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.
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.