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Photo Credit: © Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

Seriously, Klefbom?

Tuesday on Hockey Central the venerable Elliotte Friedman speculated that the Oilers were not shutting Oscar Klefbom down because they wanted to showcase him for a potential trade. Naturally, this is a terrible idea for a number of reasons. In any sane and rational world, it would be unbelievable. Because Peter Chiarelli is the Oilers’ General Manager and the Oilers are…well…the Oilers, it isn’t just believable – it’s almost probable.  

Rationality isn’t Chiarelli’s strong-suit. Take, for instance, his assertion that he needed cap space this past summer in the event of an offer-sheet made to Leon Draisaitl. He traded Eberle for Strome (savings) but then immediately signed Russell which meant he had less cap space to defend against an offer sheet than what was available just 24 hours prior — it doesn’t make sense.

PLAYING INJURED

So too does it not make sense to force an injured player to continue playing injured so you can get more eyes on him playing injured because you think that will help you in a trade. If Oscar Klefbom is at a point in the season where shutting him down for several weeks is a legitimate option, then surely it’s affecting his play. I think we can all see that he has avoided overly physical situations in favour of a shoulder and that his shot has less zip on it than it did a year ago.

Assuming then that it is unlikely a player who COULD be shut down will start to improve drastically over the final 15 or so games of the season (especially as the Oilers play almost every other night), Oscar Klefbom’s trade value is unlikely to improve. If management is praying that Klefbom has 10 good games to prove he’s as good as ever then this decision is based on hope, not rational thought.

Oh, and as a fun side note, Klefbom and Russell were paired together in practice yesterday, but they have a 35.3% GF ratio when paired together this season. If Klefbom is being showcased, the team is putting its absolute worst foot forward in showing what he can do.

Of course, this doesn’t even begin to scratch at the real issue here, which is that trading Klefbom is – most likely – a colossally stupid idea. I’m not saying that there is no trade that the Oilers can make with Klefbom that cannot be a win. I’m simply saying that there is nothing the history of Peter Chiarelli or the Boys on the Bus who lurk in the head office that gives even the slightest hope of winning such a trade. The modern Oilers are a franchise built on a bedrock of failure at the defensive position. Chiarelli’s past is almost exclusively filled with lost hockey trades.

Who among us has confidence that the Oilers can trade their top minute defenseman and come out the other side a winner? I certainly do not.

PLAYING POORLY

Oct 19, 2017; Chicago, IL, USA; Edmonton Oilers defenseman Oscar Klefbom (77) controls the puck against the Chicago Blackhawks during the second period at United Center. Oilers won 2-1 in overtime. Mandatory Credit: Patrick Gorski-USA TODAY Sports

“But Klefbom is awful this season! Trade him now.”

First of all, I thought maybe some people would have learned their lesson after trading Jordan Eberle after a single bad season – at his lowest possible value. Apparently, I was wrong about that. The only lesson that was learned by some is, I guess, that now the Oilers need wingers so trading their top defender is necessary. Frankly, I blame Alberta’s teachers for failing the children they were tasked to impart some wisdom into. What excuse do these people have when there are real people roaming the streets trying to tell everyone that Klefbom is to blame for this poor Oiler campaign?

Oscar Klefbom is an Oiler draft pick who they actually tried to develop properly. He was kept in Europe for two seasons. He was brought into the AHL where he started from the bottom and had to earn his ice. He eventually became their top defender and only then did he become a full-time NHL player. He rose through the ranks in the NHL until he became the Oilers’ top defender. It was all a straight line of development (which NEVER happens) until this season, where he’s struggled.

This is the first sign of trouble in Klefbom’s actual game. He’s had injury problems, no doubt. He has had shoulder issues (like what’s allegedly bothering him now), he’s had a strange infection while in Sweden brought on by a skate cut, and he had a staph infection in his foot that required surgery and re-fitted boots. But in terms of his actual quality of play, this is the only season where he’s been questioned.

When we look at Klefbom’s stat line there are a few things that jump out at me. Among the five regular Oiler defenders (Klefbom, Benning, Larsson, Nurse, Russell), Klefbom is second in unblocked shot attempt percentage and second in shot percentage, but he’s last in goals for percentage. When you drill down into what is really wrong with Oscar’s season, the biggest issue appears to be the fact that he has an on-ice save percentage of just .901 behind him. It’s the lowest of all the Oiler defenders.

On-Ice Save Percentage is one half of the combination that makes up the stat known as PDO (named after the user who devised it). PDO is an expression of luck, essentially. It’s the shooting percentage and save percentage while a particular player is on the ice and it combines very closely to 1.000 (or 100 depending on how you record your numbers). For reasons the universe likes to keep secret, the pull to 1.000 is incredibly strong. Klefbom’s PDO is 0.971 this year. Last season, the only defensemen (min 1000 minutes) with a lower PDO were Ekblad, Krug, Gostibehere, Martinez, Tyutin, and Muzzin.

It’s also very difficult to make the claim that skaters can control the save percentage of their goaltenders. Nobody has been able to link defensemen to tangible, repeatable changes in save percentage. So if someone insists that’s the case then they have to provide some real evidence for it. This would mean that Oscar Klefbom is not to blame for Cam Talbot’s problems behind him, even if it’s Hockey tradition to blame the defence for the shortcomings of the netminder.

MONEY TROUBLE

Oct 19, 2017; Chicago, IL, USA; Edmonton Oilers defenseman Oscar Klefbom (77) blocks a shot against the Chicago Blackhawks center Artem Anisimov (15) during a game at United Center. Mandatory Credit: Patrick Gorski-USA TODAY Sports

But if we ignore the fact that this is Klefbom’s first bad season AND the fact that it seems to be heavily influenced by things that are out of his control (injury and questionable goaltending, we STILL haven’t touched on maybe the most compelling reason why trading Klefbom is a terrible idea. The NHL is governed by a Salary Cap and Chiarelli has placed Edmonton into a tough place moving forward because he’s definitely overpaid for Russell and Lucic, he probably overpaid for Draisaitl, he’s rightfully paying McDavid a league-high salary, and injury has reduced Sekera’s rate of return to negative value. With Nurse and Benning also needing new contracts along with several others, money is tight. Oscar Klefbom is a valuable contract.

Klefbom makes just $4.167M on the cap for the duration of his prime years. He is 24 today and is signed for 5 more seasons. The Salary Cap is potentially going up to 80 million next year. The likelihood that the Oilers will find a defenseman who can play 23 minutes a night, on both special teams, and move the puck at less than Klefbom’s salary is pie-in-the-sky dreaming. There’s no guarantee the Oilers can even sign Nurse to a lower salary.

Because the Oil are paying so many players at or above full market value, the team needs to find under-valued contracts. Over the next 5 years, the chance of Klefbom NOT returning value for that contract is extremely low. Even this year where his personal shooting percentage is half his career average and his PDO is in the tank, it’s hard to argue that Klefbom isn’t playing like a four-million-dollar defender. That’s before we even get into what Chiarelli thinks four million buys on defence.

When it comes to the prospect of trading Oscar Klefbom, I ‘m not surprised this is something Chiarelli would consider. He, of all NHL GMs, has a history of bailing on good young players at the first sign of trouble. He’s extremely prone to falling for the wild swings of PDO. Overall, he’s generally bad at his job. However, playing Klefbom through an injury for the sake of showcasing him is just as bad an idea as trading him at all. And trading him is just a really, really bad idea. I mean, unless you can get a signed Karlsson.

  • RJ

    Matt:

    “Difficult claim that skaters impact the save percentage of their goalies behind them…”

    I do recall seeing a shot/goal distribution chart from Dubnyk in his last season as an Oiler and his first as a Wild when he was nominated for the Vezina.

    Basically, it was clear that the defence was a tire fire. Tons of High-danger scoring chances and goals on the Oiler side, and many fewer HDSCs and GF as a Wild.

    I guess the question to be asked is whether anyone is charting the HDSCA and comparing this season to last.

    • I think the issue is the claim that *individual* skaters impact save percentage. Team-level systems probably do have an impact on save percentage (as do environments goalie coaching – all of which likely played a factor in Dubnyk’s renaissance in Minnesota) but individual players don’t seem to have much of an impact at all.

  • Ginbaby

    I think criticizing is anything about this GM is fair and if he loses a Klefbom trade he should be shown the door and not get another job. However, this is only speculation from an insider who are right like 15% of the time? I think we all need to put down our collective pitchforks and flaming torches and just see what unfolds. Articles like this feed the collective rage of this fan base but isn’t that the point? This isn’t The Athletic, it is a fan site run by fans for fans so it doesn’t have to be objective. Matt is a master of rousing our shared vehemence over arguably the most disappointing season in recent memory and that is some accomplishment. I am in Edmonton from Vancouver Island to watch the game tonight, LET’S GO OILERS!!!

  • CMG30

    Typical bottom feeder operation. Stick with a kid through the learning curve then ship him out at a loss just as he’s approaching his prime years ’cause he had a down year. Watch him win cups in his new city. Complain we can’t have nice things.

  • Oilerfromthestart

    Chia must be a plant… By the Flames, the Russians or maybe Betman. You would have to have a plan devised to deplete the team of its young talent, mess with their cap space and sign anchors to weigh them down for years to come. If somebody sees him talking to Ferrence, for the love of God jump in and run interference.