64
Photo Credit: Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports

Sorting out the Oilers’ logjam on the blueline

While the Oilers have a clear need on their blueline, a puck-mover who can produce offence from the point, the team does boast a tremendous amount of defensive depth. As it stands, the team has a clear top-six with regular NHLers and a wealth of talented prospects in Bakersfield pushing for NHL gigs.

Ken Holland travelled to San Diego to watch the Condors play in their second-round series with Anaheim’s farm squad. He got a bird’s eye view of the Baby Oilers’ wild 7-6 win over the Gulls and spoke quite a bit about the team’s young defencemen.

“Obviously Evan Bouchard is here. I thought as the game wore on and the team got behind in the third period, coach Jay Woodcroft played Bouchard almost every second shift. He can generate offence from the back end and you could see his confidence grow as he was getting out there more and more. I saw a lot of him in junior last year. I know he’s a real good prospect.

It was my first look at Ethan Bear. I thought he played well. He got hurt in the third period but he played well. Caleb Jones played well. He’s a mobile puck-moving defenseman and you could see what he has to offer.

I liked William Lagesson. He’s a good player. He’s maybe the most important defenceman on the team down here. He’s a 23-year-old. He’s at a good age. That’s young enough to have the upside yet old enough to have some experience.”

As we know from Holland’s days with the Red Wings, he has no issue with keeping players down in the AHL for longer than expected to hone their craft. That means we could easily see all four of Bakersfield’s current young blueliners, Bouchard, Bear, Jones, and Lagesson, back with the team next year rather than in the NHL.

But what the depth does is allow for Holland to sell from a position of strength, the blueline, in order to build a position of weakness, which is offence up front. So, with that in mind, how should the Oilers navigate their logjam on the blueline?

The Leftorium

Oscar Klefbom: Signed for four more years at $4,167,000. Klefbom is the team’s best defenceman and he’s locked into a very team-friendly deal. We all saw what happened to the team when he got injured last season. It’s hard to imagine a situation in which the Oilers are better off without him.

Darnell Nurse: Signed for one more year at $3,200,000. Nurse enjoyed a breakout season for the Oilers, putting up 41 points over 82 games. He’s got one more year left on his bridge deal, and if he has another season like he did last year, he’s going to command a massive raise.

Andrej Sekera: Signed for two more years at $5,500,000. Sekera has missed the majority of the last two seasons due to injury. When he made his return last season, though, he was rock solid. Though Sekera is pricey at his current cap hit, he proved he’s still a capable veteran defender.

Kris Russell: Signed for two more years at $4,000,000. The controversial Russell continues to be solid for the Oilers in a defensive role, but he’s overpaid at $4 million annually as a third-pairing defender.

Brandon Manning: Signed for one more year at $1,175,000. A strange pre-deadline acquisition by Peter Chiarelli, Manning was buried in the minors just a few weeks into his Oilers career. If he isn’t bought out or moved, it’s safe to say he’ll be buried again.

Caleb Jones: One more year on entry-level deal. Jones came up last season and was impressive during his cup of coffee. He’s spent two full years in the AHL and seems ready to make the jump to the NHL.

William Lagesson: One more year on entry-level deal. Lagesson played his first season in North America this year and his strong play put him on the map as a top prospect. Though Holland really praised Lagesson, I would imagine he’s behind Jones on the depth chart.

The Righties

Adam Larsson: Signed for two more years at $4,166,666. While the price to acquire him was massive, Larsson has been a rock on the right side of the Oilers’ top pair. He and Klefbom form a very solid pairing.

Matt Benning: Signed for one more year at $1,900,000. While Benning gets a lot of criticism, he’s a thoroughly solid bottom-pairing defender. He thrived last year when his role was limited to ~15 minutes a night and had the best plus/minus on the team.

Joel Persson: Signed for one more year at $1,000,000. An out-of-nowhere signing, Persson has put up prolific numbers in the Swedish Hockey League in back-to-back seasons. It’ll be interesting to see how he transitions to North America next year.

Evan Bouchard: Three more years on entry-level deal. Bouchard is Edmonton’s best prospect right now. He looked solid in the NHL before getting sent back to the OHL, he dominated in Junior, and now he’s played a key role on Bakersfield. It’ll be hard not to have him on the team next season.

Ethan Bear: One more year on entry-level deal. Bear dealt with some injuries this year, but he perfectly profiles as the offence-producing defenceman the Oilers need. He put up 31 points in 52 games for Bakersfield in his second professional season last year.

What does it all mean?

As I said, Holland isn’t the type who’s itching to get all of Edmonton’s prospects into the NHL as soon as possible. The team has a very clear top-six blueline right now featuring Klefbom-Larsson, Nurse-Benning, and Sekera-Russell, which gives the organization an opportunity to allow all of Jones, Bouchard, Bear, and Lagesson more time to develop in Bakersfield.

Still, while that’s a valid strategy, the Oilers have an opportunity to solve some of their problems up front by using their defensive depth as an asset. Ideally, you can move out Russell or Sekera to free up cap room to help make additions up front. But if that isn’t possible, the Oilers can explore moving one of their other defensemen for quality forwards.

Evan Bouchard, Ethan Bear, or Joel Persson might be the player right away to fill into the role as the puck-moving defender who can produce offence. If that’s the case, it makes Matt Benning available to trade. Benning isn’t spectacular, but he’s a capable bottom-pairing, right-handed defender. Surely you could find a team willing to swap a middle-six forward for him.

The more interesting one to think about, though, is selling high on Darnell Nurse. He’s coming off a career year and is in need of a new contract next July. If he has another 40-point year, he could easily command more than $6 million on his next deal. With depth like Jones and Lagesson behind him on the left side, it’s feasible to deal Nurse for a high-quality forward. While Benning may not net you much in return, Nurse should return a good, young, established NHL forward.

While there’s certainly merit behind standing pat to let the prospects develop, the Oilers might be best to sell high on some of their blueliners in order to solve other issues on their roster.

  • SLURVE

    Nurse is the only defenceman that is not like the rest on the Oilers. He is tough , big, fast, can score, mean, can defend well, and is willing to fight. I believe he is a legit number 2 dman as a first pairing and is only scratching the surface. He will command a big pay after next year. I would trade either Klefbom or Larsson before I trade Nurse.

    • KootenayDan

      Agree Nurse in 5 years will be a beast he is still arrowing up in his development besides if Looch is moved we need that toughness and ornery presence that Klef does’nt have.

    • Arfguy

      I would rather they trade the hefty Larsson contract before trading Nurse. I understand what Nurse might command, but I think Larsson is more expendable. I know that weakens the right side, but I think they can rely on their strong left side and find someone at a lesser price to fill the right side. If I had to choose between Nurse or Klefbom, though…I’d choose Klefbom to trade. I find Nurse can adapt better to the requirements of a NHL defencemen now than Klefbom can.

      • All Ice

        This would be repeating the past. We’ve consistently traded our best right D thinking we’ll be fine and it always turns into a disaster that needs to be filled again

        • Arfguy

          Oh no, I’m not saying that Larsson would not be replaced. I’m just saying, I think there are cheaper options than Larsson. I personally think that the Oilers need a veteran presence to be paired with each of the younger defencemen. Adam McQuaid will be going to be UFA next year. I don’t think he would cost as much as Larsson. I actually like Tim Heed a lot. Right-shot defencemen who will be UFA and will not be that expensive.

          I have no problem with keeping Larsson on the roster. I’m just saying, if we were considering trading defencemen to save cap space or what have you, the easiest target would be Larsson. I like Larsson. I don’t want him gone. On the other hand, Sekera and Russell are harder to trade than Larsson, due to their contract stipulations.

          Klefbom has a longer and more team-friendly contract. Based on what I have seen the last couple of seasons, I like Nurse better than Klefbom. So for me, the order in which I would trade if I absolutely had to would be 1. Larsson 2. Klefbom 3. Nurse

    • toprightcorner

      Last year Nurse was asking for more than $5 mill a year for a long term deal. He had a breakout season, much do to getting Klefboms PP minutes and more time on the ice with McDavid. If he even equals last years totals, he will be asking for $6.5+ mill for a long term deal. Lat year Trouba got $5.5 mill in arbitration with less pts and TOI than Nurse. Trouba is looking for $7 mill this season and barely outscored Nurse. Nurse is terrible at moving the puck and there is no way you can pay a dman that much if he cant transition the puck. Now is the time to trade him. he has 1 more year as a value contract so that ups his value even more. Maybe another team sees him as a top pairing dman, and the Oilers could get a great return.

      He could get a 30 goal scorer or a RD that can move the puck better.

      • Big Nuggets

        I hear what your saying about not being able to move the puck that well, but would still probably rather pay him than trade him. It’s just reality that the cap goes up and salaries go up with it. If you still think a good defenceman only gets payed 4 million a season you are behind the times.

        Also RD are more valuable than LD so so the idea of trading him for a RD that can move the puck better sounds more like fantasy, unless this hypothetical RD has other flaws in his game that make it a wash. We are still yet to see what Nurse looks like with a partner that moves the puck well. I have a feeling Nurse will be wonderful compliment to Bouchard when he breaks into the league. Especially considering Bouchards weakness is skating and that is Nurses strong point. Also it’s good to have a defenseman that can throw down when your bringing in a bunch of young players into the league. I’m still far more in favour of keeping Nurse on the team.

    • fasteddy

      The only issue is the bridge deal…if they could have gotten him 5-8 x $5mill ish would have been better. The bridge almost never works in team favour, only beneficial if they are really close to going deep then can delay the larger hit.

  • Protect the Future

    Well, I agree we have depth coming up but you cant pin our goals against only on poor goal tending. Even when healthy our top pairing is average. Top pairings should produce more points. I would also trade either oscar or adam before darnell.

  • OriginalPouzar

    William Lagesson is NHL ready – he has been developed perfectly post-draft – two season in college, one in the top Swedish league and then a full season in the AHL.

    He is a “new age” Jason Smith or “new age” Adam Larsson – a defensive d-man that is a plus and aggressive defender but also a good skater and a solid puck mover with decent offensive instincts.

    While I agree that the org likely has Jones ahead of him due to his skating and transition game, I personally put Lagesson on the same level of NHL readiness – he likely starts in Bakersfield and Jones in the NHL next year but he will get his chance and he may never see the AHL again – he’s going to be a fan favorite.

    • Moneyball

      I am bullish on legason but not as much as you are. He could make the team but be a very weak dman. Have to wait for training camp. I think jones is much more capable of making the jump.

  • Clayton

    The problem I see with the ‘depth’ in the Oilers D is that they lack a bonafide #1/2 pairing and have a lot of #3/4 guys. Nurse MAY develop into a solid #2, but can the Oilers afford to keep him after next year? How do the Oilers parlay some of the depth into guys that can actually run a top pairing?

    • Beer

      July first 2020, Sek’s and Russel submit a list, which makes them tradeable. Trading them now for the sake of it is not prudent. The young guy’s can be rotated back and forth from the farm. I am only guessing, but Holland see’s that. Could be worse, they didn’t hire Austin Powers as GM, like T.O. did.

  • Beer

    Klef’s and Sek are our best D in my mind, but they’re inability to stay healthy for a full season are a problem. A larger concern is when things nastier in the playoffs, those two won’t last four rounds of playoff hockey.

  • OriginalPouzar

    Unfortunately there is a typo above and Manning’s contract is for $2.25M – his cap hit is apx $1.1M when he’s buried in the minors. They can probably retain $1M and trade him – no change to the cap than burying him in the AHL but gets rid of him on the 50 contract and he won’t take up space in Bakersfield where space will be at a premium next year.

  • OriginalPouzar

    You’ve got Jones listed on the left side depth chart which is fair enough as he does shoot left but note that he has played almost exclusively the right side as a pro – for almost two full seasons.

    He was great on the right side in the NHL in 3rd pairing minutes with Gravel. When bumped up to top 4 minutes, with Larsson, he switched to his left side and struggled – of course, that is primarily due to the tougher minutes.

    I’m generally against d-men playing their offside – with few exceptions there is a decrease in effectiveness – in particular moving the puck out with speed.

    I’m not sure their plans for Jones – perhaps he is one of the few that doesn’t see a drop off on their off side? Tough to project that at the NHL level though.

    • All Ice

      Thought this as well. That makes Bear, Jones and Bouchard all possibilities for the right side. I think that makes Russel the most expendable. Useful enough to get a useful winger back and enough cap hit that it would help us if he was moved. I like Russel more than a lot of people seem to but his puck movement out of the zone is awful and any of these younger guys can do that better

    • All Ice

      May be true but the collapse that happened when klef got injured shows we can’t afford to get rid of him yet. When he gets injured again some season (an unfortunate reality) and we don’t collapse then we can afford to move him

  • FISTO Siltanen

    If Nurse has another 40+ points next season you’ll still be able to sell high as he has two years till UFA. Why would you sell now when defense is so important in today’s NHL?

    • IRONman

      Trade Sekera. Then Russel. Then Klefbom. Old guys gotta go. Young fast league. Nurse and Bouchard are the future period. Klefbom and Larsson are solid 2nd pair. Let’s see what Holland does. I would bring Bouchard up as long as Seattle can’t steal.

  • billsbills

    Sell high on Nurse? You got that wrong. He’s 24, big, played less than 300 games and is trending up after. .5 ppg season. You make that trade now and in two years you sold low on a guy who, with the way he can skate, will likely have a 20 year NHL career.

    Nurse is not the guy to trade. Want to sell high on someone with value, it is Klefbom. Has a team friendly deal yes but makes more than nurse this year and by the end of next season, will likely be passed by Nurse on the depth chart.

    Dealing a couple of left side prospects may be the best option. Find a guy other teams are selling low in and help the middle six.

  • OriginalPouzar

    Of course, moving Russell out is a priority this off-season – we simply need a real 2RD – a two year stop gap to allow the prospects to develop (Stralman for two years – a fantasy though).

    While we need an upgrade at 2RD in the short term, we shouldn’t be moving any incumbent d-men in the name of making room for the prospects. The prospects need to prove their NHL effectiveness prior to moving the veteran and, of course, NHL teams will end up using 10 plus d-men in a normal regular season.

    Each of Jones, Bear and Lagesson will get their NHL reps next year, even without moving out an incumbent, and I’m excited for it.

    • OriginalPouzar

      On that note, the organization does need to make sure they get an NHL look at all 3, even if the veterans stay relatively healthy and play well as a group. All 3 lose their waiver exemption after this season so decisions will need to be made on all 3 next off-season. Next off-season we will see a larger turnover of personnel on the back-end.

      Nurse’s contract negotiations next off-season are red herring as well.

    • The Whispererer

      Persson also needs a look-see.

      Do you think that the rights to players like Hawkey, Marino, Rasanen, Berglund, etc. have any value as sweeteners in trade deals ? Columbus, for example, looks very lean in the goalie prospects department and with Bobrovsky’s impending departure a player like Hawkey might be worth a mid-round pick to them.

      • All Ice

        I’m not sure we have the goaltending depth to be trading him away. I know we have a lot of prospects in the pro levels but how many are looking like impact guys? Hawkeye should get a shot at the pro level and maybe move one of the guys that’s had a couple seasons but has yet to show?

  • RJ

    At some point you have to ask whether Klefbom owns a piece of this website given the spin from ON bloggers.

    He was brutal two seasons ago but ON writers completely ignored it. They kept up with the spin on Klefbom’s offensive abilities until he’s outscored by Nurse.

    Let some other team deal with Klefbom’s brittleness.

  • ed from edmonton

    The obvious names that keep being brought up are Sekera and Russel as being the most expendable as they are both too expensive for what they bring to the team. There is no doubt they can both play NHL quality minutes and therefore there may be a market for them. But they both of hefty contracts and NMC of sorts making them unlikely to fetch anything in a trade, indeed something might need to be added to sweeten the trade and retaining salary is pretty much a given.

    Moving any of the other lefties is a ;possibility. BS will tell us Klefbom is as important to the OIl success as McD, but he has almost never played more than 60 games in a season. Nurse is a rising star and would fetch a great return, if not traded he will be the Oil’s most expensive D man when he gets his next contract. Any of Jones, Lagesson or Smaroukov could be moved but risky as no one knows exactly how good they might (or might not be).

    With the premium on righties I wouldn’t think any RHD would be moved unless a righty is coming back.

    How Holland handles this will be one of his 1st tests. Next clearing up the goalie mess his biggest task this summer.

    PS You forgot about Samaroukov.

  • The Oilers have to make a deal to get a true top pairing stud who can play 25 min a game and get rid of some of the Oilers collection of 3-8 position d-men they have now. It won’t come cheap but what they played last year contributed to them missing the playoffs, yet again. Bouchard looks to be a beast but he should be still 1 year away.

  • JimmyV1965

    I don’t get the idea of trading Nurse while his value is high. That implies he’s reached some kind of peak, which isn’t remotely true. He can and will improve even more. Good players get paid. That’s the deal and that’s what you do. You don’t trade good young players because they’re going to get paid. That’s insanity. If Chia hadn’t totally pooched the cap, we could have signed him long term last year. Chia is the gift that keeps on giving.

  • Kevwan

    I’m sure this will get trashed but I would look at moving Caleb Jones.

    Even when Sekera or Russell gets traded the long term top 2 LD will be Klef and Nurse. The very reasons that Caleb is a viable option for the Oilers (skill and cost) make him attractive to other teams.

    How about a family reunion in Columbus? Caleb and Lucic for Atkinson.

      • Kevwan

        You’re probably right. Might have gotten him last off season as Torts made him a healthy scratch for a game during then 17-18. Only 46 points that year.

        If not that specific deal then something else. Columbus would be good place to start.

  • Arfguy

    I watched some of the highlights featuring Joel Persson and I would be very leery of his effectiveness as a NHL defenceman. I see him as a power play specialist. Every highlight I have seen thus far, it shows him getting goals and assist in what looks like power play set ups. From the very small sample size, Persson’s points came off the man advantage due to the power play or last minute of play with the goalie out. I have yet to see goals or assists that were a result of a rushes at even strength.

    I am not ruling him out and I’m not saying that Persson does not have use in the NHL, but I would be very cautious to pin any amount of hopes on him.

  • Big Nuggets

    My plan on defence would be in 2 years time bring in 3 or more of the young defensemen and keep 3 veterans. Without any trades that would mean something like
    Nurse Bouchard
    Klef Larsson
    Lagesson Jones
    Bear

    Although this offseason I think they should trade out Russell and Benning and try to bring in a good RD and a Brad Hunt type stop gap. For example Anton Stralmen or Tyler Myers, who are free agents this season or trade for someone else. Then next offseason hopefully Sekera’s trade value will be higher and the option of trading Klef or Larsson opens up depending on who’s playing well or injuries and whatnot. I would still keep Nurse personally although I know some would trade him.

    Trading Russell and Benning would help get some new forwards on the team although the salary cap is tight so Holland is going to have to GM is a$$ off.

  • Mike Modano's Dog

    I agree with a LOT of people on this site – DON’T TRADE NURSE! He’s big, tough, fast, mean, and he can put up points when you put him in a position to. He’s only going to get better too. In my mind he is our #1 D-man, not Klefbom…who is unfortunately too brittle.

    I would buy out Brandon Manning. Get him off the books, off the 50-man protected list and away from the team.

    I think we should try to trade Sekera, who is still useful but can be moved now at his age and cap hit, as well as Russell.

    IF we can’t move the above two d-men then I see what is out there for Klefbom to get a quality forward. Keep in mind to me Nurse is our #1 D-man, and we don’t have to trade Klefbom if we are able to move Sekera and/or Russell to help with the salary cap and to improve our forwards.

    Whatever happens, I’m glad we have Ken Holland to sort this all out – just please don’t trade Nurse!

  • toprightcorner

    The player that will probably get traded is Nurse and I will tell you why it makes sense.

    Last year Nurse wanted over $5 mill on a long term deal. He was in a perfect position for a breakout season with Klefbom and Sekera both injured. He played top pairing minutes, was on the ice a lot with McDavids line and was on the PP. That boosted his offense. If he scores 35-40 pts again this season, he will be looking for a minimum of $6.5 mill on a long term deal. Last year Trouba got $5.5 in arbitration and didn’t have the numbers that Nurse had this past year. Trouba barely outscored Nurse this year and is looking for $7 mill long term.

    Nurse is a very good dman and a fantastic skater. The issue is that he cannot transition the puck and that is a requirement in today’s NHL. He will never be a top pairing player unless he is partnered with an elite dman that is an exceptional puck mover. Even then, he is not worth anywhere near $6.5 mill a year. For that type of salary, you can have a much better puck mover that can be a top pair player.

    The reason why you trade Nurse is that he has a year left of a value contract before he is an RFA, that increases his value even more. It also means there is a better chance at getting a player in return that is also on a value contract.

    You could trade Nurse for a dman that is a much better puck mover as that is what the Oilers desparately need. You could also trade Nurse for a 30+ goal scorer.

    Nurse cannot transition the puck and the Oilers desperately need more dmen that can move the puck quickly. I would say that a better puck moving dman or a 30 goal scorer is more valuable to the Oilers than Nurse, especially with so many quality prospects that are ready or close to being in the NHL.

    Offensive dmen trade targets

    Gostisbehere – Is a 60+ pt player and is a value contract of $4.5 mill until 2023. I would even add a sweetner to get that value contract. PHI wants to add size and toughness to their backend and have Provorov and Sandhiem as offensive dmen that started taking over Ghostbears PP time.

    Provorov – If they want to keep Ghostbear, then try to get Provorov. He is an RFA so would be the same cost as Nurse but fills a need for better transitioning and PP QB.

    Severson – RD, great puck mover, same age, $4.6 mill to 2023. It basically is a trade to get a top pair RD. Better fit for Oilers.

    Colin Miller – Falling out of favour in LV and is only $3.875 until 2022. RD, great all around puck mover and is behind Nate Schmidt on depth chart. He becomes Oilers top pairing RD.

    Forwards to target

    Gallager – RW, 30 goal scorer, $3.75 until 2021. MTL needs defense and would like to add toughness.

    Elhers – RW/LW, 30 goal scorer, speedster. WPG need to move some forwards and cap space out, Connor and Laine are RFA. will probably trade Trouba as too expensive and Meyers is UFA

    Athanasiou – 30 goal scorer, speedster. DET badly needs defense and have Larkin, Mantha and Bertuzzi, so maybe would make a trade.

    • SnowMan8

      Replace nurse name with klefbom. I would love to have Gallager in a oiler uniform. Highly doubtful Montreal parts with him. Gallager is a huge part of that team I would be shocked if the let him go. I would do klefbom straight across though. Same goes for gostisbehere.

  • TKB2677

    The NHL has gone to needing dmen that can skate. You need your defense to be able to move the puck but also skate the puck out and join the rush and provide some offense. The Oilers lack that so trading Nurse, one of the few dmen they have that can do that would be nuts. Factor in he’s big, nasty and mean and even though his value is high. On top of that, he’s tight with McDavid and Leon. Trading Nurse would be insane.

  • TKB2677

    I know the media guys love Sekera and I don’t really have a problem with him but he’s 33, never been fast, coming off 2 major leg injuries and he makes 5.5 mill. If you are making that much, you need to be in your teams top 3, he’s not able too. If you can off load Sekera, you 100% have too. Same goes for Russell. I don’t have a problem with him. I think he’s an easier trade than Sekera but if the Oilers defense improves, he’s your #5. You have to get rid of him for the salary. If you think you need a vet dman, you can go out and get a vet dman or 2 and it doesn’t have to cost you 9.5 mill.

    You just let Manning sit in the minors. You get just over 1 mill in cap relief if he stays in the minors. If you can trade him, you do it but I don’t see how. I would loan him to another AHL team if someone would have him. Regardless, if you can’t trade him, you hold on and let him disappear.

    I would trade Benning. I have no issue with him. He’s a 3rd pairing guy that can give you OK mins. But he doesn’t do anything spectacular. His issue is his skating. He’s not fast. They need more speed and puck moving on defense. You have to open up roster spots. If he was a lefty, no one would be pushing to keep him. If a Sekera/Russell trade happened, you are getting a pick for them. I think you could actually swap Benning out for a useful bottom 6 forward which the Oilers need. I think Jones because of his skating and puck moving, is an upgrade on Benning and will 100% be on the team. But if all you are looking for is a solid defending bottom pairing guy, I think a player like Lagesson, who’s cheaper, moves better and moves the puck slightly better can do that.