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.


  • John Chambers

    Two lumps: one veterano and one prospecto. Either a UFA signing or a trade for a top-pair guy, and either J Schultz or a kind of Paajarvi for Gormley type deal.

    It’s not a perfect strategy but two things are certain: we’re nuts to trade Yak if the key piece of the return is meh like Jake Gardiner, and if we go into this season with Andy Sutton as anything more than our 7th man the conversation about playoffs will sound as absurd as it did to Jim Mora.

    • DSF

      I don’t think “Jake Gardiner” means what you think it does.

      Kid has top pairing puck mover written all over him.

      Of course you think the Oilers are about to post a 101 point season since they are on the Kings “arc”.

      Another second pairing D, which is what Smid and Petry are at best on a competitive team, means squat.

      • John Chambers

        Why don’t you channel your inner Dale Tallon and tell me what plain you’d pursue as GM to fix the Oilers blue 1) this summer, and 2) over the period necessary to turn this into a competitive team.

        We all get to hear you wax aggressive on everyone else’ comment, but apart from your selective use of facts and numbers we dont get to hear old DSF’s bold proposal to fix the Oilers most pressing problem. C’mon man, put yourself out there.

        So I’m asking for it: DSF, you’ve just been hired as Tambellini’s intern and fluffer for the summer. If the moves you suggest are magically implemented and the Oilers attain Chambers’ stretch goal of 101 points next season, you get to not only become the next Oilers GM, you get a live striptease from Dale Tallon himself … Your most inner erotic fantasy.

        So tell us! We wait with baited breath! One lump or two?

        • DSF

          Well, you can’t do this in a vacuum so I will tell you what I would have done.

          Eberle was a very nice pick at 22 but take a look at the players drafted behind him. Do you build a team with wingers?

          I would have drafted Dimitri Kulikov NOT Paarjarvi.

          One problem solved with a potentially elite first pairing puck moving defenseman.

          I would have drafted Seguin not Hall. Good teams build from the goal out and down the middle. Hall and Seguin are close enough that I would have taken the centre.

          I would have drafted Hopkins to further that philosophy.

          Because the Oilers decided to load up on wingers (the easiest players to find in the draft and on the trade and free agent markets), they are left with an AHL quality defense and the worst centre depth in the league.

          Going forward, the Oilers really have only one choice.

          They are going to have to trade one or two of the wonder kids to address their weakness at centre. on defense and in goal.

          Having a brace of high scoring wingers will entertain the fanboys but you don’t win much that way.

          The way I see it, in a year, the Oilers will have to trade Taylor Hall for a defenseman.

          If they don’t, not much else matters since they will continue to give up far more that they score.

          Could have been avoided if the brass had a clue to begin with.

          How many lumps is that?

          • RPG

            So the answer to the question is to trade Hall for an unknown Dman and buy a DeLorian in order to travel back in time and use hindsight to fix everything else. Thanks!

          • DSF

            No problem.

            In his first 5 years in the league, Simon Gagne scored 95 goals and 245 points.

            Sam Wellwood has scored 77 goals and 220 points.

            One of these is not like the other.

            Especially since in year 6, Gagne scored 47 goals and 79 points.

            If you think Sammy Snowpants has a 47 goal season in him, I’ll do naked cartwheels down Jasper Avenue.

          • John Chambers

            Well that’s half an answer, but overall you failed the experiment.

            I don’t know if it’s a reading comprehension problem or if you normally get fired your first day on every job (this last point merits legitimate debate) but I thought I asked you to provide an articulated solution to the current state of the Oilers. You instead dropped a load of sh!t on the Oilers recent drafting record, then said a trade for Taylor Hall was all but inevitable.

            FAIL

            I’m such a nice guy so we’ll let you take another crack at it. The year is 2012, the month June. You’ve managed to disguise your dandruff problem and button your shirt and make it into the office on Kingsway. Steve Tambellini’s is your boss. He’s been told you’re a smart ass whiz kid, and given his newfound subscription to the Tallon philosophy of team architectures, is giving you an assignment to provide a legitimate multi-point plan at the draft, free agency, regarding the coach, and as Mr Mitchell has introduced, a plan to fix the bloody D.

            The point of the excercise is not to prove how loud you can shout or how much of an ass you can sound like, but to provide a bona fide solution.

            Prove you are capable of this.

          • DSF

            Sorry John.

            I don’t think I’ve agreed to be your lab rat.

            I would never put my life in the hands of a doofus.

            Let’s start from the beginning.

            If Tambellini was my boss, I would quit my job.

            Next.

          • DSF

            Apparently you do since you keep responding.

            If Tambellini was held accountable for his numerous gaffes and fired, I would trade Hemsky, Gagner +++ for the best defenseman I could find.

            I would get rid of Eager, Hordichuk, Belanger Jones, Barker, Sutton and replace them at the earliest opportunity with players in the age group that will be contributors when the Oiler will be competitive.

            I would also sign the best UFA goaltender on the market and send Khabibulin to the minors.

            At the upcoming draft, I would take Yakupov unless I could convince Burke to include Gardiner in a trade.

            Failing that, I would shop Taylor Hall at the deadline depending on how his season unfolds.

            I would be looking for a big #1C or a top pairing defenseman in return.

            Ask your self, “what would Lombardi do”?

            It certainly wouldn’t be adding another second pairing defenseman and another winger.

            That’s just stupid.

          • John Chambers

            So that’s it? Trade Taylor Hall? The team’s brightest star? The guy whose will it is to win every battle, every shift, every game? And you want to build a statue in the like ness of Dustin Brown.

            Trade him for a top-line C or top-pair D man? Like who? Mikko Koivu or PK Subban? This is supposed to be the panacea that ends the re-build?

            Basically what you’re saying is that Yakupov and Hall play for other team’s, but that’s okay because Jake Gardiner and Keith Yandle are now our top pair?

            You’re fired. Here’s a picture of Brian Burke in the swimming pool and some jergens as your severance.

      • OilLeak

        I’m curious does anybody have the underlying numbers for Petry and Gardiner. Are they comparable? Also Paajarvi was considered a top 5 prospect at the draft and was just picked outside of the top 5, much like Fowler and Gormley did in 2010 and Sean Couturier did in 2011. Not uncommon and hindsight is 20/20. People always talk about who they would have drafted instead after a few years, that’s bull.

        Especially because at the time of 2009 the Oilers had a fairly solid defence (Souray, Visnovsky, Gilbert, Grebeshkov, Staios, Smid, and Strudwick). Four of the Oilers dmen had 30+ points. At that time Edmonton was weak up front in terms of high end prospects. Paajarvi was a logical pick as he was highly touted for his athleticism, speed, and solid well rounded skills. I remember Bob McKenzie even warned that some scouts believed his offensive skills and his shot were not high end so he could end up being just a very effective two way forward with solid puck skills and passing ability. It seems the just 20 year old Paajarvi is developing into almost exactly what scouts believed he would.

  • 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.

  • I’m trying to decide whether the delightful scenario outlined by Lowetide at the bottom of this item is more or less likely than the Oilers a) drafting Murray and leaning on him to steady the top-4 and b) adding a Barker-calibre free agent to shore up the depth.

    I hope the former, fear the latter.

  • Quicksilver ballet

    @lowetide, does a 5 year $20M contract for Petry seem reasonable to you? I don’t know why the Oilers would want to hang an albatross around Petry’s neck like that. Clearly he’s a player. Is he healthy Whitney good? That’s pretty much much the same contract Whitney’s had no?

    It was the same money tossed to Hemsky minus a year, which I’d argue was a good deal for both sides when all was said and done.

    Gilbert got the same money, but never lived up to fans expectations because of the dollars; he was a heck of a player, but not a $4M man IMO.

    I’d think a three year deal at $3/year makes more sense for both the Oilers and Petry.

  • Quicksilver ballet

    @lowetide, does a 5 year $20M contract for Petry seem reasonable to you? I don’t know why the Oilers would want to hang an albatross around Petry’s neck like that. Clearly he’s a player. Is he healthy Whitney good? That’s pretty much much the same contract Whitney’s had no?

    It was the same money tossed to Hemsky minus a year, which I’d argue was a good deal for both sides when all was said and done.

    Gilbert got the same money, but never lived up to fans expectations because of the dollars; he was a heck of a player, but not a $4M man IMO.

    I’d think a three year deal at $3/year makes more sense for both the Oilers and Petry.

  • Lowetide

    John: The Oilers are going to be buying years of free agency. It is very expensive. The Oilers have very little depth, meaning Petry has the upper hand in a big way.

    Same with Smid a year from now.

  • I think that if any of Sutton, Potter, Teubert, or Peckam are in our top 6 we did not do enough and will not contend this year.

    I would be fine with a prospect with NHL experience or someone Like Schultz or Murray being one of the 2, but feel without 2 we will not be playing meaningful games at the end of the year. I am fine with one of them being the 7th and a couple of them being first call-ups from the AHL, but they are not NHL caliber Dmen.

    I want to see how Dubnyk plays with a quality D in front of him. I don’t think he is a superstar but with the numbers he posted last year behind the worst D in the league he may be a lot better then most of us are giving him credit for.

  • LT: Since cap space does not look like an issue next year could they structure it the reverse of what would normally make sense for a young defender?

    I would be fine with 5 yrs at 20 million, especially if they could do 5.5 million cap hit the first year, 4.5 million the second year, 4 million the 3rd and 3 million in the 4th and 5th years. Then when we need the cap space he would be at a steal.

    • Lowetide

      Well the cap hit would be 4M for the duration. However, I think that’s a solid contract, Petry is a little inexperienced (you’d like another year before making the decision) but he looks like a terrific defenseman.

  • LT: if the cap hit remains the same throughout then I would have it go the other way if possible.

    If I were the GM I would already be talking long term as a winner. If you want to be part of the plan long term then we will sign you long term but it has to be at a very reasonable rate or we’re limiting who we can get to play with you and how competitive we can be. Start talking now with the team and in every negotiation as we will be cup contenders if we can keep the talent we are brining together. the only way we can keep everyone is if everyone wants to be here and is willing to take a hometown discount in order to ensure we have a competive team.

    Obviously you have to ensure the players you will do your part and spend do the cap in order to ensure they are competive. My problem with as you say over spending now because they have leverage is that when they no longer have leverage we are locked in to this contract and have set the bar at what that player is worth. Reducing his pay is very hard unless his performance has dropped off and not paying the next guy as well that is as good or better becomes very tricky.

    If we need to overpay in order to get him long term then I would probably sign him as low as possible for a one year term or until his RFA is up. By doing this we are ensuring he is worth the bigger contract and we are setting the pay bar lower for comparables.

    This also works well because in 3 years when our crop of prosepcts are matured we would not be negotiating from a point of weakness.

    What are your thoughts?

  • Clyde Frog

    I’m fine with Petry at 3.5… If we backload it I bet we could lower his contract hit to 3.5 or 3.00, and still give Petry a pretty penny for his NHL work. I would be happier with 5 years at that hit…

  • Lexi

    If we don’t get anyone in Free Agency, I say use Hemsky and whatever else is needed to get a solid vet who is also a declining asset like; Tyutin, Enstrom, Green, Streit, Timmonen, Vlasic, Hjalmarsson, Martin, Michelak, and McBain.

    I’m also hoping we can send Belanger to Montreal for one of Emelin, Diaz or Weber. I’m not sure any of them are any better than Potter, but they could at least be Whitney injury insurance.

    One guy I haven’t heard any speculation on is Sami Pahlsson. If we could get rid of Belanger, would he not make sense as a mentor for PRV and Lander?