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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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  • 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
      Davidson

      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

  • McJeetz

    Davidson makes Benning expendable. Auburn might actually be better than Russell right now, but Russell isn’t bad and his contract is probably unmovable. Russell is doing better in limited minutes though. But they might dress 7 defense, and run their horses up front.

    Larsson klefbom
    Nurse Sekera
    Davidson Russell
    Auvitu

    That looks like a playoff defense to me

    • puckle-head

      I’m not sure Davidson does make Benning expendable. Benning’s had a rough season, but I wouldn’t want to risk losing him, especially with the dearth of RHD we have. Slepyshev has been fine, but replaceable. I’d send him down.

      • acesaaron

        This makes sense because Sleppy doesn’t need to clear waivers. On merit, Cagguila is the one that should be scratched on a regular basis. Not giving very much and largely invisible in games. That’s what you want as a defenceman, not as a forward.

  • McJeetz

    Davidson makes Benning expendable. Auvitu might actually be better than Russell right now, but Russell isn’t bad and his contract is probably unmovable. Russell is doing better in limited minutes though. But they might dress 7 defense, and run their horses up front.

    Larsson klefbom
    Nurse Sekera
    Davidson Russell
    Auvitu

    That looks like a playoff defense to me

  • 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.

  • Rock11

    Is Russell’s deal just a No Trade or is it a No Move? He likely clears waivers cause no other GM would have been dumb enough to sign that contract. It saves Cap dollars. It is fairly clear that when everyone is healthy he is the teams 6th best D and one could form an argument that he is 7th depending on how you feel about Davidson. He can be the new Fayne. Paid well to go away but still a reasonable recall option should disaster strike.
    I know this horse has been dead for awhile, but wow is that contract bad. Every now and then you look at the D depth chart and it hits you how brutal 4 years is with the current young D having passed him by and a number of prospects that should be pushing next year and the year after. Just unfathomable that 4th year.

    • BringitbacklikeSlats

      Do you actually watch the games, or do you just blindly follow along with what the nerd herd says?
      Moron. Russell leads the blue line in points and is currently playing on the top pair. He was one of our best defenders in the playoffs last year, and has the least amount of goals go in underneath his watch. Two years in a row. You and Henderson should get on a slow boat to China and write a book about how you think hockey would be a better game hybridized with figure skating.

      • Rock11

        Yes I watch the games. I’m also not swayed by the diving, sliding shot block that would not have happened and he been able to break up the cycle and move the puck out of the zone. He’s small, not particularly skilled, cant hit, isn’t a good passer, and gives up he blueline too easy. My eyes see this. They also see the puck in his end more often than not when he is on the ice. Nurse has been dragging him along all season. If you think he isn’t 6th then who is worse.
        Nurse-no
        Klef-no
        Larsson-no
        Sekera-no
        Benning-maybe
        Davidson-sure I’ll give you that one.
        5th best at the absolute highest and I think that’s generous. Quit being an idiot getting sucked in by the flailing shot blocks and watch what happened to get to that point in the first place.

        • BringitbacklikeSlats

          This year he’s arguably been our best blueliner in tandem with Nurse.
          Klefbom up until the last week has been a tire fire and is a HUGE liability defensively. I’d argue Russell is a better passer and far more capable of separating the puck carrier from the rubber than Klefbom.
          Klefbom is a good skater and has a booming snapshot that hits the net 20% of the time. Beyond that he has several deficiencies in his game, not the least of which is thought process and appropriate decisive action in the D zone. For $4million I’d take Russell all day long.

          • Rock11

            Any argument that has Russell better than Klefbom shows how little you understand the game and that’s admitting Klef hasn’t been as good this year as last. Best sometimes to keep your mouth shut and let people think you are fool than open it and erase all doubt.

          • MessyEH!

            I wonder why no other team would sign Russell.

            Russell is the The Nail Yakupov of Defense. Invisible bees attack that mans eyes. 24 year old Klefbom vs 30 year old Russell. Does that question even need to be asked. Shot blocks and hits are required parts of the game. What’s better is smart positional play that doesn’t result in shot attempts. Smart plays to keep control of the puck, that do not result in hits, that put you out of position and out of the play.

            Russell would be an NHL defensemen on every NHL team. Just not at 4m.

            He’s earning his money this year. More than earned it last .

            The Russell fan boys/ his family need to pay attention to how Russell got into a position that resulted in him being required to block the shot. I am sure it’s bees.

        • Homer

          You Russel haters are clueless at best but delusional is a better word. I’m guessing Todd who plays the hell out of him and PC who signed him have a tad more hockey knowledge but hey thanks for your 2 cents

          • MessyEH!

            Todd has played him less this year than last. A lot people seem to forget Russell is playing his off off side. RD vs LD. That maybe why it seems he struggles regain possession. He has to work harder.

          • JimmyV1965

            Russell maybe meh, but anyone who thinks Klef or Benning have been playing better are not paying attention. At least with Klef you can argue he’s temporarily regressing because he was real good last year. This year not so much.

        • McLoochbomb

          Yeah and if he’s our 5th best d man that is also what he’s payed as. Lars Klef, Sek and soon Nurse after we sign him in the offseason are all payed better than him. (Darnell will get north of 4 million) so he’s our fifth best d man and he’s payed as our fifth best d man. See how that works???!

          • Rock11

            And in a cap world $4m for a 3rd pairing D is an absolute nightmare. This is where you need ELC guys and cheap veterans. I don’t think Russell is useless by the way. I think he is a perfectly acceptable 3rd pair D. The contract pays him to be significantly more than that and he is not, never has been, and never will be. If Nuge gets traded it will be in large part because of this contract. That is just horrible asset management by the GM.

    • BringitbacklikeSlats

      Pretty sure I’ll refer to Wayne Gretzky as a credible judgement on both talent and character. Wayne’s mentioned Russell as a positive in every spot for public record since the playoffs 2017.

      Wayne Gretzky’s opinion vs. Stats nerds in Moms basement… hmmm I think I’ll take Wayne for 500 Alex

      • puckle-head

        lol, yeah, because A) Gretzky is going to trash a player on the team he is employed by, and B) being great at hockey automatically makes you a great scout or coach. Look, it’s not just bloggers that dislike Russell’s game. If he was put on waivers or the trade block not one of the 30 other GMs with their own departments of scouting, coaching and player development would touch that contract.

      • BlueHairedApe

        Agree with Slats here. Russell has also been designated as one of the glue guys on the team. The guys love him. Chemistry is half the battle and no doubt he was crowned with that task when they had to let Hendo go.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • #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.

  • OilersGM

    The problem is when Sekera returns is we are loaded on the left side and it’s a good problem to have. I would try to find a trade to solve all the issues on D.

    I don’t think St.Louis would do this deal but Klefbom for Parayko or something similar. Now the reason St.Louis probably won’t do the deal is because it would mess up their Right Left D combination or maybe Klefbom for Ristolainen.
    I like Klefbom a lot but we have a log jam on the left side and that kinda trade would fix everything.

    Nurse – Larsson
    Sekera – Ristolainen or Parayko
    Davidson or Russell – Benning
    That would even solve the Right D on the PP.

    • OilersGM

      One more thing to add….
      I didn’t like Chiarelli extending Russell because of Nurse and Klefbom were gonna pass him on the depth chart and also Sekera now I know he plays the right side but it was an overpayment on term and salary and it wasn’t necessary, I would prefer to have a Right Shot on the right side.
      Also you have to consider the Nurse extension and JP down the road.

      • oilerjed

        I was pretty sure Nurse would breakout this year and I didn’t see Klef falling back as much as he has. Benning is the one I wouldn’t have had much confidence in making much of a move this year. Banking on young players to surpass veterans on the depth chart is part of what led to the decade of darkness. If the young guys force your hand then you act from a position of strength rather then watching the young guys fail and then being raked over the coals by every GM in the league.
        I for one am glad that Russel was signed as insurance. Could have been cheaper and a year shorter?> Yeah probably but sometimes you have to sign them for what they want or be stuck looking for the same player somewhere else and hope for the best. Russel has been an example of a vet contract working out.

  • Simba99

    Ya keep them all and rotated never have enough d but what do we oiler fans know trade them all if you honestly think Larsen and sekera are going to make a difference your kidding yourself

  • Crakupov

    I would send Davidson and Gryba down. No one else wanted to trade for Davidson when the public announcement was made and I don’t think their would be as much interest in Gryba. Walker you have to keep unless you want to lose him as other teams wanted a crack and Auvitu will get snagged as well. He is a rare breed with potential.

  • 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

    • camdog

      As 2 of their 3 extra players. Good bet that somebody else get’s Injured before Sekera comes back. A completely healthy roster is unlikely. All in all that would equate to just Gryba going down.

  • oilerjed

    This is the question I have been pondering this week also. I have to say that our d group looks pretty good with Larson and Sekera back. (assuming they can play at the level they were at before getting hurt).
    Im not sure of Benning’s status contractwise but I would keep Davidson around over Benning at this point.
    This is will be a tough call for Chia and Mcllelan(sp?) and it will be interesting to see how it plays out.
    Larsson-nurse
    Sekera-Davidson
    Russell-Klefbom

    Auvitu/Benning

  • Leaking5w-30

    This is a little off topic but would a 24 man roster be better for all involved? It’s not like there is a lack of games (or injuries) to keep marginal players in the mix.

  • PLS

    So you have LHD (Auvitu) who could play 4lw in a pinch. And you have a shortage of RHD. Seems like a simple question, keep 8 D. When Larson comes back, waive Walker. When Sekera is back waive Gryba.

  • Dr. Merkwurdigliebe

    Others have said this but the answer is clear. Send Gryba and Slepy down. Nobody will take Gryba and Slepy doesn’t have to cleat. Send Slep down with instructions to work on his offence for his next shot. No sense losing assests. Gryba is clearly expendable anyway.

    • MessyEH!

      I think Stats guys need to take into acount the drop in play that occurs playing on your off hand. I recall an article about how it impacts.

      All I see is Russell’s poor positioning that result in him making face down snow angels. I’ve decided to cut him some slack. He’s working hard to overcome playing on his offhand side. It’s likely what hurts his positioning.

      • Big Nuggets

        If he can’t play on his off-side why would we want him? I’m not a Russel hater but the contract really ties our hands and he is a bottom pairing player when we are healthy. Not a good situation regardless of how good you think Russel is.

    • camdog

      Nurse and Russell have been the best Oilers pairing all season. Sure Russell looks bad when he’s out of position. Larsson looked back with Klefbom, Benning and Gryba have looked bad with everybody. This might not be popular but even some of the numbers guys have recognized that Russell has quite possibly this teams best right defender this season. The Nurse Russell combo has been the best on the team.

  • McLoochbomb

    Gotta send Gryba down, no one will take him. Keep 8 d men, Davidson nf Auvitu a savage 7 and 8. Then sending down Walker, we have better options like Caggiula for a 13th forward

  • Ginbaby

    Sekera needs to be on the left side so I would go:
    Klef-Larsson
    Nurse-Russel
    Sekera-Benning
    Davidson

    I don’t know that Auvitu is so valuable that losing him on waivers is a great loss and Gryba to me is an ok 7-8 but those guys aren’t super hard to find and could be replaced by Stanton/Simpson or another waiver acquisition. I like seeing Davey back on the Orange and Blue so I keep him.

  • Pouzar99

    You go with 8 D men and 13 forwards by sending Gryba and Walker down. Auvitu is defintely your number 8 D man. Of course Sekera may begin with a few games at Bakersfield as a conditioning excersise to get up to speed because he won’t have to clear waivers for that purpose.

  • JimmyV1965

    I don’t understand why Nurse never gets a look on the PP. His shot isn’t any worse than Benning’s and right now he’s our most creative dman. When Sek and Larsson get back I would go:

    Nurse-Larsson
    Sek-Russell
    Klef-Davidson

    There’s only one righty, but Davidson needs to play and Benning has largely been a disaster this year.