When the Edmonton Oilers traded Tyson Barrie to the Nashville Predators for a more defensive-minded blueliner in Mattias Ekholm, GM Ken Holland effectively gave the keys to the Oilers’ offense from the blue line to Evan Bouchard. Bouchard is now the go-to guy on the best power play in the NHL and, as a result, he’s bound to build confidence, pot gravy points, and up his numbers as an offensively-gifted d-man.
It’s partly a decision based on necessity, but it might also be part of a long-term plan to showcase Bouchard as a key component to an offseason trade that would see the Oilers go after a bigger fish in Erik Karlsson, — a defenseman the Oilers were rumored to have interest in prior to the NHL Trade Deadline.
Granted, if Bouchard really turns things up and becomes a top-tier defenseman over the last 17 games of the 2022-23 NHL season, the Oilers might feel no need to chase after the near 100 points that Karlsson is on pace to produce this season. Moreover, if Bouchard proves himself to be the real deal, the Oilers might as well keep who they have and the player they know, opting for a bridge deal or a long-term contract that would see him become part of their core.
That said, if Bouchard picks up the pace but doesn’t become a player the Oilers feel is their No. 1 d-man on the right side, there might be a plan to dangle Bouchard in a future Sharks and Oilers pre-draft trade.
The Sharks are going to be looking for picks, prospects, and young players with a future if they’re to deal Karlsson at the draft. Meanwhile, the Oilers are going to be looking for an elite defenseman who can help them win a Stanley Cup now. If Bouchard shows real signs of progression, the Sharks may see him as a blueliner worth investing in. They might be keener to make him the centerpiece of any deal with Edmonton that would see Karlsson come back the other way. A 50-point Bouchard is worth a whole lot more than a 35-point Bouchard. Had he not been given the opportunity to quarterback the Oilers’ power play, the latter was more likely where he’d have wound up when the season was complete.
With the trade deadline now passed, this season, wins are all that matter. If Bouchard can help the Oilers secure those wins, he’ll keep getting the ball and the chance to run with it. All the while, San Jose will be watching. If Bouchard explodes offensively, he’ll be an attractive option for a Sharks’ team that may look to move Karlsson this summer.
In the summer, Edmonton will have choices to make, but more flexibility on the salary cap to make them. Will the decision be to give Bouchard a healthy new deal and move forward with him at the helm? Or, will it be to call the Sharks and move him to get the defenseman they need today at the cost they know for the next few seasons?
Next: Canucks Will Have to Trade a Major Contract This Offseason
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