EDMONTON — While the St. Louis Blues, Washington Capitals and Winnipeg Jets were adding depth defencemen as the playoffs near — and the Vegas Golden Knights were reportedly working on adding Alec Martinez — the Edmonton Oilers were losing their No. 1 blue-liner for at least eight games on Tuesday.
Oscar Klefbom, who played nearly 31 minutes in Sunday’s overtime win against the Carolina Hurricanes, has a shoulder injury which the club says will keep him out of the Oilers lineup for “two to three weeks.” Meanwhile, head coach Dave Tippett added that third-pairing D-man Kris Russell (concussion) is “not close” to returning.
Common sense says that if you plan to make any kind of playoff run, you cannot have too many defencemen. So, with the Oilers sitting in first place in the Pacific Division, is it incumbent upon general manager Ken Holland to get out in the marketplace and stock up his D-corps?
The answer is… Well, there are two answers.
You can’t replace Klefbom at a Trade Deadline. He may not be a No. 1 defenceman across the NHL, but he is the Oilers’ No. 1 and you can’t replace that player in anything less than a blockbuster deal.
Klefbom is fifth in the NHL in time on ice, averaging 25:36 per game. He leads the NHL in blocked shots, is Top 10 in power-play points among defencemen, runs the Oilers league-leading powerplay and takes a regular shift while shorthanded.
“He’s playing top minutes for the D-corps — he’s a big piece on our team,” said partner Adam Larsson. “He has raised his level this year, in terms of consistency. He’s grown a lot, and the minutes show what he brings.”
So, no, Holland should not go into the market with an eye to replace Klefbom. But could he find another Russell?
That’s an order he could likely fill.
There are always pending unrestricted free agent defencemen that teams will part with for a fifth- or sixth-round pick. A second- and a third-round pick for a player like Brenden Dillon — which is what Washington gave to the San Jose Sharks on Tuesday — is not what we’d suggest in Edmonton, where the Oilers shouldn’t be acting like a team that can win a Stanley Cup this spring.
The farm system here has finally started to produce a few players, like Ethan Bear, Caleb Jones, Kailer Yamamoto and Tyler Benson. But it’s still thin pickings. Holland needs another first-round pick, and it would be ideal for him retain his second-rounder as well.
The years are coming, with Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl leading the way, when the Oilers will graduate to being a “right now” team. The kind of team like Tampa, Boston, Washington or St. Louis — one that deals away picks and prospects for a shot at winning a Cup.
That time has not arrived in Edmonton, yet, but that doesn’t mean Holland can’t still beef up his blue line. If only to ensure that his Oilers reach the post-season, considering the amount of injuries Edmonton suddenly has.
Edmonton will host the Boston Bruins on Wednesday evening minus McDavid (quadriceps), Klefbom, James Neal (high ankle sprain), the suspended Zack Kassian, Joakim Nygard (broken hand) and Russell. They’ll have three rookies — Bear, Jones and William Lagesson — in their starting six.
Among defencemen, the next call-up in AHL Bakersfield is either journeyman Brandon Manning or first-year professional Evan Bouchard. Neither are players you want playing a lot of minutes in the playoffs, or down the stretch in the Pacific for that matter.
So Holland will work the phones this week, looking for NHL pedigree, but not the kind that comes at a high price. And not a player with any term remaining on his contract after this season.
So who’s out there? Or more to the point, who is left?
Well, Ron Hainsey (Ottawa Senators) is a guy who could step in and give you some depth minutes, a pending UFA the Senators would part with. Or how about Korbinian Holzer or Michael Del Zotto, in Anaheim? Ben Hutton might do, and the Los Angeles Kings are certainly collecting draft picks.
Marco Scandella would have been a perfect candidate, but Holland would be hesitant to match the price the Blues pair — a second-round pick and a conditional fourth. He’s already liable not to have his third-round pick in 2020, which will go to Calgary if Neal scores 21 goals (he currently has 19) and Milan Lucic does not score more than 10 (he has six).
The one caveat is Jesse Puljujarvi, which could be the sweetener that might get Holland a little closer to a high-end defenceman like Brandon Montour in Buffalo.
Either way, Holland’s team is good enough that it deserves a little help from its GM.
Time is ticking, and the D-men are going. If it’s going to happen, Holland had better hurry.