Injuries to the defence really hurt the Oilers last season. Andrej Sekera tore his Achilles while training last August. Oscar Klefbom got hit in the hand with a puck that forced him to miss significant time last season. In that same game against Colorado in December, Kris Russell got hurt and missed about a month.
This season isn’t starting off much better in that regard.
Adam Larsson apparently broke his fibula blocking a shot in the first period of the first game on Wednesday! He was placed on the LTIR on Thursday, and he is expected to be out for 6-8 weeks.
Ethan Bear was sent to the AHL on Thursday, and Evan Bouchard was recalled. Earlier this week, Ken Holland said that he didn’t expect to see any of the prospects in Bakersfield until Christmas, if at all this season. Yet here we are, only one game into the season, and Bouchard was called up.
Bouchard’s cap hit is $174,167 higher than Bear’s cap hit. I imagine that Holland made these moves in an effort to maximize the amount of LTIR relief that he could gain from placing Larsson there. The Oilers had $263,001 in cap space before these transactions. After sending Bear down and recalling Bouchard, they had $88,834 in cap space. Being so much closer to the cap meant that the new cap after placing Larsson on LTIR is now $174,167 higher than it would’ve been without switching the defencemen. Any time you see a curious call-up paired with an LTIR move, that’s exactly what is happening.
Here’s how the pairs looked at Friday’s practice:
However, the Oilers recalled Bear and William Lagesson this afternoon. As expected, they also sent Bouchard back down to Bakersfield.
That means the current healthy Oilers defencemen are Klefbom, Bear, Nurse, Russell, Benning, Lagesson, and Manning.
Lagesson’s arrival is a pretty clear sign that Manning will not play even if Persson can’t go on Saturday. Manning skated on the third pairing with Benning today, but that was simply because he was the only one available to skate this morning since Bear had not been recalled and Bouchard never travelled to Edmonton.
Assuming that Persson is out, which I think will be the case, here is what I think the pairings will look like on Saturday against the Kings:
Russell will move back to his off-side. That move will give the Oilers another veteran in their top 4 group. Lagesson was superior to Manning in camp, so he will likely slot in at 3LD for the time being. It appears that the Oilers are taking the strategy that myself, Kurt Leavins, and Rob Brown all talked about at various times during training camp: keeping Manning on the roster as a 7D, and recalling kids from Bakersfield in case of injuries. Manning never has to see the ice, and the kids all get adequate ice time no matter which league they are playing in.
As soon as Persson is healthy, I expect Lagesson to get sent down. That should not be more than 2 or 3 games from now if it doesn’t happen on Saturday. At that point, I expect to see the following pairings:
Persson spent all of his time in camp playing with Klefbom. Neither Bear nor Persson has played with Nurse yet. No matter where you put those two, Nurse will have a rookie that he has never skated beside on his pairing. I like the idea of keeping Bear with Klefbom since he is a younger pro than Persson and he would benefit the most from having consistency in who he plays with to start this season.
The one positive thing about this situation is that Larsson has never been a great puck mover. Bear and Persson are both excellent puck movers! The Oilers have needed a heavy dose of that particular skill for quite a while, and they have it in spades right now.
The obvious downside is the lack of experience on the right side now. Bear and Persson could have major defensive issues as time goes on. It’s a risk the Oilers are being forced to take right now.
Larsson plays a huge role on the PK as well. I would expect Benning to get some of those additional minutes on the PK, but they will likely be distributed between him and Russell on the right side specifically on the PK.
The other option that is out there for Ken Holland would be to trade for immediate help. We saw how well THAT worked last year when Chiarelli traded for Alex Petrovic and Brandon Manning while Klefbom and Russell were out.
RFA Julius Honka from the Stars is currently holding out and hoping for a trade because he is not getting the opportunity he feels that he deserves in Dallas. He’s far from a proven commodity, but he does have 87 NHL games under his belt. Perhaps our disgruntled Finnish RFA goes the other way for their disgruntled Finnish RFA? I don’t see this as an ideal move honestly.
There are two big reasons why there is no trade coming here.
The first is that there aren’t many teams looking to shed contracts or get rid of players at this point in the season. Teams are generally pretty happy with what they have, and they aren’t looking to make any major tweaks. Teams certainly won’t be lining up to throw the Oilers a life preserver.
We have seen this for the last two years when Peter Chiarelli did not bring in a veteran defenceman to offset the loss of Andrej Sekera. The fruit in the market at those times was not enough to adequately replace Sekera, so nothing happened. Also, again, we saw what happened when Chiarelli DID try to make trades in-season to shore up the defence in the wake of injuries last season… the quality of the available players just isn’t there in-season.
The second is that the Oilers will have to take on additional money in order to acquire a defenceman. Once Larsson is healthy, he will be taken off of the LTIR. The Oilers will then have to get back under the cap, as we saw last year when Cam Talbot was traded before Andrej Sekera was activated from the LTIR.
Remember, the Oilers only had $263,001 in cap space before the Larsson injury. The most expendable players with sizable contracts are Sam Gagner and Brandon Manning, neither of which is really a movable contract. One player would be sent to Bakersfield if a new defenceman were to be acquired, which would help. Persson being healthy and Larsson coming back would allow the Oilers to send Manning down and get $1,075,000 worth of cap savings; but that might not be enough if they acquire a new defenceman good enough to fill the void left by Larsson in the short term.
So no, the Oilers won’t go out and get Alex Pietrangelo or Rasmus Ristolainen right now. It’s just not possible. The Oilers will simply roll with what they have for the time being. There is a huge opportunity for Ethan Bear, Joel Persson, and Matt Benning to show the Oilers management that they can play higher up in the lineup.
I know we’re only one game into the season, but Larsson will be out for a crucial part of the season. American Thanksgiving is on November 28. November 27 will mark 8 weeks since Larsson’s injury. For those that are unfamiliar, American Thanksgiving is an important date in the NHL season because it is rare for more than one or two teams sitting outside the playoff picture by that date to make the playoffs.
Last year’s Blues were a rare exception to the rule.
No matter how you slice it, the Oilers will be navigating this important part of the season without their top right-handed defencemen and with two rookies on their blueline. It’s a tall task for those kids, but we will see if their mobility and puck moving ability will be enough for the Oilers to be in a playoff position by American Thanksgiving.