Oilers: 5 Defensemen to Target via Trade

The Oilers already made a move in acquiring Evander Kane to bolster their forward corps, showing they are fully expecting to contend in the postseason. In order to follow that move up, there are still other areas that need to be addressed ahead of the trade deadline, including adding a goaltender, and also looking for an upgrade on defense. General manager Ken Holland explained his reservations regarding trading away future assets for rental players, but that philosophy could change with the Oilers now back in a playoff spot.

The team is in a unique situation heading into the trade deadline because of recent injuries to both Duncan Keith and Zack Kassian. With Kassian expected to miss a large chunk of time, there is a chance that he could be put onto the long-term injured reserve to free up deadline cap space and be reactivated come playoff time. This would make the financial aspect of a deal much easier for Holland to navigate. Adding pieces to help the team win should be a high priority, meaning both non-rental and rental defense options should be on the table.

Oilers Current Defense Situation

The team is currently operating with Darnell Nurse and Evan Bouchard as the top pair, and likely will remain that way for the rest of the season. Although Bouchard is inexperienced, especially in the postseason, he continuously is proving his ability to operate as a top-pair defenseman. It isn’t easy to add a number one right-hand shot defenseman, and even if there were some available, the cost would probably be much too large for the Oilers to warrant acquiring.

The second defense pair of newcomer Cody Ceci and veteran Duncan Keith is the one most responsible for being the shutdown pair. As the season is progressing the two are beginning to learn to play off each other and gain chemistry. They made great strides in improving their play since the beginning of the season, which is understandable considering they both are adjusting to playing for a new team and system. Unfortunately, the recent injury to Duncan Keith could force him to miss a significant amount of time propelling William Lagesson into a second pair role down the stretch.

The last defensive pairing is made up of somewhat of a rotation of blueliners, besides Tyson Barrie who is pretty much a staple there since Bouchard took over on the top pair. Players like Slater Koekkoek, Kris Russell, and William Lagesson are the three with the most games played this season of the extra defenseman. Without one of the three players really stealing the job, the committee-based approach is being used, although it would be nice for someone to claim the job as the sixth defenseman. With Barrie being featured on the third pair it is important to pair him with a stable defensive defenseman to balance out the duo.

Tyson Barrie Edmonton Oilers
Tyson Barrie, Edmonton Oilers (Photo by Jonathan Kozub/NHLI via Getty Images)

Rookies Markus Niemelainen and Philip Broberg are getting opportunities as well due to the absence of Keith and Kris Russell, but with no playoff experience, they could be hard to trust in full-time roles which makes the need to trade for a defenseman much more important. While all three of the aforementioned defenseman are known more for their defensive game, the Oilers should actively look to upgrade at the position in order to create defensive depth and lineup certainty.

Rental Defensemen Options

Ben Chiarot – Left/Right Defense

With the Montreal Canadiens struggling mightily this season, the team will be sellers at the deadline with the opportunity to move highly sought-after defenseman Ben Chiarot. The d-man is on an expiring contract, and the Canadiens risk losing him in free agency if they don’t find a trade partner to take him prior to the deadline. He is a strong, capable two-way defenseman that can be effective at both ends of the rink. He is also a good skater with both play style and positional versatility, with the ability to play both the left and right sides of the defense. The Montreal Canadiens will surely look to move Chiarot and his affordable $3.5 million cap hit, which makes him an even bigger asset at the deadline with so many teams up against the salary cap limit.

Ben Chiarot Montreal Canadiens
Ben Chiarot, Montreal Canadiens (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

He would provide the oilers a significant upgrade to the team’s bottom pair or could even bump Keith down in the lineup. He is a regular penalty killer for the Canadiens and could help the Oilers in that department while averaging over 23 minutes of ice time so far this season. The only downfall in acquiring a player like this is that there will be a competitive market for a defender like Chiarot among other playoff-caliber teams which could drive the market price way higher than the Oilers are willing to pay.

Nick Leddy – Left Defense

If the Oilers decide they will entertain the idea of bringing in a rental player, and the price of Chiarot is too high, the team can opt to pivot to Nick Leddy of the Detroit Red Wings. The team acquired Leddy last offseason from the New York Islanders for forward Richard Panik and a 2021 second-round selection, taking on all of his $5 million cap hit for one more season.

Leddy is a solid defensive defenseman, and comes with 121 games of playoff experience, including winning a Stanley Cup with the Chicago Blackhawks back in 2013. He is a pure shutdown player who will provide a big boost to the penalty kill, and can be relied on late in a game to close it out. His experience in the playoffs and familiarity with former teammate and current Oiler Duncan Keith could provide much-needed stability on a volatile Oilers blueline.

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The Red Wings will likely want to get back what they gave up to get Leddy, which is not unreasonable, but Ken Holland may still have reservations in giving up a second-round pick for a rental player. The large-cap hit Leddy carries also complicates things for an acquiring team, which could force the Red Wings to retain salary, or lower their ask. His leadership and experience will surely help the Oilers backend and provide an upgrade over their current situation if the price of doing business is reasonable.

Robert Hagg – Left Defense

If Chiarot’s and Leddy’s price tags are both too high, they could pivot to a cheaper option that is not your typical big deadline splash. Sometimes the smaller moves are the ones that pay off the most and acquiring a middle-aged player like Robert Hagg could be worth the gamble. Hagg was acquired by the Buffalo Sabres from the Philadelphia Flyers back in July 2021 and saw an increase in ice time with the Sabres since the trade.

“He’s a big, physical, shot blocker, shutdown defenceman, which will appeal to playoff teams”

TSN Insider, Darren Dreger

Hagg is a physical defenseman who is not afraid to throw the body, which is something the Oilers are missing on their blueline since Adam Larsson’s departure. Hagg ranks within the league’s top 150 players in hits, and in the top 50 in blocked shots with 73 in both categories, and could help take the defensive load off of some of the Oilers’ minute-eating defensemen.

He is averaging 17:21 of time on ice this season and if he were to join the Oilers he could provide a much stronger option as a third-pairing defenseman. He won’t contribute much offensively, but with his affordable $1,600,000 cap hit set to expire he could be acquired for a decent price and also won’t take much to re-sign to provide a cap-friendly option on defense for the Oilers for the future.

Non-Rental Defensemen Options

Scott Mayfield – Right Defense

The New York Islanders were expected to be a strong team this year with playoff aspirations, however, those expectations are beginning to fizzle out rather quickly. The team is nowhere near the caliber they played at in the postseason a year ago, and looks like a team that will be moving players out at the trade deadline. With Ryan Pulock and Adam Pelech locked in long-term, and Noah Dobson seeing increased roles on the team, there is a possibility that 29-year-old Scott Mayfield could be available.

Scott Mayfield New York Islanders
Scott Mayfield, New York Islanders (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Mayfield fits both the play style and cap situation the Oilers are looking for as a defensive defenseman with a low cap hit and term remaining on his current contract. Although he plays the right side, a move like this could allow the team to explore the option of moving Barrie to create cap space heading into next season.

Related: Oilers: 3 Trade Destinations for Tyson Barrie

The 6-foot-5 Mayfield would provide a physical presence and allow the team to transition from Kris Russell, Slater Koekkoek, and Lagesson on the left side into a more offensive blueliner like Philip Broberg next season. It is likely that Broberg will be part of the plans next season and Mayfield would provide stability on a third line pairing with Broberg or could even be used in the top-four if needed.

There are some residual moves that may need to occur if they make a move for Mayfield, but the reconfiguration could be worth the hassle in order to get cost certainty ahead of a potentially crucial offseason. The price for a blueliner like Mayfield with a year remaining at $1,450,000 will be more than what a rental would cost, but would go a long way especially if the Oilers are disappointed with the ending to this season.

Carson Soucy – Left Defense

Soucy enjoyed somewhat of coming out party in the 2019-20 season that put him on the radar of many teams. So much so that the Seattle Kraken claimed him from the Minnesota Wild in the expansion draft. The Kraken are nowhere near contending in the playoffs and stockpiling assets that fit the timeline for when the team will be a contender should be the top priority.

Carson Soucy, Seattle Kraken
Carson Soucy, Seattle Kraken (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

With a fully healthy blueline, the team is almost set when it comes to their defense pairs and their current scenario leaves Soucy battling for a spot in the starting lineup. A player like Dennis Cholowski is also looking to prove himself capable of a full-time roster spot, and getting him reps at the NHL level should be strongly considered by the Kraken, and moving a player like Soucy will create an opportunity to do so. Soucy is still only 27 years old, and under contract until the end of the 2022-23 season at a reasonable $2.75 million cap hit, and meshes well with the Oilers’ hope to contend in the playoffs. His 6’5″ frame would provide the Oilers with a big body on their backend who is mobile and can defend well for his size.

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As an added bonus Soucy, does also come with 12 games of playoff experience, but one area of his game that stands out is his plus/minus rating. Through 141 games at the NHL level, Soucy owns a plus-43 rating, proving he makes a positive impact from the backend when he is on the ice. This is something the Oilers desperately need, and could provide a similar effect as the trade the Colorado Avalanche made with the New York Islanders to acquire Devon Toews, getting a steady and reliable defenseman to move up and down the defense pairs as needed.

What Do The Oilers Need to Give Up

Of course, there will need to be enough compensation to entice teams to take on salary retention in potential deals, especially for the rental players like Leddy and Chiarot considering their higher cap hits. The return that the players listed above would command will vary depending on the player being acquired and if salary retention is a factor, however, picks in the first three rounds will likely be in play. The rental market will surely cost less and require a pick and a “B Level” prospect although the competition among other teams could drive the price up. If the Oilers are serious about contending, bringing in players to upgrade their current defense situations should be strongly considered whether they are rentals or not.

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