Edmonton Oilers and Nick Holden? Might Make Sense.

As was reported earlier by Larry Brooks and discussed by THW’s own Tom Dianora, the New York Rangers are actively shopping defenseman Nick Holden as they search to improve their depth at the center ice position. Rumors have circulated that the Rangers are trying to obtain Tyler Bozak from the Maple Leafs, but that trade doesn’t work on paper for the Rangers who are tight against the NHL salary cap ceiling.

Meanwhile, the Edmonton Oilers will be starting the season without top-four defender Andrej Sekera and are asking recently re-signed Kris Russell to carry the load on the second-pair blue line unit for the team — a feat many believe is going to be a struggle for the shot-blocking veteran.

Is Holden the type of player the Edmonton Oilers should be keeping an eye open for? The idea here isn’t too far fetched and could provide some benefit.

What Nick Holden Would Offer the Oilers

Nick Holden is by no means a superstar. In fact, there are some people in New York who believe moving him would make the Rangers a better team. But, in 2016-17, he put up career best numbers with 11 goals and 23 assists in 80 games. He added two goals and two assists in 11 playoffs contests and these are decent numbers for a player who makes only $1.65 million for one more year.

Nick Holden has been a less effective player than his offensive numbers suggest. (Photo credit: Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

As Dianora points out, Holden’s career shooting percentage is different than his numbers last season. Therefore, as many Rangers fans will agree, Holden will likely regress in his numbers.  But, it’s possible he doesn’t. While his 2016-17 stats were an improvement over his 2015-16 numbers, those numbers were similar to his 2013-14 season with the Colorado Avalanche. He also proved during his time in the AHL with the Springfield Falcons that he knows how to score. In short, there is some consistency with the player and it wouldn’t be a gamble to expect him to chip in a bit on offense (even if it’s not at the same level as last season).

What Kris Russell Offers the Oilers

What Russell brings and doesn’t bring has been well documented in Edmonton. Not known at all for his offensive abilities, he’s more a stay-at-home defender with a propensity to block shots by the boat load. The Oilers love his compete level, they feel he’s a leader by example and while smaller, doesn’t play like he is.

Edmonton Oilers defenseman Kris Russell (John Hefti-USA TODAY Sports)

Those who avoid jumping on the Russell bandwagon with great fever will tell you that the only reason Russell blocks as many shots as he does is because of his possession numbers which, analytically, suggest he’s not great at making great defensive decisions. It’s a subject that has seen a great debate over the past year.

The Issue With Acquiring a Holden-Like Player

Holden is not known for his defensive abilities. He’s statistically weaker 5-on-5 and he was scratched toward the end of the season when Rangers’ coach Alain Vigneault grew frustrated with his defensive gaffes. If Russell’s play proves the analytics supporters correct, having Holden and Russell on the same line could be disastrous.

So too, Holden shoots left as does Russell. It’s the same issue that Russell and Sekera faced, so it’s not a deal-breaker, but it’s not always ideal to ask one of your blueliners to continually play their off side. Both Holden and Russell have proven they can do so.

The Benefit in Acquiring a Holden-Like Player

Typically, trading for a Holden-Like player would not be a good idea given the Oilers current circumstances. Why add a potential analytics nightmare to play alongside another analytics nightmare? But, maybe trading for the actual Nick Holden is not that situation. And maybe, they don’t end up playing together.

Holden is an extremely affordable cap hit on an Oilers team that is looking for value contracts. At $1.65 million, should he not work out, it’s not the end of the world. He only needs to be better than the Oilers options internally. If it happens to be that Matt Benning or Darnell Nurse is ready to take the next step in their development (which would be ideal) , Holden can sit, move down to the 6/7 spot or be traded. No harm, no foul.

If Holden can provide the offense, even in a short burst, like he did last season, he’s simply filling the shoes for Sekera until Sekera returns. Holden could be exactly the right fit offensively with a defense-first Russell. He could also be used in special situations should he prove useful on the power play or offensive zone starts.

While it may not be a perfect plan, the idea here is simple. Little money, little commitment (Holden is an unrestricted free agent at the end of this season) and find a player that has the potential to be a good fit for the short term. The key is here is the asking price from the Rangers.

While Holden is on the block in New York, the Rangers seem to like him. They want a center that can play in the NHL and the Oilers don’t really have one to give. There’s no chance any combination of Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Leon Draisaitl or even Mark Letestu get moved in a deal like this and on the farm, the Oilers are weaker in the middle.

But, if the Oilers can move a mid-round to late-round pick and let the Rangers clear some space, it might not be the worst idea ever. It could be a gamble that doesn’t pay off, but it shouldn’t hurt the Oilers who appear to have a decent hole on their blue line for a couple months.

All this said, with the rumors Cody Franson is heading to Chicago on a PTO, perhaps he’s the better player here for the Oilers.