It is no secret the Edmonton Oilers badly need to upgrade their defence. While the addition of a top pairing defender who can be used in all situations would be fantastic, the chances of finding such a creature via free agency or the trade market are almost non-existent.
With that being the case, general manager Peter Chiarelli may need to aim little lower on the totem pole when it comes to improving his backend. Does that mean he should not bother trying to go big game hunting this summer? Not at all but there is a big difference between being able to actually pull off such a move and wanting to do so.
Juggling Previous Blunders
In my mind, Edmonton is going to have to add a bare minimum of two proven commodities to their blueline prior to the start of the 2015-16 campaign and both are going to have to be able to handle top four minutes. The probability of Andrew Ference and Nikita Nikitin no longer wearing an Orange and Blue jersey come next October are highly unlikely and in all honesty, there is likely a pretty decent chance both will still be around to start the year.
While that may not be what the vast majority of Oiler fans want to hear, that doesn’t mean it won’t happen. In a worst case scenario, the two veterans will be brought back for another kick at the can and take up the sixth and seventh spots on the roster…that is unless Daryl Katz decides to eat a large chunk of the Russian blueliner’s hefty ticket and allow his GM to ship the 28-year old out-of-town for next to nothing.
Mark Fayne and Oscar Klefbom
Outside of Ference and Nikitin, the other defencemen from last year’s roster who look to have a legitimate shot of still being in the mix are Mark Fayne, Oscar Klefbom, Martin Marincin and Justin Schultz. If Todd McLellan’s goal is for this team to show a marked improvement in the standings during his first year behind the bench, there is zero chance of all six of those names being on the roster that breaks training camp.
Barring some sort of massive shakeup, it looks as though both Fayne and Klefbom are all but guaranteed a spot, but the same cannot be said for either Marincin or Schultz. While it is no secret the previous management regime were not overly high on the gangly Slovak, they were fairly certain the latter had “Norris Trophy” potential written all over him. Something tells me the duo of Chiarelli and Bob Nicholson may think otherwise, meaning neither should feel safe.
Trading Petry Created Another Hole
When the organization decided to trade Jeff Petry to the Montreal Canadiens at the Trade Deadline, Edmonton left themselves with a grand total of two right-handed shooting defencemen, (Fayne and Schultz), that have any business being on an NHL roster. While there will be a handful of options available in the unrestricted free agent market, most notably Cody Franson Mike Green and the aforementioned Petry, those could prove to be rather costly signings when it comes to long-term cap flexibility.
That said, if the Oilers would be open to bringing in a top four guy and willing to part with a piece from their collection of talented forwards, they could have a potential fit on the trade front with the Nashville Predators and defenceman Ryan Ellis. He may not be the sexiest of names, but the former Windsor Spitfire would frankly be a perfect fit and help fill more than a few of the holes that currently affect would is arguably the league’s worst blueline.
Power Play Quarterback
Despite being buried behind the likes of Shea Weber and Roman Josi, the diminutive rearguard has still shown the ability to be a difference-maker on the man advantage…which was his calling during his days in Ontario Hockey League. The former eleventh overall pick of the 2009 Entry Draft has an absolute cannon from the point and has morphed into a fairly solid defenceman after spending the better part of the last four years in the NHL. At this stage of his career, Ellis is a No. 4/No. 5 who can quarterback a power play…which is something the Oilers have been in dire need of for what feels like an eternity.
Add to that the 24-year old unleashes that bomb with a right-handed stick and is signed through to the completion of the 2018-19 campaign at a cap-friendly total of $2.5 million and he suddenly becomes an even better option. With a guy like Ellis in the place, keeping a guy like Schultz around would frankly be rather redundant. Meaning Mr. Chiarelli would have another valuable piece in his bag to dangle as possible trade bait.
Preds Are Stacked Along The Blueline
While injuries limited him to fifty-eight appearances in 2014-15, Ellis matched his career high of twenty-seven points and set a new personal benchmark in goals with nine. Unfortunately for him, Nashville arguably has the deepest D core in all of hockey and for that reason, the kid now finds himself behind Seth Jones, Mattias Ekholm, Josi and Weber on the depth chart. Also, with Jones and Weber slotted on the right-side for the foreseeable future, Ellis has pretty much reached his ceiling as a member of the Predators.
Obviously, going out and trying to acquire a young puck-moving defenceman would prove to be rather costly but on the positive side of the ledger, Nashville could certainly use an injection of talent up front. In a perfect world, David Poile would love nothing more than to add a top flight centre in any deal but that won’t happen unless he offers Jones in any potential trade offers. Meaning adding a talented winger would likely be the next best option and Nail Yakupov would fit the description to a tee.
Yakupov Could Blossom In Nashville
The 21-year old has had his fair share of ups and downs since being selected first overall back in 2012 but outside of the year and a half that was wasted under the guidance of Dallas Eakins, Yakupov has shown the ability to put pucks in the back of the net…when given the opportunity. Yes, his +/- totals are god awful but let us not forget he has not exactly been in the healthiest of situations over the last couple of years.
Just like Ellis, the young Russian is signed to a rather cap-friendly number for a former No. 1 pick over the next two years, at $2.5 million a season. As we all know, Nashville is not exactly an organization that spends like a drunken sailor and with Pekka Rinne and Weber eating up roughly $15 million of the team’s cap total, a value deal works quite nicely. Just ask Mr. Poile how well that Filip Forsberg deal has worked out for him and the rest of his management team.
There is no question, both teams would be taking major risk pulling the trigger on such a deal but to be perfectly honest, it might just be too difficult for either side to pass up on. Edmonton would get an upgrade on the backend and a power play specialist to boot while Nashville could potentially land themselves the sniper they have been searching for since the franchise’s inaugural campaign in 1998-99.
Rob Soria is the Author of Connor McDavid: Hockey’s Next Great One. He has chronicled the Orange and Blue since creating his Oil Drop blog in 2011 and has also had his writings featured over at HometownHockey.ca and Vavel USA, where he has covered the NHL, MLB and ATP Tour. Rob was born, raised and still resides in Edmonton, Alberta and can be reached via twitter @Oil_Drop.