Earlier this week, news broke that the Oilers could be without Oscar Klefbom for an extended period of time due to a shoulder injury.
If that’s the case, Ken Holland will be tasked with the massive challenge of replacing his No. 1 defenceman this off-season. Even if Klefbom is only out short-term, the Oilers will need to add some veteran depth on the blueline to compensate. But if this is a longer-term thing, finding a new top-pairing defender is suddenly a priority.
The first name that came out as a target for Holland was Oliver Ekman-Larsson. It seems as though the Arizona Coyotes and their captain could be on their way to a divorce as the organization desperately wants to shed salary. Ekman-Larsson is owed nearly $50 million in salary and has a cap hit of $8,250,000 until 2026-27.
Personally, I would avoid Ekman-Larsson and his massive contract. While he was once an elite defenceman, his game has declined over the past couple of years. He’s now 29 years old and there’s no saying if he’ll rebound on a new team or if he’ll continue to decline. Given the cap hit and Edmonton’s already-difficult salary cap situation, I wouldn’t be comfortable taking the risk to find out.
Instead, if the Oilers are going to find a replacement for Klefbom, they should be looking for a younger defenceman ready to move into his prime. A name that comes to mind is Tampa Bay’s Mikhail Sergachev, a very good young defenceman who has just reached the end of his entry-level contract.
Over at Sportsnet, Elliotte Friedman mentioned in his 31 Thoughts column that the Lightning could be staring down the barrel of a post-Stanley Cup purge similar to the one we saw the Chicago Blackhawks do back in 2010…
When Dallas won the Cup in 1999, I remember seeing Roman Turek walking out of the arena, knowing his days with the Stars were done. As Chicago celebrated in 2010, they knew it would be the last time they’d be together. Some of that exists with this edition of the Lightning, too. It sounds like GM Julien Brisebois has done a lot of the internal legwork already, knowing which players are (or are not) willing to waive no-move or no-trade protection. (Several have indicated they prefer not to.)
The Lightning are not satisfied with one win — they want to maintain themselves for a shot at more. Expect Brisebois to think unconventionally. I think teams will ask if Sergachev wants a bigger role. He’s on the left side with Hedman and McDonagh.
- Nikita Kucherov, $9,500,000 cap hit, UFA 2027, no-move clause
- Andrei Vasilevskiy, $9,500,000 cap hit, UFA 2028
- Steve Stamkos, $8,500,000 cap hit, UFA 2024, no-move clause
- Victor Hedman, $7,875,000 cap hit, UFA 2025, no-move clause
- Brayden Point, $6,750,000 cap hit, RFA 2022
- Ryan McDonagh, $6,750,000 cap hit, UFA 2026, no-trade clause
- Ondrej Palat, $5,300,000 cap hit, UFA 2022, no-trade clause
- Yanni Gourde, $5,166,666 cap hit, UFA 2025, no-trade clause
- Tyler Johnson, $5,000,000 cap hit, UFA 2024, no-trade clause
- Alex Killorn, $4,450,000 cap hit, UFA 2023, modified no-trade clause
That group plus a few others combine to cost the Lightning roughly $76,000,000 against the cap, meaning the team has only about $5 million to figure out new deals for restricted free agents Mikhail Sergachev and Anthony Cirelli and flesh out the rest of the roster.
Ideally, the Lightning can move on from players like Palat, Gourde, and Johnson, who might be slightly overpaid in order to open up some cap room. But all of those players feature no-trade protection, and, as Friedman says, several players have already indicated that they would prefer not to waive.
Friedman also specifically mentions Sergachev as a player who could end up getting squeezed out. He’s currently trapped on behind veterans Victor Hedman and Ryan McDonagh on the team’s depth chart and has proved that he’s ready to take on a bigger role.
If Sergachev is available, he’s a player that Holland should be all over.
In 2019-20, Sergachev averaged 20:22 a night for the Lightning, scoring 10 goals and 34 points. Tampa outscored opponents 52-to-38 and outshot opponents 561-to-533 with him on the ice at even-strength. In the playoffs, Sergachev played 22:37 minutes a night, scored 10 points, and the Lightning outscored opponents with him on the ice 17-to-11 at even-strength.
At 22 years of age, Sergachev is a player who appears ready to break out an become a team’s No. 1 defenceman. Rather than paying a premium to acquire Oliver Ekman-Larsson, a guy who has been a No. 1 defenceman but might not be anymore, it’s more prudent for the Oilers to acquire Sergachev, who looks like the guy Ekman-Larsson was seven years ago.
I would guess that the Lightning would be asking for Edmonton’s No. 14 pick and a top prospect. If that top prospect isn’t either of Philip Broberg or Evan Bouchard, it’s a no-brainer. Even if it does include one of them, it’s something to consider.