The Third Pairing

Jonathan Willis
June 18 2013 11:11AM

If, as expected, the Edmonton Oilers add at least one top-four (ideally left-side defenceman) to round out a group that already includes Jeff Petry, Justin Schultz and Ladislav Smid than there will need to be some decisions made on the third pairing. Who stays? Who goes?

The Overview

Assuming the top four outlined in the opening paragraph, that likely leaves three roster spots – at most four, but likely three – for other NHL defencemen. The Oilers have a lot of in-house candidates for those positions, even after we remove unrestricted free agent Ryan Whitney from consideration. Here’s the list:

  • Nick Schultz – one-way deal, $3.5 million cap hit
  • Anton Belov – two-way deal, $1.5 million cap hit
  • Mark Fistric – unrestricted free agent; likely signable on a 2-3 year deal somewhere between $1.5 and $2.0 million
  • Corey Potter – one-way deal, $775 thousand cap hit
  • Oscar Klefbom – two-way deal, $1.24 million cap hit
  • Theo Peckham – restricted free agent; would likely accept qualifying offer just over $1.0 million
  • Martin Marincin – two-way deal, $870 thousand cap hit
  • Taylor Fedun – restricted free agent; would likely accept two-way contract well below $1.0 million

It seems safe to assume that Theo Peckham will not be retained, and that Martin Marincin and Taylor Fedun will start the year in the minors. That isn’t certain, but those all seem likely. That leaves five players for three roster spots, and that assumes the team doesn’t add somebody like Paul Ranger to the mix.

The Players

Nick Schultz. Looking at the list above, the one thing that really stands out is Schultz’s contract, which is more than double any of the other players on this list. He’s being paid as a top-four defenceman, and it seems unlikely that the Oilers see him in that role next season. With a weak defensive market, are there teams out there that would see him as a fit in that role on their own blue lines? If the Oilers can add that upgrade to their top-four, I would expect them to move Schultz out for help elsewhere. Veteran defencemen – especially defencemen like Schultz – hold their value well and teams looking for blue line help will not have a lot of options. If he is not dealt, than he’s the number five defenceman by a fair margin.

Anton Belov. Technically on a two-way contract (all entry-level deals have a minor-league component) it seems safe to project Belov on to the NHL roster on opening night. A top defenceman in the KHL, the Oilers almost certainly wouldn’t bring him over just to stick him in the minors. He gets one of the three spots unless he crashes and burns in training camp.

Mark Fistric. He isn’t a fit with Craig MacTavish’s puck-possession mantra, but he played well in a third-pairing role last season and adds things (size, skillset) that aren’t in ready supply on the Oilers’ blue line. Most teams have a guy like this on the third pairing; I wouldn’t be surprised to see him back.

Corey Potter. I have a lot more time for Corey Potter than most people – he doesn’t excel in any one area but he has a range of skill and more puck-moving ability than a lot of depth defencemen. I think he’s on the bubble in Edmonton – he could be dealt, he could be retained and then sent to the minors, or he could be retained and hold any of the three open defensive spots. His low-dollar contract gives the Oilers options; I’d guess he gets penciled in for the number seven role but that a strong performance from a prospect or the addition of a player like Ranger would bump him off the roster.

Oscar Klefbom. The Oilers are obviously excited about Klefbom as a prospect, and he’s a guy that has to be considered a serious candidate to start the 2013-14 season on the Oilers’ roster. Should he? Probably not; he’s never played North American hockey and he lost most of last season to injury and got buried on his Swedish team’s depth chart for much of the year before that. He turns 20 next month; he seems a great candidate to start the year as Oklahoma’s number one defenceman and the Oilers’ first call-up option. With that said: everything the Oilers’ brass have said publicly indicates he’s going to have a shot at an NHL job on opening night.

My Guess

I think we’re looking at an incomplete picture and that the Oilers will add one more guy to the mix. It might be a very good high minors player like Paul Ranger, it might be a free agent like Ian White, it might be someone brought over in trade after falling out of favour in another city (Jamie McBain got some play at the deadline and has been mentioned at this site previously). In this scenario, Nick Schultz and Corey Potter are both sent away, Oscar Klefbom starts in the minors, and the Oilers start the season with Mark Fistric, Anton Belov, and our unnamed addition rotating through the 5-6-7 slots on the depth chart.

Recently around the Nation Network

Corban Knight, a top prospect who got some love as a potential Oilers trade candidate this week, has been dealt to Calgary instead

Knight is a good addition to the Flames prospect pool. In the current top-15 rankings, he'd likely slot in the top-5 at the very least.

Click the link above to read the whole piece, or feel free check out some of my other pieces here:

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Jonathan Willis is Managing Editor of the Nation Network. He also currently writes for the Edmonton Journal's Cult of Hockey, Grantland, and Hockey Prospectus. His work has appeared at theScore, ESPN and Puck Daddy. He was previously founder and managing editor of Copper & Blue. Contact him at jonathan (dot) willis (at) live (dot) ca.
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#51 Dangilitis
June 18 2013, 01:47PM
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Cody anderson wrote:

I read yesterday that they may look at buying Gilbert out. I thought he was playing top pairing minutes and doing ok. If he wants to come back and we could get him on the cheap that would be one hell of a pickup.

Those pairings look pretty descent. No glaring weakness with the exeption of no solid # 1 Dman.

That would be a great move, if you lose out on getting a bigger name like Tyutin. The nice thing of course would be hopefully that you don't lose any assets. I am not sure I like Brodziak's price (actually, I am pretty sure I don't) but he has also been listed as a possible buyout and another opportunity for MacT to right a wrong.

But, if you get Gilbert back, you definitely try and trade N Schultz. Think about it, even after all the blunders Tambo made, if they could pry Gilbert away for a draft pick (5th rd may not get you him), and trade Schultz to help team needs (e.g. upgraded draft pick, 3rd line forward, etc)... at the end of the day, we'll have brought Gilbert back for nothing and gained whatever we bring back from N Schultz trade.

Bottom 3 of Belov, Clitsome, Potter or Klefbom would be really nice. I would say above average. Again, it's adding a legitimate top pairing D that this team is missing, and we can't wait to find out if Klefbom or any of our D prospects will fit the bill.

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#52 OilClog
June 18 2013, 02:16PM
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Gilbert was traded for other reasons.. He won't be back, just truly awful what Tambi got as a return.

Nick Schultz is done in Edmonton, he's no good with the puck. MacT won't have him back.

Potter is all over the place, as a 7th defenceman filling in.. That would be where I place him, when he plays too much he makes just awful boneheaded mistakes.

Bye Teddy, it's a shame..

Justin was a rookie on a horribly put together defensive system. OMG a ROOKIE STRUGGLED at points in the season.. burn the barn down!

I would say the biggest improvement on D would be to get rid of Steve Smith. He's a weak link, BRING BACK HUDDY!

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#53 westcoastoil
June 18 2013, 02:35PM
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OilersBrass wrote:

Those darn Flames...

That's okay, the Oil will just spank the Flames all next year, and Knight will realize that he made a mistake.

Does Knight signing in Cowtown help Monahan slip to the #7 spot?

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#54 Rocket
June 18 2013, 02:35PM
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When I look at The Oilers D depth, it seems like Tambo really let things slide. Letting Whitney go for nothing, the Peckham mess, etc.

It's not all on Tambo of course but MacT sure does have his work cut out for him. Unless there is a significant trade of some kind, I could see just about the same D starting next season.

Klefbom is developing & is still a ways off thanks to injury. I hope Belov works out but I'm not holding my breath.

I guess I just hope Petry continues to get better & MacT can add another piece before training camp opens.

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#55 Taylor Gang
June 18 2013, 03:04PM
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It will be interesting to see the availablility of certain players this off season.

The one time DSF says something not bashing the Oilers, it's brilliant. It was in the form of two trades:

Couturier for Marincin and the #7.

Edler for Gagner and a second (Oilers second probably).

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#56 madjam
June 18 2013, 03:15PM
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On the 12th day before draft day my Oilers bought to me -Two prospectas (Belov and Eakins ) and the bark off my neighbours birch tree . On the eleventh day from draft day what will the Oilers bring to me ? Day six , I just know what the Oilers will bring to me -six Stanley Cup Ringsa .

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#57 Mikey
June 18 2013, 03:24PM
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Dangilitis wrote:

I have been crying out on the sites for the last month now about Schultz's bad contract. He also doesn't fit with MacT's mantra, and isn't even that good at what he is lauded for (defensive ability), often making sloppy plays which was not helpful with J Schultz needing a strong mentor on the other side. It would also dispose of another bad return on a Tambellini trade.

But I am not sure if I would be happy trading him with nobody to replace him. Belov may be that guy. Signing Ranger may help. But I would prefer Grant Clitsome from the Jets - UFA this year and is 28 I think, so in prime of D career. Would they be able to snag him for 2 million/yr x 2-3 yrs? He faced decent competition and relative corsi was in top half of D-men playing >30 games this season, while providing more offense than N Schultz could ever bring. More than serviceable #5 that could probably slide up to the #4 spot if injury bug hits (or compete with Belov for this).

But bringing in a top 4 D-man is going to be the big test for MacT - hope Columbus is willing to listen to offers for Tyutin.

Also, shame about Knight. If Flames really were talking to Panthers about this one from early 2013, then Oilers missed out (and MacT's job was scouting college talent, was it not?). Would have much rather had him than Smithson or Brown for our 4th round draft pick. Thanks Tambellini...

I don't see Schultz for Gilbert being a bad trade. Did you see what Gilbert did this year? Yea, nothing. Schultz had a bad year, when every oiler had a bad year.

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#58 The Soup Fascist
June 18 2013, 03:30PM
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Taylor Gang wrote:

It will be interesting to see the availablility of certain players this off season.

The one time DSF says something not bashing the Oilers, it's brilliant. It was in the form of two trades:

Couturier for Marincin and the #7.

Edler for Gagner and a second (Oilers second probably).

I get where we are looking at addressing a need, but let's stop and look at this for a minute.

You want to trade a legitimate prospect to be a big puck moving top 4 D AND the #7 overall in what is by all accounts a very deep draft ...

... for a guy who was the #8 overall in what was one of the poorer drafts in a long while. Couturier has also burned up 2 years of an ELC while putting up 42 points.

Not bashing here, because when I saw the proposal I liked it and I think Couturier would be a good fit. I am just saying when you step back, this looks like an overpay to me. What will the #7 in a deep draft turn out to be? And assuming you send this years #7 back to juniors / Europe he will still have 3 hopefully high value ELC years starting in 2014-2015.

As much as I like Couturier, I would NOT do this trade. Straight across for #7 this year would be a stretch, let alone throwing in Marincin.

Edler is a nice D-man, but beware of the $5 million cap hit deal for 6 years. Man if this guys gets a little comfy with his new contract ... you have one big elephant in the room.

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#59 Taylor Gang
June 18 2013, 03:49PM
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The Soup Fascist wrote:

I get where we are looking at addressing a need, but let's stop and look at this for a minute.

You want to trade a legitimate prospect to be a big puck moving top 4 D AND the #7 overall in what is by all accounts a very deep draft ...

... for a guy who was the #8 overall in what was one of the poorer drafts in a long while. Couturier has also burned up 2 years of an ELC while putting up 42 points.

Not bashing here, because when I saw the proposal I liked it and I think Couturier would be a good fit. I am just saying when you step back, this looks like an overpay to me. What will the #7 in a deep draft turn out to be? And assuming you send this years #7 back to juniors / Europe he will still have 3 hopefully high value ELC years starting in 2014-2015.

As much as I like Couturier, I would NOT do this trade. Straight across for #7 this year would be a stretch, let alone throwing in Marincin.

Edler is a nice D-man, but beware of the $5 million cap hit deal for 6 years. Man if this guys gets a little comfy with his new contract ... you have one big elephant in the room.

I like how scared we are of large contracts ever since the Horcoff fiasco. Edler can play.

As for Couturier, might I remind you that we're dealing from a position of weakness, not of strength.

Couturier has me completely sold; he shuts down top players from other teams already. Marincin is just a dream for now.

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#60 Eddie Shore
June 18 2013, 04:04PM
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Couturier has spent the majority of his NHL time playing on the 4th line has he not?

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#61 DigDeepNBleedBlue
June 18 2013, 04:20PM
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Taylor Gang wrote:

It will be interesting to see the availablility of certain players this off season.

The one time DSF says something not bashing the Oilers, it's brilliant. It was in the form of two trades:

Couturier for Marincin and the #7.

Edler for Gagner and a second (Oilers second probably).

2 things:

Marincin and the 7th is an overpay. IMO. Maybe the 2nd rounder from Anh in its stead.

Doubt there will be a lot of division rivals trading to one another unless it is seriously lopsided for one team.

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#62 DigDeepNBleedBlue
June 18 2013, 04:24PM
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Rocket wrote:

When I look at The Oilers D depth, it seems like Tambo really let things slide. Letting Whitney go for nothing, the Peckham mess, etc.

It's not all on Tambo of course but MacT sure does have his work cut out for him. Unless there is a significant trade of some kind, I could see just about the same D starting next season.

Klefbom is developing & is still a ways off thanks to injury. I hope Belov works out but I'm not holding my breath.

I guess I just hope Petry continues to get better & MacT can add another piece before training camp opens.

Can't argue with you. Peckham situation was a cluster puck! Though, I wonder what Whitney would have gotten. I'm guessing not much.

I hope Belov turns out too, but with a 2-way contract it's a low risk sign. The question for me is does he take Potter's job?

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#63 The Soup Fascist
June 18 2013, 04:30PM
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Taylor Gang wrote:

I like how scared we are of large contracts ever since the Horcoff fiasco. Edler can play.

As for Couturier, might I remind you that we're dealing from a position of weakness, not of strength.

Couturier has me completely sold; he shuts down top players from other teams already. Marincin is just a dream for now.

We hold the #7 pick in what is widely regarded as a very strong draft. How are we in a position of weakness? It is not like it is a terrible thing if we end up making the pick or at midnight the guy turns into a pumpkin. I would say the Flyers are a bit desperate. How much would a fresh ELC in 2014-15 help their cap issues vs having to re-up Couturier? After signing Streit they are still not out of the woods - even after blowing out Bryz and Briere.

Yes it would be nice to pick up a big young two way center like Couturier. As stated, I LIKE THE GUY. I just would not overpay. If the experts are correct as to the relative strength of the draft, #7 this year should ultimately be a better hockey player than #8 from 2011. Is it a guarantee? Certainly not.

To be clear, I like Couturier and Edler. Those are both players who would make the team better. I am just saying the Oilers can't afford to overpay. Plus, the chances of Vancouver and Edmonton swapping fairly high profile guys (in terms of the 2nd trade) are doubtful in my mind.

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#64 DigDeepNBleedBlue
June 18 2013, 04:34PM
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The D-core was, for me, the weakest link last year.

Belov and the possible addition of Ranger is not enough. IMO

They need a higher end D-man. Take no sh*t, punishes people and make a great first pass kinda cat.

My hope:

Get that high end D-man.

Resign Fistric. And, play him more than Potter. Sorry Potter fans.

Leave Klefbom in the A for, at least, 30 gms.

Value Peckham higher than Potter. Again, sorry Potter fans.

In all fairness to Potter, let training camp decide who gets what spot. That's the great thing about a new coach IMO. You get a set of fresh eyes.

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#65 Quicksilver ballet
June 18 2013, 06:01PM
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cabaj wrote:

That's spelling, not pronunciation.

That's what I said, just in a kinder gentler way of telling him that.

This way, he's only partially guilty.

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#66 WhattaMike
June 18 2013, 06:10PM
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First off I am not a Tambellini supporter but let me say that Whitney could not be traded last year because he was injured....this year he played so bad he could not be traded at the contract he has had.

Next,...copncerning the idea of Couturier for Marancin & the #7 pick... is that there are four to five top centre kids in this draft who can be like Couturier or better (never mind size).... MacKinnon, Barkov, Monhahan, Lindholm and Horvat.

Honourable mentions too are Gauthier, Domi, Lazar...

I would not do this deal for Couturier as marancin is starting to play like top #2 defender with very good offense. The #7 pick will turn out to be better than Couturier as well. The Oil do not trade a potential top #2 defence prospect ...at 6'5" tall to boot...plus the #7 overall... unless they get superior one back... plus a very good pick # too. Couturier has been very good but not an excellent high end player as yet.

Now if Philly returns the 11th pick or a good 2nd round pick with Couturier then I can see the logic.

The Edler deal for Gagner sounds decent to me.

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#67 voom04
June 18 2013, 08:11PM
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are we so desperate we would take vans throw aways NOT, i dont care how good edler is, I DONT like him and DONT want him. Courterier I want, but not at that price. Swon brothers rule(the voice) with seger

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#68 Wäx Män Riley
June 19 2013, 12:25AM
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@DigDeepNBleedBlue

Resign Fistric. And, play him more than Potter. Sorry Potter fans

There are Potter fans?

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#69 Tikkanese
June 19 2013, 08:27AM
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Wäx Män Riley wrote:
Resign Fistric. And, play him more than Potter. Sorry Potter fans

There are Potter fans?

There are 3! Named Renney, Krueger and Potter.

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#70 DigDeepNBleedBlue
June 19 2013, 10:31AM
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Wäx Män Riley wrote:
Resign Fistric. And, play him more than Potter. Sorry Potter fans

There are Potter fans?

Hahahaha.

They're there and they still believe he's a good option. My head drops, eyes roll back and I lose consciousness for about five mins everytime I hear/read this kind of verbal.

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#71 Eddie Shore
June 19 2013, 10:36AM
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Tikkanese wrote:

There are 3! Named Renney, Krueger and Potter.

And Willis!

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