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Oilers’ Defense Core Needs an Upgrade: Offseason or Trade Deadline?

The Edmonton Oilers stacked at forward and set in goal, but could their blue line use an upgrade? If so, is it now or at the Trade deadline?

As an already busy offseason progresses for the Edmonton Oilers, it’s becoming clear that the team is still exploring ways to improve their defense core. David Pagnotta recently reported on Hello Hockey that the Oilers are not done making moves, specifically targeting upgrades on the blue line. With Brett Kulak and Cody Ceci‘s names circulating in trade rumors, the Oilers are eyeing a potential acquisition of a #4-5 defender.

Currently, the Oilers’ defense lineup includes Mattias Ekholm and Evan Bouchard, Darnell Nurse and Philip Broberg, with Kulak and Ceci filling out the third pair. Josh Brown and Troy Stecher round out the seventh and eighth positions. This setup, however, poses a financial challenge. Nurse’s $9.25 million on the second pair is not ideal. Acknowledging the fact that the contract isn’t going anywhere, with $6 million tied up in the third pairing, the Oilers might prefer to free up some cap space by bringing in a less expensive player capable of playing elevated minutes if needed.

Kulak, who has two more years remaining on his contract at $2.75 million, has demonstrated his ability to step up in the playoffs. He’s got speed and skill, a willingness to jump into the rush and proved last season that when asked, he can play more than a bottom-pair role.

Cody Ceci Brett Kulak Oilers

Ceci, on the other hand, is in the final year of his $3.25 million contract. His name has been out there in trade rumors before and analytics fans hate the Ceci and Nurse pairing. While Ceci has had inconsistent performances, he has proven valuable on the penalty kill and in crucial game moments. When with the right playing partner, Ceci has an upside.

Complicating matters further, the Oilers are currently over the salary cap by about $365K and need to secure extensions for restricted free agents Dylan Holloway and Philip Broberg. Unless Evander Kane is placed on long-term injured reserve (LTIR) to start the season, the team faces the need for more cap maneuvering.

Upgrade the Defense Now or Wait Until the Trade Deadline?

Given these challenges, the Oilers must decide whether to address their blue-line issues now or wait until later in the season to see what else is available. Specifically, the NHL trade deadline might be the best place for the team to take their big swing. Making minor roster adjustments to get under the cap might be the immediate solution, allowing the team to reassess and make a bigger defensive move closer to the trade deadline. After all, this is a group that should have no trouble making the playoffs, even with the loss of Vincent Desharnais to the Vancouver Canucks.

On the other hand, Jeff Jackson has been able to pull off some incredible moves in two weeks as the acting GM of the Oilers. If an opportunity arises to make a move, he should feel confident to do so.

Next: What’s Really Going On with the Oilers and Evander Kane?

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