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

  • Cheesums

    Nurse for Trouba seems like the most sense for both teams doesn’t it? I absolutely love Nurse, but he’s stuck behind Klef and Sekera for a few years here. Same for Trouba in Winnipeg with Buf and Myers ahead of him.

    The jets need help on the left side and the Oil need help on the right. Both guys jump into the second pairing pretty much immediately? The trade probably wouldnt be that simple (Trouba is worth more today), but something that would benefit both teams.

  • Spydyr

    If you can get a second round pick for Russell pull the trigger not only is it basically a second round pick for free it replaces the one they lost to Boston for Chia.

    • MacT's Neglected Helmet

      I would take the pick too.

      But I wouldn’t say it’s “for free”. Russell is not chopped liver. Even if you think he’s overrated, he’s still an NHL-calibre dman. He’s no Nikita Nikitin, Anton Belov, Adam Clendening, Grebeshkov, Griffin Reinhart, Jordan Osterle, or any fringe-NHL dman.

      And the last time I checked, defensive depth IS VERY important in the playoffs.

      • Spydyr

        Russell cost the team no assets such as another player in a trade or a draft pick. Russell cost the team nothing but his salary. Turning that player into a second round draft pick is found money. That is what I meant by getting a second round pick for free. It has nothing to do with Russell’s ability.

  • russ99a

    This is faulty thinking.

    We’re going to be a Cup contending team. The time for cheap young players
    learning on the job is over.

    To me Russell is in the Seabrook school of own zone defenders, and yes, Russell is less physical and has a lesser shot than Seabrook but can skate.

    Do we really think we can go into a playoff run next year with only 2-3 defensemen who can defend well when games are more closely fought and offense dries up?

    Thankfully the guy who actually makes the decisions is on my side.

    • Action Jackson

      It is easy to write off this opinion, but I agree that Russell has value. As always, depends on the price, but he has looked great in his own zone. Fancy stats have great uses, but just like in baseball there are always going to be outliers whose actual stats don’t normalize to equal their predicted fancy stats. Russell is an extreme outlier for shot blocking, so there is a chance that he is one of those fancy stat breakers.

  • MacT's Neglected Helmet

    I hope Chia makes a deal with Vegas for them NOT to take Davidson (e.g. “take Griffin Reinhart instead and we’ll throw in a pick or prospect”). Removing the uncertainty of who Vegas takes at the cost of a minor asset would really help Chia plan for next year better.

    After they do this, they can still try to sign Russell (he may not be bonafide, but he’s still useful!), but can play hardball with him and pay him as a bottom-pairing dman instead of a top-pairing dman. Something like $3.5M x 3 years would ideal.

      • Rock11

        But of course you wont be able to sign any of them cuz you’re paying your bottom pairing D $3.5m. Whisper louder dude and then more people will begin to understand

        • The Whispererer

          I decided to leave the obvious unspoken in the hope that he would remove his neglected helmet and replace it with a thinking one. Glad to see that you picked up on that.

    • camdog

      I’m pretty sure both franchises believe that Reinhart has a higher potential than Davidson. You won’t have to trade a prospect for Vegas to take a chance on Reinhart, they’ll do in anyways.

      • MacT's Neglected Helmet

        I doubt that. Why would any team (that doesn’t already have a HUGE sunk cost invested) have any reason to think that Griffin Reinhart will be anything but a bust? What has he done at this level (or even the AHL level) to suggest that he can be a top-4 man?

        I say top-4 dman because you’re comparing him to Davidson, who would almost certainly be pencilled in as a #4 on an expansion team.

        PS: I feel bad for calling him a “bust”. It’s not really his fault.

        • camdog

          You probably thought Davidson was a bust as well at the same age bracket…Reinhart just turned 23, right now he’s playing just as good as Davidson ever did in the AHL.

          • MacT's Neglected Helmet

            Brandon Davidson’s trajectory has been quite unusual. Not many defensive prospects develop like he (and Matt Benning, woo hoo!) did.

            It’s unlikely that Griffin Reinhart will make a similar leap. Especially in today’s NHL that demands more speed in a dman.

          • Druds

            I won’t argue the merits of Davidson or Reinhart but again this is nitpicking over 5-6 defencemen, They are not going to be offensive specialists so why the angst…they are commodity to be used to gain something of more value eg: someone who can score a goal.

  • Hockey123

    Trash all you want this team will not be able to score goals in the playoffs.

    And all these fancy stat people are completely useless at picking winners in the playoffs. What good are stats if they don’t translate into picking winners and losers on the ice?

    • Score-adjusted 5v5 Fenwick for the last five Stanley Cup winners:

      • 2016: Pittsburgh 53.1%
      • 2015: Chicago 53.4%
      • 2014: Los Angeles: 56.5%
      • 2013: Chicago: 56.2%
      • 2012: Los Angeles: 53.7%

      The biggest surprise on that list, standings-wise, were the 2012 Kings, the No. 8 seed in the West that year. Here’s a piece I wrote that spring, describing them as a legitimate contender despite what the standings said, based on their fancy stats.

      You are mistaken.

  • Mike Krushelnyski

    Makes sense. I think Chiarelli will move heaven and earth to get that RH powerplay guy we need and will need all available cap space to do so. When everyone is healthy, Russell and Davidson are competing to be our 4th best LHD. We have plenty of young, cheap players who can fill in as a 7th defenceman.

  • OilCan2

    Shattenkirk wants to go to New York. Russell SHOULD be left unsigned. Davidson is a keeper.

    The RD fantasy continues; Hamonic, Trouba, etc. Let’s just take the best available RD when we draft at 30th this year.

    • oilerjed

      Shattenkirk wants to go to New York but that doesn’t mean that New York wants him. Rangers already have 3 dmen over 4.5mil and the Islanders have Boychuc and Leddy at 5.5 and 6 mil. Can either team afford to add Shattenkirk? He wont go to Jersey because they are so far away from being a good team, same for Buffalo.

      He may get paid but it very well might not be in the geographic area of his choice. Very well may choose where his best chance to win will come from.

    • Druds

      Davidson is injury -prone and no matter what weird metric you use he has been sub-par since coming back from his last sick leave.

      Davidson is no top 2-3 and the world is full of 4-6’s
      I say trade him for someone that can score occassionally

      • I am Batman

        100% this.

        Losing Davidson won’t hurt as many are saying…. while he was injured the team didn’t struggle.

        Russell on the other hand has been (with a handful of exceptions) a steady hand in the back end. I like him and I would sign him.

        So. To Blues: Davidson + conditional first

        To Oilers: shattenkirk. The first being conditioned to signing a contract with Shatt.

        We see how the team does and decide then if we let Russell walk or not. If we can’t sign Shatt, we only lose Davidson who according to everyone will be lost to Vegas anyways….

          • Natejax97

            So what if they protect 8 and a goalie and leave guys like Ebs and Nuge Exposed?

            The only way we get Shatty signed in Edmonton (if he would even be willing to) would be by clearing cap immediately.

            And should likely hold the phone, because I am not sure that St. Louis would trade Shatty to a team that they may end up playing in the first round of the playoffs anyways.

            Look, the depth on Defense this year has allowed the Oilers to stay in the race. The group would be another year older and stronger next year. Maybe the answer is stay the course. Use the remaining cap to sign Draisaitl, when Pou and Fayner come off, give that money plus the 3.75 to Mc David (totaling about 10.5) and let er rip.

          • The Ghost of Alex Plante

            Because that would be absolutely horrendous asset management. That’s why they won’t leave guys like Ebs and Nuge exposed.

            You don’t leave guys that have value exposed unless you absolutely have to. I don’t care how much people are hating on Eberle right now, he still has A LOT more value than someone like Kassian, so if it comes down to it, you leave Kassian exposed over Eberle 10 times out 10.

      • MacT's Neglected Helmet

        Good take.

        Oilers fans love Davidson because we’ve followed him on his journey to the NHL. He’s a great story. Cured cancer for F’s sake (in his own body at least!). Leap-frogged over more famous prospects to grab an NHL job.

        But, as cruel as this will sound, none of that should really matter going forward. It’s all in the past (tho it does reflect positively on his perseverance). Chia needs to ask himself whether or not Davidson can return to his play of last season.

  • Hockey123

    Does not matter, Oilers are in trouble poor drafting and trades during the draft will hurt this team. Yes they will get better but their pipeline is horrible.

    Chia has hurt this team if you want to win a cup. He has not hurt the team if you want to make the playoffs.

    He likes slow players Reinhart and Lucic.

  • Stack

    Interesting take, I wonder what st.louis’ pulse would be on that. My gut says St.louis will want more, but if teams are not falling over themseleves to get Shattenkirk as a rental and St.Louis doesn’t want to let him go for nothing maybe just maybe it could work.

    • We know Russell probably has good deadline value, given what he went for last time around. Davidson of course isn’t a rental, which pushes the price on that up.

      Maybe something in the range of Davidson + 1st would get that done, in which case you’d probably try to recoup a 2nd + something small for Russell, which would be a relatively small downgrade futures-wise.