Photo Credit: Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports

WWYDW: Who goes when Sekera and Larsson return?

After missing a couple weeks of action with a back injury, Adam Larsson is a game time decision to return to the Oilers on Thursday against the Nashville Predators. While we don’t have an exact date on when Andrej Sekera will return following off-season surgery, it’s likely the veteran defender will be back within the next few weeks.

That brings us to this week’s What Would You Do Wednesday question. Who should end up on the outside of the Oilers’ numbers game when Larsson and Sekera return to the lineup?

When Larsson gets activated…

The Oilers currently have a full 23-player roster with Sekera and Larsson on the Injured Reserve. Cam Talbot, of course, is also on the IR, but it’s inevitable Nick Ellis, who doesn’t require waivers, will be sent down to AHL Bakersfield once the starting goalie returns, so there’s nothing to talk about there. The more interesting discussion is how the Oilers will handle the return of two top-four defenders, especially with the newly-acquired Brandon Davidson back in the mix.

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When the team was fully healthy minus Sekera for the first 26 games of the season, Todd McLellan operated largely with Eric Gryba as the team’s sixth defenceman. Slowly, though, he began to use Yohann Auvitu more. Then, when Larsson was placed on the IR on Dec. 1, he rolled with Auvitu and Gryba as the third pair, which was predictably a disaster.

In five games without Larsson, Auvitu and Gryba played together twice, but Brandon Davidson has slotted in alongside the French defender in the past three games. It’s pretty clear based on usage before and after Larsson’s injury that Auvitu has passed Gryba on the depth chart.

With that in mind, you have to assume that when Larsson is activated, Gryba is the one who ends up on the outside looking in. He’s a right-handed shot like Larsson and has struggled to be effective in his tough, physical, shutdown role this season. With Davidson and Kris Russell more effective in a similar role, there doesn’t seem to be a place on the roster for Gryba.

Gryba will have to clear waivers if sent to the AHL when Larsson returns. He’s signed for this season and next at a $900k cap hit. He won’t have a buried cap hit while playing in the AHL if he clears. I have a feeling he would make it through waivers because I’m not sure if a team would want to make a year-and-a-half commitment to a fringe player, but you never know.

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When Sekera gets activated…

Feb 3, 2017; Raleigh, NC, USA; Edmonton Oilers defensemen Andrej Sekera (2) passes the puck against the Carolina Hurricanes at PNC Arena. the Carolina Hurricanes defeated the Edmonton Oilers 2-1. Mandatory Credit: James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports

This, of course, is the more difficult discussion. I’m operating under the assumption Gryba goes down when Larsson is activated, but that in itself isn’t even a certainty. I think it’s a reasonable assumption based on recent usage, though. Anyways, the Oilers have themselves a difficult decision to make when Sekera returns, barring another injury before the veteran defender is set to return.

The logical decision would seem to be putting Auvitu through waivers. The Oilers are activating a defenceman, so they should inevitably just send the seventh down, right? I’m not sure it’s that simple. I think you run a much greater risk of losing Auvitu on waivers than you do Gryba because he offers a more unique skill set, being an offence-driving defenceman. If you do lose Auvitu on waivers and, say, Oskar Klefbom goes down later on or Sekera struggles to regain form, you don’t have an immediate option to fill back in.

Could the team opt to run with eight defencemen and 13 forwards? Auvitu played as a defenceman/forward in Europe and has even seen time up front with the Oilers this season. Would the team rather try to sneak Nathan Walker through waivers instead of Auvitu? It’s a difficult decision.

Currently, the only players on the Oilers who can be sent down without requiring waivers are Darnell Nurse, Anton Slepyshev, and Jesse Puljujarvi. Obviously, Nurse isn’t going down because he’s the team’s No. 1 defender this season. I don’t see a reason to send back Puljujarvi, as he’s hitting his stride at the NHL level. Slepyshev has been in and out of the lineup, but has been a solid contributor when playing.

What say you, Nation? Who do you boot from the roster when Larsson returns in the near future? And then, who ends up on the outside looking in when Sekera returns? Does the team go out of its way to keep Auvitu around, or am I overestimating his value? Is there a clever way to manipulate the injured reserve to prolong this decision? 


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  • #97TRAIN

    Everyone so quick to move Russell? For a guy that is 5’10 180 lbs he plays like he is 6’4″ and 220. I would be so quick in trying to get rid of that kind of ” jam” in the line up. He has hiccups but who in this lineup doesn’t? He also leads the D in scoring

    • Rock11

      No he effing doesn’t. Playing like he’s 220 would suggest he can actually break up a cycle and get the puck out of the zone. I’m not questioning his effort or his give a damn. I question his actual ability to accomplish things. No doubt he works his ass off but that only matters if it turns in to results and he has real limitations as a player largely due to being such a small D.

        • Rock11

          bite me. I watch every game. I suck at math. Russell is a game rooster but he simply isn’t big enough or strong enough to take on the Getzlaf’s and Kopitars in the corner and be successful. This doesn’t make him evil. It simply means his game has limitations. That the Russell fan boy crowd refuses to admit that he isn’t perfect is absolutely infuriating. He does some good things. He isn’t good in some areas. Why is that so hard for you guys to admit.

  • Consultant

    Chances are there is a dman ready to go onto IR to take the returnee’s place anyway. But if not I would go with 13 and 8, NHL able dmen are gold. If someone has to go down send Slepy, don’t risk losing dman depth.

  • OilersBro

    Assuming everyone stays healthy: Gryba goes through waivers when Larsson returns. Right shot for right shot, he’s at the bottom of the ranks right now and is the least likely to be picked up.
    Then when Sekera returns send down Slepy (play cagguila as 4LW). His contract will keep him protected and we’ll have two extra NHL caliber defensemen scratched each night. This is a luxury considering you can give Sekera the occasional game off as he comes back from injury.

    You can also rotate Benning, Auvitu, and Davidson based off of performance.

  • acesaaron

    Gryba is gone for sure. He is the 9th best defence option when everyone is activated and no room for him. Good soldier but limited toolbox and too slow. Auvitu is interesting but a defensive liability. I think Sekera is a higher skilled version of him and better defensively. Nurse and Russell also looking better at the offensive end so that aspect can be replaced by committee. We lost Davidson once, I’d hold on to him now.

    • BringitbacklikeSlats

      I agree.
      Nurse – Russell
      Klefbom – Larssen
      Sekera- Benning

      Auvitu is a player I’d hate to lose to waivers as I think he might be a weapon on the PP that still stinks

  • Disappointed

    Goodbye Nathan, its been nce knowing you. 13F, 8D, Auvitu will be eating a lot of popcorn as an insurance policy and Benning, Davidson rotate as the #6D.

  • The Swarm

    The question in the article is really who should be the 6th d-man as Larsson, Sekera, Nurse, Kfelbom, and Russel are a lock. It seems to me that Benning’s play improved dramatically when Davidson showed up, so let these two fight for that last spot each night. Send