The Oilers expansion plans are slowly starting to become more and more of a conversation. The team definitely has some interesting decisions to make in the coming months and with the number of quality young defensemen on their roster, there is a real chance that they’ll lose a good player to the Seattle Kraken.
There is a way for Ken Holland to get out of this without losing too much though. That conversation starts with Oscar Klefbom. The 27-year-old defenseman hasn’t played all season and it still sounds like it’s far from certain that he’ll play next season. He recently had the necessary shoulder surgery but made it clear in his most recent media availability that quality of life is his main focus and his hockey career will come second to that.
If the Oilers think that Klefbom will be healthy for the start of next season, then I could totally see why they would want to keep him around and potentially protect him. He’s under contract for two more seasons at a cap hit of just $4.16 million. He’s a quality defenseman with a good contract.
There are two ways that a team can attack the expansion draft. They can protect seven forwards, three defensemen, and a goalie or they can protect eight skaters and a goalie.
If the Oilers want to keep Klefbom, they would either need to protect eight skaters or they would have to expose Caleb Jones.
When you consider that Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl, Kailer Yamamoto, Jesse Puljujarvi, Darnell Nurse, and Ethan Bear all need to be protected, you can see why going the eight skaters route might be tough.
One way it could be done though is to not sign Ryan Nugent-Hopkins until after the expansion draft. If they have a deal agreed to with Nugent-Hopkins but he agrees to not sign it until after the expansion draft, then they could leave him unprotected and just sign him in free agency.
That route would allow them to keep both Jones and Klefbom protected with the six other players I mentioned above.
Of course, if they want to get a deal done with Nugent-Hopkins before the expansion draft, then they’ll have to choose between Klefbom and Jones.
One big question to consider is: would Seattle even take Klefbom? Would they see any value in a defenseman who hasn’t played in over a season and might not ever be back at 100%? I’m not sure if a new franchise would be looking for that kind of player. The Oilers might be able to leave Klefbom unprotected and get away with it. It’s a risk, but I personally would rather see them take that risk than lose out on a quality young player like Caleb Jones without getting anything in return.
If they go that route, then the seven forwards they would protect would likely be McDavid, Draisaitl, Yamamoto, Nugent-Hopkins, Puljujarvi, and two others. That could include Tyler Benson, Josh Archibald, Zack Kassian, Cooper Marody, or Jujhar Khaira.
Another option would be to look at making a trade, either with Seattle or another team in the NHL. Caleb Jones has one more year on his current contract, which carries a cap hit that is less than $1 million. He’s on a great contract for next season, but he’ll need a fairly big raise after that. If the Oilers believe that Nurse and Klefbom can be their top-four for the next five seasons, then maybe Ken Holland will explore the idea of trading Jones.
He is a fine young defenseman who can skate well and move the puck at a high level. I generally would not be a fan of trading players like that. But it’s important to remember that they have Evan Bouchard and Ethan Bear already on the roster (although they play the other side of the ice) and lefties like Philip Broberg and Dmitri Samorukov coming through the system.
If they were to make a trade that involved moving out a valuable young defenseman like Jones and bringing in a good, young forward they could potentially improve their team and make life easier in the expansion draft.
In fact, if they didn’t have any good young players for Seattle to grab then the Kraken may be more incentivized to take a bad contract from the Oilers. If Ken Holland plays his cards right, then maybe he not only walk away from this years expansion draft without losing a good young player, but he could even shed a bad contract (like Zack Kassian or James Neal) without having to give up too much.
It’ll take a bit of luck and it might involve taking a risk by trading a promising young player like Caleb Jones, but there’s a way for the Oilers to come out of this summer looking very strong and playing their cards right in the expansion draft is the first step.