How good is Edmonton’s defensive depth on the right side, and which RD could they target at the deadline?

Photo credit:© Darren Yamashita-USA TODAY Sports
1 year ago
On February 10, insider Darren Dreger reported that Edmonton will pursue a goaltender at the deadline, but a right-shot defenceman is likely a priority as well.
“Well, goaltending of course could become a real priority one more time for Ken Holland and the Edmonton Oilers,” stated Dreger. “That seems pretty obvious given the storylines that have swirled around the crease of the Oilers.”

“But you’ve got to look much deeper than that and look at the defensive core of the Edmonton Oilers. What they need is a top three, top four right-shot defenceman, because their defence collectively has not been good enough. They give up Grade ‘A’ chances night after night, which obviously puts more stress on the Edmonton Oilers.”
“So, tough decisions ahead for Holland, but that right shot d-man is a priority.”
Part of what Dreger says is probably a bit of personal opinion, but I’d assume he’s also speculating on what Ken Holland would realistically do.
This season, Edmonton is performing fine in suppressing shot volume, as they rank 12th in the league in suppressing shot attempts against at 5v5. However, they rank 23rd in the league in QA/60 at 5v5 (quality against, aka xGA/FA).
This concern has certainly improved in a limited sample under Jay Woodcroft so far, but still merits attention. Perhaps, as Dreger suggests, that can begin with dealing for a right-defenceman at the deadline.
So, how well have Edmonton’s current RD performed so far? Who are some realistic targets that Edmonton should pursue?
*All microstats via Corey Sznajder (@ShutdownLine), all other stats via EvolvingHockey and PuckIQ unless stated otherwise, all contract-related info via PuckPedia

Evan Bouchard

Evan Bouchard has enjoyed a phenomenal offensive campaign.
Bouchard’s skating has seen a significant improvement. He ranks atop the team in numerous transitional metrics, but his primary strengths are his breakout abilities; Bouchard is superb in transporting the puck through all three zones. No Edmonton defenceman has completed more passes than Bouchard (at a /60 rate).
His defensive results have been quite poor, though. One thing that’s somewhat surprising is that Bouchard’s entry defence results are very solid relative to the rest of the team, but his overall defensive results are significantly below-average. 
This is a fitting time to remind that microstats though only evaluate specific portions of a player’s game. They’re more frequently used to evaluate a player’s playing style; in regards to evaluating general play, on-ice results are superior. 
In this case, his entry defence isn’t a large issue, but his results are hampered due to frequent defensive lapses and coverage errors in his own zone. In addition, he doesn’t retrieve the puck in his own zone at a high rate either. Bouchard is merely 22, so he does have a lot of time to improve in these facets of the game.
Regardless, he’s proven he can perform well as an offensive top-four defenceman.

Cody Ceci

Cody Ceci’s season has been quite interesting so far, as his results are all over the place.
Ceci is near the top of the Oilers in zone entries, but his success rate is quite poor. His retrieval rates suggest he’s excellent in his own zone, which matches my eye test.
Overall, Ceci has been quite low-event. Relative to other defencemen, his finishing is great, but Edmonton generates chances and goals at a significantly superior rate with Ceci off-ice. However, his defensive metrics at 5v5 are pretty solid. Ceci is also Edmonton’s most reliable defensive d-man in general; per PuckIQ, no Oilers d-man has a higher DFF% after taking a defensive zone shift start.
Taking everything together, Ceci is a very solid #4-5 defenceman. A team with aspirations to contend could certainly pursue an upgrade, which would allow Ceci to thrive in a 3RD role. With that said, it isn’t a significant issue at all if he continues to be deployed in a top-four role.

Tyson Barrie

Tyson Barrie is having a dreadful season and it isn’t surprising. His point totals last season were inflated by an unsustainable on-ice shooting percentage in 20-21, not to mention that Barrie spent roughly 80% of his TOI with at least one of McDavid or Draisaitl. (In comparison, Nurse typically spends 50-60% while Klefbom usually spent 40-50%).
This season, Barrie’s 5v5 offensive metrics have collapsed, likely due to lower playing time with Edmonton’s superstars, while his defensive numbers have continued being abysmal. Only Slater Koekkoek has performed worse at defending the rush. (His high retrieval success rate is surprising, though).
Barrie remains a strong breakout passer, and he does rank atop the team in zone exits, but his zone entry stats have declined significantly from 20-21. 
With cap-hit and potential trade value in mind (certain GMs might overvalue Barrie due to his point totals last season, and RHDs typically tend to have decent trade value), it would be best for Edmonton to move on from Barrie. 

Trade Options

Given this overview of the Oilers’ RD, it’s very reasonable to suggest Edmonton could use a RD upgrade, especially over Barrie.
Fit-wise, the ideal trade target should be: 
  • Impactful at 5v5, especially defensively
  • Solid at defending the rush
  • Solid at exiting the zone
  • Cheap
Here’s a list of potential trade options:
Pysyk, Miller, Klingberg, and Ristolainen are all on the TSN trade bait board. In addition, Frank Seravalli reported that Mayfield and Severson could be on the table. As for the rest of the list, I included some (but not all) other RD on low teams in the standings that could be open to a trade. 
Here’s how each of these defencemen have been deployed (if you’re confused on how these stats work, a little section under the graphic explains it):
Finally, here’s each defenceman’s microstats compared to the average microstats of Edmonton’s defencemen (for 21-22):
“Average Rank” is determined by the average ranking of each player compared to the rest of the targets (e.g. Pysyk ranks 4th in completed passes and 3rd in NZ + DZ Shot Assists among the trade options, so his average passing rank is 3.5). It isn’t a perfect method to display these metrics by any means, but it does make it a bit easier to read.
There’s a considerable amount of data presented above, so to make this easier to understand and comprehend, here’s a brief summary of each player:
Scott Mayfield, signed at $1.45M for two years, is a prominent two-way defenceman who’s experienced exceedingly difficult deployment with the Islanders. His zone entry and breakout abilities are roughly average, but he exits the zone at a high rate and is superb in defending the rush, a notable weakness for Edmonton. Mayfield is most likely Edmonton’s best available option in regards to a preferable combination of play-style fit, contract, trade value and realistic possibility.
Mark Pysyk, a 2022 UFA currently at a cap hit of $900K (also born in Sherwood Park) , has superior on-ice numbers to Mayfield offensively and defensively. His quality of competition isn’t as strong, although when he does play against elite competition, his totals are superb. Pysyk’s transitional play and passing are above-average, and his in-zone defensive play is excellent. However, he’s been poor at defending the rush this season. 
Pysyk was 2nd on the Dallas Stars last season in Entry Denial Rate (19.7%, compared to 8.9% this season), so perhaps playing in Buffalo is hampering his play in this facet of the game (although his teammate, Colin Miller, is superior). Regardless, Edmonton should still pursue Pysyk, but his mediocre entry defence totals in 21-22 are some notes to keep in mind. 
Gustav Lindstrom, a young RFA at a cap hit of $850K, has the potential to be a decent long-term option for Edmonton. His on-ice defensive stats are encouraging, and he excels at zone exits. However, Lindstrom is either average or below-average in every other facet, and he’s been sheltered.
Jani Hakanpää (signed at three years for $1.5M), Colin Miller (2022 UFA with a cap-hit of $3.875M), Ilya Lybushkin (2022 UFA with a cap hit of $1.35M), and Justin Braun (2022 UFA with a cap hit of $1.8M) are all low-event defencemen with poor offensive metrics, but excellent defensive numbers. 
Braun has the most difficult role out of the four, as he can consistently play against top opposition with tough shift-start deployment, and still succeed. Lyubushkin’s defensive skills are complemented by his exceptional breakout abilities, and Hakanpää’s above-average entry defence results could be very beneficial for Edmonton. 
Miller is likely the least appealing out of these four, but all of them are solid targets, especially Braun.
John Klingberg, a 2022 UFA with a cap hit of $4.25M, is an intriguing player. Formerly, he was one of the league’s top defencemen at 5v5. However, his play significantly declined subsequent to the hiring of current Dallas coach Rick Bowness, especially on the defensive side.

Per EvolvingHockey, here’s Klingberg’s career xWAR timeline (personally, I’m not a huge fan of WAR models for numerous reasons I may explain in a future piece. But in this case, it gives a general idea of Klingberg’s career and how his stats have declined ever since Bowness’ hiring in December 2019).
I haven’t watched enough Stars games to generate an accurate conclusion, but based solely on his results, one can deduce that Klingberg doesn’t fit with Bowness’ system. 
Klingberg still remains a strong transitional player and passer in spite of his substandard on-ice results. Klingberg is also a phenomenal player on special teams, but he would be a risky target overall. Perhaps a change of scenery could benefit him, but with that said, I think it’s unlikely that Edmonton would pursue or acquire him.
Damon Severson is the best player on the list. Signed for two years at $4.16M, Severson has posted exceptional numbers at both ends of the ice, and can certainly perform well when tasked with difficult deployment. Severson would be Edmonton’s best defenceman in Entry Denial Rate by a significant margin, and his breakout skills are yet another facet of the game he excels in. 
Practically everything about Severson is encouraging, but his trade value is likely high. Although the Devils have Dougie Hamilton, I presume it would be difficult for Edmonton to pry him out of New Jersey without giving up considerable assets.
Edmonton should stay far, far away from Rasmus Ristolainen. His results at both ends of the ice are abysmal, and he’s mediocre in a large variety of different microstats. It’s evident he can’t perform in the top-four with a tough workload, and I would much rather prefer Barrie over Ristolainen (and that’s saying something).
As for other alternatives not mentioned above, Seravalli reported that PK Subban could potentially be in play. Subban is enjoying a solid season on New Jersey’s third pair this season, but considering his lofty $9M cap-hit, it would make little sense for Edmonton to trade for him.
He also mentioned that Jeff Petry could be available as well. Petry is having a poor year on a brutal Montreal team. A change of scenery on a different team could aid him, but it would be highly ironic if Edmonton was considered that different team. 
It would certainly be funny to see Petry reunite with the Oilers after everything that’s occurred, but considering his $6.25M cap-hit for four seasons, alongside a modified NTC and NMC, the probability of Petry returning to Edmonton is close to 0%.
Josh Manson is yet another option. However, Anaheim is currently fighting for a playoff spot and may not be sellers at the deadline, so would they realistically deal him, especially to a divisional rival? 
Suffice it to say, there’s an intriguing list of right-defencemen targets this season as the trade deadline approaches. 
I’ve been really pleased with the Woodcroft/Manson hiring so far. Edmonton seems vastly superior in the neutral zone, much more aggressive in and around the net in general, and defencemen are taking less low-quality shots. Edmonton was -12 at 5v5 when Tippett was fired, but +11 with a 59% 5v5 xGF% under Woodcroft.
Obviously, it’s a limited sample, but it’s highly encouraging so far. Perhaps the roster isn’t as bad at 5v5 as they performed under Tippett, but there are still several holes on this team that need to be fixed for Edmonton to be a true contender.
Let’s wait and see if Ken Holland will trade for one of the above-mentioned RD, or if he decides to address a different area.
What are your thoughts? 
Find me on Twitter (@NHL_Sid)

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