The lockout is bad news for all sorts of reasons, but I can’t help but see it as especially bad for the depth defenders on the Edmonton Oilers. For Theo Peckham, Andy Sutton and Corey Potter, a missed season could be a career killer – or at least, an Oilers’ career killer.
It’s a thought that comes rather naturally when looking at the Oilers’ current depth chart on defence. There are a few players on both sides who should have no trouble getting a job with the team when labour peace reigns once again: Ladislav Smid and Nick Schultz on the left side; Jeff Petry, Ryan Whitney and Justin Schultz on the right hand side. Those five guys are pretty much bullet proof, even if the 2012-13 season is wiped out.
The guys below them on the depth chart aren’t as fortunate.
A big part of the problem is pressure.
On the left-hand side of the defence, Oscar Klefbom is almost certainly going to be an Oiler in 2013-14. If he were playing in North America, and hockey games were being played, he might have made the team this season. Barring injury, he will next year. David Musil will probably not make that team, but the Oilers are clearly bullish on his prospects: they made a point of being able to recall him if there is an NHL season.
Martin Marincin and Brandon Davidson are long shots to be with the team out of camp in 2013, but both have a full AHL season to establish themselves, and left defence is the one area where Oklahoma City can offer lots of opportunity.
On the right-hand side, Colten Teubert played 24 games last season and will have another year of seasoning. Taylor Fedun almost made the team at the 2011 training camp, and while his injury has thrown his career prospects into jeopardy the early reports are very promising and he could surprise.
A conservative estimate suggests that at least one defender (Klefbom) will make the jump, with a significant possibility that another (one of Musil, Marincin, Teubert or Fedun) could as well.
As it stands, the elevation of Klefbom or Klefbom+ means that somebody will be out of a job. Andy Sutton is an unrestricted free agent and would be easy to let go, but when last we saw NHL hockey he was a more effective defender than either Potter or Peckham. Peckham will be a restricted free agent and should have some cachet around the league, while Potter would still have a year under contract and is a nice fit as eighth defenceman.
My guess would be that the Oilers would let Sutton go, given his age and contract status, to make room for Klefbom. They might opt to hang on to Sutton and trade Peckham, though, assuming they could get a middling draft pick for the tough defenceman. There’s also the possibility that Potter could be demoted if there were no trade option to the Oilers’ liking.
If a second player made the jump, two of the three choices above would need to be made.
Ladislav Smid and Ryan Whitney will both be unrestricted free agents in the summer of 2013, so a lost season would force the Oilers to get them under contract quickly or lose them for nothing. If one or both were to leave, the Oilers would need to add some high end talent or cross their fingers and hope for Justin Schultz and Oscar Klefbom to excel.
The departure of Smid seems exceedingly unlikely. The Oilers must know what they have in that player, and signing him to a longish-term deal should be an organizational priority.
Whitney’s status is a little more problematic. His health was an issue in 2011-12, and the UFA crop of defencemen in 2013 is exceptionally weak – as bad as this past summer, if not worse. How much money would he be worth to the Oilers versus to other teams? Still, it seems probable that the team would keep both.
That brings us back to Peckham, Sutton and Potter. In the event of a full season lockout, at least one of those guys has probably played his last game as an Oiler.
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