The Edmonton Oilers need depth and physicality. There’s no better place for them to look than the Philadelphia Flyers, who will be looking to trade whatever assets they can to help their future.
The two players that the Oilers should be invested in are Zack MacEwen and Justin Braun. Both address the team’s needs at minimal cost and cap hit, which are important. Though I’m sure general manager Ken Holland won’t hold back if it means really upgrading the team, once the Oilers are healthy, they will look very good. What they are missing is that veteran presence as a sixth or seventh defenseman that Braun brings as well as the physicality combined with depth scoring that MacEwen has provided for the Flyers this season.
Cost Is Important for the Oilers
Evander Kane is going to be back well before the trade deadline, which means the Oilers will be right at the salary cap. When that was the case for the first 14 games of the season, the team was only able to hold 21 players on the roster rather than the ideal maximum of 23.
One or more players being moved out is in the cards before Kane returns. This is due to the level of play and a great showing from some of the team’s depth recently. A likely trade target is Jesse Puljujarvi, but that frees up $3 million. Now, if the Oilers want more than 21 players on the roster, they will have less than $3 million to work with.
MacEwen has a cap hit of $925,000 with team control after this season, while Braun has a cap hit of $1 million and is an unrestricted free agent. Braun would be used solely as a rental, but MacEwen is the type of player that the team will want to keep around.
We’ve seen the Oilers insist that salary is retained before, so don’t be surprised if Braun’s cap hit is $500,000. Brett Kulak had a big portion of his contract eaten up by the Montreal Canadiens last season for the deal to go through.
Last season, the Flyers received a third-round pick from the New York Rangers in exchange for Braun. But that was when Braun was tasked with top-pairing duties for the entire 2021-22 season and was producing a bit offensively. This season, he is in a third-pairing role where he should be, so the cost to acquire him has to be a fifth-round pick at most.
MacEwen, on the other hand, will cost a bit more. The Flyers claimed him off waivers in 2021, but now they have toughness covered after signing Nic Deslauriers in the offseason. Both play on the same line, so there’s even less use for him on a team that bad. Seeing that MacEwen is a restricted free agent after the season and has been able to produce offensively and play a very physical game, a third-round pick isn’t a bad cost.
The Numbers MacEwen & Braun Would Provide
It would be great if the Oilers could bring in both players in a single trade. It might be a little unrealistic, but it should address multiple issues, and Holland would have to be applauded for the move. Assuming the Oilers could trade for both, together or separately, this season, what would they provide for the team?
The two main things the Oilers need are grit in the bottom-six and better play in the defensive zone from their defensemen. This is exactly what MacEwen and Braun can provide, and more.
MacEwen has become a better player from last season in every way, and the Oilers can take advantage of that. He reminds me of a younger Zack Kassian, except his cap hit won’t be nearly as high, and he won’t be forced to play in the top-six. MacEwen is consistent, healthy, and can be effective in the bottom-six, which is what the Oilers need.
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He is playing more minutes, shooting more, hitting more, and producing more points this season. Though he is averaging 13:41 of ice time this season for the Flyers, that number would be lower on the Oilers, given their depth. MacEwen has three goals and eight points this season, and the spot he’d likely take Puljujarvi’s spot in the lineup, who has two goals and eight points while playing mostly in the top-six with the top two scorers in the league. MacEwen would deliver a ton of hits (102 this season) and is not afraid to drop the gloves, which the Oilers have been missing with Kane out of the lineup. He would have come in handy when MacKenzie Weegar took out Connor McDavid’s leg in the Oilers’ game against the Calgary Flames; instead, there was no response.
Meanwhile, Braun does not have flashy numbers, with zero points, but that’s not why the Oilers would have an interest in him. The team already has Tyson Barrie, Darnell Nurse, and Evan Bouchard to provide points from the blue line. Braun would be asked to stay on his man, block shots, play hard in the defensive zone, and reduce high-danger scoring chances. There have been far too many instances when all of the Oilers have been guilty of straying away from the structure and good defensive play.
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As Braun is a 35-year-old veteran who knows what his role is and does it well. He would likely have to play on his off-side as the Oilers have three right-shot defencemen already, but it worked out well for them last season, bringing in Kulak, who is strong defensively. If Braun can play with Bouchard, we could see the type of defensive presence Duncan Keith provided for the young defender and see his play improve significantly.
The Oilers could get ahead of the rush and look into acquiring one or both of these players well before the trade deadline in order to have their affairs in order when Kane returns and the cap becomes a big issue. It would also give them an edge on the competition for playoff positioning.