The Edmonton Oilers Defensive Dilemma: 3 Key Decisions Could Make Or Break Next Season

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Edmonton Oilers Offseason Plans

This summer, the Edmonton Oilers will have three key free agent defensemen that will be headed for the free-agent market if they aren’t re-signed. They are Tyson Barrie, a free agent signing from last summer, who led all defencemen in points this season. Adam Larsson, a steady second pairing defenseman, coming off a solid season. And lastly, Dmitry Kulikov, a trade deadline acquisition that was helpful at times, detrimental at others.

I believe the success of the Oilers next season hinges on the decisions they make with these three players. Tyson Barrie, Adam Larsson, and Dmitry Kulikov could represent three of the Oilers’ top four defensemen if re-signed. So, how will the Oilers proceed?

Let’s start with Tyson Barrie. Barrie has made it known that he wants to test the free-agent market this summer. He hasn’t ruled out a return to Edmonton, but he wants to see all the offers available to him. He’s looking for a long-term deal and an increase in salary over the $3.75 million he signed for last year. As I mentioned before, he led all NHL defensemen in points last year and has set himself up for a large payday.

The Edmonton Oilers have roughly $21 million dollars in cap space to play with this summer but must spend it wisely as they have several holes to fill. They need two top-six wingers, a third-line center, a goalie, and ideally a couple of new fourth-line forwards. It’s a tall order and General Manager Ken Holland will have his hands full.

Oilers prospect Evan Bouchard is set to break onto the roster full-time next season. Bouchard possesses many of the same abilities as Tyson Barrie and would be able to come in as his natural replacement. Both defencemen have an incredible shot, can drive offense with strong passing plays, and have the ability to quarterback a power play. With Barrie approaching age 30 and Bouchard just coming into his early twenties, the answer is fairly clear. With so many holes to fill, the Oilers should shake Barrie’s hand, wish him well and promote Evan Bouchard.

Next up, Adam Larsson. Oilers fans will remember this day well, “the trade is one for one”, the famous Bob Mackenzie tweet that sent shockwaves through the entire National Hockey League. In return for defencemen Adam Larsson, the Oilers had traded star winger Taylor Hall to the New Jersey Devils. Both were high draft picks and well regarded, but Hall was far and away the better player on that day. Taylor Hall would go on to win the Hart Trophy as the league’s most valuable player.

But in recent years, the dynamic has shifted. Taylor Hall has gone from New Jersey to the Arizona Coyotes to the Buffalo Sabres and now to the Boston Bruins. Adam Larsson has grown into a steady presence on the Oilers blueline and has proven himself a player worth keeping. He fits nicely in the Oilers’ second pairing on the right side. He’s strictly a defensive defenseman, you can’t count on him for offense, but you can count on him to help keep the puck out of your net. Every team needs that stay-at-home defensemen and Larsson provide that for the Oilers.

Early reports suggest that the Oilers and Larsson are closing in on a three to four-year deal in the range of $4 million dollars. That’s exactly where Larsson should be at and I feel confident that a deal gets done.

Lastly, Dmitry Kulikov. The Oilers acquired Kulikov at the trade deadline to help solidify their top 4 heading into the playoffs. Long story short, it didn’t work out well. Kulikov wasn’t a total train wreck, he defended reasonably well, but all too often I watched him give the puck away. The frustration grew with the coaching staff and led to Kulikov being healthy scratched in the playoffs. Kulikov is a solid defenceman, but he’s not irreplaceable. The Oilers should let him walk to free agency and upgrade.

At the end of day, the Oilers would be best to invest in Adam Larsson and find replacements for Tyson Barrie and Dmitry Kulikov.

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