Despite plenty of noise in recent months surrounding potential acquisitions in Jakob Chychrun and Erik Karlsson, it felt less and less likely that the Edmonton Oilers were going to do anything as the trade deadline inched closer and closer. Fans were growing very frustrated, as this felt like a year to really make a push given how wide open the Western Conference is, and finally, on Tuesday afternoon, Ken Holland went big.
While it wasn’t the Karlsson or Chychrun many were hoping for, it was truly the next best thing available, as Holland was able to acquire Mattias Ekholm and a 2024 sixth-round pick from the Nashville Predators in exchange for Tyson Barrie, prospect Red Schaefer, a 2023 first-round pick, and a 2024 fourth-round pick. It was certainly a big price to pay, but one that most seem to agree makes the Oilers a better team.
Given how big of a name Ekholm is, this is likely the most significant move we see the Oilers pull off ahead of the deadline. That said, in dealing Barrie’s contract along with Jesse Puljujarvi’s earlier in the day, Holland has more cap space to work with than he did prior, with slightly $2 million freed up. That open space has many believing the veteran GM isn’t finished just yet, with many speculating he may look to now improve the team up front. If he does indeed go that route, here are a few available forwards that could help with that.
Despite the deadline being just days away, Steve Yzerman and the Detroit Red Wings remain unsure whether or not they will be sellers come March 3. While Yzerman still hasn’t confirmed anything publicly, back-to-back losses on Monday and Tuesday night to the Ottawa Senators, in which his club was outscored 12-3, may have helped make up his mind.
If the Red Wings do indeed choose to sell, one player in particular who is expected to be on the block is Tyler Bertuzzi, a player whom the Oilers are said to have interest in. The recently turned 28-year-old is having a down year with four goals and 14 points in 29 games, but just a season ago scored 30 goals and 62 points in 68 outings. On top of his skill, he brings a ruggedness to his game which would fit in well with a team that already has some of that in their forward group with guys such as Evander Kane and Klim Kostin.
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While Bertuzzi does carry a cap hit of $4.75 million, this may not be the biggest of issues given that the Red Wings have over $26 million in cap space, meaning Yzerman should have no problem retaining some of the deal. If, for whatever reason he doesn’t, Holland will have to either move money out in the trade or perhaps get a third team involved to help cover some of the dollars. Regardless of how it would work, this is a player that the Oilers should be heavily pursuing over the coming days. The fact that he can play the right side makes him even more intriguing given the departure of Puljujarvi.
Much like the Red Wings, the Florida Panthers aren’t guaranteed to be sellers at this year’s deadline, as they are one of several teams fighting for a wild card position in the Eastern Conference. As of now, however, they sit three points back of the Pittsburgh Penguins for that final spot while having played two more games.
If they do indeed choose to sell, one name that has been rumored to be on the move is Anthony Duclair. Despite having another year on his contract with a team-friendly cap hit of $3 million, the Panthers are reportedly open to moving him for the right price as they look to free up some space. What that right price is remains to be seen, as the Panthers are in a strange spot from an organizational standpoint right now, having regressed in a major way after winning the Presidents’ Trophy just a season ago.
What makes Duclair such an intriguing option for the Oilers is not only the fact that he is a goal-scoring winger with speed, but also that he would be an inexpensive option for them in 2023-24 as well. With the salary cap expected to only increase minimally, having players like him will be crucial for this cap-strapped Oilers team. Also, like Bertuzzi, he too can play the right side.
Nick Bjugstad has been linked to the Oilers in recent weeks, with some believing he could have been packaged alongside a defenseman in either Chychrun or Shayne Gostisbehere. With the addition of Ekholm, that no longer seems to be in the cards, though the veteran centerman himself could still be a fit.
On a one-year deal with a rebuilding Coyotes team, Bjugstad is a near guarantee to be moved within the next few days, and given his $900,000 cap hit, he will likely have interest from at least a few teams. While he won’t blow you away offensively, his 13 goals and 23 points on the season prove he can provide secondary scoring, and on top of that he is also a reliable penalty killer. By no means is he as exciting of a pickup as Ekholm, but the Oilers could do worse in terms of depth forwards as they look to go on a deep playoff run.
For a long period of time, Lars Eller was always a reliable secondary scoring forward who could also be counted on to shut down other teams’ top offensive guns. While his defensive play has remained solid in 2022-23, his offense has dropped off in dramatic fashion with just 16 points through 66 games. Whether it is just an off year or perhaps a decline for the 33-year-old remains unknown, but may be worth taking a risk on.
While his offense has dried up this season, Eller too can kill penalties and remains very good in the faceoff circle. His 54.6 percent success rate on draws leads all Washington Capitals centermen and could prove to be a very crucial tool for head coach Jay Woodcroft to have at his disposal. The issue is his $3.5 million cap hit. Though, with nearly $5 million in space, the Capitals may be willing to retain some salary in order to make it work.
Though he doesn’t get much credit, Conor Sheary has been a solid offensive producer in the NHL for a number of seasons now. The 30-year-old has had double-digit goals in each of his full seven seasons in the league, and twice has recorded north of 40 points. On top of that, he has proven that when paired with skill he can produce. His 53 points in 61 games during the 2016-17 season when he played alongside Sidney Crosby shows just that.
With the Oilers, it remains to be seen whether or not Sheary would have the opportunity to play alongside such skill, as Woodcroft seems quite content with his top two lines when healthy. That said, Sheary may allow the Oilers’ bench boss to shake things up and balance his entire forward unit more, which would certainly help make them tougher to match up against come the postseason. And, while he has spent the majority of the 2022-23 campaign on the left side, he has played right wing in the past. In the final year of a deal paying him just $1.5 million, he may be worth taking a flier on.
Holland Back in Good Graces
While Oilers fans are still hungry for more, Holland stepped up on Tuesday and did what needed to be done. There will certainly still be some criticism for other moves he has made during his Oilers tenure, but it is hard to do anything but applaud what he was able to do to help his team at this year’s trade deadline. It was a move that many had hoped for, but few saw coming. Perhaps he is able to pull off another and add another impactful player before the deadline passes.