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Photo Credit: John Hefti-USA TODAY Sports

Free Agency Preview: Navigating a crowded blueline situation

While the Oilers badly need to do some renovations on their forward group over the off-season, their blueline appears to be pretty much solidified heading into next season. As of right now, it seems the blueline is the position of strength the Oilers can deal from in order to address a position of weakness, which is skill and quality depth up front.

As of right now, Oscar Klefbom and Adam Larsson figure to be the Oilers’ top pair. Darnell Nurse is slowly developing into a top-pairing defenceman and he’s pencilled in nicely to anchor the team’s second pair. Kris Russell and Matt Benning have proved to be very solid when playing third-pairing minutes and Andrej Sekera was excellent in limited minutes after getting activated from the Injured Reserve last year.

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Beyond their NHL group, the Oilers also have a wealth of prospects knocking on the door for an NHL opportunity. Evan Bouchard was dominant in the OHL last year and he’s the right-handed, puck-moving defenceman the team badly needs. Caleb Jones looked comfortable in his cup of coffee last year, Ethan Bear appeared ready to take a spot on the team last year, and William Lagesson had a very strong rookie season in North America. There’s also an under-the-radar name in Joel Persson who could turn heads at camp.

All told, it certainly makes sense for the Oilers to sell from their blueline to add up front. That can come in the form of trading an asset like Benning for a middle-six winger or it can come by dumping a contract like Russell to free up more room to sign free agents.

But before we get into blowing up the Oilers’ blueline in order to make additions up front, we should remember how quickly a couple of injuries can flip things on its head.

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The Oilers’ blueline got dealt a major blow in the off-season last year when it was announced Andrej Sekera would miss a significant chunk of time due to an Achilles injury. Sekera, of course, got hurt in Edmonton’s second-round series against the Ducks in 2017 and it was a major loss for them both in that series and into the following season. The last two seasons have made it clear how valuable Sekera’s presence is on this team.

The second major blow the Oilers’ blueline suffered was when Oscar Klefbom broke a finger after blocking a shot in a game in the middle of December. The Oilers were rocketing up the standings at that time and the loss of Klefbom sent them into a tailspin they would never recover from.

As we saw last year, you’re just an injury to Klefbom and Sekera away from playing Kevin Gravel nearly 20 minutes a night and throwing a rookie like Jones into the deep end.

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The defenceman I’m most comfortable moving in order to free up cap room would be Russell. As I said earlier, he’s quite good when playing on the third pairing, but he starts to struggle when he moves up the lineup. Benning isn’t much different, but right-handed defencemen are a scarcity around the league and he’s much cheaper than Russell is right now.

The Oilers are much deeper on the left side than they are the right side and Sekera’s strong return, I figure, made Russell expendable. The ideal picture for me is Klefbom and Larsson on the top pair, Nurse on the second, and Sekera and Benning on the third. That leaves the Oilers with a spot on the second pair with Nurse for somebody who can move the puck and produce offence.

Given how conservative Holland is with prospects, I expect Bear and Bouchard, two guys who fit that profile, to start in the AHL. I would also imagine that the team doesn’t want to pencil Persson into the top-six right away. Even if it’s someone other than Russell moving, like Sekera or Benning, it seems prudent for the Oilers to find a cheap, veteran blueliner on the open market.

The list of defencemen available isn’t very good. Tyler Myers and Jake Gardiner are the top options on the market since Erik Karlsson signed and both are very likely to be overpaid. Names I would be looking for in this situation are Ron Hainsey, a veteran who can log tough minutes and play his off side, Anthon Stralman, a righty who can move the puck and play a steady game defensively, and Adam McQuaid, who’s basically a right-handed version of Russell.

Again, the list isn’t inspiring. These aren’t game-changing players, but, if they can be added at a cheap price on a short term, would provide veteran stability to ensure that the Oilers don’t need to rush prospects into roles they aren’t ready for.

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THIRD ANNUAL OILERSNATION OPEN

After having such a blast over the past two years, we absolutely knew that we were going to organize another golf tourney for the summer and, after a few months of planning, we’re psyched to finally be able to launch our third annual golf tournament.

  • When – August 29th, 2019 (Thursday)
  • Where – Cougar Creek Golf Resort
  • How much – $1000/team or get in on the $900 Early Bird price until July 10th
  • Teams – Groups of Four (4)
  • How – Book your team here

As always, a portion of all proceeds from your ticket purchase will be donated directly to a local charity. This time we’ve partnered up with the Gregor Foundation to make sure that our kids are at their most handsome.


  • Spydyr

    If the team feels one of the kids is ready to step in trade Benning for some help on the wing. If Benning stays and is higher up in the batting order than seventh defenceman the team will be in for a struggle to make the playoffs yet again.

  • Dallas Eakins Hair

    The thing with moving Russell is his contract is now on the downward scale of his contract, so he would be a cheap option for some teams looking for someone steady on the back end. Benning is a tire fire half the time, and I am no fan but Benning plays better with Sekera and doesnt seem to make as many panicky decision when they are paired together.

    The Oilers need to move some money out though, and we have plethora of D-Men right now. If the Oilers move Russell who I actually like because he leaves it all out on the ice it should be easy to find a team to take him, but I dont see Holland doing this right now I think the Oilers wait till mid season unless they see someone they want to sign but need to free up salce and money. As for Benning I would wait and see what Tippett and co can do working with him, if Benning improves more under Tippett the Oilers could always move him mid season if need be

    • Spydyr

      The things about waiting until mid season to fix problems is two fold.

      One: Every point matters and they cannot afford to piss points away early.

      Two: There have not been many trades in the NHL during the season the last few years.

  • Cowboy Bill

    How patient can they be ? It’s going to be tough to get any help for the forward group without shedding some salary cap . Getting a bottom six forward for Benning would be massive and if they can move Russell that would free up a little more cap space to sign a top six forward from free agency . They may have to go with some of these young D just to stay under the cap . Here’s hopping Joel Persson comes as advertised and fits right in on that second pair with Nurse , while Sekera can mentor Jones & Laggesson as the 6th & 7th D , or possibly even Bear , if he isn’t traded for forward help . Those three guys have paid their dues in the AHL , they are ripened . Make room on the farm for Bouchard & Samarukov so they can get the ice time they need to develop , it’s their time now .

    • Spydyr

      This makes sense to me. The only thing is moving Russell, he just leaves it all on the ice every game. He could be in my bottom pairing all day long. If he plays higher than that , once again the team has a problem.

      • Obcfan

        I don’t disagree with your assessment of Russell leaving it all on the ice and I don’t mind keeping him.

        BUT – Despite the hate for Benning (justified when he is forced too high in the lineup-hello Justin Schultz) he is just fine in the 3rd pairing and HALF the price of Russell while providing more offense. Benning can slide into the 2nd pairing and tread water for short periods although Russel is definitely better there.

        So if we need cap space and scoring and have plenty of 3rd pairing guys why would we keep the expensive guy with the least offense? Just because he’s gutsy?

        Again, I like Russell but as a business decision I think you have to move his overpay off the books when we have so many cheaper options.

        Overall, with Holland at the helm I’m fine with patience and letting some of these overpays run their course while making an occasional good trade and bringing our prospects in slowly. I know no one wants to admit it but with the cap mess we are 3 years away from having a significantly stronger roster. Making stupid moves for immediate results is what got us here and we need the opposite actions now, as painful as it is to wait…again….

    • The future never comes

      I think they could only trade one of the two for Russell or Benning. They cannot go in with two raw rookies, if one or two injuries occur to the vet D we would potentially have four rookies in the opening lineup. Too much risk involved. Trade one for a third line winger at minimum.

      • The future never comes

        Personally, I would trade benning as Russell could play better on the second line role in a pinch. Third pairing D could easily have soft minutes with Sekera to mentor them (either Bouch, Jones, or Perrson) fighting for the one open spot.

      • ROILYDoGG$

        I agree 100%, we should not put 2 rookie In at the NhL level, injuries always happen and they can fill in during that time only “when needed”
        I love Russel for his heart and effort , however he is not going to improve or get better, he will start declining and a rookie should have upside and higher potential plus a lower cap. Use Russel in a trade for a forward even 3rd pair guy and bring in jones. Next year add in another(Bouchard),maybe Sekera goes then.

    • Glencontrolurstik

      Correct me if I’m wrong, but wouldn’t putting Joel Pearson in the line-up right away be everything that we are trying not to do anymore?
      Isn’t he the guy that played hockey & taught school at the same time?
      We all say that the biggest mistake the last decade + is rushing players.
      Has he even played on small ice? We are NOT as deep on D as everyone is advertising. We are deep in the prospect pool & I get clearing cap space by moving out a D-vet. But seriously, if we do that we have to cut the Oiler D some slack for a bit. They are not that deep, especially when you look at other D’s, that went deeper in the play-offs…

      • hagar

        It’s a good point Glen. It’s hard to truly say we are deep on dman when the depth has yet to fruit. On paper the depth is there, in reality the depth hasn’t actually revield its self once in game play.

        • Glencontrolurstik

          And picking up free agents is dangerous… Way too expensive usually.
          The value has dropped on the veteran players & if they were that good, they’d still be with the team they were on… Usually… there are some exceptions…
          This time of year requires careful planning… And I’m glad that the new management team is showing promise in this area… I’m just afraid that they are a little too eager to appease the “win-starved” fan-base, that they may do something irrational… “I do feel better though about the coming season, than I have in years.”

  • ed from edmonton

    Holland stated that the objective this year is to maker the playoffs moving d to improve forwards is a must. With the development of the many young Dman the Oil have options here now. Jones was NHL ready last year and was okay as 3rd line RD. When he was forced to play 1st pair LD things came off the rails. Holland has commented that he thinks Lagesson is the most NHL ready Gman in the bake. And there is Persson, who nobody on this site has ever seen, might prove to be a player.

  • oo3

    Why does anyone think that the d is better than last year? Banking on dman with little or no track record or over value Nurse ? what ever goalie we bring in is going to get lit up just like last year.

  • ed from edmonton

    Assuming Holland sees it the same as the consensus here, i.e. that either Russel or Benning need to b moved, which one goes may be determined by the market.

  • Kevwan

    If the idea of moving Russell is to save cap room then it makes little sense to sign Stralman et al. for at or near Russell’s salary. The most logical guy to take his pace on the roster (Jones) isn’t even mentioned

    Trading Russell allows Tippett to play Nurse with Reg as a 2nd unit and Benning with a kid or value UFA on the 3rd pair. He can also use Nurse with Benning and Sekera with the unknown – With Sekera playing right side if necessary.

    I understand trying to acquire a star D like Trouba or Subban. But these mid level UFA guys at inflated $ and term – head scratcher.

    • The Rookie

      IMO Stralman will be cheaper. Most wont offer more than 2 years. As I suggest a 3 year $2.25 per would make sense. Even as he moves down the depth chart you can live with that price. The only one from last year making less than that is Benning at $2.1. I also think it’s feasible that ontop of moving out Russel, Sekera could also be moved or bought out, freeing up space and giving the young kids who are no longer waiver exempt, room to play.

      Year one
      Klefbom-Larsson
      Nurse-Stralman
      Jones-Benning
      Lagesson

      Year two
      Klefbom-Larsson
      Nurse-Bouchard
      Broberg-Stralman
      Jones

      • The Rookie

        I was just looking, and with the cap crunch Tampa is in, what about a deal loosely based around Sekera and JP (possible picks) for Janni Gourde? Tampa can then buy out Sekera for a cost of $1.5 over the next 4 which shaves $4 off their cap, and get a legit prospect. They down grade the immediate roster for cap relief but get a good young player (enter the hate here) that could develop nicely in that offence. Oilers get a legit 20 goal guy that’s under contract for another 4 years. Even if we have to add a second round pick I think it still makes sense for both sides

  • OilCan2

    I am not sure the “rob Peter to pay Paul” philosophy is going to work. My guess is Ken rides out the cap storm while keeping his search for a goalie as priority one. The Oilers have a couple of Euro forwards signed and also a few Condors ready to contribute bottom six minutes. The reasonable D4F swap might be Bear for Carr.

  • The Rookie

    I’ve been beating the Stralman drum for over a month now. A two or three year deal at $2.25 is reasonable. He’s a stop gap on the second pair in year one, and can move down as the kids move up. Yes he’s 33, but realistically you only need him to put up one more good season. He will be 6/7 after that at a price tag that’s reasonable to do so.

  • FutureGM

    A Russell move would free up cap space as well as provide a more balanced defence that can allow any callups to slot in properly on the 3rd pairing.
    Reggie handled the RHD spot admirably with Chara for team world and I would love to see him paired with Nurse to mentor the mental aspect of his game. Or bring in Stralman or Miller (Miller for Bear trade) to have a solid #2RHD option and have Reg mentor whomever the play on the 3rd pair and move up for injury or shut down near end of game purposes. He stabilized Benning greatly last year and his calm decision making with the puck is incredibly valuable to our young Dmen

  • toprightcorner

    I highly doubt that the Oilers add any dmen this summer unless they are somehow able to trade Russell and Sekera.

    With so many prospects, the defense is a 2-3 year fix. Holland will likely focus on adding depth to the forwards and hopefully a top 6 winger as well.

    If Russell is traded, that position will be take from within. They will either move Benning up and Jones/Persson will play 3RD or Nurse will move over and Sekera will move up if he can handle the minutes.

    One thing that many won’t like, but will most likely happen, is that Nurse will get traded within the next 12-14 months. The dollars that he will command next summer will be way too high. Meyers is looking for $6.5 and Nurse is better, Trouba is lokking for $7.5 and Nurse is not at his level. that will put Nurse in the $6.5 to $7 range and he will never be worth that much.

    Holland said he wanted to wait and see what Nurse is like this year and not looking to have contract talks until after next season becasue he needs to see the player more. There is no chance that Holland doesn’t already have a good read on what Nurse is and his inability to transition the puck with a pass. He was simply avoiding telling people he will look to sign him, so he isn’t committed to the fans and not saying that he is uncertain Nurse is a fit long term.

    Drafting Broberg was a big part of finding a future top pair left dman that within 2-3 years will take Nurses spot or higher.

    • OilTastic

      There’s still a chance that a guy like D Colin Miller from Vegas might be traded for this summer if Vegas continues to have cap issues. Guess we’ll see after we sign “all of” our free agents! 😅

  • hagar

    If everyone played as hard as Russell every game, there would be a lot less need right now.

    He is full of effort, but simply wasnt gifted the strength and speed to excel as a dman. He gets over powered easily.

    I hate trading character people, but if you have to, you have to.

    • Reg Dunlop

      If every defenceman in the league used Russell’s technique of off the glass and out EVERY game would end in a 0-0 shootout. He is horrible in the new NHL where puck possession is paramount. Keep Benning, add Jones and pray for a miracle where some other team values Russell enough to take his contract for a 6th rounder.

  • kormega

    I’ve a heard a rumour recently, that league is ready to return money compensation on trades. They say it will be one of the main things that clubs will be pushing through next CBA.

    Did somebody hear anything about it? Are there some talks? Is the mood of the owners or PA or Betmann any close to this?

    • Kevwan

      It makes sense as it would allow for more player movement. The reason that the teams with cap space have it is that they are budget teams. For them to take bad contracts and use they have to have the cash to pay those players. They either don’t have the money or don’t want to spend it.

      No reason for the players to object either.

      • kormega

        I see, players are actually don’t give an eff and big cities teams like NY or LA are eager to push it. But don’t it break draft-and-development strategy, the league is so proud of?

        As for me I’m pretty ok with the current flow of things where we can realize management skills, not moneybags ones.

        • Kevwan

          I’m not a proponent of this idea just looking at the rationale behind it.

          Bettman might favor league parity publicly but the reality is when bigger markets do well it’s good for league revenues. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the Salary Cap is lower than expected on the heels of the NBA and Stanley Cup playoffs. Hockey got killed – especially in the Canadian market. Rebuilds in NY and LA are not good for the NHL’s bottom line.

          I expect that the owners and Bettman are looking at a number of options. I’d think that allowing cash considerations on trades would be more palatable than a soft cap or luxury tax scenario.

  • Vanoil

    Sooner or later you have to let these AHLers learn against the top competition or they will never be ready. It took Nurse three years to get comfortable in a top six role against top competition, if Bear, Jones, Person, Lagesson … etc aren’t given more than a cup of coffee in the NHL they will never be “ready” for the show until they are traded to other organizations. Nurse and Klefbom are the perfect templates they each developed over time but were in the NHL within 3 years of their respective drafts (albeit in minor roles). And it still took them another couple of years to figure things out. Time to break-in Jones and maybe Bear — as third pairing D if necessary. Even if paired with a veteran to begin with, you need one to start the season and then likely another in the second half. That leaves Persson & Bouchard for next year, and then Lagesson the year following, and then Smorukov the year after that, and the new kid in four-five years. If you don’t have this laid out now, you have just developed all these assets for another team to take advantage of. In which case Management should have been drafting more Forwards and less D into the system.

  • Spydyr

    Cam Talbot has formally agreed to a 1 year deal with the Calgary Flames after meeting with them earlier this week.

    The deal will be announced when the July 1st free agent window becomes official.

    • ed from edmonton

      The real question in Cowtown is what will it take to sign Rittich. He has to be looking at the Koskinnen contract and saying I’m better than that guy and my contract should reflect that

  • OnDaWagon

    Oscar Klefbom and Adam Larsson are the 1st pairing D here. That’s a huge problem right there.
    larson is tough, and is a “decent” defender, but a long way from being a #1 d-man.
    Klefbom is a very average skater, and the last time he hit someone, he was probably pushed into them. He is not a #1 d-man…on any team. It’s ridiculous how some of you overrate players. He’s getting over 4 million a year. He has never proven to be worth a Brinks truck. Go ahead, talk about his point total. Has he ever proved that He is a #1 d-man? Not to me. And he is not going to get any better.

    Most, if not all of Larson, Klefbom and Nurse will be gone before this team starts to rise.

  • When I think about goaltending help I think that Smith might be a good fit. He is fairly good at handling the puck. Might keep our d core healthy and not pinned in our zone as much. Don’t get me wrong it’s a risk but as we know what player in that position isn’t. If you could promise me that we stay healthy I would like to give Starrett a chance at the job. If we do go free agent it has to be short term.