It’s now official, Andrej Sekera will miss at least six months after injuring his Achilles while training during the offseason. That leaves the Oilers with five experienced NHL defensemen: Oscar Klefbom, Adam Larson, Darnell Nurse (RFA), Kris Russell, and Matt Benning.
To put it simply: they need another option there. It won’t be enough to pray that one of Evan Bouchard, Ethan Bear, or Kevin Gravel are ready to play.
At this point, I think it’s safe to assume that the Oilers will put Andrej Sekera on long-term injured reserve, which means his $5.5 million cap hit doesn’t count towards to the ceiling.
I don’t think the team can start the season without adding something to their back-end, and they have the money to do so. Trade? Free Agency? Let’s take a look at some options.
The list of UFA defensemen still available is very slim, but there are a few names that could interest Peter Chiarelli.
LUCAS SBISA: Sbisa spent 30 games with the Vegas Golden Knights last season and hasn’t signed overseas yet this summer. He played 400 minutes at even strength, while rarely starting in the offensive zone, and facing fairly tough competition. He can be a solid PK option and did rack up 14 points in his 30 game stint with the Knights. He was once viewed as a good young defenseman when he was with the Ducks and was being coached by current Oilers Assistant Trent Yawney. Then he got a bad reputation in Vancouver, but still, he might be the best free agent option.
ALEXEI EMELIN: He appeared in 76 games with the Nashville Predators last season and has played at least 70 games in each of the last three seasons. He can eat minutes, but his foot speed would be a real concern for me. We know Chiarelli has a history of liking big, physical players and Emelin fits that mold.
CODY FRANSON: A large chunk of Oilersnation has wanted to see Franson in orange and blue for quite some time. He has a history of being a good powerplay option and can hold his own at even strength. I think he might be a decent option given how late it is in the offseason. With all that said, he couldn’t stay in the NHL last season, so that worries me.
BRANDON DAVIDSON: Would Brandon Davidson want to come back to Edmonton for a third stint? I’ve heard that there may be mutual interest and I know Davidson has been hanging around Alberta this off-season. Oilers fans know what Davidson can bring and the organization is comfortable with him.
TOBY ENSTROM: He’s spent his entire career with one organization and now finds himself as an unsigned free agent in the middle of August. He got into 43 games with the Jets last year but didn’t look like the same player due to various injuries. He would need to be healthy and have a bounce-back season to make a positive impact on the Oilers.
JASON GARRISON: I put Garrison last for a reason. After a breakout season with Florida in 2011-12, he went on to have a few more 30 point seasons before fizzling out. This past year, he couldn’t stay in the NHL and spent most of the year with the Chicago Wolves (AHL). We know he has a cannon of a shot, but his ability to actually defend his own side of the ice is a concern for me. The Oilers might like his ability to play on the powerplay though.
Other names: Frank Corrado, Ryan Sproul, Johnny Oduya, and Jakub Jerabek.
It’s slim pickings when it comes to available UFA defensemen. The Oilers won’t get an impact player unless Chiarelli goes out and makes a trade. If the team indeed moves Sekera to LTIR, it will give them enough cap space to go out and make a deal for an impact player. Is that player out there?
I doubt Tyson Barrie is still available out of Colorado. We’ve heard Torey Krug’s name linked to the Oilers, but it’s usually followed up by Oscar Klefbom or Ryan Nugent-Hopkins so that’s not happening. Erik Karlsson WILL NOT waive his NMC to come here. Maybe there’s a name out there that we don’t know is being made available that Chiarelli might be able to pry loose.
The most likely trade, and I use “likely” very loosely because I don’t think a big trade is going to happen, might be found in Carolina. The Hurricanes brought in an elite powerplay defenseman earlier this summer in Dougie Hamilton, and they’ve already made a deal this August by dealing Jeff Skinner to the Sabres. Maybe the Oilers make a call about Justin Faulk.
It goes without saying, the injury to Andrej Sekera is a massive blow. The list of free agents doesn’t feature a single name that could bring what Sekera does to the Oilers. Peter Chiarelli is in a tough spot. A free agent signing won’t make the team much better, he can’t afford to bet on a group of inexperienced d-men to fill the void, and if he goes to the trade market he’ll be sitting in a position of weakness.
Last year we saw a poor start sink the Oilers’ playoff hopes. The team might be doomed to the same fate if they don’t play their cards right over the next few weeks.