One of the problems facing the Oilers blue is that many of their players have duplicate skills and all 7 Dmen lack a complete skill set. Some can pass the puck well, some have finesse defensive skills, some shoot the puck well and still others can play a physical game. However, along with the skills come some very real and obvious flaws.

I think the plan for Tom Renney this season was to run a mobile top 4 (with some toughness) and then play a rugged third pairing (made up of Jim Vandermeer, Jason Strudwick and Theo Peckham). The problem (and it isn’t so severe they need to fix it right away) is that the 5-7D are so similar the coach has an extreme lack of options when shuffling the deck. The team is 22-23 at even-strength this year (a very respectable number) but I think the club needs more puck moving options.

  • Ryan Whitney: The most complete skill set on the roster. A smooth skater, he’s an exceptional passer and can quarterback the PP. He doesn’t use his considerable size enough in the defensive zone but plays a smart game and is good on coverage. Desjardins shows he is playing tough minutes with subpar help and for that reason his relCorsi (-6.3) should be considered very respectable under the circumstances.
  • Tom Gilbert: Very mobile defender, intelligent and makes things look easy. Expert passer, he’s good on coverage but lacks a physical edge. An effective finesse defenseman, Renney is using him upside down so far (easy minutes, good linemates) and his relCorsi (+4) reflects it. That could mean the coach isn’t confident in the players’ ability, or that Gilbert is in the doghouse. I’d suggest it might just be a case of the coach rolling three pairings at evens at not line matching a lot. I think that’s a mistake, and the Oilers could improve quickly if Gilbert faced tougher competition.
  • Ladislav Smid: Big defender is very mobile and is (or should be) cast as a strong top 4 option. He lacks offensive acumen and despite being a smooth skater and puck carrier his passing skills are not a strength. Renney is playing him against the softest available competition and with the lower end of the roster as help. In that role, Smid’s +5 relCorsi is a solid number.
  • Kurtis Foster: Big man with a big shot, we’re just getting used to his style of play. He looks a little clumsy out there and despite lots of physical skills that lend themselves to the defensive side of the game he hasn’t flourished in that department. He’s very raw defensively for someone who is 28 years old. Renney is using him on the second pairing in terms of difficlty and with top flight help. It should be a very good slot in the batting order for him but his Corsi (-1.2) suggests that opportunity isn’t being taken advantage of at even strength. I think there’s a chance he just won’t get any better than he is right now. If that’s the case, the Oilers have 4 candidates every night for the 3rd pairing. This is the area where the club sorely needs a more complete skill set. The fact that he’s scored 4 points in the last 4 Oiler game rarely gets mentioned because of his defensive issues. He needs to be better.
  • Theo Peckham: Tough hombre. Excellent open ice hitter and brings intimidation to every shift. Peckham lacks NHL level footspeed and is sometimes slow to react (rookie defensemen have a very difficult adjustment). Peckham is playing third pairing opposition with dregs as linemates and his -0.7 Corsi is about where it should be for this team.
  • Jim Vandermeer: Tough defender lacks mobility. He has played a more high profile role than expected because of the struggles Foster has endured early in the season. Renney is playing Vandermeer against average competition and with average linemates. Because he’s slow, Vandermeer (and Strudwick) can look completely exposed when beaten. The actual impact of those failed sorties should be more harsh, but his Corsi is the best among regulars (+5.3). I’d suggest he’s playing in extreme good luck at this point in time.
  • Jason Strudwick: I mentioned during the summer that (imo) retirement was an option for Strudwick. His skills had been duplicated on the roster by Vandermeer and with Peckham coming there was going to be a logjam. In his 6 games, Strudwick has faced the toughest possible opposition according to Gabe Desjardins behind the net site. He’s playing with good linemates, but his Corsi is what you’d expect (-11.1) for a player who can’t deliver a quality performance against the leagues best opposition. He (like Vandermeer) has been playing in some good luck.

When Kurtis Foster struggled, Renney didn’t have a lot of variety in terms of replacement. Why? Peckham, Vandermeer and Strudwick have extremely similar skill sets. Does it matter which one of the three you pair with Smid? None of them can pass the puck well enough to be considered a strong option for a 2nd pairing with Smid.

The Oilers have JF Jacques on a rehab assignment currently and he’ll return to the Oilers after a short time in Oklahoma City. I’m hoping that the coaching staff and management of the Oilers are at least considering calling up another defensive option. The club has been healthy for most of the first 11 games of the schedule, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see one of the tough D sent to IR in order to get more options into the starting 6D.

  • OB1 Team Yakopov - F.S.T.N.F

    Who would we call up LT? Belle or Petry, I think I would let Petry stay for the year but the numbers he is putting up down there say he should be the first call for a cup of coffee (like they promised in TC exit meetings)

  • Lowetide

    CurtisS: Belle would be my first option, and although Chorney is having a nice start I’d prefer keeping him on the farm too. There’s no way I’d recall Petry before G50 in the AHL. Too big a leap.

    • Horcsky

      After you pointed the finger at Brule for his turnovers, he was a game-changer last night. That hit, fight, and drawn penalty should keep him in the lineup for awhile.

      Who is a better puck mover, angry puppy, or Orson Wells? They both look like they can play with a physical edge.

  • OB1 Team Yakopov - F.S.T.N.F

    Good point LT, we severly lack well-rounded, multi dimensional players. I look at the 23 man roster and see two roster spots eaten by tough guys who are unwilling to initiate anything, and rarely answer the bell when our skill guys are getting smashed left, right and center.

    We have two defensive roster spots for aging character guys who are single handedly costing us games. We don’t expect them to put up 40 points, but they are supposed to be stabalizers defensively.

    I look at the UFA list, and think we probably could have signed Zenon Konopka and John Scott to get everything we’re getting out of those 4. Konopka wins face-offs, skates, hits, fights and chirps. Scott can play wing or D, and even if he’s no better than Mack or Strudwick, he atleast opens up a roster spot by being able to take both their roles.

    There’s very little internal competition right now because roster spots are being burnt up by one trick ponies.

  • Who dat

    Why have we not recalled Belle?

    I truly think that Strudwick has been a massive hole on defence. Meanwhile, Belle is ripping it up on the OKC. He’s also played 11 NHL games before, so while that is still very little, he’s not entirely green. Give the guy a chance. When clearly, Renney’s juggling of the defence has failed to produce a solid result. I know Strudwick is a veteran presence, but it would serve Belle some good to get a taste of the NHL.

    At the very least, it will show the guys down in OKC that there is a chance at a call up if they play well, and shows the guys here if you suck the bed, you’ll get sent down.

    We’re in a rebuilding season right?

  • Horcsky

    Ryan Whitney: The most complete skill set on the roster..??..Then we are in BIG trouble. Also you say “he’s an exceptional passer”. Fast exciting hochey begins with “headmaning the puck”. So far most of what I see when he passes the puck, the player has to slow down or completly stop. That defeats the purpose of beating the opposition on the fly. There is a major reason why Pittsburg let him go. And Anaheim.

    Gilbert has great skating ability, and carries the puck well, and passes very good. But if ONE player on the opposition says “BOO”to him…he goes into hiding. He should wear a turtleneck.

    The 1st, 2nd and 3rd lines should see the work ethic of the fourth line, and give it a try. Winning puck battles along the boards wins hockey games.

  • Crackenbury

    The single OKC game I watched didn’t leave me thinking that there was an immediate upgrade on D available. Belle was actually somewhat of a disappointment for me. I had expected him to look very good against AHL players but was surprised to see him slow to react when under pressure and not at all look like a dominating presence. It was just one game so hopefully there is more to him than what he showed.

    I believe a trade is the best option for a legitimate 1st pairing d-man that can step in and play right now. We’re one injury to Whitney or Gilbert away from being an AHL quality defence. We have some good prospects in the system but they are 1-2 years from being able to step in and help.

    Trading a top nine forward or two and/or prospects also allows us to get some grit in the top 3 lines. Our skill guys need a player willing to drive to the net and cause some havoc like a Holmstrom or Abdelkader.

  • I don’t agree with tanking, although I understand the logic behind it. And man, we executed a Harvard Business School case study last year. IMO, our D corps as it stands right now is built to tank. What I don’t get is that we have the cap room to go out there and fix the problem. If we did, there’d be a very real possibility of making the playoffs (note that I said “possibility”).

    It seems to me that if you’re grooming a bunch of rookies who you’ve ever so carefully selected to be the core of your “winning” team going forward, the best way to do that would be to build a winning attitude into them from the start.

    I mean, how many high drafts do you need before starting to build your team? It just seems to me we’re in perpetual build mode. Why not commit to the group we have, jettison the crap and start building a contender right now? Just exactly where is the line in the sand past which we actually start to think about winning again?

    • C-DOG

      Pittsburgh was horrible for one year with Crosby, and Washington was a lottery team for 2 years with AO,A SEMIN. Check out Chicago’s win %’s without Toews and with him. The 18 games he missed in his rookie year was the biggest reason they missed the playoffs.

      This team is in constant rebuild mode because of their weakness at the important positions.

      For some foreshadowing look at the N.J Devils, $6.6 mil for Kov,6 mil for Elias, soon to be 6.6+ for Parise. Last year was their peak and it’s all downhill from here, unless they change course.

    • C-DOG

      If you think Mngt. is tanking on purpose, than explain going after Malhotra, or are they just that incompetent?

      Or maybee after seeing that no vetrens wanted to a part of a rebuild they changed course half way through July 1st. It is a little puzzling.

  • It’s a tough call comparing Strudwick and Vandermeer. Who’s worse? It usually depends on the night. I think Vandermeer can pass the puck better than strudwick, but that’s not much of a compliment.

    I agree that the Oilers should do something with Strudwick and bring up Belle. I was hoping Belle would come up when they waived JDD.

    • OB1 Team Yakopov - F.S.T.N.F

      Good point.

      If going after Malhotra indicates that they know they have a hole and want to fix it… would they not then continue down the line with option 2/3/4 etc… if they really wanted to win.

      • Lowetide

        I think that’s exactly what they did. Somewhere on the list (after Malhotra and before “Nobody Loves you When You’re Down and Out”) was the name Colin Fraser.

        We’re 10 games in and Fraser looks like a terrible option, but he was the 4line center on a deep team.

        The post and comments give an idea about the thinking at the time (which was that he was the de facto 3line C solution):


        • OB1 Team Yakopov - F.S.T.N.F

          But the Oilers traded for Fraser *before* July 1, UFA day.

          I’m assuming they talked to Malhotra after signing Fraser.

          ie they didn’t trade for Fraser because they couldn’t get anyone else.

    • Lowetide

      I think it’s terrific he’s made it to 1,000 and still believe he’ll play on a Stanley team before retiring. I guess I think this is more three quarter pole so there’s no need to honor him yet. 🙂

  • C-DOG

    Well LT, I think you are bang on about quite a bit but your thoughts on Gilbert leave me scratching my head and have me thinking I must be seeing someone else in #77’s jersey most nights.

    “Helluva player”, “wonderful player” are a couple of descriptors I think you used in past months, I just don’t see it but hope to.

    • C-DOG

      I’d think those comments work quite nicely for Gilbert anywhere on the ice except the Oilers defensive zone.

      Renney’s playing him soft minutes for a reason: He’s below average in man-to-man coverage, turns the puck over even at the slightest pressure, maked poor first passes and isn’t physical in tough crease-battles.

      If we had that solid stay-at-home veteran guy to partner with Gilbert and cover for his mistakes, he’d be a passable defender. With the guys he’s playing with (other than Whitney, which is an awful pairing all around) he looks even more awful.

      I wonder… if Gilbert were converted into a forward, would he crack the top 6?

  • C-DOG

    The Oilers seem more interested in having nine 20 goal scorers than worrying about trading some of the supposed depth for a dman.

    Granted, even when dangling a 13 or a 67 the most you’re gonna get is just someone to join a collective that can all pitch in.

    When 6 is your best dman then you’re really not gonna win a whole helluva lot anyway.

    Breaking in three kids in the top nine at once, not bothering to worry about who’s gonna kill a penalty and still believe Burke’s bill of goods on 5 seems to be the right way to get another lottery pick.

    One of these decades we’ll see a playoff game again.

  • Lowetide

    I thought Petiot looked composed and his size was well suited to the NHl game when I saw him in pre season. I think Belle is Peckham 2.0 as he can bring a good element but he overthinks and I didn’t think his decision making was as good as Petiot’s.

  • PerryK

    Replying to: russ99

    “…If we had that solid stay-at-home veteran guy to partner with Gilbert and cover for his mistakes, he’d be a passable defender. With the guys he’s playing with (other than Whitney, which is an awful pairing all around) he looks even more awful….”

    Well, a first pairing d-man would be good. Wonder where we can find such a creature? Hershey, you say?

    Never mind!

  • positivebrontefan

    I would say that given that we have a lot of extra cap space the farthest thing from Oiler’s management mind is winning at this point. Renney said himself that his job this year is to develop first and win second. That is why we are seeing ice time split so evenly across the first three lines. It gives every one a chance to learn and that includes the PP and the PK. It gives Renney a chance to evaluate what he has over the entire year and see if he can develop a Hemsky into an effective PK guy, or a Foster into an effective PP point man. If they make a mistake they just hit reset and try again next game. They’ll make mistakes, but hopefully learn, and in the end if they end up 30th then they get a nice shiny high pick and they’ll know where the rest of the roster really stands and then they can go out and spend the rest of the cap space away on pieces to fill the holes that they will by this time clearly recognize.

    Just my two cents.

  • PerryK

    Honestly, Omark could have 20 points by now and he still wouldn’t be considered, he’s getting schremped, and I think it’s bs because the guy plays a very opposite style then schremp does, he just happens to have just as much skill but plays it with the edge a top energy line player would, why he is not in the NHL yet is beyond me, I really have a feeling that Renney and all other Oilers staff is being an Ass about the situation.

    • Who dat

      But the problem isn’t necessarily that Omark needs to be called up, it’s who do we send down from our top 3 lines? He’s not a 4th line player, and our 4th line in recent games has been coming together very nicely. Which winger out of the top 3 lines can you send down?

  • Who dat

    Omark will be here before too long.

    Nobody has their top 6/9 go all season without injuries. Maybe we’re due for some injury good luck after last years craziness.

    Until then, let Linus kick butt in OKC.