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.

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  • 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.

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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.

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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.


  • Lowetide

    There will be no crack cocaine smoking in this thread. I have a strict anti “crack cocaine” rule in all of my threads.

    I am however, pro “Jimmy Crack Corn” and the kids all seem to like that. Who wants to start?

  • Clyde Frog

    Lol wait.

    You lambast the Oilers for picking wingers, even to the point of trying to say there were better choices at 22 then Jordan Eberle…! As if the 21 teams picking ahead weren’t jonesing for a mulligan after that draft… 70 pt production from a late 1st round pick is a home run for ANY TEAM IN THE LEAGUE..

    Then your top 5 players outside the top 10, is Samuelsson.. A WINGER and also is only comprised of 1 kid.

    So book it LT, DSF has gone on record the best player outside of the top 10 is the winger Samuelsson… Apparently he will be better then the next 4 players combined, lol.

  • Lowetide

    “I think the Oilers need to add a veteran for that top 4 role. Right handed, puck mover”

    If only the organization had such a player at some point in the last few years…

  • The poster formerly known as Koolaid drinker #33

    Tom Gilbert was a defensive liability.

    Jeff Petry made Gilbert expendable and we got an excellent shutdown D-Man in return.

    We came up on top in that deal by a mile.

      • Lowetide

        Do you watch games or just analize stats? I read your stories and you come up with a stat to promote whatever your agenda is that day or which players you like. You can put whatever stat you would like up here but you cant tell anyone with any knowledge of the game that Tom Gilbert was a solid defensive player.

  • yawto

    Oilers flip #1 and jones to leafs for gardiner and #5. Flip omark to the ducks for schultz rights. Sign schultz to play with his pal with top pairing potential. Get one of grigorenko, reinhart, dumba or galchenyuck for the pick.

  • Quicksilver ballet

    Little known fact…

    Ryan Murray can go into the corners with a dozen eggs in his pants and not break any. Another soft player that will fit in well here in Edmonton.

    Who can the Oilers get to protect Ryan Murray?

    • billylikestodrinksoda

      What do you mean he’s soft?

      From all accounts he is one of the most competitive players in the draft and is a future captain.

      Not every player can move the puck exceptionally and be as hard hitting as doughty.

      I have no idea how you can validate the idea that Ryan Murray is soft in the corners when you have never seen him play other than on TV at the WJ’s.