There’s a strange thing happening in Edmonton right now. With the Oilers playing well (despite a three-game blip against the Toronto Maple Leafs), there’s a feeling that certain players might be expendable. Buzz that someone like Jake DeBrusk might be available out of Boston has a certain portion of the Oilers media and the fan base talking all crazy, many wondering if the Oilers should consider trading Ethan Bear as part of a potential package.
This writer has a hard time understanding the logic behind such a move and I fall in line with one of the more tame responses to the idea on social media yesterday. Oilers Nation wrote: “I do not understand why everyone wants to trade Ethan Bear all of a sudden. DO NOT TRADE ETHAN BEAR, SUDDENLY WE HAVE WAITED SO LONG FOR AN ETHAN BEAR.”
Where Is the Bear Trade Talk Coming From?
David Staples of the Edmonton Journal wrote on March 5, 2021:
He’s missed a game with the coach sitting him in the pressbox. He’s been injured. While he was out, the team thrived. He’s fought his way back into the line-up, but he’s yet to consistently play his “A” game, the kind of smart, steady and tough hockey that saw him earn a place in Edmonton’s Top 4 on defence last season.source – ‘ Ethan Bear struggling on defence, has slipped from his sharp 2019-20 form’ – David Staples – The Edmonton Journal – 03/05/2021
The argument from Staples was that Bear’s future isn’t secure. With a glut of right-handed blueliners, a looming NHL Expansion Draft and contract questions when it comes to players like Tyson Barrie and Adam Larsson, Bear could be in jeopardy.
Then, during Wednesday’s Oilers Now show, host Bob Stauffer tossed out the notion that the Oilers might, maybe, possibly consider moving Bear if DeBrusk is on Holland’s radar. He suggested he had something like 15 texts from fans wanting him to ask Holland if he would move Jones plus or Bear plus for DeBrusk.
Why Not to Trade Bear
Many liken this debate to the one the Oilers had when Jeff Petry was pushed out of town by the fans and a previous GM who made a premature decision. The concern now, is that no one knows what Bear will become. If you look at how badly that Petry trade looks on Edmonton today, making the same mistake with a player like Bear would be practically unforgiveable. One fan said, “If he IS traded, that’s a D man that’s going to come back to haunt us.” This is probably accurate.
Many have argued that Bear hasn’t yet scratched the surface of the type of defenseman he will become. He’s played 105 regular season games and only four playoff games. He’s bound to have some bumps along the way, but then again, so do some of the best defensemen on any team. Bear is 23. It’s natural that not every game will be a masterpiece.
He’s not expensive, he’s versatile, poised with the puck and only getting better.
Why Most Anti-Bear Fans Are Wrong
This isn’t an article written to shoot down the idea the Oilers should think about adding DeBrusk. In the right situation and as part of the right trade, it could work. But, when it comes to trading Bear for DeBrusk, it’s hard not to agree with someone like Michael Parkatti — who looks closely at underlying numbers and stats for hockey players. He argues against such a move. He wrote:
If you inspect the data, you’d realize that Ethan Bear is an incredibly useful NHL defenceman. He clearly makes Nurse better than the other way around. He’s cheap (because of this lack of notoriety). In other words: his *value* is incredibly high.
Parkatti looked at the idea that some Oilers fans see the surplus of defensemen the team already has and, as a result, they’ve talked themselves into the idea that Bear is expendable. In some cases, fans have actually said Bear is a bad defenseman, based solely on the fact he had a bit of a rough stretch at the start of the year. He notes that these are simple human biases and the ‘gut’ reaction doesn’t match up with the statistics.
Parkatti argues that Bear being a lower draft pick has worked against him in the eyes of some of the fans. But, it should actually be a strength and reason to keep him. “He’s had to fight (& clearly emerge victorious) for every single step up in his career,” Parkatti notes. Furthermore, he argues Bear had to come from the “back of the Oilers loaded D prospect pool to be a real thing.”
Why DeBrusk For Bear Makes Little Sense
At the same time, Parkatti argues that someone like Jake Debrusk is high notoriety. His father is well known in Edmonton, he’s from the city, he’s a former first-round pick and he plays on one of the NHL’s top teams. Parkatti suggests some fans have worked themselves into the narrative, “Debrusk is *much* more well-known than Bear, this is a no-brainer”.
Frankly, those fans are wrong. DeBrusk could be a strong asset in a different environment and it’s clear he’s struggling in Boston. He could explode in Edmonton. But, to move a current and future top-four defenseman just because you have the benefit of having too many viable options for your blue line is irrational thinking.
Honestly, the Oilers could have six or seven right-handed blueliners on this team and I still wouldn’t move Bear, unless it was absolutely necessary or clear Edmonton was going to lose him for nothing.
Ironically, in a poll Staples posted on Twitter, — one that has received over 2200 votes — fans agreed. The overwhelming suggestion is that Evan Bouchard and Bear are the two righties Edmonton should keep above all others.
Jim Parsons is a freelance writer who covers the Edmonton Oilers and news and rumors posts here at The Hockey Writers.
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