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This in from NHL insider Frank Servalli of the Daily Faceoff, his take on the wide net the Edmonton Oilers are casting at the trade deadline:

“You’re going to hear them linked to so many different players and so many different scenarios,” Seravalli told Brenden Escott of Oilers Now. “And the reason for that is they’re probably all true. It’s that right now they don’t have any laser focus on any one topic. There’s a bunch of things they’d like to do and if possible, they would like to try to do them in unison in one fell swoop. That makes it clean from a cap clean from a cap perspective and asset wise. They still want to get a Top 6 impact forward.”

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Top 6 forwards like Pavel Buchnevich, Jake Guentzel and arguably Adam Henrique have been mentioned, with bottom line players such as Sam Carrick, Brandon Duhaime and Nic Dowd also talked about repeatedly.

But it could be that the Oilers go in a completely different direction, aiming for a Top 4 d-man. Pierre LeBrun of the Athletic has reported that the Oilers were one of the finalists for Chris Tanev of Calgary, offering up the following speculation, that some team might well have offered a first round draft pick for Tanev, but such a deal also would have included a veteran player with a hefty contract, so Calgary decided to go in a different direction.

Said LeBrun: “I don’t know for sure which team it was that offered the first-round pick to Calgary with a player attached to it, but two teams that would make sense are Edmonton offering its first-round pick for Tanev as long as Calgary took Cody Ceci (signed through next season at a $3.25 million average annual value) and Colorado offering a first-round pick but wanting the Flames to take back Ryan Johansen (signed through next season at a $4 million AAV).”

On Oilers Now, Seravalli stated plainly, “The Oilers, in a perfect world, would like to upgrade the Top 4 in their defence. It’s not really any secret here that Cody Ceci has struggled here the last little while here for Edmonton.”

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My take

1. In a Cult of Hockey poll on X, 54 per cent of respondents identified a Top 4 d-man as the top need for the Oilers. I’m also leaning in that direction, although I’m worried that recency bias is driving this trend, and that as poorly as Cody Ceci and Darnell Nurse have played in the last month, they might still get it done in the playoffs for the Oilers, with the team better of making its main trading thrust a Top 6 winger. That said, in the poll, I also voted that the top need right now was for a Top 4 d-man.

2. Hard truth to be told, Ceci and Nurse have fallen apart at the seams in the past month. They’re leaking Grade A shots and goals against, this coming after they put in four good months from October to January, playing solid hockey against tough competition.

The Cult of Hockey’s video review and each player’s individual contributions to Grade A shots for and against at even strength tell a story of a wicked February slump for both players.

In the first half of the season, Nurse made 63 major contributions to Grade A shots at even strength and 94 major mistakes for a 40 per cent individual Grade A shots for percentage, a solid number for a d-man facing off against tough competition.

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It’s rare for d-men to make more contributions to Grade A shots for than mistakes on Grade A shots against simply because of their defensive role on their team. This greatly limits their offensive opportunities but puts them at the heart of the defence, where mistakes are expected even by the greatest of defenders.

In February, Nurse made 11 contributions to Grade A shots for and 39 mistakes on Grade A shots against. This adds up to just a 22 per cent Grade A shots for percentage.

So he’s gone from 40 per cent to 22 per cent.

Ceci has gone from 38 per cent, an OK number given his quality of competition, to just 14 per cent. This explains why fans and observers are so negative about him just now.

Vincent Desharnais is also struggling big time, going from 41 per cent in the first half to 17 per cent in February.


3. Essentially the Oilers have one puck mover extraordinaire at right defence in Evan Bouchard, but two players in Ceci and Desharnais who are struggling both to move the puck and to defend.

You don’t win the Stanley Cup with two players struggling so mightily at right defence. But Oilers GM Ken Holland has to decide if this is simply a case of the February Blues, a short-lived slump, or if Desharnais and Ceci simply aren’t up to it and change is needed.

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My own assessment — and I’ve come to this late in the game after having been in Ceci’s camp for years — is that the best bet is to bring in a puck-moving right shot d-man and move out either Ceci or Desharnais. I don’t see the Oilers winning the Cup unless they can get Bouchard, Brett Kulak and Mattias Ekholm more help when it comes to safe passage of the puck.

4. You will note how well Kulak has played all year. I can’t see Edmonton moving him. If he does get traded, he should have excellent value. Given that left shot d-man Philip Broberg is waiting in the wings, it would not be unheard of for Kulak to get moved in order to bring in the needed right shot d-man.

5. If the Oilers can’t make a trade, I wonder if it would make sense to move Kulak to right defence and play him with Nurse, then call up Broberg and pair him with Ceci or Desharnais on the third pairing. Such a plan might work out better than the current plan, as Broberg is much more of a puck mover than either Ceci or Desharnais.

6. Could Kulak handle both moving to the right side and up the line-up? It’s asking a lot. But what is being tried right now is failing. Change is in order.

Staples on politics

David Staples: Danielle Smith’s promised income tax cut is now ‘contingent.’ Seriously?

Alberta Premier Danielle Smith and Finance Minister Nate Horner
Premier Danielle Smith and Finance Minister Nate Horner chat as they arrive in the Alberta legislature chamber to deliver the 2024 provincial budget in Edmonton on Thursday, Feb. 29, 2024. Photo by David Bloom /Postmedia

At the Cult of Hockey

McCURDY: One player you do NOT trade

LEAVINS: Player grades from another comeback win, this time over Blues

McCURDY: Which would be the bigger feat: 70 goals in a season, or 100 assists?

STAPLES: Player grades from comeback win over Kings

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