It seems almost unimaginable that the Edmonton Oilers would be in a situation where they have too many good right-handed defenseman. A position that is so coveted in the NHL, the Oilers now have four viable options to play each and every night, with a couple of players who can switch sides. At the same time, the organization is looking to make a trade that could help bolster their forward depth and add experience come playoff time.
With that in mind, if the choice comes down to potentially moving a defenseman for someone at the trade deadline — the Oilers have to be dollar in, dollar out — which blueliner do you move?
Ethan Bear Is Steady
Bear led the NHL in rookie TOI last season but for some reason, he’s been a lightning rod for criticism this season. Some fans have called him useless and overrated, mostly because he had a bit of a rough start thanks to some injury issues.
That said, he is clearly trusted by the coaching staff, he battled his way through being a late-round pick and getting himself in better shape and he’s succeeded despite not much being expected of him. This is probably not a player you want to write off at this point in his career because he could come back to haunt you.
And, anyone that hasn’t noticed he’s playing much better now than he did at the start of the season isn’t watching closely.
Adam Larsson is Unique
A number of fans might have suggested Adam Larsson was the blueliner not coming back next season. He’s a pending UFA and the Oilers have cap issues that make him a tight fit at his current $4.16 million salary. Still, he’s played himself right back into the conversation of getting another contract and the Oilers really don’t have any other defenders like him.
His style is unique and he’s potentially the most reliable defense-first blueliner on the team. He can shut down the opposition’s top players and he can log huge minutes, destroying another team’s cycle. He’s a very useful asset and if he is available for around or lower than what he’s making now, the Oilers should seriously look at extending him.
Tyson Barrie Is Highly Productive
Everyone is on the Barrie bandwagon these days, as they should be. He’s been exactly as advertised — better than advertised by Toronto Maple Leafs fans — and he’s leading all NHL players who have joined a new team in points this season.
The concern with Barrie is that he’ll want to turn his outstanding production into a home run contract with the Oilers or another team. That would make him a hard player to afford if he’s asking for $6-$7 million.
But, can Edmonton really afford to trade him this season? They should be a playoff team and he’ll be critical to their run in the postseason. If the Oilers try to add, it feels like robbing Peter to pay Paul if the move Barrie in the process.
Evan Bouchard Is Set to Be a Stud
He’s not getting consistent ice time and he’s still a work in progress, but Bouchard is a player many deem to be a top-two offensive juggernaut who can quarterback a team’s power play. If he was ready, it would make the decision to move on from Barrie a much easier one.
The Oilers absolutely don’t want to move Bouchard. He may need a bit more time, but he should be a stud and there’s nothing out there in the rental market this season that would warrant giving up on him so soon. But, if you move Bouchard, the Oilers could ask for much more than a rental and they’d likely get it. Bouchard would be an attractive add for a team with a proven forward looking for a young defenseman.
No Easy Answer for the Oilers
There’s no easy decision here, but there are a few factors to consider. First, the NHL Expansion Draft could play a key role in who the Oilers choose to give up. Since they can only protect so many players, they may have to make a difficult choice. That said, if Larsson and Barrie don’t sign before the draft, this is less of a concern for the righties. Bouchard is not eligible to be drafted so the only player Edmonton has to worry about here is Bear.
What the Oilers do need to consider is 1) how much will adding a piece help them versus trading a piece that also helps them, and 2) how far away they feel a player like Bouchard is from being an every-night player. Not just that, but can he be a difference maker?
If the Oilers deem Barrie expendable because Bouchard is ready, that’s one thing. Especially if the Oilers have talked to Barrie’s camp and they know he’ll ask for far more than they’re comfortable paying. If Bouchard can step in and assume Barrie’s role, as painful as it is, Edmonton can let Barrie leave. Then again, it’s extremely doubtful the Oilers can be confident in this decision over the next couple of weeks.
The better play might be to just keep them all this season and worry about this in the offseason. If the Oilers can move a forward then that’s the better play. Dominik Kahun, Kyle Turris, James Neal, Alex Chiasson, and couple others are expendable. They’ll just be harder sells.
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