What type of player should the Edmonton Oilers pursue at the deadline?

Photo credit:© Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports
9 months ago
With the NHL trade deadline just weeks away, trade rumors and discussions continue to rise.
For the Edmonton Oilers, they’re currently 8-0-2 in their last ten games.  Since Christmas, they rank 3rd in the league in 5v5 goal differential, and 2nd in 5v5 expected goal differential.
Their defensive play has markedly improved, as they’ve allowed just 2.0 5v5 goals per 60 during that span, ranking 4th in the league. Their power play continues to dominate, and their penalty kill has improved from 72% to 85%. The team needed to play better after an OK first half, and they’ve done just that.
The big question everyone’s asking is; what should they do at the deadline?
“I think for a long time, it was no, not Chychrun,” said Elliotte Friedman on Oilers Now in regard to Edmonton’s interest in defenceman Jakob Chychrun. “Now I do think there are people in your organization saying ‘should we be taking a deeper look at this.’ I think you guys are thinking about it a little more than you have in the past.” Based on this, there could be a decent chance that the Oilers do trade for Chychrun.
On the other hand, Mark Spector has said that the Oilers won’t trade for Chychrun, and instead, they may target a top-six winger, suggesting Patrick Kane as a top target.
Let’s take a look at the arguments for and against acquiring a defenceman or forward.

Making the case for a forward

Here’s a look at Edmonton without McDavid and Draisaitl this season, compared to past years:
For once, Edmonton’s bottom six isn’t just being out-scored; they’re out-scoring at a significantly high margin. A 55% goal differential for a team without their top two players is excellent.
Some may use this as a counter-argument against adding a forward; their forward depth seems to be at an all-time high, right?
However, with one of McDavid or Draisaitl on-ice, the Oilers have actually been out-scored 64 – 65 at 5v5. For once, it’s their top-six that’s the major area for improvement at 5v5, not their bottom-six.
Together, McDavid and Draisaitl still have a 54% goal share, but McDavid is at 51% without Draisaitl, and Draisaitl is at 44% without McDavid.
Part of that is due to Edmonton’s top-pairing of Nurse-Ceci as I mentioned here, but Draisaitl has a ton of room to improve at 5v5 this season. I try not to criticize the guy who ranks 2nd in the NHL in scoring, but his defensive play at even strength is an issue he needs to address. No Oilers forward has been on the ice for more scoring chances against per 60 than Draisaitl. Careless turnovers and lack of backchecking have been a problem for him, especially recently. However, I don’t think McDavid has been bad defensively.
Can he improve? Absolutely, both of Edmonton’s stars can refine their two-way play, but I believe there’s a larger reason for his unimpressive goal differential away from Draisaitl.
Individually, McDavid has been an excellent finisher in all situations. Away from Draisaitl, McDavid has 11 goals on 8.3 expected goals, and 74 shots.
Away from Draisaitl, McDavid’s linemates have also scored 11 goals – but on over twice the expected goals (17.9) and shots (220).
So yes, McDavid only narrowly being able to out-score the opposition away from Draisaitl isn’t encouraging, but he holds an excellent 57 percent expected goal share, and an outstanding 61 percent high-danger chance share during that time. Simply put, his linemates have been poor at consistently putting the puck in the net at 5v5, and his goal share has consequently suffered. 
Currently, he has the same amount of 5v5 primary assists as Adam Larsson, Gustav Forsling, and Jack Roslovic – 11.
If McDavid even had average linemate finishing, he could have at least 7-8 more assists at 5v5, which would push him to second in the league. Now imagine if he had a good finisher, who could consistently score above expected. His 5v5 production rates would skyrocket. It’s scary to think that, in regards to linemate finishing, McDavid has been unlucky, and yet, he’s still producing at a 150+ point pace.
With Puljujarvi’s time in Edmonton about to come to an end, alongside Yamamoto’s injury history and inconsistency, the Oilers don’t really possess a strong top-six right wing. In technicality, although he shoots right, Zach Hyman is a left winger.
Consequently, there’s a very valid argument to be made that a proficient finisher can further maximize the best player in the league. Is Patrick Kane that guy?
I dove into Kane a couple of months back. There are multiple red flags with him. Firstly, he seems to have a high asking price, and it goes without saying that there are risks in acquiring a declining forward at age 34, making $10.5M. Furthermore, Kane has had some of the league’s worst defensive results. His defence isn’t just due to the team around him, but his metrics have also been poor throughout his entire career. Put differently, both the Cup-winning Chicago teams of old and the current basement-dwelling version allowed significantly fewer goals and chances with Kane off-ice.
Kane’s offence has declined as well. His production rates have gradually worsened over the years, and he’s been a net negative in finishing talent the past two seasons. He’s still a strong playmaker (although he’s declined in that aspect as well), but does that outweigh all the cons? Not to mention, he has some lingering hip issues as well.
Patrick Kane may not be that guy, but a top-six forward that can put pucks in the net should be a player that Edmonton should consider pursuing. As they finally have some depth scoring, adding a finisher to compliment their top-six can make this team even harder to defend against.

Making the case for a defender

Although the Oilers have significantly improved since Christmas, they do not possess a single defenceman that ranks above the 75th percentile in 5v5 defensive impact (RAPM xGA/60). The closest defender to hitting this mark is Philip Broberg, who’s played a very sheltered role. None of their current defencemen are spectacular defenders playing against top competition.
Edmonton’s top-pairing of Darnell Nurse and Cody Ceci has struggled mightily. At 5v5, that duo has been outshot by a ratio of 338 – 381, equating to a lousy 47% shot share. Their 48% scoring chance differential is mediocre as well, and they’ve been out-scored at 5v5. A good top pairing on a contending team should be able to consistently tilt the ice, but the opposite is occurring. 
Their biggest weakness is defending the rush. I wrote in-depth about this topic a few weeks back, but Nurse and Ceci have consistently allowed controlled zone entries and rush chances at an alarming rate. The average defender allows controlled entry ~55-56% of the time when a forward targets them at the blue line. Nurse has allowed controlled entries 61% of the time, Ceci is at 63%. 
Having a top pair that struggles to defend the rush isn’t the best strategy heading into the playoffs and having to match up against fast, talented teams. A major factor for Colorado’s four-game sweep of Edmonton last season was the fact that Colorado generated nearly 35% more shot attempts off the rush than Edmonton did.
The second pairing hasn’t been anything spectacular either. The duo of Brett Kulak and Tyson Barrie do possess a positive goal share of 53%, but considering their mediocre 48% shot and scoring chance share, is this sustainable moving forward? I’m not so sure.
Brett Kulak was excellent in his 3LD role last season, but this year, he hasn’t been anything exceptional playing consistently in a top-four role. Kulak ranks last among defenders in defensive-zone retrieval success rate at 47%, and 2nd last in DZ Breakups. Kulak can still defend the rush, but his in-zone defending has taken a hit in an increased role. You could certainly upgrade on Kulak in a 2LD role.
Ideally, as I’ve suggested several times, Broberg should be granted an opportunity in the top four to see how well he can handle those minutes. If he can, the need for a left defenceman substantially decreases. 
I believe Edmonton’s 1RD spot is a bigger area for concern for the 2LD spot. Ceci just can’t seem to handle the current 1RD spot. Edmonton needs a reliable partner for Nurse to form a strong top-pairing, a RD that can efficiently defend the rush and make a breakout pass. 
With that said, my case for Jakob Chychrun is that players like him aren’t often available.
Defencemen that can consistently play top competition and post strong results tend to be somewhat rare on the trade market. It’s even more uncommon to see a defenceman accomplish this on a poor team.
Chychrun has produced strong results in a top-pairing role on one of the worst teams in the league at the age of just 24, making a $4.6M cap hit. A cost-controlled player that has proven to bring good results at both ends of the ice, even in a difficult role, is a player that good teams pursue. If Chychrun can post these results playing with Keller and Schmaltz in Arizona, imagine how well he’d perform in a 2LD role on a much better team, alongside McDavid and Draisaitl.
To further expand on the case for defensive help, in the 2021-22 playoffs, Edmonton scored 65 goals in 16 games and ranked above all teams in even-strength goals per game, including the eventual cup-winning Colorado Avalanche. They scored at an excellent rate of 4.03 goals per 60.
However, they also allowed more goals per game than any other team that made the second round. Edmonton averaged 3.66 goals against per 60 minutes during their playoff run. For comparison, Colorado was at 2.67, a difference of nearly a full goal per hour, while Tampa was also at a considerably superior 2.59. 
In the seasons in which they won the Cup, Tampa allowed 1.93 and 2.0 goals per 60 in 2019-20 and 2020-21 respectively. Edmonton’s GF/60 during the 2022 playoff run has actually been higher by a decent margin than Tampa in each of their past three playoff appearances, but the evidently major difference is defence. Safe to say, limiting goals against should be a major priority if this team wishes to win a cup.
Both defensive play and finishing in the top six are areas that the Oilers can improve on. Which area would you prioritize? What would be at the top of your trade targets list heading into the deadline?
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