The Edmonton Oilers have had an interesting start to their season.
They’re 2-2-0 through four games. The first win came on a comeback after Edmonton dug themselves into a 3-0 hole, the next two games resulted in losses after the team couldn’t erase an early deficit, and the most recent win featured the Oilers’ most complete effort of this young season.
While you don’t really like to draw too many conclusions following four games, the common theme between the comeback win against Vancouver, the full effort against Carolina, and the frustrating losses to Calgary and Buffalo has been a leaky blueline.
Whether it’s dangerous breakout passes into the middle of the ice, getting lost on defensive zone coverage, or giving up too much space on the rush, the Oilers’ blueline hasn’t looked much like how it did down the stretch and into the playoffs last season.
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Edmonton’s struggles defensively have been evident through the eye test early on, but what do the numbers say? Here’s how all of the Oilers’ defencemen have performed so far this season at even-strength, ranked from most to fewest total minutes played…
  • Darnell Nurse: 69:00 minutes, 39-to-35 in shots, 2-to-3 in goals
  • Cody Ceci: 63:04 minutes, 37-to-32 in shots, 4-to-2 in goals
  • Evan Bouchard: 58:03 minutes, 36-to-29 in shots, 0-to-4 in goals
  • Tyson Barrie: 54:54 minutes, 27-to-36 in shots, 1-to-2 in goals
  • Brett Kulak: 48:31 minutes, 22-to-37 in shots, 1-to-0 in goals
  • Ryan Murray: 48:04 minutes, 24-to-27 in shots, 1-to-5 in goals
  • Markus Niemelainen: minutes, 9-to-7 in shots, 1-to-2 in goals
And here are how the most frequently used defensive pairings have fared together…
  • Nurse and Ceci: 53:22 at even strength, 32-to-29 in shots, 4-to-2 in goals.
  • Kulak and Barrie: 32:27 at even strength, 10-to-28 in shots, 0-0 in goals.
  • Murray and Bouchard: 28:25 at even strength, 15-to-17 in shots, 0-to-4 in goals. 
The challenge for the Oilers has been putting together three different defensive pairings that can get the job done. Despite some gaffes, Nurse and Ceci have largely gotten the job done on the top pairing, the Kulak and Barrie have gotten by despite being heavily outshot, and the Murray and Bouchard pair has been a mess.
The hope over the summer was that Philip Broberg would be able to take a step forward and take on a significant role on the team’s blueline. The No. 8 overall pick looked shaky during the pre-season and hasn’t played yet during the regular season because of an upper-body injury. Broberg is expected to play next weekend but might need some time in the AHL to find his footing.
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What should the Oilers do about their blueline? The glaring hole is on the left side of the second pairing, the post that had previously been occupied mostly by Duncan Keith in 2021-22. Is this something that’ll fix itself over time through coaching and internal progression? Or does Ken Holland need to go out and find the solution through a trade?
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The obvious name that comes to mind when talking about trading for a defender is Jakob Chychrun of the Arizona Coyotes. Chychrun wanting to get out of the desert had been the worst-kept secret in hockey for quite some time and he publicly confirmed in September that wants to “get moved to a situation with a chance to win and a team that’s fighting for the Cup.”
There’s a lot to like about Chychrun. He’s listed at 6’2″, 220-pounds, he’s cost-controlled at $4.6 million for two more seasons after this one, and he’s not far removed from finishing 10th in Norris Trophy voting and leading the league in goals among defencemen.
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The difficulty is that a lot of teams are going to be interested in trading for him and the Coyotes are in no rush to do so. They can sit around and wait for a bidding war to evolve as teams realize how badly they want to add a young, top-four defender. Would Holland be comfortable moving a first-round pick, a top prospect, and possibly more for a young defender without much, if any, big-game experience who’s coming off of wrist surgery?
Now, that being said, Chychrun isn’t the only defender that the Oilers could trade for. Maybe Carson Soucy of the Seattle Kraken could be the big, defensive defenceman the team needs on the second pairing alongside Bouchard. But the reality is that trades aren’t often made this early in the season because teams don’t yet know what they have, so any move to bring in a defender will likely require an overpay.
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What say you, Nation? What are your thoughts on Edmonton’s blueline so far? Do they need an upgrade? Or do they just need more time to smooth things out? Let us know!