August 15 2014 11:10AM
It’s pretty easy to gut an NHL defence corps, but it’s much harder to build one up.
Craig MacTavish has been wonderfully active in just over a season at the helm of the Oilers, flushing away 75 percent of the defence group he inherited from outgoing G.M. Steve Tambellini. But how has he done in terms of improving the position?
Someday, if the Oilers ever pull themselves out of the NHL basement, somebody is going to write that a lot of the credit needs to go to Tambellini, who oversaw the acquisition of a bunch of high picks. That somebody should take a long look at the blue line MacTavish inherited before writing that:
- The No. 6 defenceman for the Calgary Flames.
- The No. 7 defenceman for the Philadelphia Flyers.
- The No. 7 (maybe even No. 8) defenceman for the Anaheim Ducks.
- Out of the league, out of the league and out of the league.
MacTavish made immediate moves – most notably signing Andrew Ference away from Boston – and made some low-risk bets on guys like Anton Belov and Philip Larsen:
It still wasn’t a particularly good group, and the No. 5 – 7 slots have all been purged this offseason.
The Big Move
It’s been a nice summer for the Oilers’ blue line, which still lacks a top-end talent but has benefited from the addition of three free agents:
There’s still a long, long way to go, and most of the heavy lifting will probably need to be done by developing prospects – Marincin, Klefbom and eventually Darnell Nurse.
That’s one of the reasons the addition of Fayne is so interesting. Fayne and Petry play similar roles in a way – they’re both guys who can be trusted with hard assignments – and so the addition of the ex-Devil means that the Oilers now have two options for that work on the right side. If I’m guessing, I’d suggest that means one of those guys will be played in a shutdown role while the other rides shotgun for a younger partner. Marincin flourished with Petry last year, and having either Petry or Fayne as a partner is a pretty nice situation for any of the young defenceman as they make the jump to the NHL.
The blue line overall still doesn't look that good on paper, and we won't know for sure about anything until they hit the ice in 2014-15. But it looks to me like MacTavish has done some solid working in getting things turned in the right direction.
RECENTLY BY JONATHAN WILLIS
- Justin Schultz: No wonder the contract isn't done
- The upside to missing the World championships
- Oilers sign third overall pick Leon Draisaitl to an entry-level deal
- Blue Jackets' centre situation is well worth watching
- Dallas Eakins on how a coaching staff can use analytics
- 2014-15 goals projection series: Hall, Eberle, Nugent-Hopkins, Perron, Pouliot and Purcell, Yakupov, Arcobello and Draisaitl, Forward overview, Defence overview.
- Follow Jonathan Willis on Twitter