fourth-year pro who still hasn’t proven himself as an NHL regular. He’s a good fit for an end-of-roster spot in a lot of ways, having played extensively on both the right and left side of the ice. It’s also hard to imagine that he’s fallen so low in the estimation of Chiarelli and co. over the last two years that they would risk him on waivers after paying such a premium to acquire him.

Oesterle’s current deal is a one-year pact with an NHL-minimum cap hit of $585,000. Even if he just signs his qualifying offer he’ll be about as cheap as a defenceman can be, and his speed and puckmoving ability would be welcome assets at the bottom of the lineup.

Even assuming no additions to the top-four, there just isn’t room to add both players to the team. If the status quo holds, Nurse, Davidson and Benning should have the No. 5 – No. 7 spots on the defensive depth chart locked down. If Eric Gryba is sent out there’s room for one No. 8 guy, but most teams don’t like carrying eight defencemen because the No. 8 guy is so rarely used anyway.

Two Subtractions?

Those two pressures put the Oilers in a situation where it probably makes sense to move two defencemen out. There’s a need to continue improving the blue line, which necessitates making space—either via trade, or by not re-signing Russell. There’s also a need to work cheap up-and-coming players into those bottom pairing spots, which means clearing out space or losing those cheap players for nothing next year.

The pressures are undeniable, but mileage is going to vary on how to handle them. In Edmonton’s position, I’d be sorely tempted to find out how much it’s going to cost to rent a player like Kevin Shattenkirk, and then see how that price compares to the expected return on both Russell and Davidson. If it two costs were close, it would allow the Oilers to see how the team responds to the addition of an elite offensive defenceman, while at the same time not mortgaging the future.

That’s a pretty difficult thing to pull off, though. It’s probably easier to just deal Davidson for a need elsewhere (perhaps a third-line forward) and then let Russell walk in the summer. 

RECENT POSTS

  • Reinman

    The state of the defense just brings to light what a completely terrible trade the Reinhart trade was.

    Anyway, I would optimally trade Davidson this year, or leave him unprotected next. With klef, Sekera, and nurse our left sidebis solid. Reinhart can act as the 4th LD. Larsson, Benning, and possibly a new #2 RD would be great. What would it take to take a run at Hamonic in NYI. Davidson, oesterle + our 1st rounder in2017?

    Eberle + Davidson + we retain a couple milion of ebs contract?

    The second one obviously could not happen until the summer.

  • Darkmanic

    With our exempt players (McDavid, Caggiula, Puljujärvi, Nurse, Benning, Ellis) it’s hard to see how that will affect how expansion draft will work differently for us as well. 7 forwards (Eberle, Nugent-Hopkins, Lucic, Driasaitl, Kassian, Letestu, and Maroon)? Or 4 forwards (Eberle, Nugent-Hopkins, Lucic. Driasaitl)? We are protecting our forwards because we have more to lose and if Davidson is the player we lose then I’ll feel bad but Vegas will gain a part-time fan. I don’t think we need to make a trade, I enjoy watching the Oilers play or listening to the game if I must. We are in a playoff spot and let’s let Chiarelli do his magic like last year and hope for a Maroon that none of us know about or can fathom right now

  • Danoilerfanincalgary

    Do I really need to come here to defend Looch’s free agent signing you know the player we got for free no assets? He is the same age as Toews for example only 3 fewer points, Lucic brings intangible to this team that are not measurable. Look at the abuse Hall used to get that doesn’t happen as often for Connor because this team is tougher with Looch in the lineup. I miss Hall but Larsson gave us balance and the team is better with that trade.

  • S cottV

    I’m surprised that McL has apparently not changed up the lines, coming off of their break.

    Primary and secondary scoring has stalled in last few games. You would think that he would give a look to some of his other options.

    Options like Drai at 2C, Nuge at 1RW, Lucic at 2LW etc. etc.. I think a number of solid hockey reasons to take an alternative look, but – on the flip side – we do need reinforcements to get into playoff run battle stations. A power RW, a vet two way 3C and – if possible a RH D man who can shoot. Otherwise – the present forward line up is pretty thin, when gearing up to play for real toward the playoffs. Maybe – McL is waiting for PC to get him a few more guys to work with?

    As for the back end, yeah – we just have too many LH d men on the go, and a big hole in RH d men, that can presently handle top 4 in a playoff push. Larsson fits, Russell is off handed, and Benning isn’t ready for top 4.

    We really need a heavy one time rh d man slapper on that power play. Doesn’t have to be a QB kind of guy, just a competent d man with a bit of offensive flair, but most importantly – a shot to fear. This would stop the opposition PK cheat to the heart of our present PP – McD and Drai on the low right side. With a big back side shooting threat, moving the puck around would force a much better pull and stretch of the PK alignment.

    While I think Larsson is a very nice addition, his lack of pp prowess – magnifies the problem fitting Russell into top 4 on his off hand. It really – really doesn’t work. Sooner – rather than later this needs to be fixed.

    Russell is a guy you want to like, smaller guy – lots of heart, good character – that whole bit. However – there are issues with the way he plays, to compensate for his lack of size. It’s not solid enough if you really look close. All things considered – it’s just not a great fit and I would think that Russell ends up elsewhere, one way or another.

  • Gravis82

    But if we trade Davidson prior to getting claimed, then someone else will be plucked off our roster instead. So we lose two good players? Just protect him and expose Maroon.

  • camdog

    Right now Davdison is this teams #7 d man. Next year he will be this teams #7 d-man.

    Sekera, Benning, Klefbom, Larsson, Nurse are all ahead of Davidson on this teams depth charts going forward.

    The Oilers will likely need to either sign Russell to play on the right side next year or find somebody else. I don’t believe the team sees Davidson as a long term option on the right side.

    When Nurse comes back from injury Davidson is going to either be sitting on the bench or playing for another team.