As Friday’s trade deadline approaches, the Oilers will be in the thick of all the trade talk as they want to load up for a hopeful long playoff run

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Edmonton Oilers GM Ken Holland has a quarter of the league’s managers on speed dial, talking to them about defence, wingers and centres. He’s got multiple irons in the fire. It still says here that he would like a right winger for Leon Draisaitl first and if they can’t get that, then a third-line centre. Defence and a fourth-line centre are also possibilities.

New Jersey Devils forward Tyler Toffoli would fit best as a rental Oiler winger with his contract of $4-million with some retention, but the Devils say, for now, he’s off limits because that would be waving a white flag on the playoffs, especially with a new head coach Travis Green.

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So, let’s talk about the defence. A year ago, Holland stealthily went after Ekholm and got him while Arizona had the younger Jakob Chychrun in play, with a manageable $4.6 million on his contract through 2024-25. Holland scouted Chychrun in his draft year and wasn’t a huge fan; he wanted Ekholm’s sturdiness, and got it. He tried for Tanev, and missed.

Habs’ veteran David Savard, who has a year left at $3.5 million, might be better than Ceci, if the Oilers aren’t looking for defence insurance but the Leafs might get him, even if it costs them a first-round draft pick, after losing out on the Tanev sweepstakes.

We know the right-shot defencemen Sean Walker and Alex Carrier are also pending unrestricted free agentss and available, but they are smaller than Holland likes for a playoff run, and he doesn’t think either is a clear upgrade on Ceci.

More likely he’s looking at lefty rental Joel Edmundson in Washington if they eat half of his $1.75 million remaining and somebody else takes 25 percent. Or Nick Seeler in Philly, who makes $800,000 and leads the NHL (184) in blocked shots.

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Edmundson’s back issues seem behind him because he’s playing just over 16 minutes a night alongside Nick Jensen for Washington, and he has a Stanley Cup ring in his trophy room from the 2019 Blues’ winners.

While the Flyers are down two defencemen now (Jamie Drysdale and Rasmus Ristolainen) and still in a playoff hunt, they’re getting multiple calls on Seeler, a hard-scrabble D who makes $800,000 on an expiring contract and has resurrected a dormant career at 30. They want to keep him and are trying to re-sign him, but he might be looking for three times his current wage.

He is a favourite of Flyers’ coach John Tortorella, praising his toughness, always a good thing in a playoff grind. Former Oiler, Kris Russell had it, until his body finally broke down.

“I watch him (Seeler) on tape and I don’t appreciate it enough in game (the Kris Russell willingness to throw himself in front of rubber). But when I see the positions he puts himself in to help the team…it’s just fantastic,” Tortorella told The Athletic’s Kevin Kurz.

“Biggest warrior I’ve ever played with,” said teammate Scott Laughton.

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That would be the same Flyers’ assistant captain Laughton the Oilers are seriously pursuing, too. Maybe there’s a package deal there for Holland—Seeler and Laughton, who could fill a third-line centre spot in Edmonton with his bite (two years left after this at $3-million) with Ryan McLeod moving from centre to left-wing.

Oilers juggling defensive pairings

Against Pittsburgh Sunday night, coach Kris Knoblauch tested the icy waters by shaking up his defence pairs, playing Vincent Desharnais with Darnell Nurse and Cody Ceci with Brett Kulak, giving the Edmonton Oilers a more equal minutes distribution in his three pairs, much like Vegas had against the Oilers in the playoffs, last spring.

It worked very nicely, thank you, although the Penguins were slow, discombobulated, tired and at the end of a road trip, were infield practice. But he’s giving the new pairs another go against a much tougher opponent in Boston, Tuesday.

We mention this defence juggling because the cap-squeezed Oilers, who just put Sam Gagner ($775,000) on waivers to get him to Bakersfield Tuesday with a likely forward or two add at the trade deadline, will also be getting a defenceman at the deadline Friday. That’ll either be a top six rental or more likely veteran insurance with Philip Broberg (leg, out for a month now) then presumably in a No. 8 role on the playoff depth chart.

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They struck out on their aggressive pursuit of Calgary’s right-shot defencemean Chris Tanev, with, as has been reported, one team offering a first-round draft pick and a player that the Flames batted aside. It might have been the Oilers floating the good soldier Ceci, who has one more year at $3.25 million.

Knoblauch shrugged off the defence moves against Pittsburgh, saying he had done it before. The Golden Knights rolled three pairs against the Oilers in the second playoff round and didn’t over-extend anybody. Their very effective and big third pairing of Nic Hague and Zach Whitecloud were in the 17-18 minute range, not 13-14 as most third NHL pairs are.

“Just wanted to change things up a little bit,” said Knoblauch.

“Can’t exactly give you one reason why. Just thought we’d switch it up, a change of scenery. After the Vegas game (coming out of the all-star break) we did that (Desharnais played 19:51 in Anaheim). (Mattias) Ekholm and (Evan) Bouchard have always played well together.”

Desharnais played 18:06 against the Penguins, three minutes more (15:12) than his season average. He has had five games over 18 minutes this season, including twice (Anaheim) and Washington where he was close to 20. Kulak, averaging 14:57, got 17:53 against Pittsburgh, also three more minutes than normal.

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The six D went from a high of 21:02 (Ekholm) to Kulak’s 17:53.

If you’re wondering, the average ice between top minute-muncher Bouchard and Kulak this year it’s 7:49 and between Pietrangelo and Whitecloud in Vegas it’s 5:41. Now with the re-jigged Oiler pairings, they want to narrow the gap, if possible..

This ‘n that: While Gagner is on waivers, don’t be surprised if Connor Brown (no goals in 51 games) is included in any Oiler trade discussions to also move his $775,000.

Don’t discount Edmundson and fourth-line Caps’ right-shot centre Nic Dowd if Oilers go for a nibbling-around-the-edges package with Washington, too.

And yes, Caps’ pending UFA winger Anthony Mantha, who used to play for Holland in Detroit with mixed results, is heavily being shopped.

So was Andreas Athanasiou, another forward that Holland had in Detroit, back in 2020. He swung and missed with that trade. Mantha is on a hot streak (eight goals in his last 16 games) to get to 20. But, he makes $5.7m and that’s a lot of wheeling and dealing in terms of cap retention.

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