Is Vladislav Gavrikov a fit with the Edmonton Oilers?
Photo credit:© Gaelen Morse-USA TODAY Sports
By NHL_Sid2 months ago
The NHL Trade Deadline is less than a month and a half away, as trade rumors and speculation continues to rise. For the Edmonton Oilers, it’s been reported that they seek to acquire a left-shot defenceman close to the deadline. One of their reported trade targets seems to be Vladislav Gavrikov.
Elliotte Friedman has mentioned that one of the teams kicking tires on Gavrikov is Edmonton. Gavrikov is a 27-year-old Russian left-handed defenceman with a $2.8M cap hit. He’s played a total of four seasons with the Columbus Blue Jackets, and his contract is set to expire this offseason. If Edmonton trades for Gavrikov, this would be the third straight trade-deadline in a row in which the Oilers have dealt for a left-defenceman.
Is Gavrikov the right fit on Edmonton’s backend? Is he worth his reported asking price?
In this piece, I’ll aim to answer these questions and dive into Gavrikov’s on-ice results and playing style to determine if it’s the right move to pursue him.
*All on-ice stats via EvolvingHockey, Natural Stat Trick, and PuckIQ, and all microstats via AllThreeZones unless stated otherwise
Gavrikov’s on-ice results and deployment
From 2019-20 – 2020-21, Gavrikov’s isolated defensive numbers were very strong, ranking above the 90th percentile in each year. He had a very solid 53% expected goal differential in 2019-20. His raw 47% expected goal share in 2020-21 seems quite mediocre at glance, but the whole team mightily struggled that year, and he wound up leading the Columbus defensive core in xG%.
In 2021-22, his offensive on-ice impact was at a career-high, but his defensive play considerably declined. He still managed to have a net positive impact, and he ranked above-average at preventing shot volume, but shot quality suppression was an issue.
This season, his overall on-ice impact has been the worst it’s ever been, and his defensive impact has crashed. Of course, a major part of that is due to how poor Columbus has played this season, but the team allows much more shots and scoring chances with Gavrikov on-ice as opposed to without.
To dive deeper, in 2019-20, Gavrikov ranked 5th in TOI% against elite opposition amongst Columbus’ defensive core. In the minutes he did play against elites, he ranked second on the team in relative DFF% (dangerous unblocked shot attempt share); put more simply, Columbus controlled play to a higher degree with Gavrikov on-ice against top opposition as opposed to without.
The subsequent year in 2020-21, his workload considerably increased, as he possessed the second highest TOI% against elites among Columbus defencemen. His relative DFF% was positive, but just barely.
In 2021-22, Columbus deployed him as their top LD. None of their defenders faced more difficult matchups than Gavrikov did, and this aligns with the initial decline in his defensive results. He was negative in relative DFF% that season.
This year, Werenski has faced tougher matchups (44 TOI% against elites, Gavrikov was at 38%), but playing 38 percent of your TOI against elites certainly isn’t anything to scoff at (for comparison, Darnell Nurse plays 37.5% of this TOI against elites). Again, his numbers against elites were below-average, and his overall defensive results were quite poor.
As Gavrikov saw an increase in his role difficulty, his numbers gradually began to decline. He did post strong defensive results from 2019-20 and 2020-21, but his recent track record is a cause for concern. He can handle a third-pairing role and put up strong defensive numbers, but can he be a reliable defender in a top-four role?
Using microstats to evaluate Gavrikov’s playing style
So, what should the Oilers be looking for in a strong top-four LD in regard to playing style?
A LD that can make a breakout pass would be beneficial. Kulak and Broberg are not notably strong passers, and while Nurse is solid at possession exit%, he’s quite prone to unforced icings, and holds a poor failed zone exit%. As a whole, Edmonton’s defensive corps ranks decently below the league-average in zone exit success%. Part of that is due to poor forward support in the defensive-zone, as I wrote back in early January, but acquiring a defenceman with an established ability of efficiently breaking the puck out of the zone is a trait Edmonton should be looking for.
The ability to efficiently retrieve dump-ins and break up the cycle would be some desired traits as well. Preferably, you’d like to trade for a top-four LD that Bouchard could play well with. Bouchard can deny entries and force dump-ins, so acquiring a LD that can efficiently retrieve those dump-ins would work well with him. A LD that can also break up the cycle and cover up for Bouchard’s occasional errors would also be preferred. Put differently, Edmonton should aim for a LD that can defend well in their own zone.
However, both Nurse and Ceci have been awful at defending the rush. Both rank well below the league average in controlled entry against rate. Edmonton’s top-pairing has mightily struggled to defend the rush, so a LD that can take the load off Nurse and effectively defend the rush would be beneficial. With that said, Evan Bouchard is a strong entry defender, so if you can acquire a defender that’s reliable in their own zone, they could form a well-rounded pair that complement one another. I would likely prioritize strong in-zone defensive play for a LD target.
Firstly, here’s a look at Gavrikov’s transitional microstats.
Gavrikov seldom jumps up into the OZ to make plays off the rush, which is fine, as Edmonton certainly doesn’t need a LD that excels at zone entries. However, a strong breakout defenceman would be beneficial, and Gavrikov is actually above-average at exiting the zone with possession. He’s pretty good at carrying the puck out, but on the downside, he doesn’t have the greatest success rate with exits. His total failed exits per hour is a concern.
Gavrikov had more failed zone exits per 60 than any other Columbus defenceman in 2021-22. According to this scouting report on Daily Faceoff, Gavrikov doesn’t move the puck well under pressure, and typically resorts to rimming the puck around the boards rather than trying to escape the forecheck pressure and make a controlled outlet pass.
Consequently, Gavrikov does seem a bit high-event in this regard as he makes a solid volume of possession exits, and a decently high volume of failed exits; does Edmonton need another defenceman who’s high-event with breakouts?
Gavrikov’s entry defence stats are a bit messier. Here’s a look at his results year-by-year.
Gavrikov was poor at defending the rush and denying entries in 2020-21. He massively improved at zone denial% in 2021-22, but he was poor in this facet again in 2022-23. This is a pretty odd/rare case, as the majority of defencemen (especially those who remain on the same team) tend to sustain their entry defence metrics season-to-season. One thing that has remained constant, however, is that Gavrikov struggles to defend chances off entries against.
I did say that in-zone defensive play is more suitable for a strong LD target, but it still wouldn’t be preferable if both of Edmonton’s top-four LD struggled at defending rush chances. Will Bouchard be enough to cover up for that? I’m not sure.
Gavrikov’s puck retrieval results don’t look stellar either. In the past two seasons, he ranks fourth among Columbus D in defensive-zone retrievals per 60, fifth in botched retrievals per 60, and sixth in overall retrieval success%. There’s another box that Gavrikov doesn’t check.
On the bright side, it does seem like Gavrikov is strong at breaking up the cycle. I don’t have access to any other detailed defensive microstats for the rest of the league, as they’re typically tracked by private companies, but there are some snippets of this private data online. Per Mike Kelly and SportLogIQ, Gavrikov ranked 5th in the league with a total of 610 blocked passes and stick checks last season. At glance, that seems quite encouraging, but this is a stat that requires context.
If you spend a lot of time in the DZ, you’re bound to have a higher volume of plays. This stat is similar to blocked shots, and can be connected to the blocking shots / killing rats analogy; killing a rat here and there is more preferable as opposed to not, but if you consistently have to kill rats, there’s something wrong.
With that said, Gavrikov’s impact on preventing shot attempts against was above-average last season. His possession metrics were solid last season, so it’s somewhat reasonable to say that he is efficient at breaking up plays in the DZ. With the info we have, that could be one box checked off.
Overall, Gavrikov is a defenceman that stays back during the rush, and is decently high-event with zone exits. He’s inconsistent at defending entries, doesn’t retrieve pucks at a high volume (while he’s prone to a decently high volume of botched retrievals), but with the data we have available, he does seem strong at breaking up the cycle.
Side Note: Do the Oilers need a LD?
I’m not entirely sure if Edmonton’s priority should be a LD. At least, not unless we clearly know Philip Broberg can’t handle a top-four role.
Last week, I wrote all about Broberg, and how his ability to efficiently retrieve pucks in the DZ under pressure and effectively defend the rush has largely helped the team, although in a very sheltered role, and the sample size isn’t significantly large either.
Edmonton should gradually start increasing Broberg’s minutes. If he can’t handle tougher matchups, trading for a top-four LD could be beneficial. I like Brett Kulak a lot, but I’m not convinced he’s a bonafide 2LD. His biggest asset is his ability to defend the rush and force dump-ins, but he struggles at retrieving those dump-ins, as he ranks last on the team in DZ Retrieval Success rate (Kulak ranks at 45%, while the team average is 50%). Additionally, Kulak struggles to break up the cycle against top opposition, and provides minimal offence.
However, if Broberg does prove he can effectively handle a 2LD role, that significantly changes things. This would shift Kulak down to 3LD, a role in which he has proven to excel in, and the need for a LD would decrease. Instead, I’d target a RD or a finisher instead.
I have serious doubts on if a team with Ceci, Bouchard, and Barrie as their RD core can win a cup. Trading one of Ceci/Barrie and replacing them with a strong RD (preferably a partner for Nurse) would be a smart move. Alongside Broberg’s potential effectiveness in a top-four role in this scenario, Edmonton’s defensive core would look much stronger.
Gavrikov’s reported trade value is a first-round pick+. I don’t think he’s worth it.
Firstly, Gavrikov seems to play quite well in a more sheltered environment, but it’s uncertain if he can handle a higher role. Of course, I’d definitely expect his metrics to rebound after moving away from the worst team in the league and alongside Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl, but he doesn’t have any track record of strong play and experience against top competition in general at the NHL level. Considering his trade value, is it really worth the risk? I’d much rather prefer to trade for a more proven defenceman.
Edmonton has been rumoured to be specifically pursuing a “cycle-buster,” someone who’s “hard to play against,” and based on the data that’s publicly accessible, Gavrikov could be that guy. He can block passes in the defensive-zone at a high rate, and he has a good stick that can break up plays. But does that aspect alone outweigh the cons? As mentioned above, Gavrikov’s defensive impact has declined in the past two seasons. Out of all 243 defencemen with a minimum of 500 TOI in the past two seasons, Gavrikov’s isolated impact on preventing expected goals ranks 197th, and his impact on actual goals against ranks 212th. Sure, he can break up the cycle, but it doesn’t seem like the good outweighs the bad, and there still remains the possibility that his high volume of blocked passes/stick checks is a byproduct of being hemmed into his own zone for large periods of time.
It’s uncertain if he’s an upgrade on Kulak. Kulak is a strong entry defender, an area that requires improvement for the Oilers, whereas Gavrikov’s track record at entry defence is more spotty. In the past three seasons combined, Kulak’s overall defensive impact is much stronger than Gavrikov. At best, Gavrikov is likely not much more than a marginal upgrade, but that isn’t worth a package consisting of a first-round pick.
Not to mention, it’s highly arguable if a top-four LD should be Edmonton’s top priority in the first place. If Edmonton can acquire a RD that can efficiently defend the rush as a partner for Nurse, and if Broberg can handle a second-pairing role, that may make a larger impact as opposed to trading for yet another LD.
I think Gavrikov is a solid #4-5 D. He does possess several strengths, and certainly isn’t a bad player by any means. However, I just don’t think he’s the best available fit with Edmonton, and he isn’t worth the asking price.
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