Could the Oilers Switch Kulak For Broberg?

Edmonton Oilers defenseman #27 Brett Kulak
Photo: Brian Collett | Inside The Rink

A couple of days ago on the website Daily Faceoff, Frank Seravalli made his list of 30 trade targets heading into this season’s Trade Deadline. On his list from the Edmonton Oilers was defenseman Brett Kulak. Here is his take…

11. Brett Kulak
Left Defense, Edmonton Oilers
Age: 30
Stats: 44 GP, 2 G, 3 A, 5 Pts
Contract: 2 years remaining, $2.75 million AAV
Scoop: The Oilers like Kulak. The Stony Plain, Alta., native likes playing in Edmonton. Full stop. It’s just that if the Oilers are going to manufacture salary cap space to make a big trade deadline acquisition, Kulak might have to be the casualty. Warren Foegele and Ryan McLeod have played well. Kulak does not have any trade protection. And swapping 22-year-old Philip Broberg with Kulak represents an immediate $2 million in savings on the cap. Broberg has played big minutes since going down to the AHL and has collected 14 points in 21 games. He’s ready to be in the NHL. And we know the Oilers are willing to make tough deadline decisions (Tyson Barrie) to improve.

When you see any player on one of these lists, it’s not so much because they’re bad players. It’s because they’re good players and insiders believe some teams might be more interested in them as opposed to someone else. It doesn’t guarantee that a trade involving them is 100% incoming; it’s just about discussing and having perspective. In Kulak’s case, he’s a player you hardly notice on the ice, which is a compliment for defensemen. He shoots left but can play on both the left and right sides. A lot of Oilers fans would rather the team move Cody Ceci, who shoots right and makes roughly $1M more. So would I, but the last point about Kulak makes him more valuable.

This brings us now to talk about Philip Broberg. He was selected 8th overall in the 2019 NHL Draft, a massive surprise at the time because no one expected him to go that high. Taken after him were Trevor Zegras(9th), Matthew Boldy(12th), and Cole Caufield(15th). All three of those players have been more impactful for their teams thus far. After seeing the Oilers select forward after forward with high picks for so many years, I didn’t mind picking a defenseman at that time. Especially a year after using a 10th overall pick on Evan Bouchard. However, Broberg has had a difficult time securing a permanent roster spot on the Oilers blue line since his draft year. He’s played in 79 games for Edmonton as either a #5, #6 or #7. Even if you’re still part of the “Draft defense” camp, Cam York was picked a few spots after him at 14th overall and is playing top pair minutes for the Philadelphia Flyers. It was reported earlier this season that Broberg was getting impatient with the Oilers organization and requested a trade. Since then, he’s been playing top minutes for the Bakersfield Condors in the American Hockey League. He has 16 points and is a +14 in 24 AHL games this season.

While I understand the points behind Seravalli’s take, I disagree with that sort of move. But disagreeing is all I can do. I don’t speak to insiders or general managers. I know just as much as every other fan, almost nothing. Brett Kulak and Vincent Desharnais have been a really effective third pair for Edmonton. Those two have the second lowest expected goals against per 60 minutes, with 1.74 as a pairing. Breaking up a solid pair to force mixing in someone who has still played less than 100 NHL games in a Cup or Bust year just doesn’t sound like the right move to me. Also, take into consideration that head coach Kris Knoblauch doesn’t like making too many changes to a winning lineup. Yes, that might include Ceci staying. Tough choices do have to be made when you’re trying to build a successful roster, but this one might be too tough.

If they trade Kulak, then Broberg could get regular minutes with Desharnais. But then he’s not proving himself in a top 4 role, which is what Oilers management wants. If you trade Ceci without getting a defenseman back, maybe you pair Broberg with Darnell Nurse. But he’d be playing on his offside as a left-shooting blue liner, and I can’t recall how much experience he has at doing that consistently in an Oilers uniform. I see his name on the Condors lineups listed on the left side, and I’ll see highlights every now and then. But neither of those things paints the whole picture, and I can’t find Condors games to sit through in their entirety. I feel like his recent play in the AHL is to just increase his value, although other GMs might also want to see him play more NHL games before making a decision to acquire him. Perhaps Broberg gets called up solely for that.

In conclusion, I don’t want Kulak moved unless it’s for a solid veteran player, and in return, not to retool a struggling young player. Keeping Broberg in the organization is a hill that Ken Holland has been willing to die on. If the young Swedish defenseman does stay, then any trade involving a defenseman in the current lineup to make room for him should wait until the offseason, and Broberg just has to be more patient. Or the GM that eventually replaces Holland in the offseason will have an easier time dealing with a prospect that he had nothing to do with. If Broberg really is on the way out, perhaps package him in a deal for a 1B goalie and see if teams will bite on it.

Let me know which of the two defensemen you prefer keeping.

Stephen Vani

Oilers fan in Toronto. Staying up past my bedtime for Western games since the mid 2000s.

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