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Monday Musings: Oilers Blueline

We are days away from the start of the best 17 days of the NHL calendar. Sure, hoisting the Stanley Cup is the ultimate prize, but it only involves two teams in June. Once the Cup is hoisted by either the Blues or Bruins on Wednesday, then all 31 teams become involved again.

The draft, trades (not just trade deadline rentals) and free agent signings will be the talk of the NHL. And according to long-time NHL General Manager Ken Holland, the trading period heats up a week before the draft and continues to the end of June.

I love it. Don’t get me wrong, I really enjoy watching the playoffs, and the Cup Final has been very entertaining, but the games are only about 150 minutes in length, and with two days off between games I’m not nearly as intrigued as I will be when the trade rumours, actual trades, the draft and the start of free agency.

Let’s look at some names who are very likely to be traded before the end of the month.

1. Phil Kessel. Phil the Thrill can still play. He has a short list of eight teams he can be dealt to without having to waive his no-trade clause, but he scored 92 and 82 points the past two seasons and many teams will be interested. Connor McDavid said Kessel is the best half-wall PP player in the NHL, and any team who acquires him is getting a legit scorer. He turns 32 in December and has three years remaining on his contract. He currently has a $6.8 million cap hit with the Penguins (also $1.2 million on Toronto’s cap), and with 174 points the past two years no one should be worried about his value/cap ratio. He vetoed a trade to Minnesota last month, but I have no doubt he gets moved. He’d be perfect for the Oilers, but unless Ken Holland makes some other moves they don’t have the cap space to fit him in. My wildcard destination is he ends up in San Jose. Doug Wilson is always wheeling and dealing.

2. Jason Zucker will be moved. He’s been almost traded twice in the past four months, but both times the trade didn’t go through. Kessel vetoed the trade to Minnesota, that had Zucker going to Pittsburgh, and at the trade deadline the Calgary Flames were extremely close to acquiring Zucker, but something went awry at the last minute. He is 27 years young with a $5.5 million cap hit for four more seasons. In the last three years he is tied for 46th in goals, and 34th in EV goals among forwards. He can score. Wild GM Paul Fenton is hellbent on trading away forwards (Nino Niederreiter and Charlie Coyle at the deadline) and Zucker is destined to be the third skilled forward traded out of Minnesota in the past five months. I could see him and the Flames making the trade work leading up to the draft.

3. Jacob Trouba and the Winnipeg Jets have had a few tough contract negotiations and I keep hearing they are leaning towards trading him, and trying to re-sign Tyler Myers before he becomes a UFA. Trouba will garner a lot of interest. He was one of only five right-shot defenders to score 50 points last year. He is just entering his prime years and if I was the Jets I’d rather sign him long-term and trade Dustin Byfuglien (34 years of age), but that might not realistic. The rumblings about Trouba, who is American, wanting to play in the USA have been around for years. I reached out to two people in Winnipeg, who are much more tuned into the Jets than I, and they both said Trouba would prefer not to sign long-term in Winnipeg. So the Jets would be smart to move him now and get a hefty return. My wildcard trade is Trouba to Buffalo with Rasmus Ristolainen as the main part coming back.

4. Nikita Zaitsev has asked for a trade and there is some interest. Despite playing for the Maple Leafs, who have scored the second most goals (556) in the NHL the past two seasons, Zaitsev only produced 12 and 13 points. For a comparison, Adam Larsson had 20 and 13 points with the Oilers, who were 22nd in goals scored (458) in the same span. Zaitsev isn’t a great puck mover or a shutdown defender, so acquiring him and his $4.5 million cap hit for five seasons isn’t an easy pill to swallow. I’m told teams are interested, because there is a lack of NHL right shot defenders, but the Leafs will have to sweeten the pot to move him. Trade requests happen more than we realize, but when the player makes it public, often it is the beginning of the end. The Flyers need a RD and have loads of cap space, even after they resign Ivan Provorov and Travis Konecny. Other option is Jim Benning acquires him on day two of the draft and the home crowd in Vancouver serenades the move with a loud chorus of boos.

5. The list of older players with at least three years remaining on their deal, a large cap hit and low production includes Milan LucicLoui Eriksson, Kyle Okposo, Andrew Ladd (all $6m) and James Neal $5.75m. Kyle Turris turns 30 in August and has five years with a $6 million cap hit. Turris only had 23 points (55 games) last season, but he had 51 and 55 the previous two years. Ryan Callahan has one year left at $5.8 million cap hit. He will be easiest to move, due to term. I see three of these players being dealt. I mentioned four weeks ago that the Canucks had discussed a Lucic/Eriksson deal internally. Remember Dave Tippett coached Eriksson in Dallas, and certain coaches can get more out of certain players. Eriksson won’t score 60 points again, but if he could chip in 30 and help on the PK, then I suspect Ken Holland takes a long look.

6. Vegas has to shed salary and still have to sign William Karlsson, Tomas Nosek and Deryk Engelland. I see them dealing Colin Miller and Cody Eakin. Eakin ($3.25M) has one year remaining while Miller has three years at $3.875. He is a right shot D-man and very few teams have three good ones. Miller is a low-end #4, and probably best suited in your third pair, but he can move the puck and help your second unit PP. I’m sure Vegas would like to keep Eakins, but they are in a cap crunch and he’s one year away from being a UFA. Eakins will garner a lot of interest. Vegas has nine picks in the first five rounds, and they’d rather get a young prospect than more picks, but they might have to settle for picks. I see the Devils making a play for Eakins. They want to be more competitive next year, and try to increase their chances of re-signing Taylor Hall.

7. Jesse Puljujarvi will not be traded. Holland will be patient. I think there is a better chance Puljujarvi spends a year in Europe than trading him.

OTHER NOTES…

Daniel Nugent-Bowman had a lengthy interview with Ken Holland. You can read it here (paywall). It is worth your time. A few of Holland’s responses caught my eye.

“It’s hard to have guys that have 70 points like Ryan Nugent-Hopkins does and put him on the third line. I think you’re wasting somebody there,” said Holland in regards to having three top-six forwards, but all are centres.

I love it. The thought of three scoring lines is a nice thought, but very unrealistic to find six scoring wingers to play across the three lines. Load up your top two lines and find a good third line centre, but no one more discussion about RNH on the third line please.

DNB asked him about Darnell Nurse and signing an extension.

“I don’t really know their talent (or) who they are. Who are they? I’ve gotta get to know the person. Do they go to the gym? How much do they sacrifice? How committed are they to fitness? How much to they compete on an every-night basis? Those are the things I look at when I’m making assessments and determinations on contract extensions,” said Holland.

This is a great response. I think at times some underrate the human side of evaluations. Holland wants to get to know the players on his own. He doesn’t want to go off of other’s opinions, without at least having some time to formulate his own. Of course he will have to make some decisions on players without knowing them, but it would be a mistake to make a major move on a player who you think could be here for a long time. He needs to know who can be part of a strong foundation.

He was asked about his shopping list this summer.

“If you look at our defence, we have seven defencemen on one-way contracts. So, I’m not looking to add anything on defence. I’m hoping that we can have a little better luck with injuries to our defence,” he said.

I’ll admit this surprised me a bit. I don’t see how they can start next season with Larsson and Russell as their top-two RD. I think they are too similar and neither is a great puck mover. Maybe they promote Matt Benning. Benning was really strong down the stretch. Holland can’t fix all the holes in one off-season, and he did mention he needs another goalie and some wingers, but I will be surprised if the Oilers go to training camp with the exact same top-six as the past few seasons. He likely will try to trade away at least one of them, and open up a spot for Caleb Jones, Joel Persson or Ethan Bear. *I think Bouchard starts in the minors.**

Which D-man do you think Holland moves? Who would you like him to trade?

Recently by Jason Gregor:

  • Dallas Eakins Hair

    Put Gravel in Benning spot and trade Benning for a winger. Gravel wasnt too bad last year, he is pretty steady and he can let it go from the point. Benning is tire fire half the time. Benning started playing better when Sekera came back, but when Sekra wasn’t here he was terrible. Some team might want Benning trade him for a winger and we save salary Gravel only makes 600k compared to Bennings 1.9mil

    • Rock11

      Benning being a tire fire is demonstrably wrong. His fancies show he is actually better at getting the puck moving forward than most of this D corps and wildly better at it than Russell. Moving Russell is addition by subtraction. I believe Bouchard or Jones could come in game 1 and provide as much value(though in a different way) as Russell. They would also do it for far cheaper and with much more upside.

      • hutch333

        More of the hate for Russell. I’m pretty sure some people just aren’t watching the games because Russell is the exact type of player this team needs more of, he plays his heart out all the time. Every coach he has had in the NHL loves this guy but because of some made up stats people bash him. I just don’t get it.

        • CMG30

          If heart was all it took then Russell would be MVP. Unfortunately we need things like puck moving out of a guy who’s being paid to be a 2nd line D. Chop his salary in half and drop him to the third pairing and watch the complaints go away.

      • Dallas Eakins Hair

        LOL Oscar aka Freddie aka Dave Knows ….Lamers troll, thanks you can keep your advice, I remember when you were going on and on about how deep your Lamers were…and none of your team showed about like every time you get in the playoff, one and done the Lamers motto

    • billsbills

      Let me guess, you also supported Gryba getting extended at over a million per.

      It was a mistake, they bought him out. Gravel is the same situation. He’s a 7th d and should never make more than league minimum and play no more than 20 games of about 8 mins a night maximum.

  • TKB2677

    Do you think that Holland’s response is more so the response of a savy GM trying to make his team look less desperate to make changes on the defense? When Holland was hired, he mentioned the need to play with speed and also the need for the defense to move the puck. Then when you look at the Oilers defense:
    – Sekera, Benning and Larsson aren’t that fast.
    – Benning, Larsson, Russell aren’t very good puck movers.

    So half of his defense severely lack what he said you need. So I just wonder if he is down playing his need just to try to make it so he isn’t so much of a disadvantage trade wise.

    • Quoteright

      He also mentioned he like balance in his pairs, defensive and offensive. He also mentioned system and support from 5 man units as did Tippet. I truly believe the puck moving is a by-product of the blender. Passing is timing and chemistry. You need a target to make a pass.

    • The Rookie

      Larsson paired with Nurse long term could end up being a really nasty duo that frustrates the opposition. I like that thought. But then who do you put with Klefbom. I have a feeling Tippet will be a fan of Russell but I dont think he can afford to play him top pairing minutes. I’d love to see a Klefbom Trouba pairing but…yeah. So I think due to lack of option, Larson has to go on top pair. Or so you think they try to evenly run D pairs and put a Rookie/Benning with Klefbom?

    • billsbills

      Larsson is definitely better suited for second pairing. But he’s the best right shot defender the Oilers have and will likely stay in that position until someone passes him on the depth chart.

    • Connor's Girlfriend

      so who does Klefbom play with outside of Larsson? We really don’t have any first pairing defenceman? Move Nurse to the ride side? You hurt your second pairing. Russell moves up? Benning? None of those guys are first pairing defenceman. Make a trade? I agree. Larsson isn’t a first pairing defenceman. Nobody else is either.

  • Hemmercules

    Holland says he hopes for better luck on the injury front. I think that’s a gamble. Reggie just came off two major surgeries, Klef is pretty much a lock to miss 15-20 games and Russel blocks more rubber than the Oilers goalies do half the time. They need to add a durable puck mover if they can. I dont love Benning, lower in the lineup is fine but when the injuries hit and he gets moved up they are in trouble. I really hope Holland is looking to upgrade the D and just didn’t show his cards.

  • 0W-20

    I would love for Holland to trade Sekera AND Russell (plus Manning but let’s
    be honest and realize only Chiarelli was dumb enough to acquire him). Promote Benning to 2nd pair RD (play with Nurse), slot Persson in on 3rd pair RD and call up Caleb Jones for 3rd pair LD.

    Shedding the cap space misallocated to defencemen not better than 3rd pair

  • TKB2677

    Holland says he won’t necessarily change the defense and he has 7 dmen signed to 1 way deals. They are:
    – Larsson, Nurse, Klefbom, Sekera, Russell, Benning and Persson.

    Then you factor in that he went and watched Jones and raved about him. Jones looks ready. Then you factor in he watched and mentioned Lagesson who looks close. He went and scouted, then watch Bouchard in the AHL. All Bouchard did was put up 8 pts in 8 playoffs games. he raved about Bouchard. Playoffs are when the games are at their hardest so 8 pts in 8 games for a rookie is pretty impressive. So you have to think that Bouchard isn’t that far off. He raved about Samarukov as well. So the numbers don’t add up. Something has to give numbers wise doesn’t?

    So that is why I think he is downplaying the defense. Just to get Jones in who brings everything he says his team needs on defense and who by his own admission looks to be pretty much ready, you have to create a spot for him.

  • Kneedroptalbot

    Klefbolm is the D-man that will most likely be moved. He has value and Oilers desperately need to improve their secondary scoring and speed to compete in the Pacific Division.

    • TKB2677

      In a league where you need good skating, puck moving dmen who bring offense. Why would you want to trade a 25 yr old, good skating, decent puck moving, 30+ pt, big minute playing, play on all special teams dman who’s signed long term to an undervalue contract at under 4.2 mill?

      How does that make any sense what so ever?

    • Dallas Eakins Hair

      Oscar or is it Freddie…or this newest account Dave Knows , you know Lamers troll if you werent getting banned everywhere you wouldnt have to make up new accounts all the time, shouldnt you be more concerned with your Lamers rebuild? Lots of dead weight on that deep team that got bounced hey..

  • ed from edmonton

    Of the three area of a hockey team, goaltending, forwards and defence the Oil defence is the area of least concern. If a high quality puck moving dman somehow shows up, that would be great but a healthy d group from last plus either Person or Jones is a middling group. At the moment the Oil have a guy who put up backup stats being paid like a starter as their only goalie. The foreards include two stars a real solid guy and maybe two legit NHLers. The rest consist of guys who have spent more time in the AHL recently than the NHL, (gagner, cave, rattie, Malone, gambardella) a guy is is obviously too old (Brodziak) and an enigma known as JP. I am pretty sure Holland’s top priority is not the D.

    • Goaltender Interference

      This times a thousand. Say what you want about them, but the Oilers D isn’t what’s sinking the ship. Could they be improved? Absolutely! But with the talent in the pipeline and the experience level of the vets the D is far from the biggest hole to plug.

      Holland’s biggest asset going into this summer is that he’s got a good amount of strong defensive prospects in his arsenal.

  • GoOilersGuy

    As is the D is not in terrible shape. Our overall D looks much different with a healthy Sekera and we have some good options to call up on D. At least one rookie D will make the team out of training camp. That will open up other trade options. I think Holland will just let the D shake out. Goal tending is the priority followed by a scoring winger in which case we need cap space….and that would be the only reason to make a D trade now.

  • Die Hard Oiler Fan

    I agree for the most part. According to General Fanager site Russell will be submitting a list of 10 teams this summer that he would accept a trade to. In addition, while his cap hit is $4M, his actual salary over the next two years (including bonuses) is only $6.5M. Might this type of scenaio interest a team like Ottawa – rebuilding, but with an internal cap that is much lower than the league’s maximum. Ottawa also has a number of young d-mem. Perhaps Russell would be a good mentor for the next two years. I persobally would not care if we got much in return, providing we do not have to retain any of his $4M. As for the Oilers defense, lets give Jones a chance at RD3, and Benning a chance at RD2. This results in a defense that would look something like
    Klefbom – Larssin
    Nurse – Benning
    Sekera – Jones (Sekera should be a good mentor here)
    Persson ?

    The $4M saved can go towards finding at least one winger for Nuge on the second line, and hopefully a decent C3.

  • RJ

    The way I read those comments: He’s telling Nurse to come into next season in his best possible condition, which will help dictate his next contract. If Nurse improves from last season, that only benefits Nurse and the Oilers.

    As it relates to relying on the current corps for next season, it would be silly to keep the same lineup from the past few seasons. But he’s not like MacT telling the world he has to make a bold move, and therefore lose any negotiating flexibility with other managers.

  • billsbills

    My guess is Holland is playing his cards close to his chest. He knows the defense isn’t good enough and is shallow. I would want to move Russell without saying I want to move Russell. It is a savvy move by the GM to say we had bad luck with injuries, our defense is fine. Oh… Well… I would trade a guy but….. The price is a middle six winger under 26.

    • hagar

      I can see klowe and howson calling a meeting with Holland to tell him “hey Holly… dont you think it’s that time of year to go tell the fans everything we need to change this year, and maybe throw some players under the bus to crank up their trade value?” As they high five like it’s the normal thing to do, and they totally burned him for not doing it yet.

  • Clyde Frog

    What are the chances that there is an onetime amnesty buy-out clause within the next CBA? With the inflationary effect of McDavid’s deal and the number of awkward contracts, it seems like there may be a majority of teams that would support such a move.

    Also do think there is any chance they end the CBA early to avoid any cascading effect for Seattle’s inaugural season?

    I guess the question that would stem from the answers, is if we think yes to the amnesty clause does it take pressure off of moving Lucic and part of your future open up 2-3 million in cap space?

    • crabman

      I’m pretty sure the Nurse-Benning 2nd pair was the plan going into this season. I really like Benning as a 3RD but he didn’t play well in the 2RD spot and was a drag on Nurse at the same time. Maybe another year of experience and another offseason of training will change that, especially with Nurse’s improvements, but to bank on that line holding it’s own before proving it can could be a disaster.