EDMONTON — A chronic shoulder injury that has cost Oscar Klefbom parts of two seasons, may well cost him the entirety of the coming campaign. It also puts a fresh and more desperate spin on the coming draft and free-agent deadline for Edmonton Oilers general manager Ken Holland.
Word leaked out Wednesday, via Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman, that a chronic shoulder problem requiring yet another surgical procedure may cost the Edmonton defenceman the entire 2020-21 season. Of course, with nobody able to say when that season might start or finish, the number of games Klefbom would possibly miss is up in the air.
The Oilers did not immediately return a request to comment Wednesday, nor did Klefbom’s agent, J.P. Barry.
With the Oilers said to be in hot in pursuit of Arizona Coyotes defenceman Oliver Ekman-Larsson, the possible loss of Klefbom long-term would both open up nearly $4.2 million in cap space, with Klefbom’s money going on long-term injured reserve, and increase the Oiler’s need for a power-play quarterback and No. 1 defenceman.
Klefbom has for several seasons served admirably as the Oilers’ top defenceman, but is not considered a true No. 1 like Ekman-Larsson. The Coyotes defenceman has five 40-point seasons, while Klefbom’s career-high is 38 points in 2016-17.
But while Klefbom, 27, has two seasons remaining on what would be considered a team-friendly contract, the 29-year-old Ekman-Larsson is entering Year 2 of an eight-year deal that carries a cap hit of $8.2 million. But he is healthier than Klefbom, having never missed more than seven games in a season since becoming an NHL regular.
If the impetus for Arizona to move one of the National Hockey League’s true No. 1 defencemen is to take some pressure off of the Coyotes’ hemorrhaging bottom line, then it is assumed that the return would be heavy on draft picks and prospects. While the Oilers would almost certainly have to move the final year of defenceman Kris Russell’s $4-million contract, they would likely have to include their 14th-overall draft pick this season and likely a first-rounder from recent drafts, like defenceman Evan Bouchard.
Assuming Klefbom returns for the 2021-22 season and that Holland could swing the deal with Arizona, that would leave Edmonton’s pairings as such: Ekman-Larsson and Adam Larsson; Darnell Nurse and Ethan Bear; Caleb Jones and Matt Benning, with William Lagesson and Philip Broberg waiting in the wings.
Acquiring a depth defenceman via free agency will be an easy task in a summer when players are fighting for an ever-shrinking salary pie.
That the injury has become a major problem for Klefbom and the Oilers is undeniable, however. This will be at least the third procedure on the shoulder, a sign that the wear and tear of being the NHL’s fifth-biggest minutes muncher in 2019-20 — he averaged 25:25 per game, more than Victor Hedman or Seth Jones — is more than Klefbom’s body can take.
In March of 2018, with the Oilers long removed from the playoff picture, Klefbom announced he would leave the team for season-ending shoulder surgery
“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 that March. “I want to get back to that, but then I have to be 100 per cent. I can not go back (next season) and be 75 per cent, stay out of battles, and wait. I have to be 100 per cent.”
Klefbom played just 30 games of the 2015-16 campaign when he took a shot off the leg that opened up a cut. That cut turned into a staph infection that limited the Karlstad, Sweden native to 30 games.