Without Darnell Nurse in the lineup, the Edmonton Oilers are 1-0. The team played a sound game and had the win in hand from the start on Saturday night, with everyone stepping up with their biggest minute-muncher out due to a broken finger. The diagnosis on Nurse is that he shouldn’t be out long and that’s great news. The player to watch in the meantime is Duncan Keith who played 25:06 versus the Chicago Blackhawks. It will be a real question as to how effective he remains should he continue to play that often and without Nurse on the top pair.
The question of depth on the Oilers left side is not exclusively one worth asking without Nurse playing. Going into the season, it was an area of potential weakness for the roster, and Nurse’s injury has only shined a bit of light on the topic.
The Oilers Current Situation on the Left Side
Forget for a second Nurse’s injury and understand it’s reasonable to ask if Slater Koekkoek or Kris Russell is good enough depth for this team. If not them, the Oilers have to run a rookie like Philip Broberg (who admittedly looked good in his debut) or William Lagesson. Keokkoek is out with an injury, Russell is in the final year of his deal and not an NHL regular, Lagesson hasn’t looked wonderful and Broberg might need more time, even if his ceiling is high.
If the Oilers intend to be a playoff team that goes beyond the first round, they’ll need to know what they have and if it’s good enough. Ironically, Nurse’s injury might be giving the Oilers a chance to test that depth out. You never wish for a player to go down, especially one as important as Nurse. The silver lining is you can see what the rest of your blue line is capable of and while you have a strong record and a bit of a cushion.
Options If the Current Roster Isn’t Complete
Should the Oilers find out that Broberg isn’t quite ready or what they have in their veterans won’t cut the mustard, GM Ken Holland will need to look around the NHL and see what’s available prior to the NHL trade deadline. If things really fall off the rails with Nurse out, Holland may want to make finding another left-shot option a priority.
Among the names out there are Ben Chiarot of the Montreal Canadiens, Mark Giordano of the Seattle Kraken, and Brayden McNabb of the Vegas Golden Knights, among others. All three of the mentioned names would all be reasonable fits for the Oilers with Giordano the only player making possibly too much money for Holland to make it work on the salary cap.
A Closer Look at Each Defenseman
The Canadiens are a mess this season and most insiders believe Chiarot may be the first to go. He’s a pending UFA with a $3.5 million salary and if the Canadiens become sellers, Chiarot should fetch a second-round draft pick, maybe even a first. It’s been discussed that the Oilers are open to trading this year’s first-round pick, but whether or not Chiarot is the guy worth moving that pick for is unclear.
Chiarot plays big minutes, is reliable, and offers production on both offense and defense. He’s the kind of player who could come in right now and take top-four minutes on the Oilers’ blue line. A left-side of Nurse, Keith, and Chiarot is a strong core that when the Oilers are healthy would make them dangerous.
The Seattle Kraken have not been able to duplicate what the Vegas Golden Knights did in their inaugural season and are not a winning franchise out of the gate. They loaded up on defensemen before the season began and they’ll likely move one or two blueliners before the deadline. Giordano is a pending UFA and it’s been speculated that he’d like to wind up back in Calgary at some point. If Seattle believes he’s not going to be their captain next season, moving him makes the most sense and he’ll probably be open to going to a contender before hitting the market in the offseason.
Giordano is older and has a ton of control over where he goes, but he’s still playing over 20 minutes some nights and offers playoff experience and leadership.
McNabb may be a casualty of the Golden Knights salary cap situation. A team that will need to make room for Max Pacioretty and Jack Eichel when both return healthy, the Golden Knights may dump a couple of contracts and McNabb’s $2.5 million salary might be among them.
Another defenseman who plays 20 minutes per night, he’s a player who could be picked up for potentially little return and would offer better depth than the Oilers have. He’s not the “flashy” add Chiarot or Giordano might be, but he’d be a solid get. As per Brett Pickler (a THW Golden Knights contributor):
“He is the core of their defensive strength. He is a simple player but he plays his position well. He adds an element of physicality that is needed in a more skill-based lineup. He’s committed to blocking shots and will defend his teammates without hesitation.”
The Best Option for the Oilers
If Broberg steps up, this isn’t as big a problem as it appears it could be right now. But, if it’s clear the Oilers need to upgrade before the playoffs, McNabb might be the best option for both someone who can contribute and someone who can be relied upon to play solid defense, regardless of the minutes.
There won’t be as large a market for McNabb as there will be for Chiarot, which means the Oilers don’t have to give up as much to acquire him. While he’s taken a bit of a dip this season in terms of his underlying stats, he’s been historically good when it comes to shots for-vs-against and scoring chances. More than that, he allows the Oilers to solve a couple of potential problems heading into the deadline.
If Edmonton also needs a goaltender and a depth center, adding McNabb means not having to move a top draft pick to get him. That gives Holland a chance to keep buying and stock his roster for a playoff run.
Jim Parsons is a senior THW freelance writer, part-time journalist and audio/video host who lives, eats, sleeps and breathes NHL news and rumors, while also writing features on the Edmonton Oilers. He’s been a trusted source for five-plus years at The Hockey Writers, but more than that, he’s on a mission to keep readers up to date with the latest NHL rumors and trade talk. Jim is a daily must for readers who want to be “in the know.”