Edmonton Oilers fans were worried about losing players like Tyler Benson, Jujhar Khaira and Dominik Kahun to the expansion Seattle Kraken tonight in the expansion draft. It turns out the player they will end up losing is much more important than any of the depth pieces hanging around the bottom of the roster.
‘Daily Faceoff‘ NHL Insider Frank Seravalli was the first to report earlier on Wednesday that the Kraken were closing in on contracts with pending UFA defensemen Jamie Oleksiak of the Dallas Stars and Adam Larsson of the Oilers.
Larsson’s deal, when officially signed, will be a four-year contract with an AAV of $4,000,000. Larsson will count as Seattle’s expansion pick from Edmonton, and will be officially announced as a member of the team tonight.
For the Oilers, its a blow that looked unlikely just a few weeks ago. As recently as early July, a new deal between Larsson and the Oilers seemed more than likely. The club tabled numerous offers which both sides agreed were fair, in fact it’s believed the Oilers had an identical $4,000,000 deal for four seasons on the table.
At the end of the day, however, Larsson exercised his right as a free agent and elected for a change of scenery. Whatever the reason, Larsson was looking to move on from Northern Alberta and will now be a defensive cornerstone for the Kraken.
Although it’s certainly a whirlwind right now, this is a moment the Oilers need to reflect on internally. The team possesses two of the best players in the world in Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl, yet a piece which has recently been referred to as a core piece just walked away and it clearly wasn’t about money. Why is that the case? The organization will need to do some soul searching on that front.
On the ice, losing Larsson is a massive blow. Now, General Manager Ken Holland must earn his $5,000,000 salary. Larsson was Edmonton’s best, and quite frankly only, shutdown defenseman. With him gone, the club has a massive hole inside of its top-four.
Larsson was seen as the most likely partner for newcomer Duncan Keith. Part of the reasoning for the Keith trade was that Larsson would provide a consistent, calming and steady presence. That is no longer available.
While Holland will certainly continue looking for help on left wing and in goal, the loss of Larsson adds another key item to his shopping list. The Oilers need a top-four defenseman, and must add one in the coming weeks. They can’t afford to skip this position.
TSN’s Darren Dreger was quick to note that the expectation now is that the Oilers will re-engage contract talks with Tyson Barrie. Barrie led all NHL defensemen in scoring with 48 points (8g, 40 a) in 56 games in 2020-21, his first with the Oilers.
Barrie, like Larsson, is a right shot defenseman, but the similarities stop there. Barrie is just 5’11” and 197 pounds, doesn’t bring a physical element to the table and has been known to make numerous mistakes in coverage. Barrie struggled defensively this past season.
Granted, Barrie is a strong puck mover and is a real, proven offensive defender. Problem is, the Oilers have top prospect Evan Bouchard, whose skills are very similar. Holland has been adamant since late in the 2020-21 season that Bouchard needs to play in 2021-22, and the club is making it a priority that he consistently finds himself in the lineup next season.
Re-signing Barrie gives Edmonton a small and mostly skilled right side of the defense. There is very little defensive prowess there, and quite a bit of redundancy. Plus, re-signing Barrie blocks Bouchard from taking over the powerplay.
If Holland is wise, he’ll look at different avenues to replace Larsson. One perhaps could come tonight via expansion. Perhaps the Oilers are able to work out a deal with the Kraken, who could select someone like Dylan DeMelo of the Winnipeg Jets, Justin Braun of the Philadelphia Flyers or Nick Jensen of the Washington Capitals and flip him to Alberta.
The other avenue is free agency, although there are slim pickings there. The club could look to someone like David Savard, but he struggled with both the Columbus Blue Jackets and Tampa Bay Lightning a season ago. Travis Hamonic, who prefers to play in Western Canada, could be an option on the open market as well.