I must say, it’s very weird to say things like “the Oilers have too many defensemen” and not use the word “bad” or “inconsistent”. The team has some serious depth at the NHL level and when you look through their prospect pool, it looks like there are is simply more coming through the pipeline.
Injuries always happen and the reason why good teams are able to overcome injuries to key players, which is not something the Oilers were able to do last season, is because they always have good, young players waiting in their system who can slide up to the NHL level.
Now that Adam Larsson is healthy and the Oilers don’t have any notable injuries on their blueline, they have some rather interesting decisions to make.
On the right side, they now have Adam Larsson, Ethan Bear, Matt Benning, and Joel Persson. On the left side, they have Darnell Nurse, Oscar Klefbom, and Kris Russell. Caleb Jones is a left-shot but has shown over the last week that he can competently play the right side. Brandon Manning is still in the organization and could be a serviceable seventh defenseman.
As it sits right now, they have eight defensemen who could play at the NHL level. I’m counting Joel Persson in that because while he did have some struggles, I think that he could be a solid third-pairing option. His struggles were more a result of being thrown into a top-four role to start his NHL career.
That’s a lot of options. There are plenty of moves that they could make but of course, the safest play would be to simply send Caleb Jones back to Bakersfield and keep Joel Persson in the AHL.
The thinking behind that would be that they finally have a collection of NHL calibre d-men, so they shouldn’t be so quick to sacrifice it. Also, injuries could still happen and it would be nice to have multiple players ready to step into the lineup.
There are some flaws with that. First of all, Caleb Jones and William Lagesson are no longer exempt from waivers starting next September. The organization needs to know what they have in those two by the end of the season or else they could risk losing them for nothing next fall.
Also, they do not have a very strong group of forwards playing in their bottom-six right now and if they want to be a threat come playoff time, they’ll need to address that. Trading a defenseman might be the best way for Ken Holland to fill the biggest hole in their lineup. Adding a forward would also require shedding some salary and they currently have close to $6 million on their third pairing.
Fresh Oil: Edmonton Oilers assign Joel Persson to Bakersfield Condors https://t.co/mha0oInkwu
— Oilersnation (@OilersnationHQ) November 18, 2019
The final thing I will point out is that there are so many minutes to go around in the AHL. If Caleb Jones, Joel Persson, Evan Bouchard, and Dmitri Samorukov are all down there, that means someone might not be getting the ideal amount of minutes to help with their development. That sounds like a weird concern to have because generally, creating competition at all levels is a good thing, but I worry that someone like Samorukov could get neglected in that situation and it would hurt his development. Maybe I’m just digging too deep into this though.
I like Matt Benning as a defenseman. He’s held up great numbers playing on the third pairing, he still hasn’t played 300 games in the league, he shoots right, and he has some offensive upside (he’s a local product as well so I have a bit of a soft spot for him). He’s a valuable piece and I think he’s a good NHL defenseman. However, that’s exactly why I believe he could bring back a very nice forward in a trade.
If you sacrifice him, I believe you could replace him with Caleb Jones and not lose very much.
“But what if injuries happen?” is what I’m sure a handful of you are wondering while reading this and I understand that concern. I just still think the Oilers would be fine.
Assuming that everyone is healthy, they have a top-four of Klefbom/Larsson/Nurse/Bear and they could run Russell/Jones on the third pairing. If someone on the right-side gets hurt, they could call up Bouchard or Persson. If someone of the left-side gets hurt, they could simply slide Jones back to his natural side and recall one of the righties from Bakersfield. They have the depth to survive this.
Also, Benning is an RFA at the end of this season and considering he makes $1.9 million right now, it’s fair to assume that it will cost at least that much to bring him back. Letting him go now would open up a spot on the 2020/21 roster for Evan Bouchard to slide up and play while still on his ELC. That saves them cap space this summer.
I know some people will say that they’d rather have Kris Russell traded, and I would as well. But, I don’t think he would bring back nearly as much in a trade and I also believe that both the coach and GM really value what he brings and wouldn’t want to subtract that before a playoff run. That seems like a move that happens this summer, not before the trade deadline.
I really like Matt Benning and I don’t want to come off as somebody who is ‘running him out of town’ but after looking at the situation that the Oilers are in right now, I think dealing him could be the smartest move for the organization in both the short and long term.