Oscar Klefbom could have surgery that might cause him to miss all of next season, and the Edmonton Oilers are trying to figure out what they would do without their No. 1 defenseman.
“If he does have surgery, maybe it decides that he is out for [the 2020-21 season],” Oilers general manager Ken Holland said Thursday. “If we wouldn’t have Oscar, it’s a significant blow, and I don’t have any real answers on that right now.”
Specifics of the injury Klefbom is dealing with have not been disclosed, but the 27-year-old has a history of shoulder issues.
Klefbom missed nine games with a shoulder injury sustained against the Carolina Hurricanes on Feb. 16. He returned March 7 and played three regular-season games before the season was paused March 12 due to concerns surrounding the coronavirus.
He scored 34 points (five goals, 29 assists) in 62 regular-season games and had two assists in four games in the Oilers’ loss to the Chicago Blackhawks in the best-of-5 Stanley Cup Qualifiers.
He missed 21 games in 2018-19 with a broken hand, and shoulder problems caused him to miss 16 games in 2017-18. He was shut down early that season because of shoulder surgery in March 2018.
There are many variables affecting Klefbom’s status, and Holland said he is hoping to have clarity soon.
“What we do about it may depend on when the [2020-21] season starts,” Holland said. “If it’s December, it’s not a good thing. If it’s February, that’s three extra months. There’s a lot of unknown.”
The absence of Klefbom for an extended period would be significant for a team looking to take the next step toward being a Stanley Cup contender.
Klefbom averaged 25:25 of ice time per game this season, tied with Brent Burns of the San Jose Sharks for fifth among NHL defensemen. Replacing those minutes would be difficult.
“He means so much to this team, each and every night he comes out and he makes an impact on this game,” Oilers defenseman Darnell Nurse said when Klefbom was injured in February.
Holland said he would need to weigh immediate help through a trade against organizational depth if Klefbom is expected to be out an extended period.
“The reality is that part of it will have to be picked up internally,” Holland said. “There’s no hockey store where I can go buy such a guy [to replace Klefbom]. This is not like going to the mall. You do the best you can.
“Certainly, I’m going to have to kick tires, but nobody’s trading No. 1, 2 or 3 defenseman … I’m not saying they don’t, but if they do it’s a massive price.
“I do have defensemen coming. I might be in a position where I need to do something in the short term, but I think we’re going to be OK in the long term. These are all the things I have to factor in, including getting more information [on Klefbom].”
There are young defensemen in the Oilers system who could step up next season. Evan Bouchard, 20, was the No. 10 pick in the 2018 NHL Draft. Edmonton chose Philip Broberg, 19, at No. 8 in the 2019 NHL Draft. Caleb Jones, 23, has played 60 NHL games the past two seasons and shown signs he is ready for full-time NHL duty. William Lagesson, 24, who played eight NHL games this season, and Dmitri Samorukov, 21, are other possibilities.
“Short term, it’s a massive blow,” Holland said. “Long term, it’s a good thing we’ve got Broberg, Bouchard, Lagesson, Samorukov, [Ethan Bear], Caleb Jones and Darnell Nurse. Long term, some of those people can grow into it. Short term, it could be a significant blow.”