Oilers’ Expansion Draft Plans Take Shape After Duncan Keith Trade

On Monday, the Edmonton Oilers acquired defenceman Duncan Keith and forward Tim Soderlund from the Chicago Blackhawks in exchange for blueliner Caleb Jones and a conditional pick in the 2022 NHL Entry Draft.

To say the trade is controversial would be an understatement. How Oilers general manager Ken Holland agreed to a deal for Keith, who turns 38 on Friday, without the Hawks retaining any of his $5.5 million cap hit for the next two seasons has many in Oil Country perplexed.

But all that aside, the addition of Keith and departure of Jones, coupled with details on defenceman Oscar Klefbom and Adam Larsson that Holland revealed during his post-trade media availability, has brought some clarity to what Edmonton’s player protection list for the upcoming 2021 NHL Expansion Draft could look like.

Expansion Draft Primer

The expansion draft will take place July 21, when the Seattle Kraken select one player from each NHL team, excluding the Vegas Golden Knights.

Teams can protect one of two combinations: Option A is seven forwards, three defencemen and one goalie; Option B is eight skaters (forwards/defencemen) and one goalie. Players with no-movement clauses that decline to waive the clause must be protected. All first- and second-year professionals, and all unsigned draft choices, are exempt from selection.

Klefbom and Larsson

Two unknowns that could shape Edmonton’s protected list became a bit clearer as Holland addressed the injured Klefbom’s health and negotiations with pending UFA Larsson.

Pending UFA, Adam Larsson has yet to re-sign with the Edmonton Oilers. (Photo by Darcy Finley/NHLI via Getty Images)

Edmonton’s No. 1 defenceman as recently as last August, Klefbom missed the entire 2020-21 season with a shoulder injury. There is doubt as to whether the 27-year-old Swede will ever suit up again, and on Monday, Holland said, “the chances of Klefbom playing in the National Hockey League in 2021-22 are very, very slim.”

Discussions on a new contract for Larsson, who emerged as the Oilers’ top shutdown blueliner this season, reportedly began before the trade deadline and his re-upping in Edmonton was assumed to be a matter of “when” not “if.” But as time has dragged on without pen being put paper, Larsson’s return no longer seems so sure: “I’m not pretty confident, but I’m not, not confident” is how Holland put it on Monday.

Who Will Be Protected?

Up front, the Oilers are protecting their superstar duo of Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl, as well as Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, who Holland just signed to an eight-year extension worth $41 million. Holland certainly doesn’t want to even entertain the thought of losing either Jesse Puljujarvi and Kailer Yamamoto, two wingers that are oozing potential and will be just 23 at the start of the 2021-22 season.

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That puts the number of forwards the Oilers need to protect at five, giving Holland only three spots to use on defencemen. And that’s where things get interesting.

Darnell Nurse, who was in the Norris Trophy discussion after a breakout season in 2021, has his name on the protected list in permanent ink. By virtue of his no-movement clause, Keith must be protected (not that Holland was going to leave the veteran blueliner exposed after making such an audacious move to acquire him, anyway). And the Oilers certainly want to retain the services of Ethan Bear, who is just 24 and already entrenched in the team’s second pairing.

Protecting those three would result in Klefbom being made available to Seattle, but given his questionable future, it would be rolling the dice for the Kraken to take him, particularly in light of Monday’s news.

Which leaves Larsson. If Holland doesn’t sign him before the expansion draft, the Oilers don’t have to protect him. Of course, if Holland does not get a deal done with Larsson before July 21, he risks the Swedish blueliner hitting the open market on July 28 and going elsewhere. It’s a gamble, but so too is trading for a defenceman in his late 30s with an AAV of $5.5 million. Unless Holland has any more moves up his sleeve before the July 21 Expansion Draft, the GM now has just over a week to decide the cards he wants to play before showing Seattle his hand.  

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