Reviewing the 2023 Trade Deadline for the Edmonton Oilers

Photo credit:© Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports
1 year ago
The 2023 NHL Trade Deadline concluded on Friday. This past week as a whole was quite eventful, although the actual deadline day was somewhat monotonous compared to prior trade deadlines, largely consisting of some minor moves.
Edmonton didn’t make any trades on Friday, as all of their trades came in days prior.
On Tuesday, Edmonton dealt Jesse Puljujarvi to the Carolina Hurricanes for forward prospect Patrik Puistola. 
A couple of hours later, it was announced that Edmonton traded for defenceman Mattias Ekholm from the Nashville Predators. Going the other way was a package consisting of Tyson Barrie, 2022 first-round draft pick Reid Schaefer, the 2023 first-round pick, and a 2024 fourth-round pick.
On Thursday, the Oilers dealt for forward Nick Bjugstad from the Arizona Coyotes, alongside defensive prospect Cam Dineen, in exchange for a 2023 third-round pick and defensive prospect Michael Kesselring.
Here’s an analysis of Edmonton’s performance at this deadline.
*All microstats via AllThreeZones, all other stats via EvolvingHockey, Natural Stat Trick, and PuckIQ unless stated otherwise

Parting thoughts on Jesse Puljujarvi

I’ve always been a fan of Jesse Puljujarvi. It’s unfortunate that it had to come to this.
I still believe Puljujarvi was underappreciated in some aspects, most notably his play without the puck. I don’t think I need to dive into this more, but I continue to stand by my opinion that he’s a very good defensive player. He excels at forechecking, getting the puck out of the zone, and sustaining possession.
But with that said, the skill that’s most highly correlated with winning is finishing talent, followed by playmaking, two areas that Puljujarvi mightily struggled in.
It’s fair to say there’s some blame on both sides. Puljujarvi had ample opportunity with the best players in the world, but at the same time, his development was mishandled and botched in various ways, especially under Peter Chiarelli and Todd McLellan.
In hindsight, I wish we could’ve accepted Puljujarvi for the player he is. I wish many accepted him as nothing more than a defensively-sound complimentary winger, someone that isn’t a lock in the top-six due to his lack of puck skills or production, but can rotate through the lineup and help his linemates spend more time away from the defensive zone. Of course, ideally at a lower cap hit, but I wish many acknowledged both his flaws and strengths. I guess his high draft pedigree placed a lot of high expectations on him.
I’m happy to know that at least Ken Holland did reach out to Puljujarvi for a potential extension with Edmonton at a lower price. Puljujarvi and his agent felt that a change of scenery was best, which is perfectly fair, but it’s nice to know Holland considered it.
This trade is a good thing for both sides.
For the Oilers, they cleared $3M in cap space to make other moves. They didn’t need to use any assets to move his full cap-hit and acquired an asset back in Patrik Puistola. He’s a decent prospect who’s already seen some progress/development, going from 7th to 1st on his team in points from last season to this season in the Finnish Elite League. This is a fine trade for Edmonton.
For Puljujarvi, he gets a change of scenery. Sometimes, a player just needs a fresh start on a different team to succeed, and Puljujarvi will get the chance to play on the second best team in the league. In Carolina, he already has a familiar face in Sebastian Aho, his fellow teammate on the 2016 Finnish World Juniors team.
I hope Puljujarvi thrives, and I wish nothing but the best for him in Carolina. I’ll always root for him.

The Mattias Ekholm deal was excellent

Mattias Ekholm is a fantastic two-way defenceman who excels in a large variety of areas. He’s versatile, as he’s primarily a LD, but can also play RD.
On the defensive side, he’s excellent at defensive-zone retrievals. He was Nashville’s go-to defenceman at retrieving dump-ins, and he did so at a high volume, and despite a high workload, his botched retrievals per hour was surprisingly quite low. Ekholm can also defend the rush, and he’s pretty aggressive at defending the blueline. In each of the past three seasons, he’s consistently ranked well in preventing carry-ins.
On the offensive side, he’s a strong puck-mover in transition. He ranks near the top of all defencemen in zone entries per hour, and well above average in zone exits. His scoring chance assists per 60 were pretty high compared to other defencemen as well.
In Nashville, Roman Josi was obviously Nashville’s top defenceman, but it was actually Ekholm who had the toughest matchups. In Josi’s 21-22 campaign in which he was a Norris nominee, Josi played 28% of his TOI against elite competition, while Ekholm played 38% of his TOI against elites. This season, the TOI was distributed more equally in Nashville, but Ekholm was still at 29%, while Josi was at 24%.
Overall, Ekholm’s on-ice impact on scoring chances (RAPM xG +/-) ranks 6th among all defencemen in the league. This is a very strong two-way player with plentiful experience against top opposition, just what Edmonton needed. It’s not an exaggeration to say that Ekholm is the best defenceman the Oilers have dealt for since Chris Pronger, and I don’t think it’s particularly close. 
As for the return, I was never an avid fan of Reid Schaefer. Using Byron Bader’s NHLe model, only around 1⁄3 of players with similar production rates to Schaefer develop into regular NHL players, and even if Schaefer does make the NHL, he’s years away. Solid prospect, but the ceiling doesn’t seem too high.
The 2023 NHL Draft is pretty deep, but it won’t significantly matter if the Oilers go deep. The possibility of drafting a good player with that pick who may make an impact in 3-4 years doesn’t outweigh the fact that you get to increase your chance of a Stanley Cup before Draisaitl’s contract expires. I wanted the Oilers to be in win-now mode, and with this trade, it certainly looks like they are.
As for Tyson Barrie, he was having a solid season. His defensive metrics were abysmal in the prior two seasons, but he considerably improved at even strength, and he deserves credit for that. Barrie was a player that seemed loved in the locker room and a quite likeable human being in general. To be honest, I was hoping Nashville would trade him to a contender. I wish him nothing but the best moving forward.
Still, I believe the package for Ekholm is worth it. Some have concerns about the power play, but I don’t think it’s an issue at all. Edmonton’s top power-play unit of McDavid, Draisaitl, and RNH averaged 16.0 goals per hour with Barrie, and 16.1 goals per hour without Barrie, so no major difference. Prior to the season he even came here, Edmonton’s power play was the best in the league. It should be clear that the primary drivers of the power play are McDavid, Draisaitl, and Nugent-Hopkins. 
I believe Evan Bouchard will do just fine in that role, and that’s another positive of this trade. I’m quite happy to see an increased opportunity for Bouchard, and the top power play unit has scored at a fantastic rate of 18.4 goals per hour with Bouchard, higher than any season with Barrie operating as the man at the point. 
This is a topic for another piece, but I believe Bouchard had a solid season but has faced some poor puck luck. I think Bouchard will excel alongside Ekholm, and so far, he has. In three games, the Ekholm-Bouchard duo is 5-1 in 5v5 goals (+4, 83 GF%), alongside a 76 percent expected goal share. 
The risks of this deal are that Ekholm is 32, and carries a $6M cap hit for the next four seasons, but I don’t think they’re major concerns. Ekholm’s play style isn’t something that will immediately regress. 
He’ll be a very strong top-four defenceman for at least the next two-three seasons, which is the window for the final years of McDavid and Draisaitl’s contracts. He could see a decline in Year 4, but even then, his contract is fairly buyout-friendly, and he doesn’t have an NMC. Additionally, one of the best things about Ekholm is that he doesn’t have much of an injury history either.
Overall, I believe this was Ken Holland’s best trade as an Oilers GM. 

The addition of Nick Bjugstad

Nick Bjugstad is a solid right-shot defensive center at 5v5. Bjugstad is a good forechecker and does well at disrupting opposing zone exit attempts. He’s decent at generating offence off the rush and tends to get a lot of deflections near the front of the net (weird stat: he ranks 8th in the league in deflections + deflection shot assists per 60)
He’s had a solid year for a bottom-six forward on an awful Arizona team, with 13 goals and 23 points in 56 games. He scored in his Oilers debut on Sunday, which pushes him to 12 5v5 goals. That would place him 3rd on the Oilers in 5v5 goals, ahead of Zach Hyman and just one goal behind Leon Draisaitl and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. He has experience playing RW, which is an area that the Oilers are lacking in, so he offers some additional versatility.
For whatever reason, his penalty-killing metrics are awful. It’s worth noting that he didn’t really penalty-kill throughout his career until this season with Arizona. He would rank last among all of Edmonton’s centers in short-handed faceoff percentage as well. At least in this specific area, I’m doubtful he’ll meaningfully contribute.
Overall, I’m a bit mixed on the price, but I think the trade is fine in a vacuum. It will create some competition though. If Edmonton decides to run 11/7, that means that one of Ryan, Janmark, Kostin, or Bjugstad will be scratched on a fully healthy roster, and Dylan Holloway likely won’t play while the team is healthy. Still, competition in the bottom-six can be seen as a good problem to have.
In a vacuum, the trade is fine, as I like Bjugstad. However, I do think they could have used those assets and cap-space on a team need instead, most notably a RD.

Could the Oilers have done more?

In my opinion, yes. There are two issues on the roster that still need to be solved.
Let’s take a look at Edmonton’s goal differential with and without Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl.
Edmonton’s bottom six has been exceptional, out-scoring the opposition at a rate of 60 – 47 at 5v5. Edmonton’s depth scoring is the best it’s ever been in the McDavid and Draisaitl era by a significant margin and is superior to the depth scoring of most recent cup-winning teams.
Together, McDavid and Draisaitl are at a solid 53% goal differential together, but McDavid is only dead-even in 5v5 goals without Draisaitl, and Draisaitl is at a poor 43% without McDavid.
Ekholm will largely help in this area by helping reduce that GA and playing with the top-six, and so far, the early returns are great, as he’s +5 at 5v5. However, to further improve this team’s chances of winning a cup, this area is something specifically to further improve upon. 
With the Nurse-Ceci pairing on-ice, McDavid is at a poor 44% goal differential. He’s at 54% without them. The story is similar to Draisaitl, who’s at an appalling 39% goal differential with Nurse-Ceci, but improves to 56% without them. This is partially due to quality of competition, but note that the top-pairing has never had this awful of an impact on McDavid and Draisaitl. Worth noting that in the limited minutes Nurse and Bouchard have played together, McDavid and Draisaitl did improve with that pairing on-ice.
The right defence is an area I’d like to have addressed at this deadline. Cody Ceci is not a top-pairing defender and is much more suited for a 2RD or a 3RD role. I like Vincent Desharnais, but can he be a reliable NHL defender moving forward and in the playoffs? Ideally, I would have targeted Rakdo Gudas.
He’s a strong defender who can defend entries, and he ranks first among Florida’s defencemen in controlled exits per hour. That’s a player that could stylistically pair well with Darnell Nurse. In this hypothetical scenario, I wouldn’t have a de facto top-pairing, as I would split the TOI and QoC evenly between Ekholm-Bouchard and a potential Nurse-Gudas pairing.
However, a strong finisher could’ve helped as well. Going back to the visual above, note the discrepancy between McDavid’s actual and expected goal share. Aside from Nurse-Ceci, the primary reason for McDavid’s poor goal differential without Draisaitl is subpar finishing. The team is lacking at 5v5 goal-scoring from their wingers, most notably at RW.
McDavid’s non-Draisaitl linemates have scored -8.7 goals over expected; put differently, if McDavid’s linemates finished at an average rate, he could have around 7-9 more assists. Note that McDavid is 49th in the league in 5v5 primary assists per hour, which is obviously great, but doesn’t meet his typical lofty offensive standards. If McDavid had a good finisher, that number could be even higher. I just think there’s a lot of potential for even more offence in the top six.
On the bright side, Kailer Yamamoto had an excellent game on Friday, with two goals and an assist. My main issue with Yamamoto has been consistency, so hopefully, he keeps this up. Edmonton could really benefit from more goal-scoring in the top six, especially considering Evander Kane’s injuries. 
Another big question-mark with the team is goaltending, as Jack Campbell is having an awful year. It’s difficult to know what to do with Edmonton’s goaltending situation at this point. He’s nearing the point where he’s unplayable, but I also don’t want to run Stuart Skinner into the ground. Putting Campbell on waivers doesn’t seem to be an option after the deadline either. The only thing we can really do is just wait and hope for Campbell to improve.
This roster still has some flaws that could hold them back from winning it all, but nonetheless, Ken Holland did what he needed to do; improve the team. Overall, I’m happy with what the Oilers did.
Overall Trade Deadline Grade: 7/10
Find me on Twitter (@NHL_Sid)

Check out these posts...