The problem with Oscar Klefbom’s shoulder is, it wasn’t injured badly enough.
So he played through the 2017-18 season at a level far below what a healthy Oscar Klefbom would have given the Edmonton Oilers, and as the exit interviews near in Edmonton, his season is much like his team’s season.
An abject disappointment.
“The shoulder is so black or white,” Klefbom, 24, said Monday. “If I say at Christmas, ‘OK, let’s do something about this,’ I know that in the playoffs, if we’re going to turn this around, I’m not going to be there.”
Whatever it is that ails Klefbom’s shoulder, clearly the surgery to fix it would have been season-ending. So he took a cortisone shot around New Years, and that helped a bit. His last 20 games have been reminiscent of the game he gave the Oilers last season, sort of, but it is all too little and too late.
Now, Klefbom is not a bonafide No. 1 defenceman around the NHL, like a Drew Doughty or a Victor Hedman. But he is Edmonton’s No. 1 defenceman, and the Oilers count on him as much as the Kings and Lightning count on their top defencemen.
Klefbom hasn’t been able to deliver at anywhere near the level expected of him, the first domino in a series of declining performances throughout the roster. Now partner Adam Larsson isn’t as steady, when Klefbom can’t carry his weight; now the chances are far tougher and more numerous for goalie Cam Talbot, and his confidence struggles as pucks fly past he had no chance to save; now the powerplay lacks the only real shooter it had, and as it struggles so do several key forwards lack the confidence a strong powerplay can provide.
“Me and Larsson played a hell of a season last year. We showed everyone we are a (pairing) to count on. When we play good hockey we can get within a game of a Conference Final,” Klefbom said. “I want to get back to that, but then I have to be 100 percent. I can not go back (next season) and be 75 percent, stay out of battles, and wait. I have to be 100 percent.”
Head coach Todd McLellan said this week that Klefbom had “a small procedure” done on his shoulder that would keep him out of two games, including Tuesday in Calgary. Then what?
“The procedure will dictate … what will happen,” McLellan said Monday. “He and his agent, and everyone else will participate in the decision. There’s nothing written in stone. There’s a real good chance he’ll play the rest of the season, training the summer and come back.”
So those were Klefbom’s choices, after injuring the shoulder early in the season. Quit on the year, or fake his way through.
“You want to be on the ice, to help the guys, and you don’t want to be, ‘I’m a little banged up. I can not play.’ The toughest thing, really, is being smart,” he said. “With the season we had last year — we had a lot of expectations, we want to make the playoffs, I played a lot of minutes (22:22 per game) — if I’m going down, it’s, ‘Oh, I don’t care about this season.’”
Two seasons ago he took a shot off the leg that opened up a cut. That cut turned into a Staph infection that limited Klefbom to 30 games, a very serious injury that happens by fluke, really.
So, in his three seasons between the ages of 22 and 24, the Karlstad, Sweden native has given his team one healthy year. But Klefbom was so good that season that his seven-year, $29 million deal (AAV of $4.167 million) became known as “a value contract” by many in the business.
Of course, it’s only good value if the player is healthy. It is pretty clear that the team and the player are in the process of vetting the path ahead: whether that means surgery or rehab.
We’ll likely know in the next few days.
“Last year was very fun to show the real Oscar Klefbom, show people how good I can be when I’m healthy, playing a lot of minutes for 82 games,” he said. “I’m in good shape, having some great numbers in the gym. I’m one of the fittest guys in testing. It’s not like in bad shape.
“It’s been very, very frustrating not to be able to show what I can do when I am 100 percent.”
Not just for you, Oscar. You’ve got plenty of company.