On Monday, the NHL announced that 18 players would be exempt from the upcoming Seattle Kraken expansion draft due to injury. Noticeably absent from the list is Edmonton Oilers defenceman Oscar Klefbom, who missed the entire 2020-21 season with a shoulder injury that was operated on in late March.
The problem is that this isn’t just a shoulder injury. Klefbom is dealing with arthritis, which has been very tricky to correct. In fact, the reason it took him so long to have surgery was that no one was sure it would help. Months later, his status is still uncertain other than that he will be unavailable to begin the season, and whether or not he can play at all in the 2021-22 campaign remains anyone’s guess. Because of all the uncertainty, the Oilers need to make the right decision and expose him in the expansion draft.
Who Will Be Protected
Similar to most teams, the Oilers are expected to use the 7-3-1 format for their protected list, meaning they will protect seven forwards, three defensemen, and one goaltender. Being allowed to protect only three defencemen makes it impossible for management to add Klefbom to that list, especially since Darnell Nurse and Ethan Bear are sure to be protected. After that, it gets a little more interesting.
If Oilers general manager Ken Holland can agree to an extension with Adam Larsson before the draft, then he will be protected as well. If not, many are hoping Caleb Jones will be on the list, as his potential could make him very attractive to the Kraken. Of course, Tyson Barrie would also be added to the protected list if he’s re-signed, but an extension with the club doesn’t seem likely at this point.
Great When Healthy
What’s so unfortunate about the situation is that, when healthy, Klefbom is a fantastic player and was the team’s best blueliner before the emergence of Nurse this season. Having a healthy Klefbom and Nurse as the Oilers’ top two left-handed defencemen would be a dream come true for fans who have watched their team ice arguably the worst defence in the NHL for nearly a decade.
Klefbom, who is 27 years old, can log heavy minutes at even strength and is exceptional on both the power play and penalty kill, and he finished fifth in the league in ice time in 2019-20 with an average of 25:24 per game. On top of that, he is on a very team-friendly deal with an annual capt hit of $4.167 million for two more seasons.
Klefbom may seem like a no-brainer to protect, and if he was healthy or even if he was expected to play next season, the Oilers wouldn’t think twice about adding him to the list. However, there are serious doubts that he will play in 2021-22, and maybe not ever again.
Major Risk to Select
As hard as it will be for the Oilers to leave him unprotected (assuming they do), it will be even harder for the Kraken to select him. They would be taking a huge gamble given his questionable future. If he is able to return and be the player he was before his shoulder trouble, he would be a huge pickup for the Kraken. However, if he is unable to play going forward, they would have wasted their pick.
Unless the Kraken know something the rest of us don’t – which seems pretty unlikely given that Klefbom himself seems unsure – the chances that he is selected in the draft are slim. If the Oilers find themselves in a situation similar to the 2017 expansion draft when the Golden Knights’ best option was to select Griffin Reinhart, then Klefbom might be the Kraken’s choice. However, given that Jones might be exposed, and many still believe he can become a top-four defenceman, he would be a much more logical and safe choice for the Kraken.
Reasons for Optimism
There aren’t a lot of positives in this situation. It’s tough to see an athlete in their prime unable to play due to injury. If there is an upside, however, it is that the Oilers will now be able to protect one other defenceman they wouldn’t have if Klefbom was healthy.
What this means is that Klefbom could heal and return to his former self while the Oilers managed to protect another defenceman. Of course, there are a lot of hypotheticals here since we don’t know his status, but there is a chance, even if it is slight, that this situation could work out in the Oilers’ favour.
Colton Pankiw is a former Jr. A hockey player who now provides his knowledge of the game through writing. He’s been a very active and reliable source for nearly two years at The Hockey Writers. He is a credentialed writer for the Calgary Flames but also does features on other teams throughout the league. Other writing contributions include: Oil On Whyte, NHLtradetalk.com, and Markerzone.com. Colton is also a co-host of both Oilers Overtime and Flames Faceoff podcasts. Any interview requests or content info can be made through him on Twitter. Take a look at his work here.