2023 Trade Deadline Preview: Players to target, Players to avoid, and why Ken Holland should be all-in

Photo credit:© Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports
1 year ago
The NHL Trade Deadline is just five days away.
In this piece, I’ll analyze various trade targets that are either realistically available on the trade market, or connected to the Edmonton Oilers. Additionally, I’ll dive into how I feel Ken Holland should approach this deadline.
*All microstats via AllThreeZones/Corey Sznajder, all other stats via EvolvingHockey, Natural Stat Trick, and PuckIQ unless stated otherwise

Erik Karlsson

For me, Erik Karlsson is a high-risk, high-reward target.
On one hand, he’s arguably the best offensive defenceman in the league. With 50 5v5 points, he doesn’t just lead all defencemen in 5v5 scoring; he leads all players, including a seven-point edge on McDavid. 
Karlsson is a transitional machine, consistently ranking near the top of the league in controlled entries and exits. For a team that’s struggled with breakouts, Karlsson could be a significant help in that facet. Darnell Nurse could use a right-shot defensive partner that can consistently pass the puck with possession.
However, for essentially his entire career, Karlsson has struggled defensively. His impacts on suppressing goals and expected goals have consistently ranked in the bottom third of the league. More specifically, Karlsson struggles with defending the rush, and despite his high volume of controlled exits, his failed exits and botched defensive-zone retrievals per 60 do rank high. Furthermore, while Karlsson’s offensive talent is undeniable, it’s worth noting he’s currently at a career-high in on-ice shooting percentage.
Karlsson is also 32, with a massive $11.5M cap hit. Rumours of his trade value have varied, but it’s safe to say that it could be high. With all of that said, Karlsson is the best player available, and I would undoubtedly continue pursuing him, but there are several risks involved with a potential deal.
Per Daniel Nugent-Bowman, the odds of acquiring Karlsson are minuscule. I’m doubtful it happens, but still, never say never.
You can check out my deep dive on Erik Karlsson right here.

Jakob Chychrun

I remain a big fan of Jakob Chychrun. In today’s tight cap world, teams need more value contracts. That’s exactly what Jakob Chychrun’s $4.6M cap hit is. 
Defenders that can consistently play against top opposition and post strong results at both ends of the ice aren’t that common on the trade market, and Chychrun fits these criteria while playing on an awful Arizona team. Players of that calibre at a young age and with an excellent contract aren’t often available. 
Chychrun’s transitional entry and exit numbers rank quite well. Some have concerns about his defensive play, but although he can be prone to making the odd error here and there, his defensive on-ice impact ranks in the 80th percentile; put differently, his impact on suppressing scoring chances against are superior to 80% of the league. Note that these models aren’t perfect at isolating results for players on awful teams. It’s very fair to assume that those (already strong) metrics further improve in a superior environment after spending his entire career on a perpetually mediocre Arizona team.
Diving into the microstats, he can defend the rush, and he can retrieve pucks in the DZ at a high volume. Using sneak peeks from private companies with more granular data, Chychrun also ranks high in other defensive-zone microstats such as blocked passes and stick checks. Chychrun doesn’t exactly have one defining trait or attribute, as he’s quite well-rounded overall.
Injury history is certainly a concern, but at age 24, he’s only going up from here.
In his recent article, Daniel Nugent-Bowman stated “don’t count on Chychrun being an Oiler anytime soon.” This is disappointing to me, but nonetheless, I believe he’s one of the best targets available, and the Oilers should be interested in him.
Here’s a deep dive on Chychrun that I wrote a few months back.

Vladislav Gavrikov

Vladislav Gavrikov will be a UFA this summer and has stated that he won’t re-sign in Canada. His reported asking price is a 1st and a 3rd. I don’t think Gavrikov is a great fit with the Oilers, which is why I would not trade that package for him at all. If Gavrikov was dealt to Edmonton, he would purely be a rental, giving even more reason not to do that deal.
Gavrikov posted strong underlying results in 19-20 and 20-21 in a lesser role, but as his deployment increased, he struggled. Gavrikov has been fed exceedingly tough zone starts and deployment against top opposition, and his defensive numbers have tanked. 
In terms of his playing style, Gavrikov has been inconsistent at defending the rush and struggles with retrievals. He’s OK at exiting the zone with control, while his failed exits per hour rank poorly. His major strength seems to be his ability to block passes and make stick checks, but his overall goal differential and possession results are subpar. He would improve in an easier role, but I believe not much more than a #4-5 D. He’s not a clear upgrade on Kulak, and he certainly isn’t worth the asking price. I would avoid Gavrikov.
Here’s a deep dive on Gavrikov I wrote a few weeks back. 

Joel Edmundson

This season at 5v5, Joel Edmundson has been on-ice for 4.4 goals against per 60. That is the highest (i.e. worst) GA/60 for a defender with a minimum of 500 minutes since 2007.
In fairness, part of that is due to a low on-ice save percentage, but his impact on suppressing scoring chances ranks low as well.
For most of his career, Edmundson has been one of the worst defencemen in the league at breakouts, which certainly wouldn’t help a team that already struggles with this facet. He doesn’t exit the zone with control at a high volume, and he’s very prone to turning the puck over or icing it as he tries to exit the zone. Edmundson is substandard at retrieving pucks in the DZ as well, and he’s been burned off the rush at an exceedingly high rate this season. 
Simply put, Edmundson just doesn’t make sense for the Oilers, and is another player to avoid. His name had popped up in rumours a while back, but luckily, Edmonton’s interest in Edmundson currently seems quite low at this point, seemingly due to concerns about injuries.
Here’s a deep dive I wrote on Edmundson.

Shayne Gostisbehere

A while back, Elliotte Friedman mentioned that Gostisbehere is a player that the Oilers could be interested in. On an awful Arizona team, Gostisbehere has been strong in transition. He performs well in a system that allows him to move the puck.
He excels at passing the puck in the offensive zone, as he sets up a lot of shots and chances off the cycle. He also finishes at a high rate, and can generate offence off the rush. He’s solid at retrieving pucks as well.
That said, he struggles at defending chances off the rush, and his failed zone exit volume is high. The good does outweigh the bad, which is why his overall exit transition/breakout passing values are high, but that’s worth noting. His overall defensive impact ranks poorly, and it was subpar in Philadelphia as well.
Gostisbehere is a good player that can provide offence, but I’m not sure if he’s the best fit. 

John Klingberg

John Klingberg is having an awful year in Anaheim.
He remains very skilled offensively. His controlled zone entry and OZ shot assists metrics rank high on an awful team, but his defensive impact is abysmal. Sure, he could improve on a better team, but his defence was rapidly declining in Dallas for several years. Unless your name is Erik Karlsson, I don’t think this team needs another high-event defender.
Furthermore, although he’s a pending UFA, his $7M cap hit is expensive. I don’t think he’s worth it, and he shouldn’t be a backup plan if the Oilers can’t acquire Karlsson.

Mattias Ekholm

Mattias Ekholm is another possibility. At age 32, he is decently old, and he carries an expensive $6.25M AAV for the next four seasons, which are the primary risks with Ekholm. However, his two-way results remain excellent. This season, his impact on generating and preventing quality shots (RAPM xG+/-) ranks sixth among all defenders. He’s outstanding at efficiently retrieving pucks and limiting turnovers, and he could be the perfect partner for Bouchard.
I’d strongly consider him.

A list of some other possible players

Patrick Kane is highly unlikely at this point for the Oilers. It’s quite certain that he’ll be traded to the New York Rangers, but it’s at least worth mentioning him.

The major appeal to Kane is obviously the offence he could provide, but Kane’s numbers all-around have declined this season. Part of that is undoubtedly due to playing on an awful team, and it’s fair to say he doesn’t exactly have a high level of motivation on a rebuilding Chicago team. Not to mention, Kane has started heating up recently.
A major red flag with Kane is his defensive metrics. It’s not just a byproduct of playing on an awful Chicago team, Kane’s defensive impacts have ranked at the bottom of the NHL for his whole career, including the cup-winning Blackhawks teams. I’m doubtful if he significantly improves on a different team.
With Kane’s $10.5M cap hit, the most realistic way to fit him in is using a third team to retain his salary. If you’re going to acquire Kane, which will require some cap juggling, you have to be absolutely certain Kane can still provide spectacular offence, and that it can outweigh his defensive woes.
Chris Johnston speculated that the Oilers may be interested in Sam Lafferty and Nick Bjugstad.
Bjugstad is a solid, cheap, defensively-minded bottom-six center. He forechecks well and gets a lot of net-front chances. However, Edmonton’s bottom six is doing quite well, so I don’t think they need another depth forward, but he’s certainly a solid depth piece.
Lafferty is a forward with quite ordinary on-ice results. He can kill penalties well and is decent at zone entries. But again, he’s not exactly a needle-mover, and it’s worth mentioning that he’s at a career-high shooting percentage, which is likely a major factor for his increased trade value this season.
Speaking of Chicago forwards, could Edmonton be interested in Max Domi? Domi is a strong offensive player with excellent passing metrics, ranking 23rd in 5v5 primary assists per hour in the past two seasons. That said, if the Oilers pursue a forward, I feel it should be a strong finisher, an area that Domi is OK at. Additionally, Domi’s defensive metrics have been poor throughout his career. I’m not the most avid fan of his.
Rakdo Gudas hasn’t popped up in many trade rumours, but I’d love to acquire him. In the past two seasons, Gudas’ defensive impact (RAPM xGA) ranks 22nd among all defenders. His entry defence metrics have been outstanding this season. He’s at a fairly cheap cap hit of $2.5M as well, and for those who value “intangibles,” he’s a veteran player that ranks 9th in the NHL in hits. He isn’t a major impact player, but he’s an upgrade on Cody Ceci.
Another potential RD option with strong defensive metrics is Nick Jensen.

Overall, how should Ken Holland approach this deadline?

With McDavid and Draisaitl off-ice at 5v5, the team has out-scored the opposition 58-46, equating to a 56 percent goal differential. 
The major improvement for this team actually comes at 5v5 with the top-six on-ice. McDavid and Draisaitl have a solid 55 percent goal differential together, but without Draisaitl, McDavid is just dead even at 50%. Without McDavid, Draisaitl is at an exceedingly low 41%.
For McDavid, while he can improve his defensive play, the major reason for his ordinary goal differential is abysmal linemate finishing. Away from Draisaitl, McDavid still ranks at an excellent 58% expected goal share, and high-danger chances are 150 – 94 in favour of Edmonton. However, his non-Draisaitl linemates have a -10 GAx, meaning they’ve scored 10 goals less than expected to. 
This is the major argument towards acquiring a forward, someone who can finish at 5v5 and maximize McDavid’s offensive potential by consistently burying his passes. 
In a perfect world, I’d love Timo Meier, arguably the best two-way forward available on the market. He’s a winger that scores at a high rate and has strong defensive metrics to boot. However, the Oilers have had essentially little-to-no rumoured interest in him. It’s essentially a 0% chance they acquire him, but I believe he would be a strong stylistic fit here. In hindsight, I would have liked Nino Niederreiter, who was recently dealt to Winnipeg for a 2024 second-round pick (half of what Edmonton dealt for Andreas Athanasiou back in 2020). He would rank second on the Oilers in 5v5 goals.
As for Draisaitl, I think he needs a strong defensive presence and a volume shooter. Kane can fill the role of a volume shooter when he returns. A defensively-minded player like McLeod or Puljujarvi could be the other winger on that line, but a strong defenceman could largely help. An impact defender that can help keep pucks out of their net against top opposition would be very beneficial for the top six overall.
In general, the Oilers could use some defensive help. Since the All-Star Break, they’ve averaged nearly four goals against per game. Last playoffs, offence wasn’t the issue as they lead the league in 5v5 goals per hour; it was preventing goals, as no team that reached the second round allowed more goals per hour. A strong puck-mover and/or a strong defensive player that can shut down top opposition would largely benefit this team.
There are strong arguments for both sides, and I lean more towards a defender, but either way, Ken Holland should be making a big deal.
Daniel Nugent-Bowman has also stated that there’s a possibility the Oilers stand pat at the deadline. The fact that this is Holland’s fourth year in Edmonton and they still may not go all-in during McDavid and Draisaitl’s primes, is disappointing.
This team should be all-in.
The Oilers are in a tight cap situation, but so are various other teams around the league who’ve made major moves. Toronto was also in a limited position and yet was able to add O’Reilly and Acciari by using a third team to retain salary. In the past three deadlines, the Bruins have added various pieces like Hall, Lindholm, Orlov, Coyle, Zacha and Hathaway. The Rangers could add both Vladimir Tarasenko and Patrick Kane in one deadline. Good GMs find ways to be creative and upgrade their teams.
According to Byron Bader’s odds, a late first-round pick has a 44 percent chance of turning into a full-time NHL player, meaning less than a 50/50 chance, and an 8% chance of turning into a star. 
The odds of that pick making a huge impact aren’t spectacular in the first place, and even if that pick does turn into a strong player, it’ll be several years down the road, around the time McDavid and Draisaitl’s contracts expire. Simply put, every first-round pick should be on the table to improve the team’s chances of winning a cup in McDavid and Draisaitl’s prime years.
Draisaitl has just two years left on his current contract, McDavid has three. Draisaitl turns 28 in a couple of months, McDavid is 27 next year. The urgency should be high. I believe there’s a good chance McDavid and Draisaitl stay in Edmonton regardless of playoff success, but obviously, winning a cup would give them the biggest incentive to stay.
Only three teams this season have over 30 regulation wins; Boston, Toronto, and Edmonton. Two of those teams have already made impact deals with limited cap space, and it’s not the Oilers. Of course, there’s obviously still time to act until the deadline, but the point is that they should be making an upgrade, and there should be pressure on them to do so. 
As he’s on pace for over 60 goals and 150 points, Connor McDavid is having a historic campaign. The bottom six has been the best it’s ever been in the McDavid/Draisaitl era by far. There’s a legitimate possibility the team could have four different players with 100 points this season. The Western Conference is wide-open this season, and once you reach the finals, anything can happen in a seven-game series.
This is a season and an opportunity you just can’t waste.
Find me on Twitter (@NHL_Sid)


Join us on March 3rd for the Daily Faceoff Live: Trade Deadline edition as Frank Seravalli and the panel break down all of the latest rumours, news, and rumblings from around the NHL. The show will be live on YouTubeFacebook, and Twitter from 10 AM – 2 PM MT to keep you up to date on all things trade deadline no matter where you’re watching from.

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