(UPDATE: The Oilers have claimed Clendening.)
Clendening is on his fourth NHL team over the last two seasons, and hasn’t been able to produce much at the NHL level. Yet, he’s also just 23 and a season-and-a-half removed from being a First-Team AHL All-Star. He putt together two solid AHL seasons at a young age that come on the heels of two good years at Boston University and a gold medal at the World Junior Championship, where he was named to the tournament All-Star Team after leading the tournament in goals, assists and points by a defenseman.
For a team that’s able to develop a young defenseman and take on another contract without it adversely impacting trade deadline aspirations, Clendening could carry some value. Below are five teams who could be in the right situation to take a risk on Clendening.
1. Edmonton Oilers
This isn’t news, but the Oilers continue to need help on the blue line. With another lost season on their hands, they may need to bring in a free-agent veteran blue liner beyond Andrej Sekera to act as a leader for the group. But as their blue line struggles continue, finding solutions that don’t involve trading away their offensive depth is their best option forward. That make Clendening worth a look.
Claiming Clendening now would give them team an opportunity to try him out when their games are becoming increasingly meaningless to see if there is any way they can rekindle his game.
The Oilers have needs everywhere, so the audition can be tailored to his strengths. It’s a low risk move for a team with cap space. It does bring their contracts to 49, which may be a sticking point if GM Peter Chiarelli wants more flexibility than that as they approach the trade deadline.
2. Calgary Flames
The Flames are in an interesting space coming up on the trade deadline. It’s not clear yet whether they’re sellers or if they’ll make a run at a playoff spot. Either way, they’re best served by continuing to look to future seasons. Clendening may give them a shot at a depth defender who could replace Kris Russell or make up for the mistake of giving Deryk Engelland that ridiculous contract.
Bringing in Clendening and deciding to be sellers would free them to take calls on Russell. It’s been reported that they’ve received calls on the pending UFA, but they’re still interested in trying to re-sign the 28-year-old defender. If they move him for more assets, Clendening could step into the hole on the blue line for the remainder of the season.
3. Ottawa Senators
While they have Norris-favorite Erik Karlsson on the blue line, there are serious depth issues in Ottawa. There’s not much offense coming from the blue line outside of Karlsson, and Clendening could provide a hope there if he was afforded some consistent usage.
Similar to the Russell situation, the Senators are toying with the idea of trading Jared Cowen. They have blue line problems and they’re talking about deleting a defenseman from the roster. Clendening is clearly not a sure thing, but they may have a roster spot where they can give him a go for the rest of the season.
4. New York Islanders
The Islanders have a different situation completely than the other teams here. Clendening might make sense for them despite being a playoff team because of the injuries they’re facing right now. Both Johnny Boychuk and Adam Pelech are out of the lineup. They can afford to give Clendening a short audition and waive him if he doesn’t work out.
If he does work out, it may make GM Garth Snow’s summer negotiations to move Travis Hamonic a little less stressful. Snow might be paying attention here too because he’s been pretty savvy about improving his blue line without giving up anything from his strong forward group.
5. Toronto Maple Leafs
Toronto is getting ready to sell the farm. Adding a player who they can audition and is a warm body can’t hurt. They’re looking to build toward the future and bringing in another defenseman as a lottery ticket, even if it’s low odds, kind of looks like their style right now.
Worst case scenario for them is he plays for a bit, doesn’t work out and they waive him. If he gets claimed: no harm, no foul. If he doesn’t get claimed, they can send him to the Marlies for the rest of the season. He can probably help the Marlies on their strong run this season and maybe it gives him a chance to hit reboot on his career.
Dustin Nelson writes about news and the Minnesota Wild for The Hockey Writers.