If the Edmonton Oilers are going to make the Stanley Cup playoffs next season — yes, that’s a big IF — they are going to need to add not one, but two top-four defencemen this offseason.
That is a must to move this floundering franchise forward. It is non-negotiable at this point.
Looking at Edmonton’s depth chart on the back end, there are an abundance of lefties and not enough righties. So, it’s safe to assume that the Oilers will be prioritizing right-handed defenders in the weeks and months ahead.
Of course, beggars can’t be choosers at times, so Edmonton may still consider the “right” lefty providing he possesses the other intangibles that are coveted.
If only the Oilers could clone Paul Coffey and Chris Pronger — both lefties — they’d be set and nobody would complain. Simple as that, right?
They’d probably even settle for Sheldon Souray and Lubomir Visnovsky, both in their prime before injuries derailed their careers — albeit, both lefties again.
Where have all the good righties gone — past, present and/or future?
Still, those are the types of defenders that the Oilers desperately need. They don’t grow on trees, but they are out there.
Some of the league’s very best blue-liners fit the bill — yes, as righties — but are probably untouchable. That list includes this year’s Norris finalists Erik Karlsson, Drew Doughty and Brent Burns, and last year’s Calder winner Aaron Ekblad. Shea Weber and P.K. Subban have long been pipedreams in Edmonton — and will remain that way — while Kris Letang, John Carlson and Alex Pietrangelo aren’t on the market either.
Had the Blues bombed out of the playoffs again, maybe just maybe the Oilers could have taken a run at Pietrangelo, but that boat has since sailed with his impressive postseason performance.
Last summer, the Oilers had Brent Seabrook and Dougie Hamilton in their sights, but one got locked up long-term and the other ended up getting dealt to the rival Flames. So the search continues . . .
Draft and Develop
The Oilers are fully expected to pick at least a couple of right-shot defenders in next month’s draft, but those prospects will be a few years away from competing for roster spots. And while a lot of people have penciled in Edmonton to pick a blue-liner at fourth overall, that seems unlikely with the top-ranked prospects all being lefties — Jakob Chychrun, Olli Juolevi, Mikhail Sergachev and Jake Bean. If the Oilers traded down into the middle of the first round, then perhaps righties like Charles McAvoy or Dante Fabbro could be options, but they wouldn’t be NHL contributors anytime soon.
Even in the second round, at 32nd overall, the best of the rest — prospects that could realistically be available in that spot — are lefties again. There’s a handful of them in Samuel Girard, Logan Stanley, Kale Clague, Lucas Johansen and Dennis Cholowski. All nice players, but all left-handed.
The Oilers did well in drafting righties Ethan Bear and John Marino last year — they could both have bright futures — while Caleb Jones and Ziyat Paigin have plenty of potential to eventually join the glut of lefties.
Looking at the current roster and those already in the system, the left side is overloaded. Andrej Sekera, Oscar Klefbom, Darnell Nurse, Griffin Reinhart, Brandon Davidson, Jordan Oesterle, Joey LaLeggia, David Musil and William Lagesson are all lefties. The list goes on, but those are the names of relevance over the next couple years.
On the right side, it’s slim pickings with Adam Clendening, Mark Fayne and Eric Gryba topping the list. Not necessarily in that order, but not that it matters. None of those three crack the top six on most teams. Certainly not on Stanley Cup contenders. Clendening is a fringe NHLer at this point, Fayne could be a buyout candidate, and Gryba is a pending unrestricted free agent who may or may not be re-signed before July 1.
First and foremost, the Oilers need an elite puck-mover on the back end — somebody to feed stretch passes to Connor McDavid and company. Ideally, that person is also capable of quarterbacking the power play. Preferably, he’d also boast a big shot from the point.
Two of those guys would be great. That skill-set is sorely lacking in Edmonton right now. In saying that, the second addition could also come in the form of a bigger shutdown type. Thinking of a more seasoned version of Nurse. A much better version of Gryba and Fayne. Somebody who can skate and make a consistent first pass, but be mean to play against and eat up a bunch of minutes. Maybe even somebody with a Cup ring — that’d be a bonus.
Assets In Play
The Oilers aren’t going to acquire these types of high-impact defenders for nothing. Don’t bother offering Fayne, Anton Lander and a third-round pick. That obviously won’t get it done.
Edmonton will need to give in order to receive. That means these trade negotiations are going to involve quality assets such as the aforementioned fourth overall pick in this year’s draft, past first-overall selections Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Nail Yakupov, plus 30-goal man Jordan Eberle. The right deal may even require moving Leon Draisaitl, a good-sized playmaking centre selected third overall in 2014. If need be, Nurse and Klefbom could enter the conversation too.
The Oilers might have to part with one of those keepers in order to make this a reality. Peter Chiarelli is well aware of that and his track record is proof that Edmonton’s GM isn’t afraid to shake up a team’s core for the greater good. He traded Phil Kessel, Blake Wheeler and Tyler Seguin out of Boston, though the latter was a situation out of his hands. Chiarelli has made several subtle additions to Edmonton’s roster throughout his first year on the job but look for him to really put his stamp on the team this offseason.
Tyson Barrie, Colorado Avalanche — He’s a restricted free agent due a hefty raise and worthy of a long-term contract. He’s also at risk of receiving an offer sheet, a similar situation to Hamilton last year. The Oilers were threatening to go all-in on a Hamilton offer sheet to price him out of Boston and it would make sense to do the same with Barrie. Getting him for nothing but millions of dollars over the next decade would be quite the coup. Colorado isn’t much stronger than Edmonton on the back end, and thus would want either Nurse or Klefbom as part of the package in return for Barrie. This only becomes possible if the Avs deem Barrie’s contract demands too steep — as they did in dealing centre Ryan O’Reilly to Buffalo last year.
Justin Faulk, Carolina Hurricanes — There have been rumblings that he’s not thrilled with the situation in Carolina and would welcome a trade. He’s an American kid, so there’s no guarantee that he’d be any happier in Edmonton, but he’d probably cheer up once he started quarterbacking the Oilers’ potent power play. Carolina is deep on defence with Haydn Fleury and Roland McKeown joining the fold next season, while Noah Hanifin, Jaccob Slavin and Brett Pesce are coming off impressive rookie campaigns. Ryan Murphy is a right-handed power-play guy that should be ready for full-time duty next season too, and Trevor Carrick is another legitimate prospect for the Hurricanes. After trading away the face of that franchise, Eric Staal, Carolina could be going young again. The fourth overall pick would be of interest, as would Draisaitl as a Staal replacement. Lots of potential here.
Sami Vatanen, Anaheim Ducks — This is a popular target, a proven power-play guy who, like Barrie, has a heavy shot despite being undersized. The Ducks could be losing a lot of forward depth to free agency with David Perron, Jamie McGinn and Chris Stewart all unrestricted wingers, so an Eberle-for-Vatanen swap could make a lot of sense. Anaheim is also rich in defence prospects with Shea Theodore and Brandon Montour knocking on the door, not to mention Jacob Larsson and Marcus Pettersson. The Ducks will be active this offseason and that deal seems to make a lot of sense for both teams.
Jacob Trouba, Winnipeg Jets — He hasn’t been mentioned as much in regards to Edmonton, but his name surfaced in rumours for Travis Hamonic, and Dallas is believed to be interested as well. If Trouba is being shopped at the draft, the Oilers should get in on the bidding. Like Barrie, Trouba is also a restricted free agent and apparently he’s seeking a bigger contract than Winnipeg believes he’s worth. Trouba likely wants more money than the Oilers gave Klefbom over a similar term — seven years at an average salary of $4.167 million. Trouba’s bargaining power took a hit with a mediocre stat-line this past season (six goals, 21 points in 81 games), so asking for north of $4.5 million annually might be a stretch now. He’s got good size and potential at only 22 years old, so the Oilers should certainly kick those tires. The Jets might consider Trouba straight up for fourth overall, with plans to pick Patrik Laine, the second coming of Teemu Selanne, at No. 2 and then Matthew Tkachuk, a chip off the old block from his father and former Jet, Keith Tkachuk, at No. 4. Trouba is further along and arguably just as good as Chychrun, who many have going to Edmonton at No. 4.
Kevin Shattenkirk, St. Louis Blues — His name has come up at various times over the years and now that he’s a year away from unrestricted free agency, the Blues might seriously consider moving Shattenkirk this offseason if they can’t afford him going forward. The Oilers would be interested — he’s got the skill-set that they desire most — but only if Shattenkirk was willing to commit long-term. It’s not worth the risk of a one-and-done situation. There have been suggestions that Shattenkirk, a native of New York, would prefer to play in the Eastern Conference, so that preference would take him out of consideration for Edmonton. However, if he takes a look at the opportunity with the Oilers, that might change his outlook. It’s tough to say what St. Louis would want in return because the Blues are pretty deep up front, especially if David Backes sticks around. If he doesn’t, then Nugent-Hopkins or Draisaitl would be appealing, but more likely the Blues would ask for a blue-liner back — be it Nurse or Klefbom. That might be a nonstarter for Edmonton in this case. Shattenkirk might not be the best fit after all.
Buffalo Sabres (Rasmus Ristolainen/Mark Pysyk/Zach Bogosian/Cody Franson) — Of all the teams in the league, the Sabres appear to be the most loaded on the right side. Buffalo is trending upward on a similar trajectory to the Oilers, so one would think there could be potential for a deal between these clubs. It might be as simple as swapping a lefty for a righty with some throw-ins to balance out the value. Then again, Buffalo probably isn’t building any deal around Ristolainen for Klefbom or Nurse at this point. Pysyk would be a touchy subject because he’s another former Edmonton Oil King and the acquisition of Reinhart at last year’s draft hasn’t panned out as hoped thus far. Pysyk for Klefbom might not sit well with the Oilers’ fan base at first glance, but it could be a win-win trade. Bogosian and Franson would come cheaper, but wouldn’t bolster Edmonton’s defence nearly enough for next season. Bogosian is from the Buffalo area and is a fan favourite there when healthy, so the Sabres might ask for more than the Oilers would be wanting to pay. Franson was among the top free-agent defencemen last summer — some had him ranked ahead of Sekera on their wish-list for Edmonton — but he was a bust for Buffalo. The Sabres would probably move Franson for a prospect like Musil and a mid-round pick. Or perhaps Buffalo would swap Franson for Fayne. Those might be a low-risk moves to Edmonton’s liking, but it wouldn’t solve the Oilers’ problems in the big picture.
New Jersey Devils (Adam Larsson/Damon Severson) — Larsson has been linked to the Oilers ever since the 2011 draft when he was in consideration for first overall, along with Nugent-Hopkins. Maybe it’s not too late to pull off that 1-for-1 swap. The Devils could use an offensive-minded centre like Nugent-Hopkins and Larsson would slot in nicely on the Oilers’ blue-line. The value doesn’t seem far off, but what if New Jersey also insisted on swapping first-rounders? Say, the Devils offered Larsson, 11th and 41st overall for Nugent-Hopkins and fourth overall. Is that a deal that Edmonton makes or even considers? McAvoy and Fabbro would likely both be available as right-handed defence prospects at 11th, and at least one of the lefties (Chychrun, Juolevi, Sergachev, Bean) should be there too. That would allow the Oilers to pick a forward and a goaltender in the second round at 32nd and 41st. The other option with New Jersey would be Severson, who surprisingly cracked the roster as a rookie right of junior but endured some growing pains in his sophomore season (only one goal, 21 points in 72 games). Severson might not be ready for top-four minutes next season, but what if the Devils were willing to trade Severson for 32nd overall? The whole lefty-for-a-righty idea could work here too, with Reinhart or Davidson destined to be Devils. Or would New Jersey have any interest in bringing back Fayne? Food for thought.
Minnesota Wild (Jared Spurgeon/Matt Dumba) — Spurgeon is from Edmonton and is basically a poor man’s Shattenkirk. He’s a slightly more offensive, right-handed version of Sekera. Not a true top-pairing guy, but he would be on this Oilers roster. There could be potential to build a deal around Spurgeon for Eberle or Nugent-Hopkins, but the Wild would have to throw in a guy like Charlie Coyle or Nino Niederreiter to make that work. Mikko Koivu is getting past his prime now and Mikael Granlund isn’t living up to expectations thus far, so Nugent-Hopkins might be a good fit as a top-line centre in Minnesota. Nugent-Hopkins and Musil for Spurgeon and Coyle or Niederreiter? That seems fair enough. Eberle and Davidson instead? Sure, that works too. Dumba is a younger guy with a higher upside than Spurgeon, but he wouldn’t have the same kind of immediate impact. A similar exchange could appease both sides, unless the Wild wanted a lefty in return for Dumba — likely Klefbom, a childhood chum of Minnesota lefty Jonas Brodin.
Erik Gudbranson, Florida Panthers — He just signed a one-year extension for $3.5 million, but the Panthers have been reluctant to lock up Gudbranson long-term for some reason. He’d be an unrestricted free agent in two years’ time, following the 2017-18 season, so Florida might field some offers between now and then. Of the two types of defencemen that Edmonton needs, Gudbranson is the latter, more rugged type. He’s a good one, though, and wouldn’t come cheap either. With former Oiler Teddy Purcell and Jiri Hudler as pending free agents, the Panthers might be in the market for a winger like Eberle. That’s a swap that Edmonton would be wise to consider. Florida may also ask for the return of its third-rounder (83rd overall) from the Purcell trade, and that’s a request the Oilers could accommodate to address this need.
Ryan Ellis, Nashville Predators — He’s been linked to Edmonton in years past because Ellis playing junior with Oilers top-line winger Taylor Hall. They won two Memorial Cups together with the OHL’s Windsor Spitfires. But this trade is tougher to make now that Nashville moved fellow righty Seth Jones, who Edmonton had been pursuing at the expense of Nugent-Hopkins. The Predators instead acquired Ryan Johansen from Columbus, filling their hole at centre and making it less likely that they trade another top-four defender. Nashville is set up nicely with Weber and Ellis on the right side, Roman Josi and Mattias Ekholm on the left. Edmonton would kill to have any one of those guys — just one of them. Ekholm’s emergence in these playoffs has been impressive, but that doesn’t increase the chances of Ellis getting dealt.
David Savard, Columbus Blue Jackets — Here’s a guy who is going to be more readily available this offseason. Savard is a puck-mover who can play the power play, but he’s not at that elite level. He’s basically what the Oilers had hoped Justin Schultz would develop into. Savard would be a good fit in Edmonton and Columbus can afford to move a defender now that it has Jones and Ryan Murray anchoring the blue-line, with Zach Werenski about to take the league by storm. The Blue Jackets would still have Jack Johnson as a veteran, plus Dillon Heatherington and Gabriel Carlsson as top-notch prospects. That’s a good group, so perhaps Savard could be spared for a package of picks and prospects, including Edmonton’s second-rounder (32nd overall).
Cody Ceci, Ottawa Senators — This one is more dicey, with Ottawa probably preferring the lefty-for-righty swap. Klefbom for Ceci would be fair value, but it’s a lateral move and doesn’t make the Oilers any better for next season. The Senators don’t have the defensive depth to be moving Ceci for futures. Chris Wideman is another righty on the Senators’ roster with potential to quarterback a power play, but he’s more of a third-pairing guy at this point. He’d be an upgrade on Clendening in that role, but not a high priority for Chiarelli.
Thomas Hickey, New York Islanders — He was a real standout in the playoffs, arguably the Islanders’ best defenceman and outplaying the likes of lefty Calvin de Haan. Ryan Pulock, a right-handed rookie, opened a lot of eyes too. Either of those two, Hickey or Pulock, would fit right in with the Oilers. So much so that it’s strange they weren’t the targets at last year’s draft instead of Reinhart, who was pushed on Chiarelli by Bob Green, his former GM with the Oil Kings. What’s done is done, but if there’s any chance of undoing that, or righting a wrong, these guys deserve a second look this offseason. Hamonic is obviously the guy that the Oilers were circling back for, but now that he’s rescinded his trade request, maybe Eberle for Hickey is of interest to both sides? It’s worth a shot.
Justin Braun, San Jose Sharks — Oilers coach Todd McLellan is very familiar with this player and Edmonton’s current coaching staff, including assistant Jim Johnson, were largely responsible for Braun’s development into a quality shutdown type. He’s not quite as big as Gudbranson and doesn’t have the same name value, but he’d fill a similar role. This wouldn’t be a sexy acquisition by any means, but Braun would make a nice partner for Sekera as a second pairing.
Michael Stone, Arizona Coyotes — He’s underrated, but the Coyotes can’t really afford to lose him without getting a lefty like Klefbom in return. Beyond big-time stud Oliver Ekman-Larsson — another dream defender, albeit another lefty — the blue-line is pretty bleak in Arizona much like Edmonton. The Coyotes are stacked with young forwards, so Eberle and Nugent-Hopkins aren’t as appealing to Arizona — not that Stone is worth either of them straight up. A nice player, Stone is, but not the right fit for a trade upon further review.
Chris Tanev, Vancouver Canucks — He might be an interesting option. The Canucks are going young and trying to restock their prospect cupboard, so Musil and 32nd might get this deal done. That would pay dividends for the Oilers in terms of adding without really subtracting much. Tanev has represented Canada internationally on a few occasions — including this year’s worlds — so he’d be familiar with the likes of Hall, Nugent-Hopkins, Eberle and now McDavid and goaltender Cam Talbot as far as fitting into the room in Edmonton. Some will say sign Vancouver free agent Dan Hamhuis for free or deal Eberle for Alexander Edler, but both those guys are lefties. The Oilers need righties. That makes Tanev more attractive.
Travis Hamonic, New York Islanders — Yes, he’s rescinded, but Hamonic doesn’t have a no-trade clause and the Oilers won’t give up on him that easily. Chiarelli and Edmonton’s scouts had been keeping a close eye on Hamonic all season and throughout the playoffs, with hopes that a deal could eventually be struck. Edmonton will still put forth its best offer, but Garth Snow knows how valuable Hamonic is to the Islanders and if he wants to stay in Brooklyn now, then that will most likely be the case. He’s a hybrid defender, more of a shutdown guy but with good offensive instincts, and a huge bargain with a cap hit of $3.857 million for four more years. Edmonton’s fourth overall pick would certainly be on the table for Hamonic and the Oilers would probably kick in a little extra too. Sweeten the pot and see what Snow says.
P.K. Subban, Montreal Canadiens — The rumour mill likes spewing Subban to Edmonton for Hall and Nurse or Klefbom or fourth overall, but the legitimate hockey insiders have stomped out those smoke signals. It is unfounded and has no legs, they maintain. Subban does have a no-trade clause kicking in July 1 and something seems not quite right about his situation in Montreal — maybe he wants out? — but this blockbuster isn’t on the front-burner for the Oilers. Certainly Chiarelli has informed Montreal’s Marc Bergevin of Edmonton’s interest level should Subban become available, but Bergevin has denied shopping his star defender thus far.
Brent Seabrook, Chicago Blackhawks — He signed with Chicago but indications were that Seabrook was open to signing with Edmonton had he hit the open market. He’s another hybrid guy like Hamonic that would kind of kill two birds with one stone. The Blackhawks are still in salary-cap trouble to some degree and would like to free up space to sign the likes of Andrew Shaw, but it’s hard to believe Seabrook would be moved to make that happen. Especially since Chicago isn’t particularly deep on the back end beyond Duncan Keith, Seabrook and Niklas Hjalmarsson. That was a big reason for keeping Seabrook in the first place. It would seemingly take Nurse or Klefbom and at least 32nd, if not fourth overall. Chiarelli and Stan Bowman are spending a lot of time together as they finalize their Team North America roster for the World Cup, so perhaps Seabrook is a topic of conversation.
More Lefty Targets
Hampus Lindholm/Cam Fowler, Anaheim Ducks — Two nice players, if only they were right-handed. Anaheim might be more willing to move a lefty, though, with Theodore primed for full-time duty on that side next season. Edmonton needs to upgrade its defence corps one way or another, so if the Ducks dangled either of these guys for Eberle instead of Vatanen, the righty, then the Oilers would have to think long and hard — and probably accept. Lindholm is the better of the two, but Fowler also has a history with Hall from their Windsor days. Either of them would slot into Edmonton’s top-four ahead of Klefbom and Nurse, but it would make things awfully crowded on that side.
Jonas Brodin, Minnesota Wild — Ditto here. As mentioned before, Brodin and Klefbom are best buddies, so this trade reunion could work either way — be it bringing Brodin to Edmonton or sending Klefbom to Minnesota. The Oilers would probably prefer Spurgeon or Dumba, the righties from the Wild, but Chiarelli might not say no to Brodin either. Eberle for Brodin? Maybe Nugent-Hopkins for Brodin and Minnesota’s first-rounder (15th overall)? There’s potential for a deal, but Edmonton wouldn’t overpay for another lefty.
Jason Demers — Another guy that McLellan knows from his San Jose days. The analytics community is a big fan of Demers, but his actual stat-line is nothing special — seven goals and 23 points in 62 games, which prorates to nine goals and 30 points over a full 82-game season. Demers managed only three assists in Dallas’ 13 playoff games. Somebody will end up paying him more than $4 million annually because of a weak market for free-agent defenders, but Edmonton shouldn’t be determined to win that bidding war. Demers is no better than Sekera and plays a similar style, so he might be redundant on the Oilers’ roster anyway.
Alex Goligoski — He’s a bit more offensive-minded than Demers and quarterbacked the Stars’ power play before John Klingberg came out of nowhere, so Goligoski might be a better fit for Edmonton. However, he’d be in over his head as a top-pairing guy and best suited to being Sekera’s second-pairing partner. These free agents should all be considered secondary options for that matter.
Kyle Quincey — He’s an intriguing possibility despite not putting up very good numbers in Detroit (four goals, 11 points in 47 games, prorated to seven goals and 19 points). Quincey was cast in a defensive role with the Red Wings — sort of like Anton Stralman was with the Rangers — but Quincey showed decent offensive upside in his younger years. Once upon a time, he had a 38-point campaign with the Kings, but 25-30 points would be a reasonable expectation for Quincey as a second-pairing partner for Sekera.
Dan Boyle — He’s on his last legs, but goes way back with McLellan and used to be among the league’s top power-play QBs in those San Jose years. Nowadays, Boyle would be hard-pressed to play a top-four role, but he could work out as a power-play specialist with sheltered minutes at even strength. Then again, he might opt for retirement.
Keith Yandle — Lefty alert, another one, and another player that the Oilers have been infatuated with in years past, albeit under previous management regimes when Yandle was with the Coyotes. Forget for a second that he plays the wrong side, Yandle is arguably the best or most talented free-agent option. He’s the most offensive and was a power-play ace not that long ago. The Rangers liked him this past season, and he was good for them when so many of their regulars regressed — mainly Marc Staal and Dan Girardi. Yandle was New York’s highest-scoring defenceman and fourth among team leaders with 47 points (but just five goals) in 82 games. If the Oilers are unable to trade for a proven power-play quarterback between now and July 1, then Yandle would warrant serious consideration and should be bumped up the priority list. He’ll probably cost in the neighbourhood of $6 million a year and probably won’t sign for less than four seasons. Still, Yandle might be worth it.
Larry Fisher is a senior writer and head scout for The Hockey Writers, having been an at-large contributor for THW since August 2014. Fisher covers both the NHL and the WHL, specializing in prospects and NHL draft content, including his annual mock drafts that date back to 2012. Fisher has also been a beat writer for the WHL’s Kelowna Rockets since 2008, formerly working as a sports reporter/editor for The Daily Courier in Kelowna, British Columbia, Canada from 2008-2019. Follow him on Twitter: @LarryFisher_KDC.