Could Oilers Actually Trade Away Multiple Top-Four Defensemen?

Argue all you want about whether or not the Edmonton Oilers actually have two top-four (most people argue top-two) defensemen on the current roster. That’s not entirely the point.

What NHL insider and former NHL general manager Brian Lawton meant when he said he could see the Oilers trading two of their top-four d-men before next season, is that two of Edmonton’s better bluliners could be moved in the coming weeks.

Lawton was a guest on Oilers Now with Bob Stauffer recently and said the following:

“I would not be surprised if some of the veteran d-corp got moved. As a matter of fact I expect, in my opinion, that we won’t see two of the guys next year who played Top 4 this year. I have no knowledge of that. That’s just my opinion.”

Why Would Lawton Suggest Such a Thing?

Lawton’s argument is that the general manager for the Oilers, Ken Holland, is going to have to take a look at his roster and the flat NHL salary cap next season and make some long-term predictions. Lawton called it “projecting out” and suggested other teams are already doing it.

Edmonton Oilers general manager Ken Holland (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson)

A former GM himself, Lawton noted that teams like the Oilers will need to decide who on their roster is being paid full value and if any of their prospects or entry-level guys in the same positions can fill their spots at a lesser price tag. If so, the Oilers would be wise to move those more expensive pieces now, give the rookies experience and get full value for the veterans they move in a very uncertain trade market.

It sounds like a risky proposition to place so much faith in the young guys, but Lawton says if any GM can take advantage of this market it’s Holland and if he sees players in his system that could become the next Ethan Bear, it’s a risk worth taking.

Related: Oilers’ Disappointing Playoff Exit Reveals What Needs to Be Fixed

So What Would That Mean for Edmonton?

The players Lawton must be talking about are Oscar Klefbom, Adam Larsson, Darnell Nurse and Ethan Bear. This past season, they spent most of the time in the top-four.

** Note: We’ll remove Bear from the equation since Lawton mentioned Holland could be looking for his next “Ethan Bear”, suggesting you don’t trade those guys.

Oscar Klefbom Edmonton Oilers
Oscar Klefbom, Edmonton Oilers (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

That leaves Klefbom, Larsson and Nurse. Let’s also acknowledge that Lawton could be referring to Kris Russell, especially because he mentioned a $4 million price tag (exactly what Russell’s cap hit is), and Russell has spent time in the Oilers top-four in recent years.

So, Lawton is predicting two of Klefbom, Larsson, Nurse or Russell will be gone before next season. At the very least, that’s a scary thought, especially if you consider the Oilers would be trying to replace them with one of Evan Bouchard, Philip Broberg, or Caleb Jones.

There’s Only One Way This Works

First, the Oilers have to know one of those three prospects can step up and succeed. With so little NHL experience, it would be extremely hard to assume that. Second, the Oilers would need to have confidence that Bear and Nurse could be top-two guys. Finally, Holland would need to know there’s a trade option out there that is too good to pass up.

Holland did say he knows that defensemen are going to be valued at a premium this offseason. Further to that, he’s got some pretty good young talents on reasonable deals. That puts him in the drivers’ seat.

The question is whether or not he trusts his young guys are ready and will pull the trigger on the right deal.



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