The Edmonton Oilers are in a peculiar situation heading into the expansion draft.
They appear to be set to go the 7-3-1 route and lots of talk has surrounded defenceman Adam Larsson re-signing with the team and being one of the three defencemen protected. But what happens if the Oilers don’t re-sign him before that? What if Larsson chooses to test free agency, as is his right?
While colleague Jason Gregor noted yesterday the two parties continue to talk and appear to be “in the same ballpark” on term and AAV, it’s important to see what else is out there.
As it stands the Oilers don’t have someone who could step in and replace what Larsson does. He’s a strong, stay-at-home defenceman whose own zone play has flourished in the last season or so. Ethan Bear is a good all-around defenceman, but he doesn’t play the grizzled style defensively Larsson does.
Evan Bouchard is going to get a full-time spot in the lineup next season and he’s not of the Larsson mold, either. We know of mutual interest between Larsson’s camp and the Oilers as discussions have been reported to be underway on an extension but around the league, we aren’t seeing teams rushing to sign pending UFA’s.
Sure, there’s been a bit of work around the league (Joel Eriksson-Ek in Minnesota, Trent Frederic in Boston), but nothing else major beyond Ryan Nugent-Hopkins’ new deal. So why should the Oilers?
They have a chance to protect a much younger asset in Caleb Jones, or an equally valuable asset in Oscar Klefbom.
So let’s say that Larsson does in fact walk to free agency in search of more money which he would surely be able to get. Where does that leave the Oilers? I’d argue in a better position than before.
Larsson is a great defenceman at doing that, defending. According to JFresh Hockey, his projected wins above replacement in terms of even-strength defence is in the 98th percentile! Overall, his projected wins above replacement ranks in the 87th percentile, so he’s no slouch despite the fact he doesn’t contribute much offence, faces middling competition, and has poor quality of teammates on the ice.
According to Evolving Hockey’s contract projections, Larsson is projected to get a four-year, $3.615-million deal re-signing with the Oilers, and a five-year, $4.11-million deal should he decide to walk. Fair value, for the most part.
So continuing on with the scenario that Larsson walks and inks a deal with the Seattle Kraken, Philadelphia Flyers, or any of the other teams in the league, who could step in and replace some of what Larsson brought on the right-side and how much would it cost?
The logical choice off the top is Dougie Hamilton. He provides immense value in all the areas you want to and is one of the best defenceman in the entire NHL. He scores points, shuts down play in his own zone, and plays both special teams units. His game over time has improved and his defensive play is at the best point its ever been in his career.
Hamilton would step in and be the Oilers top-pairing defenceman alongside Darnell Nurse and the two would immediately become one of the best pairings in the entire league. I think these two could offset each other very well and would flourish. Bear would get pushed down the lineup to the second pairing leaving Bouchard a chance to work in a sheltered role in the third pair. Not only that, but the latter two would have a great right-shot mentor in Hamilton to learn from.
What would it cost? According to Evolving Wild predictions, he’s most likely to earn an $8.476-million AAV deal over a seven-year term. It would bring Hamilton to 34-years-old where he would likely still be a solid contributor. The value is absolutely there for the Oilers to sign Hamilton to this deal and he would help the team immensely. The Oilers should be all over Hamilton and be comfortable letting Larsson walk.
At the end of the day, free agents of his class don’t often appear and if you have a chance to acquire one, it should be priority number one.
While not a right-shot, Oleksiak has experience playing the right-side. Despite that, he’s a free-agent target the Oilers should be looking at even if Larsson does re-sign with the team. He provides tremendous defensive value, and is sound offensively too.
He’s a player who has been on the up and up in the last number of years and is right in the prime of his career. This past year he played some more elevated minutes as a second pairing defenceman for the first time in his career and he flourished in the role.
He would be able to slide in on the right-side in the case of Larsson leaving and would replace him admirably, or he could slide in on the left-side and be a great partner to Larsson.
Oleksiak is projected, according to Evolving Hockey, to get a five-year contract worth an AAV of $4.18-million — right around what Larsson is expected to get. This is fair value for a solid all around defenceman.
Number three in the free-agent right-side books for me is Pysyk. Since he entered the league as a 23-year-old in 2015-16, Pysyk has remained an effective defenceman. He’s consistently been in the top third of defensive wins above replacement and while his offensive game isn’t his strong suit, the Oilers wouldn’t need that from him.
This year he scored three goals and four points in 36 games, a relatively small sample size, but was coming off a 2019-20 campaign that saw him score a career-high 18 points in 58 games with the Florida Panthers. His role diminished this year, and so did his production.
Pysyk is well known to those in the Edmonton area. A native of Sherwood Park, Pysyk played in the WHL for the Oil Kings and was a big piece of the 2012 championship team. Interestingly enough, he’s one of the few players in the league who can play both defence and forward at anytime.
He would likely slot in as a third-pairing defenceman which would bump Bouchard up the lineup to a tougher second pair. Pysyk’s value, according to Evolving Hockey, is pegged at one-year, $1.127-million on the open market.
Going this route would likely include the Oilers needing to find more blue line depth but that’s not a bad thing.
Miller would be another decent option to replace some of what Larsson brought to the lineup. He’s a strong, veteran second pairing defenceman who is stronger in the defensive zone than the offensive zone.
He provides defensive value in line with that of Hamilton and Pysyk and is a strong penalty killer, too. He missed the entirety of the 2019-20 season due to a broken knee cap, but bounced back with a solid campaign this year for the Bruins playing 28 games. There’s some concern over his injury history in recent years and flare-ups on his surgically repaired knee had him missing some time.
You don’t like bringing in band-aids, but if the Oilers see a clean bill of health moving forward, he would be a strong second or third pairing defenceman on the right-side. I would imagine, with Pysyk, the need for additional defenceman to add some more depth.
No matter what happens, I think the Oilers are positioned in a relatively good spot here heading into free agency. They have roughly $18-million in cap space not accounting for any potential buyouts/trades of James Neal and/or Mikko Koskinen.