Edmonton Oilers: Does Tyson Barrie make Adam Larsson expendable?

Edmonton Oilers (Photo by Jeff Vinnick/Getty Images)
Edmonton Oilers (Photo by Jeff Vinnick/Getty Images) /

Adam Larsson’s future with the Edmonton Oilers might be in question after they signed Tyson Barrie.

A few weeks ago, I wrote an article explaining why the Edmonton Oilers would target a right shot defenseman who could generate more shots from the point. The Oilers found that player when they signed Tyson Barrie.

We also found out that Klefbom was indeed dealing with an injury. And Matt Benning was indeed walked into unrestricted free agency. The other pieces I thought would be moved, Kris Russell and Adam Larsson, remain with the team.

I was sure they would need to move Larsson (and probably Russell too) out to make room for another top four defenseman. As it turns out, they didn’t. Barrie’s contract was a one year “show me” deal for $3.75 million.

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Of course, there’s still plenty of time left between now and the start of the year. Deals could certainly happen. After all, what does a team do with Barrie, Bear and Larsson? It seems to me there are two answers.

  1. Keep Larsson, drive internal competition for Top 4 minutes, and create an injury buffer;
  2. Move Larsson out, sign a 20 goal scorer.

There are pros and cons either way.

Keeping Larsson

Last year, Ethan Bear leaped right over Matt Benning on the depth chart, immediately inserting himself in Edmonton’s Top 4 out of training camp. He played a ton of minutes last year for a rookie defenceman.  On the Oilers, he led all Right Shot D in Time on Ice last year.

Bear was thrust into that position because of Adam Larsson’s injuries. But he also showed he could handle it. Even if he mostly treaded water, that’s a very hard thing to do for a rookie D. Matt Benning tried a similar thing in 2017-18 and didn’t fare as well.

But if Ethan Bear is competing with Barrie and Larsson, he would truly be put to the test. Those two are proven veteran top four defenseman, even if their play dropped last year. Barrie is on record to say that he is looking for a bounce back. And if Larsson is healthy too, Bear could be playing sheltered minutes, where a sophomore defenseman frankly belongs.

With Matt Benning now gone, someone is going to have to eat his minutes, and that player could certainly be Ethan Bear. With Larsson out, it would be Evan Bouchard.

So we might as well also be asking whether Bouchard is ready. That’s important, because if Bouchard struggles, the Oilers won’t have anyone to fall back on – their depth at the position falls off after Bouchard.

And what about injuries? With Larsson on the team, there won’t be a glaring hole to fill if there are injuries. And we all know injuries happen throughout the course of the year. Larsson himself was hurt last year, and he played hurt when he came back. He’s been struggling with something. He could struggle again.

Also, will Bear be a legit top pairing D next year? Is Barrie, or has Barrie ever been one? Moving Larsson might expose them. Last year, Bear was not a true top pairing defenseman. He may have it in him, but it isn’t set in stone. The same goes for Bouchard. The talent is obvious, but until you actually see the player succeeding at the NHL level, don’t assume.

The other problem is that trading Larsson wouldn’t get a big yield. He’s in the last year of his deal. As a deadline rental, you might get a second or third round pick. For a full year, maybe an average prospect.

So if you’re not getting much back, there’s not much point. The reason would have otherwise been to clear cap space, but as it turns out, the Oilers didn’t have to do that to get Tyson Barrie.

Moving Larsson (and Russell) Out

Given the load of Top 4 minutes Bear played last year, it would almost seem like a demotion to see both Barrie and Larsson eating his minutes up. But if Bear is still playing top four minutes, that means either Barrie or Larsson are going to be playing third pairing minutes for second pairing money.

Just think about all the glorious things the Oilers could do with that cap space. Larsson would free up $4.17 million. Move Kris Russell too, and the Oilers could have an extra $8.17 million (or if Klefbom goes on LTIR, another $4.17 million)

$8.17 million gets you one elite NHL player, or 2 good ones. For example, Taylor Hall just signed a 1-year deal in Buffalo for $8 million. If the Oilers were in on Hall, they could have mustered the same.

So the question then becomes:

  1. would the Oilers be better off with Kris Russell, a 3rd pairing D (on a team that might already have one);
  2. and Adam Larsson, a top four defenseman (on a team that might already have 2);
  3. or Taylor Hall (or Ekman-Larsson, or even Alex Pietrangelo for that matter).

That’s a tough one.

Of course, Taylor Hall is off the table (as is Pietrangelo, and reportedly Ekman-Larsson), but there are still plenty of Free Agents left. Take Mike Hoffman for example. For the last 6 years, he’s consistently scored mid-to-high 20s in goals.

And Hoffman won’t cost $8 million, meaning the Oilers could probably get another Free Agent too. As of today, Evegenii Dadanov and Erik Haula are still available. In this market, who knows? You might even get all three.

And would the D core really be that much worse without Russell and Larsson? Jones, Lagesson and Bouchard would certainly be thrust into bigger minutes. But they might be ready. And even if they aren’t, they might be ready enough.

My Take on Russell

I mention Kris Russell because he has a relatively high cap hit of $4 million, but he is only owed $1.5 million for next year. Any team in the league would want Kris Russell for $1.5 million. As long as they can afford the cap space.

But with Klefbom’s arthritic shoulder, Russell is caught in the same place Larsson is. He may be called upon to play Top 4 minutes, he may not be. Russell has Nurse ahead of him, with Caleb Jones either being ahead or behind. Lagesson, a healthy scratch most nights last year, would be next down the line. On the other hand, Russell is only going to cost another $1.5 million to fill a hole created by injury.

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The Bottom Line

Ken Holland has already made up his mind. The only purpose for moving Russell or Larsson out would be to free up cap space to sign Free Agents. And he’s stated that the Oilers are done in free agency. This is a real test for Holland. The Oilers might legitimately finish the 2020-21 season with an $8.17 million third pair, and if the team fails to meet expectations, it won’t be a good look.