Andrej Sekera is down. Again. Likely for the season.
Where to from here?
The best answer is to add a comparably versatile second pair defenseman to replace Seksy.
An Achilles injury is almost certainly an LTIR (long term injured reserve) situation, and players on LTIR give you a certain measure of cap relief. It’s possible to access that cap relief to add a good player.
The challenge to doing this is there aren’t many (maybe no?) high quality defenseman left on the market. Franson? Garrison? Enstrom?
Here’s a list of available free agent defensemen, if you’re interested.
Are they good enough? Can they be acquired in the cap available? If they do sign, it’s still going to be a headache, because the cap relief you get from LTIR is complicated to access and manage. That’s doubly true for the Oilers with their complex bonus overage issues.
It’s possible, but I’m not sure it’s viable.
The other possibility is to trade for a defenseman, but … seriously … doesn’t that thought scare the crap out of you? Chiarelli, speed dial #1 on every NHL GMs phone, even more desperate for a defenseman than the time he traded two top picks for Griffin Reinhart?
Nope, I’m not even going to go there. I’m way too fond of the Nuge to see him traded for Pulock.
Youth Will be Served
Another option is to pour a little whiskey, lean back, and once again let the youth do their thing. Lefties Caleb Jones and William Lagesson may both be ready for 3rd pair duties (I’m not so optimistic about Gravel, but he’s there). Alternatively, move Russell to his natural left side and bring in righties Ethan Bear or Evan Bouchard.
I’ll be blunt – I do not like this idea.
This is something the Oilers have been doing forever – moving young players up too early (because they don’t have enough NHL players on the roster) and not giving them good quality veteran support (because they don’t have enough NHL players on the roster). Then watching them, and the team, struggle as a result.
I mean hey, if a young player earns a spot because he vaults over someone good, that’s perfect. They’ve arrived in the NHL. Welcome aboard!
But gifting spots to ill-prepared youngsters because your NHL roster lacks depth, that’s what bad teams do, and keep doing, as part of the process of staying bad.
I dunno, maybe try something new for a change?
To which I’ll throw some thoughts (and some supporting stats) on what the Oilers maybe should consider doing, which is …
Bring Back Davy!
I can hear you now. “Really? ‘New’? This is the best you can do? Bring the guy back for a *third* go round?”
Well … assuming he’s willing to sign with his hometown team again, yeah.
At this point, the remaining
survivors defensemen are Klefbom, Larsson, Nurse, Benning, and Russell. (Assuming Nurse gets signed … which goes from important to necessary now).
When Klefbom had two shoulders and Larsson was not grieving, KlefLar were a solid top pair who held their own against everyone they needed to. They’ll be counted on to do that again.
I think that was true before Sekera got injured. It’s unquestionably the case now.
That leaves Nurse and Benning as the obvious second pair.
Obvious? Even over Russell?!? Yeah.
I’ve written in a previous article on Benning’s solid numbers. Despite the fact that he looks a little slow out there and his defence is questionable, he’s a smart player who makes good decisions, and consistently helps get the puck moving in the right direction.
The result is that the Oilers outshoot and outscore the opposition when Benning is on the ice, a result that, importantly, perseveres even when McDavid is not!
That effect is even more noticeable when Nurse and Benning are a pair. They played only about an hour and a half together last year (about half as much data as I wish I had), but the results were stellar: CF% 58%, DFF% 59% (DFF, or Dangerous Fenwick, is my own version of a shot-based expected-goals-style metric), and GF% 83%.
(Note: all data is from my own database, the one behind PuckIQ.com. So if you find any errors you can point the finger straight at me, at which point I will blame Bettman and SAP)
You want to know the best part? Again, the stellar numbers part stayed true, even without McDavid: CF% 56%, DFF 58%, GF% 86%.
If you’re familiar with the PuckIQ “WoodMoney” methodology developed by Darcy McLeod (Woodguy), Zsolt Munoz (OilFanInYYC) and I for estimating Quality of Competition, I’ll note that PuckIQ numbers show that Nurse and Benning also held their own even against top flight competition.
Again, let me remind you that the data volume here ranges from small to incomprehensibly tiny, especially when sliced into WOWY or QoC buckets, so it’s far from a sure thing that the numbers will persevere.
But for me, it’s enough to bias the bet. I would hand the second pair reins to Nurse ‘n’ Benny next year and challenge them to keep delivering those solid results.
That leaves Russell and the newly reacquired Davidson to save the day!
Actually, saving the day may not really be the point.
We don’t have much data on this pair – they spent just 15 minutes together. But they did just fine in those fleeting moments (CF% 53%, DFF% 84%, no goals for or against).
Again, this is a tiny amount of data, but at least it’s not negative. I mean hell, if you put me out there for fifteen minutes of NHL ice time, you’d likely get a stats line of CF% 0, DFF% 0, 30 goals against, and that’s not even mentioning the fact that every shift would end with me curled up in the corner in a fetal position, sobbing.
Anyway, Davidson is not like a box of chocolates. He can play the game. Sometimes he’s really good, sometimes he’s not so good. But he can play.
Enough digital ink has been spilled complaining about Krussell. Yes, he’s paid too much and played too high. But he’s a capable third pair guy, so just put him out there and let him do his Nitty Gritty Starfish thing, OK?
The really important thing to me is that there’s at least a non-zero amount of evidence (however small) that they can be a good third pairing, but maybe just as importantly, they put a legitimate NHL roadblock in front of the young guys.
Remember that idea that a young player earns a spot by vaulting over someone who can play the game? That’s what a Davy-Russell pair represents.
That’s what I would do. Davidson should be available, and he should be affordable under the available cap and LTIR relief.
That might leave the Oilers with a defence that would be capable most nights.
It’s not the only solution by any means. There may be help out on the UFA market or an “actually good” trade to be made. But it’s an issue that does need to be addressed.
Even after adding a defenseman, it’s still a razor-thin depth situation, with one (more) injury wrecking everything (that isn’t already wrecked).
I’ve laid out the rationale and the evidence for why I think The Return of B Davy is a reasonable avenue. I hope whatever the actual solution the Oilers decide to go with, it has a little bit of thought and a little bit of evidence to back it up.