There were a lot of reasons for the Oilers to move Brandon Davidson at this year’s trade deadline. The need for a third line centre, the club’s relative strength on the left side of the blue line, and a down year all played into it.
The expansion draft was obviously a big part of the equation, though.
Under the rules laid out by the NHL, teams have the option of protecting one goaltender and either eight skaters of any position or seven forwards and three defencemen. The difficulty with the eight skater approach for the Oilers is that even with Connor McDavid exempt they have five forwards who would seem to be locks for protection:
- Leon Draisaitl
- Milan Lucic
- Ryan Nugent-Hopkins
- Jordan Eberle
- Patrick Maroon
There will, doubtless, be objections to Lucic’s presence on that list. He has a no-move clause, so there’s not much point in talking about it. There’s also a vocal portion of the fan base that seems to believe Eberle and/or Nugent-Hopkins should be exposed to Las Vegas. As I wrote last month, Eberle has real value and exposing him would be a waste of that value; the same comment applies with greater force to Nugent-Hopkins.
With five forwards in need of protection, that leaves two spots for the quartet of Zack Kassian, Jujhar Khaira, Mark Letestu and Benoit Pouliot. As of today, the first two names make the most sense, with Letestu’s age and Pouliot’s contract making them expendable. If re-signed, David Desharnais might figure into this, too, though for the sake of flexibility the Oilers could presumably wait until after expansion to give him a deal.
There are only three defensive slots available, and all of them are spoken for:
- Andrej Sekera
- Oscar Klefbom
- Adam Larsson
Here at least, there should be no controversy. Sekera has a no-move clause, Larsson’s value is such that he cost Taylor Hall over the summer and Klefbom has arguably the greatest long-term upside of anyone on the team, With Darnell Nurse exempt, there’s a pretty big drop-off to the next tier of defenders.
Kris Russell is a pending free agent who may or may not be back in Edmonton; if he’s to be re-signed it makes sense to wait until after expansion. Griffin Reinhart would be a tough player for the Oilers to lose given what it cost to acquire him, but there’s nothing for that now.
Goaltender Cam Talbot would be a lock for protection even if he didn’t have a no-move clause.
All things considered, Edmonton is in excellent shape heading into expansion. If anything, the team should be looking for opportunities (Anaheim, Columbus and Tampa Bay all come to mind) to add a forward from a team in a more difficult position. If that means exposing Khaira, so be it.