The Edmonton Oilers’ Blue Line: It’s a Dog Eat Dog World

Jonathan Willis
October 13 2012 08:30AM

The lockout is bad news for all sorts of reasons, but I can’t help but see it as especially bad for the depth defenders on the Edmonton Oilers. For Theo Peckham, Andy Sutton and Corey Potter, a missed season could be a career killer – or at least, an Oilers’ career killer.

It’s a thought that comes rather naturally when looking at the Oilers’ current depth chart on defence. There are a few players on both sides who should have no trouble getting a job with the team when labour peace reigns once again: Ladislav Smid and Nick Schultz on the left side; Jeff Petry, Ryan Whitney and Justin Schultz on the right hand side. Those five guys are pretty much bullet proof, even if the 2012-13 season is wiped out.

The guys below them on the depth chart aren’t as fortunate.

Under Pressure

A big part of the problem is pressure.

On the left-hand side of the defence, Oscar Klefbom is almost certainly going to be an Oiler in 2013-14. If he were playing in North America, and hockey games were being played, he might have made the team this season. Barring injury, he will next year. David Musil will probably not make that team, but the Oilers are clearly bullish on his prospects: they made a point of being able to recall him if there is an NHL season.

Martin Marincin and Brandon Davidson are long shots to be with the team out of camp in 2013, but both have a full AHL season to establish themselves, and left defence is the one area where Oklahoma City can offer lots of opportunity.

On the right-hand side, Colten Teubert played 24 games last season and will have another year of seasoning. Taylor Fedun almost made the team at the 2011 training camp, and while his injury has thrown his career prospects into jeopardy the early reports are very promising and he could surprise.

A conservative estimate suggests that at least one defender (Klefbom) will make the jump, with a significant possibility that another (one of Musil, Marincin, Teubert or Fedun) could as well.

Attrition

As it stands, the elevation of Klefbom or Klefbom+ means that somebody will be out of a job. Andy Sutton is an unrestricted free agent and would be easy to let go, but when last we saw NHL hockey he was a more effective defender than either Potter or Peckham. Peckham will be a restricted free agent and should have some cachet around the league, while Potter would still have a year under contract and is a nice fit as eighth defenceman.

My guess would be that the Oilers would let Sutton go, given his age and contract status, to make room for Klefbom. They might opt to hang on to Sutton and trade Peckham, though, assuming they could get a middling draft pick for the tough defenceman. There’s also the possibility that Potter could be demoted if there were no trade option to the Oilers’ liking.

If a second player made the jump, two of the three choices above would need to be made.

Wild Card

Ladislav Smid and Ryan Whitney will both be unrestricted free agents in the summer of 2013, so a lost season would force the Oilers to get them under contract quickly or lose them for nothing. If one or both were to leave, the Oilers would need to add some high end talent or cross their fingers and hope for Justin Schultz and Oscar Klefbom to excel.

The departure of Smid seems exceedingly unlikely. The Oilers must know what they have in that player, and signing him to a longish-term deal should be an organizational priority.

Whitney’s status is a little more problematic. His health was an issue in 2011-12, and the UFA crop of defencemen in 2013 is exceptionally weak – as bad as this past summer, if not worse. How much money would he be worth to the Oilers versus to other teams? Still, it seems probable that the team would keep both.

That brings us back to Peckham, Sutton and Potter. In the event of a full season lockout, at least one of those guys has probably played his last game as an Oiler.

Recently by Jonathan Willis

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Jonathan Willis is a freelance writer. He currently works for Oilers Nation, Sportsnet, the Edmonton Journal and Bleacher Report. He's co-written three books and worked for myriad websites, including Grantland, ESPN, The Score, and Hockey Prospectus. He was previously the founder and managing editor of Copper & Blue.
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#1 The Soup Fascist
October 13 2012, 08:33AM
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I will take Paul Lynde, center square, for the block.

Excellent points Mr Willis. This is exactly the reason I believe there has to be disharmony on the players side. A guy like Sutton has to know another contract is unlikely after this year. Ryan Whitney is almost certainly taking a haircut or shorter term next year unless he can prove his worth and more importantly, health. And Peckham sitting on his couch loses ground to AHL ers with every flip of the calendar. Add in the forwards in the same boat and multiply by 30 teams.

I have heard the number of over 200 guys who were casualties last full season outage. Your article points out why.

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#2 The Beaker
October 13 2012, 08:34AM
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I thought if the entire season was wiped out the players didnt lose a year off contract length?

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#4 The Beaker
October 13 2012, 08:44AM
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Jonathan Willis wrote:

Yeah, they do. If the season goes, everybody loses a contract year.

Edit: Or at least, that's what happened last time.

Ouch @ calgary then. lol

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#5 Fresh Mess
October 13 2012, 08:51AM
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If the Oilers are truly going to follow the Detroit model of development, then Klefbom has to start next season in OKC no matter how good his camp may be. He is still young and the N.A. game is different.

They should have him develop in the 'A' until his play forces them to bring him up to Edmonton.

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#6 Eulers
October 13 2012, 09:01AM
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Remember when we use to think Tim Thomas was crazy for wanting to sit out the entire season? How quaint!

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#7 RexLibris
October 13 2012, 09:43AM
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@The Beaker

A lost season will pretty much torpedo whatever it is Feaster thinks he's accomplishing in Calgary.

@Fresh Mess

I would tend to agree. The Oilers could take the Brendan Smith approach with Kelfbom and give him a season in the AHL. Then again, sometimes I think we as fans view things as a bit too formulaic. If the scouts and talent assessors truly feel that he is ready for the NHL then perhaps we should defer to their opinion. Just like with Anton Lan*- oh, yeah....wait....

Seriously though, they are taking their time with players like Pitlick and Hamilton, so we have to give credit for those decisions. And don't forget that Eberle spent some time in the AHL when many fans here were demanding he come to Edmonton as a sort of entertainment compensation for having such a bad team. Perhaps Eberle's time in the AHL was partially responsible for his having such a strong rookie season?

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#8 David
October 13 2012, 10:02AM
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I'm a huge fan of Klefbom and Musil and Marincin but I really hope we don't rush them along. Especially not giving Musil any AHL time would be a horrible decision. If we can give these players a few years of development it will reward our patience. Side note some people are already trashing Marincin after one bad game. Remember he played a handful of AHL games last year and impressed. This is a player who definitely could use some development but I think he"ll turn out just fine.

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#9 Velo
October 13 2012, 10:13AM
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Asset management. Develop the young guys in the A to protect against them imploding in the N. A guy like Sutton has value to the team short term and is "unloadable" at any of the updoming trade deadlines. To let him walk is alother lost asset - albeit a pick - but still, long term success will only be achieved if small deals/trades/asset management are taken care of.

I'm tired of slight overpays and questionable contracts...every team has them, but we seem to be industry leaders. Sutton seems like a team guy, buys a year of development, has toughness, PK's pretty good, and fetches us a draft pick at deadline time. Why on earth wouldn't Potter be the guy?

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#11 Next up, is Connor McJesus.
October 13 2012, 11:21AM
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Could be one quick dog fight. J.Schultz and Oskar Klefbom will probably be awarded top 4 minutes sooner rather than later. There's little top 3 competition to get in their way in this lineup.

Between Petry,Klefbom and J.Schultz, these could easily make up that all important top 3 blueliners. No frill vets like N.Schultz and Laddy Smid could hang around as long as they aren't demanding top 3 money as far as blueliners go. The 6-8 guys are of the dime a dozen variety. Think Whitney has played his last game as an Oiler with this season slowly but surely being wiped out by the lockout. This stoppage is such a blessing in disguise, wiping out almost 20 million in garbage contracts as far as Oiler interests go. Horc 6,Hemsky 5,Whitney 5.5 and Khabibulin 3.75.

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#12 wiseguy
October 13 2012, 11:36AM
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I would temper my expectations regarding Klefbom. Remember how high we were on Lander coming out of the same league? The oilers kept him in the NHL for a whole year and now we're talking about him being a 3rd line AHLer. Klefbom may be good, but he hasn't proven anything. If we project him as a top 4 dman next year, we'll be like Calgary fans when they expect Baertschi to be on the 1st line and scoring 50.

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#13 David
October 13 2012, 12:47PM
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I think Klefbom is that good. Not as good as Schultz but definately top three. He'll take a couple years to get there, but get there he will.

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#14 NewAgeSys
October 13 2012, 01:41PM
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Smid -J schultz--possesion skating/shooting /passing offense from schultz/Laddy stays at home Potter-Petry--possesion skating/passing offense from Potter/Petry stays at home Schultz/elder--Whitney--long bomb passes via Whitney non-possesion offense no skating or shooting safety plus neither d-man skates the puck one makes bomb passes and the other just hovers giving him time. Sutton--Peckham--just pain all round.D-men have forward support early and always and let them take it from our zone,no dump outs this year,just forwards back for our beasts.

There will be injuries without doubt and we have the men to fill in,I dont see many issues.We could get a lot for Whitney and replace him with another possesion skating guy,who is mean and doesnt like to shoot just hurt people,like a more mobile Peckham just mobile enough to get it into the neutral zone safely then relay it but not interested in joining the rush completely and tough as nails.I think Whitney is a major trade asset but championship teams need guys like him so we cant really spare him and his long laserlike passes.And we cant ask him to change his game,just put him with Horcs and Smyth the only guys old enough to appreciate his long passes that save them skating miles.I think we have a championship blueline.

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#15 Unhealthy scratch
October 13 2012, 04:40PM
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Well that's settled then.

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#16 Czar
October 13 2012, 07:06PM
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They should have signed Smid before the lockout, especially after the season he had last year. We need him moving forward to set an example and lead these young defencemen. The guys a shotblocking machine and plays through anything!

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