For the Edmonton Oilers, Joel Edmundson would not be worth his asking price
Photo credit:© Jean-Yves Ahern-USA TODAY Sports
By NHL_Sid11 months ago
According to Pierre Lebrun on Insider Trading, the Edmonton Oilers have internally discussed the possibility of acquiring Montreal defenceman Joel Edmundson.
As time passes on, it’s becoming increasingly clear that the Oilers require defensive help. Darnell Nurse is currently in a defensive slump. He’s making numerous costly errors, and with the current defensive core that Ken Holland has built, it’s difficult to reduce his minutes and lighten his load.
The Oilers are clearly in the market for a defenceman, and it seems like they’re targeting Edmundson to settle things down playing 20+ TOI in a 2LD role.
Edmundson is a 6’5, 224lb defenceman possessing a cap-hit of $3.5M for another year after this one, turning 30 years old in June.
The trade ask for Edmundson seems exceedingly high. On the Got Yer Back podcast with TSN’s Ryan Rishaug, Montreal reporter Arpon Basu stated that Edmundson isn’t available, but Montreal would listen if prospect Xavier Bourgault and a draft pick were offered. On OilersNow, Bob Stauffer and Mark Spector further speculated that the team should only trade their first-round pick and other assets for a defenceman that can break up the cycle, suggesting Edmundson as an option. Yesterday, Elliotte Friedman stated that the Oilers are gunning hard after Edmundson after their loss to Anaheim, and the first-round pick is in play.
Safe to say, that is a pretty hefty asking price.
In this piece, I’ll dive into Edmundson’s results and determine whether Edmundson is the answer to Edmonton’s defensive issues. Can he calm down all the errors in their own end? Most importantly, is he worth a package consisting of Bourgault and/or a 1st?
*All microstats via Corey Sznajder, all other stats via EvolvingHockey, Natural Stat Trick and PuckIQ unless stated otherwise
A look into Edmundson’s on-ice impact throughout his career
For defencemen, I prefer using their impact on scoring chances to evaluate their offensive and defensive abilities. Points and on-ice goals for are still useful, but they’re heavily influenced by the finishing abilities of the forwards they play with; a defenceman playing with good finishers will have a higher chance of getting more assists than defencemen playing with poor finishers. Furthermore, on-ice goals against is heavily impacted by goaltending quality.
Here’s a look at Edmundson’s isolated EV scoring chance impacts in the past five seasons:
At glance, Edmundson is a below-average offensive player, and a very inconsistent defensive player.
He won the Stanley Cup with the St.Louis Blues in 2018-19, and his defensive metrics were quite solid. With that said, he was scratched in the finals and primarily played third-pairing minutes toward the end of the season and during the playoffs.
In September of 2019, Edmundson was traded to the Carolina Hurricanes alongside Dominik Bokk and a seventh-round pick in exchange for Justin Faulk and a fifth.
In the subsequent season with Carolina, his offensive and defensive results were awful.
He ranked last on the roster in relative DFF% against elite competition. Put in simpler terms, he was Carolina’s worst defenceman at defending top opposition and clearly couldn’t handle a top-four role. His primary defensive partner was Brett Pesce, who posted a 47% expected goal differential with Edmundson, while Pesce placed at 53% without him. It’s clear that he struggled that year, and was a blemish on an otherwise strong defensive core for Carolina.
In September of 2020, Carolina dealt Edmundson to the Montreal Canadiens for a fifth-round pick, roughly a year after his initial trade to the Hurricanes.
Edmundson was actually quite good in his first season with the Habs. His defensive metrics were at a career-high, and he was roughly average offensively. He held a superb 62% goal differential, as the Canadiens out-scored the opposition 46 – 27 with him on-ice. Not to mention, Edmundson played top-pairing minutes on a Canadiens team that reached the cup finals.
That said, there are some things to note. Firstly, he experienced some considerable puck luck, holding a PDO of 1.028 (PDO is the sum of a player’s on-ice SH% and on-ice SV%. A PDO below 1.0 generally indicates poor luck, while a PDO above 1.1-1.2 indicates unsustainably good luck). His goal share and +/- were exceedingly unsustainable, and did predictably regress in later seasons.
Additionally, his metrics were inflated to some extent by Jeff Petry, his primary defensive partner with whom he played 630 minutes of TOI. Edmundson and Petry as a pair posted a 52% expected goal share, but Petry’s xGF% improved to 57% without him, while Edmundson declined to 50% without Petry.
It’s fair to say that Edmundson still performed well that season, but these are important factors to keep in mind. Petry excelled with various partners, while Edmundson only excelled alongside Petry.
During the season of 2021-22, Edmundson only played 24 GP, as he suffered a back injury, and took a leave of absence to tend to his father, who unfortunately passed away after a battle to cancer. I won’t place much emphasis on his results during this season as this undoubtedly impacted his performance.
In 2022-23, his isolated scoring chance results have been roughly near the league average, although his relative possession numbers rank near the bottom of the team (no Canadiens defenceman has allowed more shot attempts per 60 than Edmundson). Averaging 19:48 per game, he’s primarily played second-pairing minutes.
All-in-all, these are interesting results. They aren’t awful in any sense, but they aren’t exceedingly encouraging.
Something to note about Edmundson is that he’s always struggled at performing against top opposition.
PuckIQ hasn’t updated yet for 2022-23, but for every other season, Edmundson’s relative results against elite opposition have ranked below 0%. Put in different terms, every team he’s played on generates and prevents more scoring chances with Edmundson off-ice. Most of his positive results come from playing against weaker opposition.
That’s certainly not the most preferable trait for a trade target to reliably play in the top four.
Diving into Edmundson’s playstyle
On-ice metrics are used to evaluate a player’s impact on all events that happen with that player on-ice, while microstats are certain types of individual actions and plays, such as zone entries and zone exits. Microstats are typically used to get an idea of a player’s play style, and certain areas of strengths and weaknesses.
Here’s a look at Edmundson’s microstats from 19-20 – 20-21 (I omitted 21-22, and the sample tracked in 22-23 isn’t large enough).
Edmundson is substandard at zone entries, but his role isn’t a puck-mover, so that’s fine. A team with Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl certainly isn’t struggling at entering the zone. However, what does matter is his zone exit results, which are abysmal.
Edmundson’s possession exit% ranks in the 2nd percentile; put differently, 98% of the league’s defencemen were more efficient at exiting the zone with control. It’s not just that Edmundson was poor at moving the puck out of his zone, but a significant portion of his exit attempts was either zone clears off the glass and out or turnovers. Part of performing well defensively involves having the ability to effectively get the puck out of your zone, and this is an area that Edmundson clearly struggles in.
His passing doesn’t look awful. He generates a solid amount of shot assists off the cycle in the OZ, and despite his horrendous exit results, his DZ shot assists/60 isn’t bad, although he doesn’t generate many shot assists off the rush or in the NZ.
Edmundson’s entry defence is a more fascinating subject. Entry defence can be quite dependent on the system that the defenceman plays in; some coaches will tell their defencemen to protect the middle of the ice rather than challenging oncoming forwards at the blue line. However, in this case, Edmundson has played on three different teams (St.Louis, Carolina, Montreal) with mediocre zone denial results on each. From this, we can very reasonably deduce that Edmundson is simply an inadequate entry defender.
With that said, Edmundson did perform well at preventing scoring chances off of entries against in Montreal (this was a new microstat that started getting tracked in 2020-21, which is why it wasn’t included in the visual above since it includes 2019-20). In 2020-21, Edmundson ranked in the 81st percentile in denying chances off entries against.
The discrepancy between Edmundson’s entry denial and entry chance results is interesting. We know for a fact that Edmundson doesn’t perform well at denying entries regardless of the system, but for that one season, he was quite good at denying entry chances against for that one season.
My theory is that it’s largely influenced by Jeff Petry, who ranked in the 99th percentile in zone denial% that season. Perhaps playing with an excellent entry defender like Petry meant Edmundson had less pressure and less of a role to deny entries himself, meaning he placed more focus on preventing the potential scoring chance opportunities off entries allowed. This is just a theory, but it is backed up by the fact that Edmundson’s metrics declined away from Petry.
In fairness, zone exits and entry defence haven’t been regarded as Edmundson’s major strengths. Many have stated that Edmundson is valuable due to his tough, physical play in his own end. Mark Spector has said that Edmonton needs a “staunch” defenceman like Edmundson. Does he really fit those criteria?
Edmundson does block a ton of shots, ranking 10th in the league in total shot blocks, but having a high volume of blocked shots isn’t necessarily a positive thing, as it occasionally indicates that a player plays a significant amount of time in their own zone. Indeed, Edmundson has some of the worst possession numbers on the Habs (6th out of 8 defencemen in relative CF%).
It’s uncertain if Edmundson is an exceedingly strong in-zone defender. Unfortunately, aside from entry defence, there aren’t many other defensive microstats publicly available, but certain stats are good indicators of strong in-zone defensive play. In 2020-21, he ranked last among Montreal defencemen in chances allowed per 60 after a defensive zone shift start. He was second last among Carolina defencemen in 2019-20 (PuckIQ hasn’t updated the metric for this season).
Edmundson seems tough to play against in front of the net (he’s quite prone to cross-checking penalties though), but his impact on actually suppressing quality chances near the front of the net is uncertain. This season, his impact on average shot quality against (xGA/FA) does rank a bit above average, but it’s been inconsistent throughout his career, ranking as a net positive in four of his total eight NHL seasons, and a net negative in the rest.
Even if you have little trust in expected goal and scoring chance models, Edmundson’s relative impact on even-strength actual goal suppression has been above-average in just three of his eight NHL seasons.
Considering that Edmundson’s shot quality impact has been above-average in his tenure with Montreal when healthy, it’s fair to say he’s a solid in-zone defender, but not anywhere near exceptional.
Apr 21, 2022; Montreal, Quebec, CAN; Montreal Canadiens defenseman Joel Edmundson (44) during the warm-up session before the game against Philadelphia Flyers at Bell Centre. Mandatory Credit: Jean-Yves Ahern-USA TODAY Sports
I don’t think Edmundson is a bad player in any sense.
Edmundson could perform well in a 3LD role, and can complement a strong puck-mover and entry-denier, as seen by his success with Jeff Petry. Evan Bouchard could be this player, as Bouchard is excellent at zone exits, and ranks first among Edmonton defencemen in zone denial%.
It makes sense why Edmundson is enticing to a general manager like Ken Holland. He’s a big, veteran defenceman with playoff experience and a Stanley Cup ring, and I’d bet that Holland desires him in a “mentor” role for the younger defencemen.
However, I don’t think Edmundson is suited for a 2LD role on a contender.
Firstly, throughout his entire career, Edmundson has struggled to shut down top opposition. An important aspect of a reliable top-four defenceman is the ability to effectively play against tough opponents, and the Blues, Hurricanes, and Canadiens all improved with Edmundson off-ice when playing against top lines and top defensive pairs.
Furthermore, one of Edmonton’s major issues is defending the rush. Darnell Nurse ranks last on Edmonton’s defensive core in zone denial%, so pursuing a player that can effectively deny entries would be beneficial. However, Edmundson has been mediocre at entry denials on each team he’s played on. Sure, he can suppress entry chances alongside the right defensive partner, but if you want to pursue a reliable, veteran defensive top-four defenceman, you would prefer a more versatile guy that can effectively defend the rush with a variety of different defensive partners.
Nextly, while he isn’t being pursued for his puck-moving skills, a solid top-four defenceman should at least possess the ability to exit the zone at a decent rate, but he ranks bottom-ten in the league in possession exit efficiency. Acquiring Edmundson won’t help Edmonton much at preventing extended defensive-zone time. As much as I like Bouchard, it’s clear that he’s very prone to costly errors in his own zone, so a suitable partner for Bouchard should be a guy that can cover up for his mistakes, and get the puck out of the DZ efficiently; Edmundson doesn’t seem like that guy.
Sure, he may be physical to play against, but not much suggests that Edmundson is the great “cycle-buster” that the Oilers are searching for. In the end, the most important aspect when it comes to defending is if the player effectively prevented goals and scoring chances against, but none of Edmundson’s defensive on-ice metrics or microstats indicate he’s a consistently reliable defender. His defensive results have constantly gone up and down throughout his career, in terms of both actual and expected goals, and he tends to be stuck in his own zone for extended periods of time.
Finally, he isn’t worth the trade ask. The value that Edmundson provides is not worth trading a 1st or Bourgault, much less both, and it would be a major mistake to make that deal for a 29-year-old 3LD. Those assets should be used for a guy like Jakob Chychrun, who I wrote in-depth about last week. There are other superior options as well, such as Cam Fowler and Dmitri Orlov.
A reasonable concern about Chychrun is his injury history, but Edmundson has similar issues. He’s missed games in every NHL season he’s played in. As we’ve seen with Adam Larsson, back injuries can significantly affect the careers of aging defencemen.
Again, Edmundson isn’t a bad player, but I don’t think he’s the solution to Edmonton’s defensive issues, and he certainly isn’t worth the hefty asking price.
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