In 10 days, we resume. In 10 days, we as Canadians get to hear the great Chris Cuthbert call games for Hockey Night in Canada once again. In 10 days, while things aren’t going to be back to normal, it’s another sign that we’re getting closer. In 10 days, I will be on my sectional with the AC cranked, watching non-stop hockey, probably with a big mess of food by my side (I’ve been dieting pretty hard since about the end of April, down 25lbs, but you better believe the gloves are off that weekend. Nuggs, pizza, wings, Old Dutch chips with some herb and spice dip…or maybe jalapeno…or dill pickle (I like my chips with the dip just like Drake), any kind of food that is bad for you will be in consideration. It will all be on the table (well, coffee table, next to my sectional), and it won’t be pretty. No better way to celebrate weight loss like putting it all back on. And it’s just 10 days away…
But let’s get serious for a minute, and isn’t it nice just to have some form of sports back?! Even if it’s not all the way back just yet. Watched the Jays game last night, just did the rookie draft for our fantasy football league the last few days, the NBA is starting up the same weekend as the NHL, while I’m worried about the worst-case scenario’s, it’s nothing but optimism right now! SPEAKING OF OPTIMISM…that brings me to today’s blog! But before we get going on that, please help a slightly less fat guy out:
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The Broberg hype
So the big topic in Oiler-land during camp has become Philip Broberg. It started with Bob Stauffer (as it normally does with anything Oilers) raving about how good the kid looked. Stauff said he appears to have filled out and doesn’t look out of place in the camp. And then Mark Spector followed it up with a piece the other day stating how Broberg has moved ahead of Evan Bouchard on the Oilers depth chart. That’s exciting! On Tuesday’s edition of Oilers Now, Spec was on with Bob and they broke down exactly why they’re so excited with what they’ve seen so far.
Now, they’re watching camp, I’m not. They’re talking to people in the organization, I’m not. So I’m on the outside looking in here. I want to make that clear. And I’m not looking to rip on two guys I once interned for, both of whom treated me very well. But what has me nervous about what I’m hearing is that it is what we already knew were strengths of Broberg and nothing about him having improved on his weaknesses. He can fly, but we already knew this. He’s got great size, but we already knew this. What became really troublesome for me in the talk, was that Stauff compared him to Noah Hanifin, while Spec at one point said (speaking of the future of the blueline in general) “I don’t see a defence with one BIG horse, like Pietrangelo is in St. Louis, or Doughty is in LA, or Duncan Keith is in Chicago.” So, why wouldn’t you want to take the kid with the highest ceiling and take your time developing him? If you look to rush him in, that’s “settling” so to speak (hence, the title of my blog, so weird how that works…).
How I Felt Last Year vs Now
Let’s go back to June 21st, 2019 for a minute here. I should apologize to any Oilers fans who have been following me on Twitter since that night. I went insane with my dislike of the pick. I was not very high on Broberg at any point during the 2019 draft process. Initially, he shot up most rankings after his performance in Edmonton at the 2018 Hlinka/Gretzky tournament. I felt in watching him that his performance was simply due to the fact that he was bigger than most, and faster than maybe everyone in that tournament. At least everyone not wearing a Canadian jersey. So I felt he was overhyped at that time, and I never really shook that feeling.
When doing my final rankings for that draft, while I make it very clear that I’m not a scout, you better damn well understand that I don’t put those rankings out throwing shit at the wall. I do as much homework as you can on those kids. I don’t ever want to put work out that is sloppy. I don’t know if my work is that great, but I work hard on it, I’m a perfectionist and full disclosure…I have an inferiority complex when it comes to content I put out, so I’m pretty terrified of putting out things people can poke holes in. The puck-moving ability scared me (he’s never had to learn to move the puck well), and the puck skills, in particular, scared me. So I had my concerns, and I put him 18th in my final rankings. Combine that with the fact the Oilers had a desperate need for forwards in general in this organization, and I was beside myself.
But in doing that, I slept on the fact that Broberg had an insanely high floor (I still thought he was essentially a lock to be a top-four defenceman), and an insanely high ceiling (because of that size, that skating, and given he’s an intelligent and hard-working kid, he has a shot to become a legitimate number one defenceman in the league). So the fact I had him behind some guys like Cam York and Victor Soderstrom isn’t something I’m pumped that I did.
Now, HAVING SAID ALL THAT…
I still think the Oilers should have taken Trevor Zegras. I personally would have taken Peyton Krebs, but they apparently had no interest in Krebs.
But they took Broberg, and as time has gone on I’ve understood more not only what they saw in the player, but why they felt they perhaps needed another defenceman in the system despite it being pretty loaded already.
Again though, what I’m hearing isn’t anything I didn’t know the kid could be. Maybe I’m missing something, but what I want to hear is how he’s moving the puck incredibly well, and his puck skills are vastly improved. We also have to keep some things in mind here. 1) he was skating during the break. Most weren’t. 2) the clips I’ve seen from the scrimmages at camp, the play is pretty unorganized (as it is in every training camp scrimmage I’ve ever seen) and most of the guys there aren’t exactly battling for a spot, while Broberg is one of the few who is.
I completely understand the excitement of the fan base. Anytime a prospect emerges in any form, the thoughts immediately go towards the upside of the prospect not just in terms of what the player could be, but how the organization could take advantage of the added depth.
We as fans also have to remember that it’s not just Oilers fans who have been guilty of wanting kids rushed, the Edmonton media has been just as guilty of it. Again, not meaning to shit on what guys like Stauff and Spec have to say on this at all. But it’s just a fact of the matter. 2017-18 training camp, the cry was for Yamamoto to make the club out of camp. In 18-19 guys were pushing pretty hard for Bouchard to make it (and in fairness, I was too given the situation at the time). Back in the day, they were pushing for Sam Gagner. Magnus Paajarvi. Leon Draisaitl (it didn’t hurt him, but they did rush him that first season). It has happened so much over the years and needs to stop.
A Succession Plan
Thankfully, Ken Holland isn’t the type of guy who’ll look to rush a prospect. They have a very good succession plan in place here on defence. I’m not sure if it is going to be followed the way that I believe they’ll do it, but it probably won’t be far off.
On the left side of the D is where that succession plan should be rock solid. Klefbom, Nurse, Jones, Russell, Samorukov, and Broberg all in place. So you might be asking “how are they going to make room for a kid like Broberg?” Wait, you didn’t ask? Oh, well, too bad, I’m going to tell you anyway.
Kris Russell should be the first to go. When that will be, I’m not sure. I THINK there is an excellent opportunity for Russell to move this off-season. His cap hit isn’t pretty, but what is are the real dollars left owing on his deal for next season of 1.5 million. He also now has to green light 15 teams he can be dealt to, up from 10 last season. There are going to be a lot of teams around the league looking to save some money. So while I don’t expect Holland to be able to outright dump the contract, I do believe there will be an opportunity out there to get a pretty good forward at a similar cap hit in return for Russell. An example I came across, and I have no idea if this is a possibility, but perhaps a deal with Flordia for Brett Connolly makes sense. It saves the Panthers two million dollars for next season, and Russell only has one more year on his deal, where Connolly has three.
Should Russell be shed, that frees up the spot on the bottom pair for Jones to play full-time next season. And the blueline looks set heading into 20-21. But what about the expansion draft? Do you go 4-4-1? At this point, I think that’s a no brainer for the Oilers. We know that McDavid, Draisaitl, Nugent-Hopkins (assuming he’s re-signed) and Yamamoto would be the forwards protected. But what if they land someone worth keeping for Russell? What if there is someone else they have plans on keeping up front? What if someone pops? Maybe Benson? Maybe Athanisiou starts clicking with someone? Then what? Not to mention, the way the Oilers are set up, if you assume the kids on the blueline keep progressing the way they have been, you’re going to have a hell of a trade chip to play that off-season, if you haven’t played it already. I believe they’ll end up going 7-3-1 with who they protect, and while everyone thinks it’ll be Nurse who is eventually dealt, I believe it’s going to be Oscar Klefbom who is.
Klefbom v Nurse (moving forward)
Now, I’m not as set on this as I once was, and I’ll get to all the possibilities. But I still believe this is what the organization will end up doing, and there are several reasons why (apparently nine, at least that I thought of).
- Klefbom is two years older.
- Nurse has a far better track record of staying healthy.
- Nurse is bigger and a better skater.
- With Bear, Bouchard, and Jones, not to mention prospects like the aforementioned Broberg and Samorukov coming, the Oilers won’t lack what Klefbom brings to the table, where Nurse brings a different dimension.
- Nurse is TIGHT from all accounts with the two big dogs on this team. That matters in this scenario.
- Things have never seemed quite right with Klefbom and the organization. Trade rumours in the 2018 off-season, he’s never been given a letter, I’m not suggesting there is some big issue, but I just get the sense that he’s not viewed as one of their core players. Maybe that was the old regime and not the new one, but we’ll see.
- This is more my belief than having any knowledge that the organization is thinking this way, but I believe Nurse is the exception to the rule when it comes to his growth. Most players by age 25 are what they are. But most players aren’t 6’5 guys who are tremendous skaters with a work ethic matched by few. The two players I look at when thinking of Nurse are Rob Blake and Brent Burns. Both players when they were young had similar talent to Nurse, and neither guy reached their potential until around age 28. I also should point out that I don’t believe Nurse will become the offensive force that Blake was and Burns is. Where I believe the growth will come with Nurse is in the defensive zone. As frustrating as he can be at times in his own zone now, I really believe he can become an elite defensive defenceman.
- There seems to be a bit of a misconception on their contracts. Most see Nurse as the guy to go given he is a UFA in two more years. Well, that sweetheart Klefbom deal now only has three more years on it. If Ken Holland is to give one of these two a 7 or 8-year contract, one would start at 27, the other would start at 30.
- Klefbom MIGHT have the higher trade value given that 4.1 million dollar cap hit, with still two seasons remaining on it after next season. With a tight cap, two years of a top pairing D-man at 4.1 million is pretty damn attractive.
That’s a lot of reasons. But it’s not to suggest that I don’t see the other side of it, I absolutely do. The big one for me though is the long term ramifications with each guy. If you’re going to commit to one of them long term, I’m choosing Nurse even though I believe Klefbom is currently the better defenceman. Nurse definitely closed the gap this season, and while it is completely fair to say Ethan Bear played a large role in that, the fact of the matter is that Nurse (by most analytic measures that I saw this season, but I fully admit that as much as I try with analytics, I’m not wise) was their top defenceman.
Lot’s to Consider
Could they simply let Jones be plucked by Seattle? I guess, but that feels like extremely poor asset management.
It is possible with how well they’re currently set up that they trade Nurse in the next 12 months, and simply allow Klefbom’s deal to run out in three years. I wouldn’t bet on this happening, but we’ll see. They’re moving into contender mode, and this is something contenders do. If you told me that in three years they’ll have Jones, Broberg, and Samorukov on the left side of their blueline, I could see it.
And we also don’t know what contract negotiations will look like with Nurse. When he signed the two-year extension, my theory attempting to read the tea leaves from what was said by both sides and the media was that it was essentially an 8-10 year deal. It’s pretty rare for a guy looking for big term and years to simply cave after little negotiating. It’s also pretty rare for a team to be fine walking a 25 year old, top-four defenceman to free agency. Something must have been done under the table. But now…so much has changed. So we’ll see. Maybe Nurse will now want to go to free agency simply to recover as much money as he may have lost by not doing a long term deal? Entirely possible.
Finally, of course it is entirely possible that they protect four D. Given the depth on the blueline, and the amount of high-end D that they have coming, I can’t see it, but you never know. If someone wants to make the case for it, perhaps they’d say the need to protect one of Klefbom or Nurse for another organization severely hurts their trade value, where if you protect all four guys you can make a move following the expansion draft. That’s fair.
What I really don’t foresee is a way that both Klefbom and Nurse stay long term. With how tight this cap is going to be, and given how well they’re set up moving forward on the blueline, I just can’t see them committing big dollars to both guys.
Post Expansion Draft
No matter which one of Klefbom or Nurse might be dealt, it is probably safe to assume that the organization will keep one of them long term. You’ll have one of them, and very likely Caleb Jones occupying the left side.
So what about the bottom pair? It’s true, that could be a good spot for Broberg to step in. But they also have Lagesson. I have my doubts on Lagesson having seen him make the jump for 8 games this season, but it is very possible he’s not done growing yet.
Don’t sleep on Markus Niemelainen. He’s huge, he skates very well, can move the puck well, and is a good sheer defender. He’s always left people wanting more out of his game, but a number five defenceman who leaves you wanting more is still a number five defenceman.
Finally, you might forget or might not know that they have a damn good kid coming in Dmitri Samorukov. I really believe that Sammy is going to be a player, it’s just a matter of how good can he be? He showed steady progression in Bakersfield this season, now he’s playing a year in the KHL (and before anyone perhaps gets nervous about that, it sounds like it was encouraged by the organization given the uncertainty of the AHL season). Samorukov could be ready for bottom pair minutes in the 21-22 season.
What About the Right Side?
It’s safe to say that the top four on the right side will be set with Ethan Bear and Evan Bouchard. Obviously we don’t KNOW with Bouchard, and we’ve only seen one year of Bear to this point. But at this point it sure looks set.
What will be interesting to see in the off-season is which one of Larsson or Benning goes? Since Bear emerged, I have believed it would be Larsson. It would be riskier given that they would then be gifting Bouchard a top-four role, which you never want to do. Having said that, if any kid has looked ready for that kind of promotion, it’s Bouchard. But with how tight teams are going to be to the cap, I’m not sure Larsson is movable. It’s possible you could do a similar deal to what I propose with Russell (money out/money in), but it actually might be tougher to move Larsson because of the real dollars.
If Larsson isn’t or can’t be moved, I can’t see them qualifying Matt Benning. It’s possible that Benning agrees to do a cheaper deal than what his QO would be given he is unlikely to get that on the open market, but history tells us he would walk in that scenario.
On the flip side, if Larsson can be moved, I don’t see why Benning wouldn’t be a mainstay on their bottom pair. He’s only a number five guy, but he’s one hell of a number five guy!
Back to Broberg
I also could have said “in conclusion”, but this was supposed to be about Broberg…
There is ZERO need to rush this kid. Absolutely ZERO. And while I get the excitement, and I get that he is possibly capable of stepping in next season, I really hope they don’t settle when it comes to Broberg. You used the 8th pick on him over forwards who not only filled the Oilers needs better, but most saw as better prospects. He has number one potential. They don’t need a Noah Hanifin. They don’t need another top four/2nd pairing defenceman. They need a number one guy, and Broberg can become that in time. He might not ever get there, but he has a much better chance of becoming that guy if they take their time with him.
I’ve said from the start, I would keep him two more years in Sweden (he’s had one, supposed to be back for another this upcoming season), then I’d give him one full season in the AHL after that, and then we’ll see. Give him time to develop his skill, develop his puck-moving, develop his angling, develop his positioning, work on his shot, work on walking the line, work on anything he needs to work on. He is going to get big minutes at the WJC (should it happen), bigger minutes with Skelleftea, and then of course he’d get big minutes in Bakersfield the following season (not to mention get comfortable living in North America). I would also be adamant he works with a skills coach each summer. Most do, so it likely doesn’t need to be said, but with Broberg especially I believe it could be massive for his game.
For anyone disagreeing with this approach, I’ll leave you with this: the two players Broberg plays most similarly to are Jay Bouwmeester and the aforementioned Noah Hanifin. Both were rushed into the league thanks to their elite skating and size. Both looked great early on. J-Bo’s offensive game never progressed, and Hanifin’s has yet to. I hope Holland and company see this the same way I do. If they do, they may have another star on their hands…down the line.
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