The Expansion Draft Protected list deadline is 3 p.m. tomorrow, so teams have just over hours to make a deal instead of potentially losing a valuable asset for nothing. This unique deadline has the rumour mill churning out names faster than Frank and Claire Underwood make backdoor deals to preserve their spot in the White House. How awesome would this deadline be if we had GMs turn and face the camera to share their views? I love it when Frank talks directly to the audience in House of Cards.
I’m not sure any of the GMs have the ruthlessness of Underwood, but it would be great.
“Shake with your right hand, but hold a rock in your left,” Underwood.
Chiarelli doesn’t need to be desperate before Saturday’s deadline, but a quick scan of the Oilers blueline shows it is clear they have some holes to fill before the start of the season.
Oscar Klefbom and Adam Larsson are the top pair.
Darnell Nurse and Matt Benning are the third pair, and as they continue to develop both could push into the top-four.
Currently, there is no second pair to start the season. Andrej Sekera had knee surgery on May 18th, and he’ll be out six to nine months. Let’s split the difference and say he returns January 1st (7 1/2 months). That means they need a second pairing LD for the first three months of the season.
Nurse could play there and gain valuable experience. He only has 128 games of NHL experience (reg season and playoffs), so there will still be some bumps, but Chiarelli made it clear at his end-of-season presser his challenge will be filling out his D corps, while also allowing his young defenders room to grow. Meaning they need to play and the organization will want them to dip their feet in the top-four waters here and there.
The Oilers only have four healthy D-men signed. They need to sign two, possibly three, especially if they lose Griffin Reinhart in the expansion draft.
So today and tomorrow Chiarelli will be working the phones, but finding quality second pairing defenders won’t be easy. The Oilers could use Jordan Eberle as trade bait, and it sounds like there is a strong possibility he could be moved before the deadline according to Bob McKenzie. Moving him creates a void at RW. Jesse Puljujarvi, Anton Slepyshev and Zack Kassian would be the three right wingers remaining. Yes, you could move Leon Draisaitl to the wing, but long-term I believe he is much more valuable on his own line creating a great 1-2 punch with Connor McDavid.
“If you don’t like how the table is set, turn over the table,” Underwood.
Chiarelli could re-sign Kris Russell, but that won’t happen until after the expansion draft. Despite a misguided, inaccurate and false suggestions that he “Isn’t good at hockey,” Russell is actually a very competent defender. He’s played 690 regular season and playoff games. Who else could Chiarelli have signed last year to a one-year deal at $3 million who would have played as well as Russell? None that I saw. It was a great signing, but that was last year. This summer is different and the tough balancing act for any GM is to not let the past influence too much of the future.
Russell isn’t an elite defender, but last season he was an excellent value contract for the Oilers at $3 million. If Chiarelli can convince him to sign another one or two year deal it would be a great move. I’m sure Russell would like more, but if it is three years or four the cap hit needs to be lower in my eyes. The ideal contract would be two years, which gives the team time to allow Nurse and Benning to keep developing, growing their confidence and not forcing them into top-four minutes every night. If at some point in the next two years they prove they are consistently better, then you can lower Russell’s minutes and increase Benning’s.
The challenge for Chiarelli is Russell likely wants a three or four year deal. Why wouldn’t he? The NHL hands out three and four year deals regularly to unrestricted free agents. Maybe Chiarelli can wait him out, like he did last year, but none of us can predict that. The wildcard in free agency is knowing when to pull the trigger on a deal and to find the sweet spot in money and term where the organization doesn’t regret the deal two years down the road.
“For those of us climbing to the top of the food chain, there can be no mercy. There is but one rule: hunt or be hunted.” Underwood.
I would love to be a fly on the wall listening to and reading all of the phone and text conversations going on among NHL GMs. Chiarelli has over a decade of experience as a GM. Only Ken Holland, David Poile, Lou Lamoriello, Dale Tallon, Doug Wilson, George McPhee and Jim Rutherford have been a GM longer. Experience doesn’t guarantee success, but Chiarelli has heard a lot of chatter, banter and bargaining, and he might be able to pick up on a weakness better than GMs in their first or second year, when discussing possible trade scenarios.
The most likely names for a possible trade prior to Saturday for RD include:
Sami Vatanen, Mark Pysyk, Alex Petrovic, Matt Dumba and Jason Demers, because the Ducks, Panthers, Wild and Islanders have more D-men than they can protect.
I get the sense Florida wants to keep Petrovic. He’s the only big, strong, physical defender they have. You can’t have all puck movers and no puck retrievers or puck separators (I made up that term). New coach Bob Boughner likes to play aggressive and that includes having someone with a physical presence. I believe they find a way to keep Petrovic.
Demers toured Edmonton as a UFA last summer, but he elected to sign in Florida. He has four years remaining with a $4.5 mill cap hit. He has a small no-trade clause, with a list of eight teams he can’t be traded to, and if he toured Edmonton last season I’m guessing they are one of the 21 teams to which he could be moved. Todd McLellan knows him well from their time in San Jose, and I could see Florida being more willing to move him than Petrovic or Pysyk, who are both 25 and RFAs.
The Panthers currently have 16 players signed for $60 million. Would Jordan Eberle for Demers make sense? It might, but if they acquire Demers they likely don’t sign Russell, unless it is a one-year deal. Does subtracting Russell and Eberle for Demers and Jesse Puljujarvi make the Oilers better? That is likely the question the Oilers are asking about any trade involving a defender and Eberle.
Hamonic would be ideal for the Oilers. He is a proven top-four RD and he has an excellent contract, but many teams will after him. The other aspect about trading for a D-man, is it means Mark Letestu and Kassian would be exposed. Letestu was excellent for the Oilers on and off the ice. He was a jack-of-all-trades and while he isn’t a major piece, replacing a solid complementary player isn’t always as easy as some think.
Chiarelli will weigh the factors of a trade and how, if any, it impacts the expansion draft. Maybe he swings a deal to ensure Vegas doesn’t take either Letestu or Kassian.
“Treading water is like drowning for people like you and me. Good luck. I’ll be watching.” Underwood.
The list of UFA right-shot defenders isn’t very long:
Kevin Shattenkirk, Michael Stone, Cody Franson and Dan Girardi are the top four. Shattenkirk wants to play in the east and with the Rangers buying out Girardi I sense they make a big play for him. He will cost a lot and likely be overpaid. Franson’s footspeed would be an issue. I think he is a third pair guy on a good team. I don’t see him as a fit with McLellan’s or Chiarelli’s style.
Stone is the most attractive candidate. He would be a solid second pair RD. The Oilers are lucky because their top-pairing combines to make only $8.32 million/year for the next four seasons. I’m sure Stone will want four or five years at $4.5 million, maybe more. Of course that doesn’t mean he’ll get it, but that is likely what he is looking for. I don’t see him as much of an upgrade over Russell though.
Girardi is an interesting player. He isn’t a top-pairing guy anymore, but if you could sign him for $2 million he’d be an excellent third pairing guy who could play in your second pairing if an injury occurs. It is amazing how the perception of a player can change when their cap hit and on-ice usage is more in line with their ability. He wants to go to a winner and Edmonton is now a team NHL players believe has a chance to win because of McDavid, Draisaitl and the supporting cast.
The injury to Sekera has made Chiarelli’s off-season much more difficult. Sekera should return in January, but even then he might need another month of playing time before he is back to his usual playing level. Coming of an ACL injury is never easy and every player is different in how quickly they can return to their previous level of play.
Ideally, Chiarelli would like to sign or acquire a D-man who he sees as a top-four RD for the next few seasons. That allows Nurse and Benning time to mature and develop without being force-fed top-four minutes right away. However, Sekera’s injury means they need another competent defender to start the season, preferably one on a short-term contract.
It will be difficult to find another one-year Russell-type contract. That was an excellent signing. It was one year and very cost effective for the amount of solid minutes Russell provided. I doubt Russell would sign another one-year deal, especially early in the free agent period. And because of his solid season, he won’t be remain unsigned until October.
The expansion draft has put more names on the trade market. Can Chiarelli land one, and at what cost? Will he make a deal and still re-sign Russell? We wait.
“A lion does not ask permission before he eats a zebra.” Underwood.
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