ONE LUMP OR TWO?

We’ve been staring at the Oilers defense for what seems like decades. Six men who do the tough work every game, keeping themselves between the puck and their goalie. It’s a tough job in any sport, but hockey decided to make these poor men do it on skates and at lightning speed. How many "actual NHL players" do the Oilers have on D? How many more do they need in order to be average?

THE FOUNDATION

Edmonton has some nice things on the blue, and some are young enough to grow with the very good forward cluster that includes Hall, Eberle and the Nuge.

  • Jeff Petry (age 24). Led all Oiler defenders in TOI per game in 11-12 (21:45) and one would think Petry could increase his minutes on the PP (1:16) and PK (2:29) next season. Right handed, played very well in all areas last season (and was effective) and should be considered a cornerstone for the blueline moving forward. Petry is RFA and should get a healthy raise, especially if the club plans on buying free agent years. Does $4M times 5 years sound reasonable for one of your 4 major pieces on defense?
  • Ladislav Smid (age 26). Played 20:54 a night this past season, his special teams strength is the PK (3:22) and Smid is now a quality veteran. I don’t think Oiler fans have much worry over this player aside from health. He is a UFA next summer but given the lack of depth at the position–and his relative youth–it’s probably safe to assume there will be a great deal of effort devoted to signing him.
  • Nick Schultz (age 29). Steady, reliable defender. He showed Oiler fans what calm feet can do during his late season showing after coming over from the Wild. 19:42 every night, and as with Smid he does strong PK work (2:25). Every successful team in NHL history has a couple of these guys, and coaching staffs love them for their consistent play. If he’s leading a rush he’s concussed. Schultz is a $3.5M cap hit and is signed through 2014 summer.

RYAN’S HOPE

When healthy, Ryan Whitney is easily the best defenseman on the club. Boasting a complete skill set, Whitney’s signature play is a stunning headman pass tape-to-tape on the fly. It’s gorgeous, beautiful, sublime. Whitney (age 29) has one more year at $4M remaining on his contract and played 20:57 when in the lineup in 11-12. His PK time (53 seconds) and PP time (2:15) were well back of normal for this player.

A key element of this team’s success in 12-13 rides on Ryan Whitney’s return to something resembling 100%. Jonathan Willis wrote a brilliant item on Whitney not long ago (it is here)

  • Willis: Whitney’s improved play late in the season provides reason for optimism that he can bounce back, at least to some extent, next season.  It would be best if the Oilers did not have to rely on him as heavily as they did one year ago, but it seems likely that he’ll be a better player next season than he was this year.

I think it’s reasonable to suggest that the Oilers would be wise to use Whitney in the third pairing to start the season and then move him  up the depth chart as he finds his way. If he can deliver at 80% the Oilers and the fanbase should be thrilled with Whitney. He’s a helluva player.

THE REST

I thought Andy Sutton had a solid year in the 5-6 role and we can look forward to similar performance next season. After that, Theo Pechkam (rfa) will need to take a step forward and Corey Potter will also be in a battle for playing time despite coming off his best pro season. Minor leaguers Colten Teubert, Alex Plante and the recovering Taylor Fedun are also in the mix.

Which brings us to the question: one lump or two? If the Oilers decide to run a third pairing of Whitney-Sutton they’d need an addition for the top 4D to play with Smid, Petry and Schultz. I would like to see them bring in two defensemen this summer, but suspect it’ll be one NHL defenseman for the group. A second NHL calibre defender could arrive if Justin Schultz decides to sign in Edmonton. That should be considered something less than certain. 

THE RIGHT MIX

I make the same mistake every year: in discussing defensemen for next season, we only discuss the top 6 or 7. In fact, the Oilers are going to use a 10 or more defenders next year and that’s proven by history (it was a baker’s dozen a year ago) so we should be well aware of the names in OKC during the regular season.

I think the Oilers need to add a veteran for that top 4 role. Right handed, puck mover, he could play with Schultz until Whitney is playing at a level that allows him to be on the ice and effective for over 20 minutes a night. Justin Schultz is more of a third pairing option, certainly for the first year or two.

That’s the challenge for Lowe, MacTavish and Tambellini. Two lumps, one a veteran and the other Justin Schultz or similar.

WHAT DOES IT ALL MEAN?

I think there are three different discussions that always get caught under one subject line: defense. They are:

  • Acquiring an actual NHL defenseman.
  • Grabbing a quality defender in the draft.
  • Justin Schultz.

They are in fact three different issues, and each player should have far different roles in 12-13. One would play alongside Nick Schultz or Ryan Whitney; one would be mentored by Schultz or Andy Sutton.

And the other would play in junior.

  • OB1 Team Yakopov - F.S.T.N.F

    @ Burke the Turd

    Well said turd, I agree completely. 40 some good games is way to soon to cut a 20 million dollar cheque.

    Lowetide, this contract has been denied!!!

  • BurkeTheTurd

    As I was reading this article, I couldn’t help but notice that we had five of our top 6 coming back from last season. They represent a team with a goals-against average in the bottom third of the NHL. The team five on five goals for/goals-against ratio is also the bottom third of the league. Why are we expecting this top six to be better than they were last season? Is it the fault of the centers on the team for making the top six defensive pairings look so bad this year?

  • Quicksilver ballet

    Wow, i’ve missed out on so much passion in this thread. Well done to everyone involved on page 2 of LT’s contribution.

    DSF and Johnny Chambers bringing it like Tombstone with a dash of Unforgiven….. well done gents.

    So much passion considering there’s 3 months till hockey season starts.

  • Quicksilver ballet

    Ryan Murray: Solid on ice leadership,great skater,great mobility and a good shot from the blueline. Won’t ever strike fear into oncoming forwards (body contact wise) but may eventually be the captain and the backbone of your blueline for the next 15 yrs.

    Nail Yakupov: Potential 50-60 goal scorer, maybe sooner rather than later. Speed to burn and will initiate body contact at times, can play the left as well as the prefered right side. A long prosperous career in an Oiler jersey may be in question. The appeal of a major city in the NHL or the KHL are an ever present concern with Yakupov.

    Help us LT, what should they do?

  • Bucknuck

    I do hope that management realizes that there is ALWAYs an injury on defense, so they better be deeper than they have been since 2006. If no one got hurt this group MIGHT be able to get it done, but that is highly unlikely.

    Another D-man is certainly needed.

    As is another backup for Khabibulin, but we all know Tambellini thinks he’s the MVP so fat chance of that one. What a bloody moron.

  • French Toast Mafia

    Great post LT!

    This team doesnt finish in the top 25 if Peckham and Potter are in the everyday lineup. My hope is Potter is the 2nd or 3rd call-up option next season. I think Fedun will make some noise, and possibly Teubert will have a good season and be a good call-up option next year. Hopefully Petry continues to grow and Whitney, as everyone says needs to be healthy or else this team might struggle again.

    Great point by Cody Anderson, if Dubnyk has a solid defense corps in front of him, he should have a VERY good year. It will be exciting to find out.

    Konopka as the 4th line center and Parros as our nuclear deterrent would be desirable. Love to see that pair with Eager as a line. That’s truculance….

  • Lowetide

    I heard Jason mention something today on his show. Don’t recall lol (I was jumping out to go to a meeting) but last year’s was July 4-9 and they usually do it not long after the draft.

  • DSF

    Wow everyone calls Tambellini a moron. We Oiler fans keep posting up these jewel encrusted comments and Tambellini by comparison will be awarded a Nobel Prize for being the least stupid person in Edmonton.

    Trade Hall???? Everyone who suggested that down a cyanide pill or perhaps some arsenic.

    With how the CBA will play out there will be teams that need to unload talent. Much like how Edmonton acquired Peca and Pronger post lockout. Not saying that the Oilers will acquire the same level of talent. Just that there are solid options out there and the Oilers have the cap space and prospects to swing a deal that doesn’t require moving one of the big three (potentially four).

  • cableguy - 2nd Tier Fan

    @DSF

    Im surprised you of all people would use pre-draft hype snippets in a post.

    Just for giggles, see if you can guess the player who was drafted with pre-draft snippets such as this:

    Our favorite player of the draft who just needs time to pass to show how good he really is. The most talented, complete player of the draft went about his business in the shadow of his flashy linemate, (edit). (He) is captain material and is above average in all facets of the game. There is no better combination of shooting, passing, defensive awareness, hockey sense, and skating in the draft. He is not tall, and consequently may be ranked lower by the scouting community who desire size. It is possible that (He) slips on draft day leaving one GM and team overjoyed with the selection of this Knight.

    Golly, sure sounds like an ok player to me based on a pre-draft write up. (HINT- NOT Kyle Wellwood)

  • Mike Modano's Dog

    Come back soon, Mr. Whitney – Love your game!!! P.S. I don’t care how long it takes you to come back, I’ll be cheering for you the whole time. 😀