Virtually everyone acknowledges that the Oilers need some help on the back end. Fewer are clear on the guys they want to see sent away to make room.
The Oilers have dressed eight defensemen with regularity this year:
- Ladislav Smid
- Nick Schultz
- Jeff Petry
- Ryan Whitney
- Andy Sutton
- Theo Peckham
- Corey Potter
- Cam Barker
At least two of these guys, and probably three, shouldn’t start the 2012-13 season in the NHL lineup. Cam Barker is a restricted free agent; so too is Theo Peckham. Neither has been an especially effective option for the Oilers this season. Corey Potter was strong early in the year, and earned a two-season extension at less than one million per season. He’s struggled mightily since then.
Regardless of what Cam Barker does in his end-of-season cameo with the team, there is absolutely no reason for the Oilers to give him a qualifying offer in the summer. He should be gone; he simply has not been an effective NHL defensemen this season. Even league minimum would be too much for him next year.
Theo Peckham may have upside as a third-pairing ruffian, but he’s played with the Oilers for two full seasons now and there are definite questions about whether he can be more than that. With other options coming up in the system and the fact that Peckham isn’t a vital cog, the Oilers may shop Peckham at this summer’s draft. With a need to create vacancies on their blue-line, that would seem to be the best course of action.
Corey Potter is a long-time AHL’er who earned a shot under his old coach this year on a decidedly weak Oilers blue line. For the first few months of the season it looked like the Oilers had snatched a fully functional NHL defensemen out of the minors. That’s why they opted to give him a two-year contract extension with a $750,000 per season cap hit. Unfortunately he’s been looking mostly like an AHL defenseman since then. At this point, it seems unlikely that Potter would earn a one-way deal if the Oilers had to make a decision on him today.
Regardless, the Oilers did offer Potter a two-year extension, and they did it at a low enough dollar figure that it isn’t likely to come back and hurt them even if his early season performance was a mirage. The Oilers should bring him into camp next season, and give him an honest shot at the seventh defenseman job. If he’s better than other options – other guys on two way deals, prospects, veterans on professional tryouts, or whoever else the team brings in – then great; the team has a cheap seventh defenseman. If he isn’t able to win the job, the Oilers can dispatch him to the minors. Potter may not even get to the minors – many teams experience blue line shortages out of training camp – and if he’s claimed the Oilers won’t have a problem. If he isn’t claimed then the team will pay a bit too much for a good AHL defenseman, which isn’t ideal but is hardly the end of the world either.
The primary point is that the presence of those three should not prohibit the Oilers from aggressively searching for better blue line options in the summer. They can cut bait with this trio easily enough.