Upgrading The Oilers D, and Keeping it Real

Forget about Weber, time for a pragmatic option

For as long as Shea Weber has been in the league there has been a constant chant by Edmonton Oilers fans that the Oiler’s GM waive some magical wand and bring over Shea Weber, or Brent Seabrook, or Duncan Keith . . .

Sadly none of these players are available now, nor will they ever be.  The Oiler’s future top pairing are named Nurse and Klefbom, but unfortunately they haven’t matured to a top pairing D just yet and need real support.  Defense by committee is an option (maybe the only one) but the Oiler’s D need real top 4 defenders,  not pretenders: see Nikitin, Ference, and Fayne.

So what can we do?  There are only a couple of teams flush with defencemen and in need of what we can offer.  The Winnipeg Jets have plenty of D on the roster but aren’t likely to give up any quality.  A likely D man we could pry out?  Likely Toby Enstrom who is on the wrong side of 30, not that physical, not overly offensive, and with a hefty salary.  So where else could we look?

Next best target: Nashville.  Weber again?  Nope, most have given up on that fantasy.  Seth Jones . . . wrong again.  Not enough whiskey in Nashville to impair the judgement of Nashville’s GM into that mistake.  Dare to dream, but it won’t happen.  The realistic target should be fourth year pro, Ryan Ellis.

Although Ellis is relatively deep on Nashville’s defense chart, there is plenty to be excited about when it comes to this 24 year-old rearguard.  Ironically, the Oilers could have had Ellis for free back in the 2009 draft, but instead chose to draft the now long departed Magnus Paajarvi.  Ellis was a prolific scorer in junior, but many prospects are.  It’s his work as a pro that makes him a coveted blue-liner.  Ellis split 2011 -12/2011 – 13 between the farm team and the big club and continued to produce along the way.  In his first full season with the Nashville Predators he scored a respectable 27 points (6g, 21a, +9) in 80 games.  Last year he scored the same number of points in only 58 games and has continued to produce this year with four points in 7 games and plus 2.  And what about his underlying stats?  His Corsi for was an acceptable 50.3 in 2013 – 14 and very good 54.5 last season.

The catch with Ellis is his size.  He’s 5’10 and 180lbs, which is definitely undersized as NHL players go, not to mention NHL defenseman.  But there are success stories.  You only have to look to Minnesota Wild’s Jared Spurgeon (5’9, 176lbs.) to see an example of a d-man who can survive (even thrive) in the western conference.

Looking at Ellis’ game, he’s not only blessed with good hockey sense, but is surprising physical.  In one memorable moment last season he stood up former junior teammate Taylor Hall when he was in the middle of one of his unnecessary toe drags.

Clearly he plays bigger than his size.   And as noted, all that Ellis has accomplished at this stage has come playing 4/5 (15 minutes a game) on a star-studded blue line.  Which begs the question: what could he do on a talent starved blueline in Edmonton?  As most have observed, Edmonton’s forwards are suffering from a blueline deficient of a D-man who can make the outlet pass at pace, or who has a bruising slaphot.  Ellis can provide both.  He has character, and the Oilers could use more of it.

Beer League Heroes

So Who Do We Trade to Get Him?

Ok now, before everyone dusts off their pitchforks, hear me out on this one.  The realistic ask for Ellis would be Nail Yakupov.  We could pitch a high pick, some prospects, but that likely won’t be sufficient. Unfortunately now that Nail has gained some value, it’s time to trade him, and here’s why.

We all love Nail for his work ethic, charisma, and energy.  But what is his real upside?  It’s not a ppg player which he currently is.  What would his point total be this season if his centre was Anton Lander, instead of Connor Mcdavid?  Even in a top 6 role with a very capable centre (not named Mcdavid) his best production would be 20ísh goals and 50 points.  And that’s good, but it is a position that can be filled.  As for the ongoing disaster that is our current d-corps . . . Not so much.

Would Nashville Be on Board?

Ellis is not being shopped right now.  The Predators have drafted him, developed him, and are reaping this rewards of his productive play at $2.5M per season.  But they are always challenged offensively.  As a result there is a real possibility Nashville could be open to a trade for Nail on the premise he could bring more scoring to their team.  And it’s likely he would, it’s just not likely he would bring as much as they would like.

Are the Ask and Return Unequal?

Maybe, but all things are relative.  And at this time the urgency is doing something about the D.  Most would suggest the target on Nashville should be Seth Jones, not Ryan Ellis.  And of course that would be nice, but the reality is, Seth Jones is a future defensive star and the Predators (and the NHL) know it.  Unfortunately the closest the Oilers will likely get to having a Jones on the blue line would likely be Seth’s younger brother, Caleb.  But Ellis is a positive option, as seasoned blogger Rob Soria pointed out last spring.  Whether Nashville would go for it is another question.  But with talent piling up on Nashville’s blueline and their offense receiving little in the way of reinforcements, it might be a trade that works for both  parties.

Lindsay Ryall Written by:

Born in Edmonton, raised in the pumpkin capital of Canada in rural Ab. and an Oiler fan since their first season.

  • Connor

    I am emotionally biased to trading Yakupov in the way you mentioned in your article but I disagree with trading Yakupov.

    Nashville is likely not keen on using a young defenceman in a trade to acquire a winger, especially a Russian one.

    I think a better trade for Ellis would be to package Lander, who has a cheaper cap hit than Yakupov. Lander is also a centre. I imagine Caleb Jone would have the highest value to Nashville compared to any other NHL team so he can be included in a deal for Ellis.

    • Beer League Hero

      Thank you for taking the time to read and comment Connor! And Welcome to Beer League Heroes!

      I could buy that soup. Lander is playing dreadful to start the year and Draisaitl just potted 2 goals in his first game of the year… Now would putting LD in that no.3 spot really be a good idea at this point? I don’t think so but it sure makes Landers spot less than guaranteed. Lander and Caleb Jones for Ellis? For some reason it doesn’t look like enough for Ellis, maybe a more developed defenceman would need to go in place of Jones. Say Brandon Davidson. What do you think?

  • Brendan

    I agree with Connor, trading Yak is unwise at this time. Yes Yak is playing way above his previous levels right now, but that doesn’t mean he can’t continue to do it all year on McDavids wing. Crosby made Dupuis a 60 (59) point guy, Thornton made Cheechoo a 50G scorer and a Richard Trophy Winner, why can’t McDavid make Yakupov (a far more superior offensive talent than both Dupuis and Cheechoo) a productive top 6 scorer? I think Yak finds his niche with McDavid and becomes a legit top 6 sniper for the Oilers for years to come. Yak turned 22 this October, Ryan Johansen didn’t start producing until he was 22, he had 12 points in 40 games his 21 year old season. Besides, if you are set on trading Yak, let him play an entire season with McDavid show some offence and then trade him when his value is at top dollar,

    • Beer League Hero

      Brendan, thanks for reading and commenting! Welcome to BLH!

      You’re absolutely right! There’s nothing saying Yakupov won’t continue to light it up BUT this team will not make the playoffs not matter how many 60 point players they have on the team. The goal is to make the playoffs right? So dealing from a point of excess seems a bit smarter than waiting for him to slow down or get injured. The team needs defence stat! Yakupov might just bring that piece.

  • Doron

    What about trading Taylor Hall with Seth Jones strait up?

    • Beer League Hero

      Doron, thanks for reading and taking the time to comment. Welcome to Beer League Heroes!

      Well I’m sure that would be a done and done for Nashville, I don’t think the Oilers would do that. Seth Jones will be a great dman someday but if I’m the GM and I’m trading Taylor Hall, it’s for established NHL dmen. A defenceman that is already in his prime. If you said Taylor Hall for Aaron Ekblad, I’d say that’s even. If you said Taylor Hall for Victor Hedman, I think that would be a pretty nice deal as well. A deal centered around Draisaitl and Jones might be a bit more like it though.

  • Connor

    Thanks for the reply’s BLH.

    For your response to my post, I imagine a 2nd round pick would also have to be added to my proposed deal and or Fayne which I would imagine would be preferred by both parties.

    I disagree with your assessment of Taylor Hall’s value. IMO he is a difference maker but the Oilers are yet to be successful with him. Combine that with Hall being a winger, I would imagine teams would not trade a potential #1 defenceman for him. Maybe when he proves he can be a contributor to the Oilers being a contender his value will increase.

    The time to trade Hall will happen. With his style of play, re-signing Hall to an extension after his current contract has the potential to be a very bad contract.

  • Brendan

    I get the making the playoffs now argument, but adding Ryan Ellis won’t get you there. Also when talking about “dealing from a point of excess” I don’t think dealing a RW is a good idea, the Eberle injury has proven how little RW depth we have. Klinkhammer (hasn’t scored more than 3 points the last 3 seasons) and Hendricks (averaging 8 points a year over the last 5 years) have played FIRST LINE minutes for the majority of the season because our RW depth is so weak. Trading Yakupov will only weaken the depth drastically, not to mention Purcells contract is up at the end of the year. That leaves the depth chart for 2016/2017: Eberle, Hendricks, Klinkhammer as your top 3. Sure you can throw Draisaitl on that list, but you’re one Eberle injury away from a 5th first overall pick. Ironically our point of excess is also our point of weakness, its defence. Thats what happens when you have five 6/7 defensman

    • Beer League Hero

      Hmmm, I see it a bit differently I guess. I see Eberle, Slepyshev, Pakarinen, Klinkhammer, Hendricks, Draisaitl, Yakupov, Purcell, as players that could all fit in on the RW. Were Hendricks and Klinkhammer put on that top line due to lack of depth or was it a strategic placement? They played pretty well up there and don’t forget Tommy Wingels played that role for the Sharks the last couple years for McLellan in SJ.

      But you are right, the team does have a lot of depth in the 6/7 defenders role. I expect that to be cleared out sooner than later. And Ellis will not get the team to the playoffs on his own but he will shore up a part of the defence that it needs as well as the PP. A defense of Klefbom/Nurse, Sekera/Ellis, Reinhart/Schultz doesn’t look too bad to me. Not amazing mind you but you see something there.