Holland Says Oilers Not “Big Game Hunting” for Defenseman, Trade Likely

According to Edmonton Oilers general manager Ken Holland, the team will not spend big money in another defenseman in free agency. That game plan came as a response to a question about what the Oilers will do to fill the hole left by Adam Larsson’s departure to the Seattle Kraken. “We will not be in the big game hunting on defence,” he said.

So, for any fans who were hoping Larsson’s leaving would open up an opportunity to add a marquee difference-maker when the market opened on July 28th, don’t hold your breath. Specifically, that takes a potential target like Dougie Hamilton out of the equation.

So what will the Oilers do? Fortunately, or unfortunately, it probably means a trade is coming.

What’s the Story on Tyson Barrie?

Where Holland will likely look first is in the direction of Tyson Barrie. The GM has spoken to the Barrie camp and many believe the organization has shifted focus to trying to get that extension done. “Between now a training camp, I need to make an addition or two on the back end,” said Holland during his media avail on Thursday.

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

Ryan Rishaug of TSN says expect the Oilers to make a big push for the player and a three-year deal is what the team wants, with Barrie’s camp wanting a four-year extension. The annual average cap hit could be as high as $5 million.

While Barrie wouldn’t probably qualify as a “big-game signing”, the problem with this new course correction is that if Bouchard becomes a regular and Barrie is on the roster, Ethan Bear provides the Oilers with a third, non-physical, non-shutdown type blueliner. A trade is likely if Barrie is extended.

Goodbye Ethan Bear?

The good news if Bear is traded is that he’s going to have value around the NHL. There’s a capable young player there and other NHL clubs know it. The bad news is simply the fact the Oilers might be looking at trading Ethan Bear. For some Oilers fans, this won’t be seen as a huge loss. For others, this is a massive mistake — especially for those who remembered the Jeff Petry trade. Moving a low-cost option like Bear has a chance to come back and haunt Edmonton.

Ethan Bear Edmonton Oilers
Ethan Bear, Edmonton Oilers (Photo by Andy Devlin/NHLI via Getty Images)

As much as Holland isn’t interested in trading Bear, the GM has said the team is in win-now mode. He’s building this team to compete tomorrow and Bear might be the piece you move to get what you think you need to win hockey games. And, if you’ve only got so much money to spend and it’s not being allocated to the hole Larsson leaves behind, the money needs to come from somewhere. Bear, a draft pick, plus another piece that has some salary attached to it might get you what you need.

Some might argue the team trade someone else to fill that gap. Unfortunately, the same problem emerges every time Bear is not included in a deal. It’s tough to imagine running with Bear, Bouchard, and Barrie down the right side. It’s too much of the same thing and if you’re investing $5 million in Barrie, he’ll be playing more than spot duty on the power play.

So What Does a Trade Look Like?

Jim Matheson of the Edmonton Journal asked Holland if he’d given thought to trading for a right-shot defenseman as opposed to signing someone. “Yep, yeah we have, ” said Holland. That’s all the GM would offer, not getting specific on how or what the Oilers would be looking to do or if that was instead of signing Barrie, or in addition to.

How much cap he’d be willing to take on for the right player is also an interesting question. He’s already proven by taking on Duncan Keith’s full $5.5 million contract he’s willing to spend money on a second-pair blueliner. What if Barrie becomes the right-side second-pair defenseman moving forward? That means Holland has some money to acquire someone who can fill the top-pair right-shot position.

Is that someone like Rasmus Ristolainen? Could Josh Manson out of Anaheim be available? Is it someone like P.K. Subban with a good chunk of salary retained? Would the Oilers make it worth while for the St. Louis Blues to consider moving Colton Parayko? There are options, it’s just not clear yet how realistic any of those options are.