The Defence

Jonathan Willis
March 18 2013 04:07PM

As far as I’m concerned, the pivotal question for the Edmonton Oilers down the stretch – and into the summer for that matter - has less to do with whether or not this specific group can squeak into one of the final playoff spots and more to do with what the long-term plan is on the blue line.

The Current Group

  • Ladislav Smid - Jeff Petry
  • Nick Schultz - Justin Schultz
  • Mark Fistric - Ryan Whitney
  • Theo Peckham - Corey Potter

The depth chart fluctuates from day to day, but that’s more or less where it stands right now. Whitney can play either side; one suspects that part of the current willingness to play Potter is that he’s the third right-shooting defenceman in the system and the coaches prefer to go left-right/left-right/left-right down all three pairings.

It’s a weak group in the present; there was hope Whitney could return to form but in his current state the bottom four guys are all probably best suited to a six/seven role. As for the top-four, Schultz was impressive early on but has struggled of late, and with those struggles this tweet from yesterday rang true for me.

Moving to the long-term, beyond the Justin Schultz/Jeff Petry 1-2 punch on the right side, there are lots more questions than answers:

  • Can the team afford to sign Ladislav Smid?
  • Long-term is Smid a good fit for that second spot on the left side?
  • Do Mark Fistric and Theo Peckham have futures with the team in a depth role?
  • Does the extra year on Corey Potter’s deal mean he’s in the NHL in 2013-14?

The Prospects

The strength of Edmonton’s prospect pool is on defence. Oscar Klefbom is considered a big part of the future by practically everyone, and the Oilers are bullish on his potential in the NHL. A quartet of prospects – Martin Marincin, Martin Gernat, David Musil and Dillon Simpson – are valued to varying degrees, while Colten Teubert and Taylor Fedun likely have less long-term upside but might end up filling depth roles.

The trouble is that none of them can really be counted on absolutely. Klefbom might be ready to step into the NHL immediately in 2013-14, but he played all of 11 games in Sweden’s top league before injury shortened his season. The Oilers are in better shape if he’s the first call-up option than if he’s on the opening night roster. Gernat, Musil and Simpson haven’t played a professional game; Marincin has one year under his belt but his performance (though promising) was uneven.

Also of interest: as I understand it, Colten Teubert is in his final season of waiver ineligibility. Do the Oilers do what they’ve traditionally done, elevating him to the NHL roster, or do they risk waivers on that player?

My Answers

The Oilers need help on the blue line, and the free agent pool this year is mostly atrocious. Losing Smid without a certain backup plan is simply too great a risk, plus he really does seem like a solid bet as the number two defenceman on the left side paired with one of the Oilers’ two right-shooting puck-movers. I’m not much worried about the rumours of his departure – he’s a pending unrestricted free agent and this year’s class is weak, so it’s only natural for teams to keep an eye on him as a deadline acquisition or summer signing – and I expect the Oilers get a deal done.

Of the current bottom-four, I’d likely keep one – Peckham or Fistric – for the seventh slot, dealing off the rest and burying Potter in the minors next season if necessary. Potter’s on an NHL contract but the dollars are low enough that sticking him back in the AHL isn’t impossible at some point next season if nobody else is interested. That leaves two roster spots open – one for a higher-level stopgap on a one or two year deal (an older left-side defenceman like Lubomir Visnovsky, Mark Streit, etc. would be a good fit here – the idea is to land someone to do what Ryan Whitney was supposed to do this year) and one for a third-pairing right-side veteran (a player like Ian White in Detroit is a good example) who can bring more to the position than the current collection of depth guys can.

That gives the team the following depth chart entering 2013-14:

  • Ladislav Smid – Justin Schultz
  • [Visnovsky-type] – Jeff Petry
  • Nick Schultz – [White-type]
  • [Peckham or Fistric]

It is less than ideal but allows the Oilers a secure third pairing (which they haven’t had in years) with players who can pinch in as injury requires, and a top-four that might be able to handle things by committee in the short-term. Ideally, the Oilers could simply trade for a stud left-side defenceman and bump Smid down, but that type of player is a) costly and b) in short supply.

In the minors go Oscar Klefbom (at least to start), Colten Teubert (if he clears waivers), Corey Potter (if he can’t be traded), Martin Marincin, Taylor Fedun, David Musil and possibly Martin Gernat (though Europe is apparently a possibility there) as well as Brandon Davidson. That leaves a lot of potential call-up options for the Oilers if everybody makes it down, but even assuming the loss of both Potter and Teubert leaves three reasonable call-up options for the team – and a player in Klefbom who might force his way on to the roster.

There are lots of possibilities, though – my general outline above is just one. Maybe there’s a line on a quality player via trade. Maybe they don’t feel comfortable with Smid on a long-term deal. Maybe they see Klefbom as an immediate NHL’er, or think enough of Teubert to use him as a #7/#8 defender in the majors next year – there’s a long list of possible combinations, and the Oilers’ historic willingness to advance rookies quickly and unwillingness to risk even marginal assets on the waiver wire (something mercifully reversed with Eager and Hordichuk) mean htat it’s impossible for an outsider to predict exactly what they’re going to do.

That’s why they bear watching. The Oilers intentions on the blue line in the long-term will be revealed in the lead-up to the trade deadline and over the summer. It’s a portion of the roster that needs to be handled carefully to maximize both the short- and long-term fortunes of the team.

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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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#51 Citizen David
March 18 2013, 09:13PM
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I would like to see Hemsky traded for as good a defenseman as he'll get us. I don't know of that's a "number 3" or a "number 4" but it would be a big improvement over potter/Peckham/Whitney.

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#52 DSF
March 18 2013, 09:15PM
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So many rubes thinking Schultz is an actual top pairing NHL defenseman.

The kid can't play.

The math supports it.

He's getting killed.

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#53 Citizen David
March 18 2013, 09:22PM
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DSF wrote:

So many rubes thinking Schultz is an actual top pairing NHL defenseman.

The kid can't play.

The math supports it.

He's getting killed.

I don't think anyone thinks he's a top pairing defenseman. I think people think he's a rookie with good potential. We shall see. I think in 4 years time he will be a legitimate top pairing D-man.

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#54 Bloodsweatandoil
March 18 2013, 09:26PM
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For the majority of our d-men, I think half their problems is the coaching. Hard to soar like an eagle when you work with a bunch of turkeys. What I'm trying to say is that I feel the Oilers management do not really put out the best options for teaching and guidance.

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#55 Taylor Gang
March 18 2013, 09:29PM
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DSF wrote:

So many rubes thinking Schultz is an actual top pairing NHL defenseman.

The kid can't play.

The math supports it.

He's getting killed.

Ahhh, I accidentally liked what you wrote...

Anyways, nobody said he was a top pairing defenseman. However, a rookie year is hardly a year to base your argument on that he was a bad choice. Of course he will make mistakes, not every defenseman is Drew Doughty upon entry into the NHL. But he still has shown great flashes of what's to come.

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#56 The Soup Fascist
March 18 2013, 09:37PM
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DSF wrote:

So many rubes thinking Schultz is an actual top pairing NHL defenseman.

The kid can't play.

The math supports it.

He's getting killed.

Despite the hard sell and relentless pursuit from the Canucks, the kid wisely chose not to play in is hometown on a team who missed their window of opportunity and are heading the wrong direction. Seems like a good decision.

This sour grapes act of yours is a) so transparent and b) sad to see. Turn the frown the other way around, DSF! Life is too short to be so bitter.

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#57 dougtheslug
March 18 2013, 09:47PM
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DSF wrote:

So many rubes thinking Schultz is an actual top pairing NHL defenseman.

The kid can't play.

The math supports it.

He's getting killed.

Whose math? Top rookie point getter. Top minutes per game for a rookie. Plays tough minutes. You know, sometimes I grudgingly agree with some of your points. But tonight you are just being silly. Have a glass of warm milk and go to bed.

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#58 StHenriOilBomb
March 18 2013, 09:47PM
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DSF wrote:

So many rubes thinking Schultz is an actual top pairing NHL defenseman.

The kid can't play.

The math supports it.

He's getting killed.

You're going to get so much response from this one! Picking on a rookie D-man is as easy as stealing bedpans from the elderly.

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#59 dougtheslug
March 18 2013, 09:48PM
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dougtheslug wrote:

Whose math? Top rookie point getter. Top minutes per game for a rookie. Plays tough minutes. You know, sometimes I grudgingly agree with some of your points. But tonight you are just being silly. Have a glass of warm milk and go to bed.

Top rookie dman point getter, I meant

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#60 G Money
March 18 2013, 09:51PM
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Taylor Gang wrote:

Ugh... Come on man. You've already had it from most of us already but I'll just reiterate. You're writing off a rookie player that has hopped straight out of the frying pan into the fire. You lose all of your credibility by making comments like this. You are the definition of a stats wh*re.

I literally laughed out loud when I read this.

a. You think DSF has credibility to lose??

b. Why do people keep feeding the troll?

c. For the record, a shortlist of defensemen who have fewer points than young Schultz: Chara, Bouwmeester, Enstrom, Hedman, Seabrook, Boyle, Josi, Souray, Del Zotto, Doughty ... and a whole pile more.

d. But perhaps the biggest reason for the hissy fit: J. Garrison, VAN, 6 pts (for the record, 3 points fewer than Ryan Whitney, in 6 more games). Oops.

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#61 Gazmort
March 18 2013, 09:52PM
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@DSF

Cut him loose! Slightly more than 25% of a normal regular season schedule played, and we all know this kid is a failure. Close this book. Majority of teams that went for him were only slightly less stupid than the Oilers who foolishly won the Schultz contest.

That what you're looking for , D?

Good grief.

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#62 Jason Gregor
March 18 2013, 09:59PM
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Ladislav Smid – Justin Schultz [Visnovsky-type] – Jeff Petry Nick Schultz – [White-type]

JW,

That is your projected top-six. Who is physical, how plays tough in front of net? You can't win with just one blueliner like that. No team does.

Can't use Detroit as example, because they had the greatest D-man of the past two decades play 25 minutes a night. They also had bangers like Stuart and Kronwall.

That D would get killed in my opinion.

Side note, many scouts are extremely high on Klefbom. They feel he'll step in next year. I'd be cautious of that, but I'm surprised how many scouts, not with Oilers, are that high on him. Maybe he is the surprise guy next season... We'll see..They need to protect him and J.Schultz IMO...

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#63 justDOit
March 18 2013, 10:04PM
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@Jason Gregor

You mean protect him from DSF?

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#64 justDOit
March 18 2013, 10:05PM
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DSF wrote:

So many rubes thinking Schultz is an actual top pairing NHL defenseman.

The kid can't play.

The math supports it.

He's getting killed.

Classic - you've out-done yourself.

Note to ON: Move the props button AWAY from the reply button! FTLOG!

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#65 Citizen David
March 18 2013, 10:09PM
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Next season D

Smid-Petry Smid type-J Schultz Klefbom-Fistric

Not the mightiest defense ever but very serviceable if we can sign Smid and get another Smid in trade.

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#66 They're $hittie
March 18 2013, 10:14PM
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Lets talk Granlund,

Lets talk Garrison,

Lets talk Coyle,

arent these guys DSF said would dominate.

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#67 gazmort
March 18 2013, 10:23PM
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@They're $hittie

That would mean attempting to prove that they are in fact better than all Oilers, which, of course, he cannot do. Not with any metric he's using. cue the asymmetrical excuses.

Notice how he's gone silent?

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#68 They're $hittie
March 18 2013, 10:24PM
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Hasnt complained about gagner this year has he?

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#69 The Soup Fascist
March 18 2013, 10:27PM
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They're $hittie wrote:

Lets talk Granlund,

Lets talk Garrison,

Lets talk Coyle,

arent these guys DSF said would dominate.

Under the category of: what is the colour of the sky in your world, DSF?

Granlund a 21 year old forward scoring at a miraculous point-per-game clip over 23 games in the AHL = second coming of Sundin / Forsberg

Schultz a 22 year old defenceman scoring 48 points in 34 games in the same league = power play specialist who won't be considered a top 60 dman in the NHL....... ever!

Is there a doctor in the house? A large man in white with a butterfly net?

Oh yeah, I almost forgot ......... Good Grief!!!!!!

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#70 RexLibris
March 18 2013, 10:51PM
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@Jonathan Willis

Just going off of what I have caught from the Flames fans who still keep tabs on him, I wouldn't invest more than one or two million in Regehr.

Footspeed was an issue when he was in his prime in Calgary. Granted Buffalo is a bad team, but if you want what Regehr has to offer, you'd be far wiser to simply re-sign Fistric.

Despite Feaster's ability to mess up decent trade proposals, Regehr's play has nearly won that deal for the Flames, even with the Kotalik/2nd round pick/Jankowski-trade-down angle taken into account. Whether Buffalo wins that deal depends heavily on how Jake McCabe turns out.

I'd like to see the Oilers re-sign Smid and Fistric and then pursue a 2nd pairing puck mover through free-agency. Perhaps they could trade their 2014 first and a prospect or two for a first-pairing d-man who needed a change, but that kind of conjecture is best left for another forum.

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#71 oil4life
March 18 2013, 10:52PM
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Hope they sign Smid. Love that guy. need another like him. Excited for Justin Schultz. hes got so much talent and he's just getting into it. hope he just keeps getting better and better. I think with the addition of a veteran defensive defenceman we'd be looking pretty good on the back end.

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#72 RexLibris
March 18 2013, 10:55PM
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Citizen David wrote:

Next season D

Smid-Petry Smid type-J Schultz Klefbom-Fistric

Not the mightiest defense ever but very serviceable if we can sign Smid and get another Smid in trade.

Not bad, but I'd reverse the 1st and 2nd pairings, depending on the fill-in-the-blank addition to go with Justin Schultz. Also, Klefbom is a shut-down guy who'll need someone calm and decisive with which to play. Nick Schultz may be a good mentor for a few games.

Ideally, I'd rather see Klefbom learning from an old Crash Davis-type in the AHL for at least half the year.

Anyone here think Tambellini could hoodwink Gardiner away from Nonis?

Me neither.

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#73 Oilfred
March 18 2013, 10:57PM
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Jonathan Willis wrote:

RE: Schultz

I don't think it's a surprise he's hit a bit of a wall, and I'd be even less surprised if he's a little banged up.

He was arguably the best defenceman in the AHL during the lockout and he was fantastic early in Edmonton. He was a physical target all the while. Lots of college players wear down ~40-50 games into their first pro season.

This is something that a lot of people are missing. To my eye both of them are a bit banged up. Petry and Whitney however have been much better.

Its certainly going to be an interesting few weeks.

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#74 Citizen David
March 18 2013, 11:04PM
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RexLibris wrote:

Not bad, but I'd reverse the 1st and 2nd pairings, depending on the fill-in-the-blank addition to go with Justin Schultz. Also, Klefbom is a shut-down guy who'll need someone calm and decisive with which to play. Nick Schultz may be a good mentor for a few games.

Ideally, I'd rather see Klefbom learning from an old Crash Davis-type in the AHL for at least half the year.

Anyone here think Tambellini could hoodwink Gardiner away from Nonis?

Me neither.

Getting Gardiner would be huge. I'd be willing to seriously pursue that. But yes, probably just a dream.

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#75 The Soup Fascist
March 18 2013, 11:18PM
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RexLibris wrote:

Just going off of what I have caught from the Flames fans who still keep tabs on him, I wouldn't invest more than one or two million in Regehr.

Footspeed was an issue when he was in his prime in Calgary. Granted Buffalo is a bad team, but if you want what Regehr has to offer, you'd be far wiser to simply re-sign Fistric.

Despite Feaster's ability to mess up decent trade proposals, Regehr's play has nearly won that deal for the Flames, even with the Kotalik/2nd round pick/Jankowski-trade-down angle taken into account. Whether Buffalo wins that deal depends heavily on how Jake McCabe turns out.

I'd like to see the Oilers re-sign Smid and Fistric and then pursue a 2nd pairing puck mover through free-agency. Perhaps they could trade their 2014 first and a prospect or two for a first-pairing d-man who needed a change, but that kind of conjecture is best left for another forum.

Regehr is a 32 year old with hard miles on him. Don't forget he started his career with two shattered legs. Give him huge props for overcoming that setback, but that type of stuff does have long term repercussions.

You are right. Fistric is a better choice.

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So all the right teams won tonight without a single 3pt game in the West. We're still 2 points behind 8th. Sweet! Pass the Koolaid from the left hand side..

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#77 OilClog
March 18 2013, 11:54PM
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Smid, Petry Keleta, J. Schultz Klefbom, Fistric. Peckham

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#80 GVBlackhawk
March 19 2013, 12:06AM
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Jason Gregor wrote:

Ladislav Smid – Justin Schultz [Visnovsky-type] – Jeff Petry Nick Schultz – [White-type]

JW,

That is your projected top-six. Who is physical, how plays tough in front of net? You can't win with just one blueliner like that. No team does.

Can't use Detroit as example, because they had the greatest D-man of the past two decades play 25 minutes a night. They also had bangers like Stuart and Kronwall.

That D would get killed in my opinion.

Side note, many scouts are extremely high on Klefbom. They feel he'll step in next year. I'd be cautious of that, but I'm surprised how many scouts, not with Oilers, are that high on him. Maybe he is the surprise guy next season... We'll see..They need to protect him and J.Schultz IMO...

I agree that Klefbom would require protection. That is precisely why it is in everyone's best interest to start him in the AHL. If JSchultz and Klefbom both need to be protected, you are a veteran injury away from disaster. Get a stop gap Dman for at least two years -- use Klefbom as a call-up option based on his performance in OKC.

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#81 Next up, is Connor McJesus.
March 19 2013, 12:17PM
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I do agree that Justin isn't a legitimate top pairing blueliner in this league yet, but he is on this team during these dark days.

Keep Justin Schultz and hope he continues to progress, shipcan the rest outside of what you need to fill out your 4-7 types.

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#82 Next up, is Connor McJesus.
March 19 2013, 12:22PM
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@GVBlackhawk

Needs protection, did the Neidermeyers/Lidstroms of this world need protoecting? Both guys never let these distractions get in their way. Why can't Justin Schultz be all this as well?

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#83 John
March 19 2013, 01:16PM
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You guys are all nuts at arguing with DSF. He clearly is right. C'mon, look at all the math and statistics. We all know that they are all that matter. All the GMs for the good teams are math majors and all the GMs for bad teams are probably high school drop outs. You guys are just jealous that DSF knows how to build a winner based on math.

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#84 GVBlackhawk
March 19 2013, 01:21PM
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Next up, is Connor McJesus. wrote:

Needs protection, did the Neidermeyers/Lidstroms of this world need protoecting? Both guys never let these distractions get in their way. Why can't Justin Schultz be all this as well?

Comparing Justin Schultz to Nick Lidstrom and Scott Niedermeyer is very unfair to young Schultz. Please don't do that.

If JSchultz could dominate the opposition soft parade and score points on the PP, he would be much better off. His defensive play will continue to improve as he matures. Then he can more effectively manage opposition toughs.

Throwing rookies to the wolves is a classic Oilers strategy. It rarely works but they keep doing it. Klefbom will get the same treatment next year. Why do fans such as yourself keep falling for this rouse?

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#85 Next up, is Connor McJesus.
March 19 2013, 02:51PM
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@GVBlackhawk

If that's your train of thought then perhaps the Scott Stevens/Garth Butcher model would be more easily attainable, lower that bar considerably then, no?

Am i way off base thinking he's more sportscar than F150/Dodge Ram? What would your comapables be for this type of player. I don't believe that Lidstrom/Neidermeyer comparison is as off base as you think it is. Granted he's no Paul Coffey but i think a turn the other cheek offensive type is nearly bang on.

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#86 Old Retired Guy
March 19 2013, 10:25PM
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DSF wrote:

He's getting killed.

And, he's not living up to his hype.

Jonas Brodin, who is 3 years younger, is playing top pairing against the toughest competition, and is +1.

Schultz is in the running for the Green Jacket at -12.

lol......Green Jacket.......Nice!

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#87 Old Retired Guy
March 19 2013, 10:28PM
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Light, Sweet, Crude wrote:

If Ladi goes, I go.

Smids not going anywhere.....market is thin.....he would be too hard to replace.

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#88 Old Retired Guy
March 19 2013, 10:28PM
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Light, Sweet, Crude wrote:

If Ladi goes, I go.

Smids not going anywhere.....market is thin.....he would be too hard to replace.

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#89 Old Retired Guy
March 19 2013, 10:35PM
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Jonathan Willis wrote:

It's hard for me to comment on what Regehr is now because it's been a while since I watched a Buffalo game, but the numbers aren't all that encouraging - granted he's playing hard minutes, but the Sabres are out-shot 38-to-26 at evens with him on the ice and out-shooting 31-to-28 with him on the bench.

I loved him as a player in his prime, but is he getting buried on a soft team or at 32 (33 in a month) have years of tough play worn him down? He's an option, but I bet he gets a heftier contract than I'd feel comfortable handing out given his run in Buffalo.

All I know of Regehr is that he was a menace when he played against us as a Flame.

As for his play with the Sabres....its just too hard to tell what a player will look like in a different system.... Stars didn't value Fistric and he's playing well for us.

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#90 Old Retired Guy
March 19 2013, 10:35PM
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Jonathan Willis wrote:

It's hard for me to comment on what Regehr is now because it's been a while since I watched a Buffalo game, but the numbers aren't all that encouraging - granted he's playing hard minutes, but the Sabres are out-shot 38-to-26 at evens with him on the ice and out-shooting 31-to-28 with him on the bench.

I loved him as a player in his prime, but is he getting buried on a soft team or at 32 (33 in a month) have years of tough play worn him down? He's an option, but I bet he gets a heftier contract than I'd feel comfortable handing out given his run in Buffalo.

All I know of Regehr is that he was a menace when he played against us as a Flame.

As for his play with the Sabres....its just too hard to tell what a player will look like in a different system.... Stars didn't value Fistric and he's playing well for us.

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#91 Woogie63
March 19 2013, 11:49PM
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We have too many contracts (49 I think) this is the point in time we can OVER PAY in the short term to get the right dman.

What would it take to get a younger dman like, Shattenkirk Alzner, Carlson, Fowler, Johnson. This type of hockey trade is a good option for the Oilers so they don't miss their window to win in the next 2-6 years.

Hemsky, Jones, Harti + Whitney for a young future star dman (and maybe a NHL back up goalie) might solve a few issues piling up on this team.

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