Oilers’ Mailbag: Defence, Defence and More Defence

I’ve never done a mailbag segment for the Edmonton Oilers. That said, with how popular these segments seem to be and with how many questions Oilers fans may have these days in a time of uncertainty, it only made sense to consider one.

I opened the door to questions from fans on Facebook and Twitter and got some excellent responses. In fact, we received so many, both me and former THW contributor, Shane Sander decided to take a crack at answering some knowing we’d need to break this article up into two parts.

Here is part one:

“With a number of prospect d-men almost NHL ready, including Bear and Persson on the right side, will the organization be true to their word and let top prospects like Bouchard play in AHL next year?” (

Shane’s Response:

What the organization says and what they actually do are two different things. The defense is going to need to be addressed heading into next season, and that’ll have a big tell on whether any of these youngsters — Ethan Bear, Evan Bouchard, Caleb Jones, William Lagesson, and Dmitri Samorukov — end up on the main roster next October.

Evan Bouchard, London Knights
Bouchard is ninth all-time in defensive scoring for the London Knights. (Aaron Bell/OHL Images)

The right thing to do is allow that group to develop in the AHL next season: enter Joel Persson whose signing of a $1 million one-year deal signals the organization believes he can and will play in the NHL next season.

The Oilers still don’t know what they have in a returning Andrej Sekera who has played just 36 of 133 possible games over the past two seasons and between Sekera and the questionable future of Matt Benning, the Oilers have question marks that still need to be addressed on their backend. Regardless, there are four defenders that will be Oilers next season; Oscar Klefbom, Adam Larsson, Darnell Nurse, and Joel Persson. What the Oilers do with Benning, Sekera, and Russell will play a big factor in what happens with the kids.

It’s a lot more complex than “will they or won’t they hold their word”. The best thing is to let those players develop, but we all know how the Oilers have operated. So it’s fair to be skeptical of Bob Nicholson’s latest comment.

Jim’s Response:

Edmonton has said the organization needs to look at over-ripening their prospects in the AHL and I believe they’ll do so. That said, the next general manager will have as much to do with a guy like Bob Nicholson being able to keep his word as anything else.

If the new GM believes a player like Evan Bouchard is ready, he’ll get a look (it may even be towards the end of this season). That said, the new GM will also need to be better at pro scouting, recognizing good players on the blue line from other teams and clearing wasted space like Brandon Manning or Alex Petrovic. A good blue in the pros means there’s no need to rush people.

Brandon Manning, Philadelphia Flyers, Fantasy Hockey
Brandon Manning has made his first appearance on THW’s fantasy rankings this season. (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

My belief is that a player is ready when they’re ready. It’s not so much that guys like Bouchard shouldn’t be in the NHL next season, but that, in the past, the Oilers have not done a sufficient enough job recognizing when prospects are prepared to take the next step. If they can get better at recognizing what they have and if prospects need more time, this won’t really be a question that needs answering.

Related: Three Oilers Trades to Expect Almost Immediately

What’s your Top 3 RD look like next year? Larsson is one. Jones, Bouchard, Russell, Benning, Bear, Persson other options.  Question by

Shane’s Response:

This is a good question. The easy answer is to say they should acquire a top pairing or top-four defender, but we’ve seen how difficult that type of trade has been for the Oilers in the past few years. Nicholson towing the company line that they’re not shopping their first rounder complicates that acquisition via trade, so that means free agency after shedding some dollars in the summer.

Anton Stralman #6, Tampa Bay Lightning
Anton Stralman #6, Tampa Bay Lightning – taken on January 25, 2018 (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Erik Karlsson, Tyler Myers, Niklas Kronwall, and Anton Stralman are the top right side defenders available as UFA’s this summer and could help the Oilers if Edmonton can make it work from a cap perspective. Whether they can sign any of those guys is another question.

If they stay true to their word about focusing on letting their young defenders develop in the AHL, the right side defense on paper might be; Adam Larsson, Kris Russell, and Joel Persson. I’m not sure that’s good enough on its own, and the defense as a whole could have Oscar Klefbom, Darnell Nurse, and a healthy Andrej Sekera on the left side. Hopefully, the next GM can find a solution to address that group because it might not be much better than the group they have today.

Jim’s Response:

I believe Adam Larsson and Kris Russell will be right-handed d-men on the Oilers next season and I’m very much ok with that. If somehow, Edmonton can find another righty before the draft in a trade, I think they’ll try, but that only happens if the Oilers don’t lose the next couple of games.

Should Edmonton be in it and if I were a betting man, I’d say the Oilers target a guy like Radko Gudas out of Philadelphia. The Flyers are hot right now but not hot enough to be buyers at the deadline. Gudas has term left a reasonable cap hit of $3.35 million.

Don’t expect the Oilers do give up a lot to get him though so the trade isn’t all that likely. it’s just one of those trades the Oilers should keep their eyes open for.

Related: NHL Rumors: Nugent-Hopkins, Phaneuf, Oilers GM, More

6) With the depth we have on the left side on defence, doesn’t it make sense to trade Nurse while his value is high? I love Nurse, but you have to give up something to get something. Question by Forrest Wells on Facebook

Shane’s Response:

I wouldn’t be trading Darnell Nurse because that’s the equivalence of robbing Peter to pay Paul. The defense isn’t that deep and the thought of having Andrej Sekera bouncing back to his pre-injury form is wishful thinking. Kris Russell, in opposition to some fan opinions, is actually apart of the solution with his competitive play. Tasking youngsters to fill the void has failed numerous times for the Oilers.

Edmonton Oilers defensemen Darnell Nurse
Edmonton Oilers defensemen Darnell Nurse (Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports)

Yes, trading Nurse would bring in a decent top-six scoring forward, but it would leave a glaring hole in the No. 3 spot on an already weak Oilers defense. If the goal is to let that next wave of young Edmonton rearguards develop in the minors, then there’s not an adequate internal option to fill a void left by Nurse who’s arguably been Edmonton’s best defender with Klefbom out of the lineup.

Jim’s Response

Under no circumstances — beyond a team taking three or four bad contracts off the hands of the Oilers — do I trade Darnell Nurse. It’s funny because this is actually opposite to the opinion I had of Nurse to start the season. But, in Kelfbom’s absence, Nurse has stepped up.

He’s now got 27 points in 53 games and most of those points have come in the last 30 contests. He’s quarterbacking a power play that is actually seeing some success and he’s learning how to use his shot far more effectively. To me, Nurse might be one of the best contracts on the Oilers books and the team doesn’t move those contracts, they try to find more of them.

You are right in that the Oilers will have to make some sacrifices to clean up this mess, but I don’t believe moving Nurse offers enough opportunity to clean things up as quickly as it would take to make moving him worth it.

Related: Oilers Can’t Afford to Wait to Make a Move

Outline your A+ trade deadline for the Oilers as best you can. Request by

Shane’s Response:

An A+ Oilers trade deadline really depends on where this team is in another week. Edmonton is only three points out of a playoff spot today in an incredibly tight Western Conference Wild Card race. If the Oilers start falling out in the next few days, the plan will be to sell, sell, sell.

Cam Talbot Oilers
Cam Talbot, Edmonton Oilers, Oct. 21, 2017 (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Expect them to move expiring contracts like Cam Talbot, Tobias Rieder, Ty Rattie, Alex Chiasson, and Alex Petrovic. None of them will bring back a major asset in return though so keep that in mind. If they’re still in it, expect a minor move or two that won’t cost them a major asset. Edmonton sounds dead set against moving their 2019 first rounder which will take them out of the running for any significant additions, but they could buy low on a scoring winger or two on an expiring contract like Kevin Hayes, Jakob Silfverberg, or Thomas Vanek.

If they’re out of it, the goal is to start shuffling money out to clean up their cap problems. The big task will be moving out of the Milan Lucic and Brandon Manning contracts. If they can do that it’ll be an automatic A+ regardless of anything else they do.

Jim’s Response:

I wrote an article the other day that for the Oilers, they need to think about making a move regardless of whether or not they’re sellers. This team has found so many ways to crap the bed that they need to tell McDavid, the fans and the locker room that they’re not ok with losing in the manner in which they’re losing.

If we’re focused on the trade deadline, I anticipate in a week’s time (unfortunately) we’ll see the Oilers as sellers. If so, expect Alex Chiasson, Matt Benning, Zack Kassian, Alex Petrovic, and Cam Talbot to be moved. That would be a start of shipping out some contracts but the team would have a lot more work to do.