The Edmonton Oilers Defensive Depth

What sort of shape is the Oilers’ blue line in? Is it good enough to play if/when NHL hockey returns?

Planning

In 2011-12, the average NHL team used 10 different defencemen over the course of the season. Eight of those players appeared in 25+ games, getting a significant role on the blue line; seven played in at least 40 contests. These numbers are in the ballpark with figures for previous years.

I think the necessary reaction to those numbers for an NHL general manager is obvious. Each year, his team needs seven guys he can count on to play regularly, and eight guys who can play at the NHL level without getting embarrassed. He also needs at least two more guys – good prospects who aren’t quite ready or steady AHL veterans who can take spot duty – to fill in as required.

(Note: Since the totals quoted above are averages, some teams will need more than 10 defencemen, others less. However, each team only has so much room at the AHL level and under the 50-contract maximum, so it doesn’t make sense to plan for the worst-case scenario: for low-level defenders there’s generally a mid-season trade/waiver option if the situation gets really desperate.)

The Oilers

Last season the Oilers used more than the average number of defencemen. Here’s how they break down by games played:

  • 40+ games (7 players): Nick Schultz, Ladislav Smid, Jeff Petry, Corey Potter, Theo Peckham, Andy Sutton, Ryan Whitney
  • 25+ games (1 player): Cam Barker
  • 1+ games (3 players): Colten Teubert, Taylor Chorney, Alex Plante, Bryan Rodney

The health concerns involving Ryan Whitney meant that this should have been expected; he was hurt early and often and the signs were there in the summer.

It seems fair to say that the Oilers’ 2011-12 blue-line was suboptimal. They gambled on Whitney and reclamation project Cam Barker, and lost both bets. They found a pleasant surprise in Corey Potter, but ended up leaning too much on (ideally) third-pairing types like Potter, Theo Peckham and Andy Sutton (though Sutton was another pleasant surprise, authoring his best campaign in years). Colten Teubert proved to be unready for his 24-game audition. There were also problems at the top of the depth chart, but as those are more difficult to solve it does not make sense to belabor the point.

What does the depth chart look like right now? If we imagined a full NHL season ahead, here’s what the games played might look like if the Oilers used a league-average number of defencemen:

  • 40+ games (7 players): Ladislav Smid, Jeff Petry, Justin Schultz, Nick Schultz, Ryan Whitney, Corey Potter, Theo Peckham
  • 25+ games (1 player): Colten Teubert
  • 1+ games (2 players): Taylor Fedun, Martin Marincin

(Note: I have omitted Andy Sutton, since he is injured and his career may be over.)

I would submit that the above list isn’t good enough, thanks in part to the Sutton injury. Corey Potter is minus-2 on the best team in Austria and even before the lockout should not have been slotted anywhere higher than seventh on the depth chart; Theo Peckham too is problematic if slotted higher than seventh. Colten Teubert is in a tougher spot because he needs to get development time but he really does not seem ready for regular NHL employment; despite positive press about his enforcer abilities he’s really only been a decent defender at the AHL level and I’m betting he’d be exposed in the NHL in the same way he was last year. Fedun would probably be fine in spot duty but Marincin is a ‘best of bad options’ choice – he shouldn’t be a guy expected to play any NHL minutes this early and the alternatives are worse.

The list gets a little better if we project forward to 2013-14 and add in prospect Oscar Klefbom:

  • 40+ games (7 players): Ladislav Smid, Jeff Petry, Justin Schultz, Nick Schultz, Ryan Whitney, Corey Potter, Theo Peckham
  • 25+ games (1 player): Oscar Klefbom
  • 1+ games (2 players): Colten Teubert, Taylor Fedun,

One wrinkle worth considering is Teubert’s waiver exemption: under the current rules he would seem to need to clear waivers in the fall of 2013 and so the Oilers might want to keep him on the NHL roster. That would mean keeping eight guys on the NHL roster or shipping out Theo Peckham; I would guess the latter move. It’s a concern because I really don’t see Teubert as ready for NHL work; I’d be tempted to either trade him or risk sneaking him through waivers.

Problems persist, however. Theo Peckham has only played four ECHL games this year and banking on him in a top-seven role could be problematic (particularly given his conditioning history). I have similar concerns with regard to Corey Potter.

I suspect a lot of teams are going to have defensive depth issues if NHL hockey resumes in January – there are lots of players sitting and I don’t know that the Oilers will be able to do much other than moving ahead with what they have (over a shorter season, fewer defenders will be needed so it’s also less of an issue). I do think the Oilers dodged a bit of a bullet – they should have done more this summer and thanks to the lockout they haven’t paid a price for it. I also think that the status quo should not be nearly good enough in the summer: Steve Tambellini needs to clear out some of the deadwood at the bottom of the NHL roster and bring in a couple of guys capable of doing the kind of job Andy Sutton did a year ago.

Recently by Jonathan Willis

  • John Chambers

    An addition at the top end becomes almost a panacea to the entire problem. Someone who can gobble up 23+ minutes a game then takes pressure off the rookie Schultz, and the remaining four serving as the team’s top-6.

    If Sutton was still in the mix, an unexpected (or expected) injury to Whitney wouldn’t pose as great a problem. But as indicated, having Potter, Peckham, and Teubert as your 7-8-9 is problematic, and especially so given that they’re currently 6-7-8 and that’s with Whitney in your top-5. Uh oh!

    So no Mr Brownlee – barring an acquisition of a top end defender, this does not resemble a playoff team.

    • Yeah, a top-end guy is the ideal fix because of the ripple effect. Suddenly the team isn’t counting on Whitney, the top end is solid, and the depth guys can move up if needed.

      What to do with Teubert is an interesting problem. He could help himself and the team a lot with a big second-half to the season.

    • Not sure why you directed a commented in a Willis item my way.

      Would the aquisition of what you call a top-end defender make this a better team? Sure. Who would argue against that, especially with Whitney being a question mark? Not me.

      But is the defensive group that finished last season better with Sutton out and Justin Schultz in? Yes. Is it good enough? I’d say yes because, as I’ve written, with the focus on J Schultz I think Nick Schultz is somewhat overlooked because he’s a new arrival.

      As for your comment, you can finish the sentence “This is not a playoff team if . . .” many ways: “if the goaltending is bad” or “if special teams stink” or “if the forwards don’t score enough goals.”

      There are issues on the playoff contender laundry list infinitely more important than who fills the 6-8th spots on the blue line.

      • John Chambers

        Hey thanks for the response. Willis’ article is my rationale for why this is not a playoff team: not enough reliability on the blue, especially in the event of injury to anyone in the top-4.

        I don’t think the Oil will have problems scoring goals. I don’t think goaltending will be a major achilles heel. I do think Peckham, Potter, and Teubert’s inability to safely clear the puck will cost the team most.

        Happy New Year everyone.

  • John Chambers

    Neither are ready, but if I had to rely on Teubert or Fedun this year in the NHL, I would take Fedun easily. Teubert has shown flashes of quite good play but has been inconsistent. Fedun has made mistakes but has been generally solid for a rookie. I bet he’d be exposed far less at a higher level based on the mistakes I’ve seen from both as well. I’m sure everyone in head office knows they need a top-minutes defenseman though so I’m not that worried. Drafting a centre in the top 10 and acquiring a really good defenseman somehow would put the Oilers in a good spot in the fall, and they have the pieces to do it. My biggest worry about it is what they will give up.

  • Robin Brownlee wrote:

    There are issues on the playoff contender laundry list infinitely more important than who fills the 6-8th spots on the blue line.

    No argument there.

    The issue is that by essentially saying, ‘we’ll stink for years and draft our way to victory’ Tambellini has effectively painted himself into a corner in terms of what he can do for the team. The bulk of the talent is drafted talent, which means that the Oilers’ competitiveness depends to the largest degree on the development curve of the young forwards.

    One of the few big things Tambellini can do is support the young core with capable veterans in key roles and make the organization strong by ensuring reliable depth at all positions. He’s been lacking in that department to date.

  • Of course they are good enough to play in the NHL, most of them have NHL contracts. It is not like they are auditioning for Oilers Idol or contracts before the season gets back under way. 7 players played over 40+ games, so I’d say they are some what NHL worthy.

    You would submit what? That list isn’t good enough to play in the NHL? Good enough for what?

    Nick Schultz is good, solid and dependable enough to play on any NHL team. On the Oilers he can play 4-6 on any given night. Smid and Petry are good enough to start and play. I believe any team in the league would give Smid and Petry a starting job on their team somewhere in the 3-6 slots.

    If Whitney’s ankle holds up, he as well is a NHL defenseman. That is 4 NHL ready D-men. J Schu is a shoe in. That brings the count up to 5.

    All they are missing is 1 guy.

    Anything after the 6 spot is a gamble not matter what team you are. The Oilers are fortunate enough to have a pool of prospects that could maybe hopefully become regulars in the NHL, and are prospected as such.

    Waive Potter and keep Teubert as 7, not vice versa.

  • Oilertown

    The need for veteran type of players to support the youngsters should be non existent if Kefblom pans out.

    I am very concerned about this ” wow trade”…….I do not trust Tamby’s ability to improve this team by trading. His claim to fame is finishing last and picking first which is hardly a strategy.

    Some of the chatter about this wow trade keeps pointing in the direction of the Habs inability to sign PK Subban…….trading Yakapov for PK would make some sense give that Yakapov and Galchenyuk love to play with each other, and the fact that the Oilers need another top four defenseman.

    JW, any real news on Whitney and his progress? The ability to rehab his injury with the lockout should be very good for him. He is still young enough to be a factor for years to come so not re-signing him makes little sense.

  • Oilertown

    I dont know if its just me, but I think this team has other issues than defense personnel. I know this has been the focus for two years now. There seems to be the idea that the team needs to have 4 Stud D-Man in the line up. You take away the one key guy from most teams., ie; Chara,
    Doughty, Keith, etc, and the personnel is fairly average . Devils went deep into playoffs, with
    Volchekov, Zedlicky, Tallinder,Salvador,, not exactly Norrise winners. Even the Kings, Cup, champions, take away Doughty, and there are no all stars on that D lineup.

    I think a lot of it has to do with coaching and team play. Almost every player on the Oilers was a minus last year gave or take a couple guys barely over the borderline. A bigger factor is the goaltending. Kings won the cup on the back of their goalie to a great degree.

    Also I think its time to make it or break it with Whitney, sorry but at $4 mil per, can’t afford him hanging around. Interesting, Potters, had the same numbers, almost same number of games with a $700k salary vs $4,000.
    IF there is a season this year, my first move would be to trade Whitney, to a Cap hungry team. Get a center, and a tough defense man for less money.Without Sutton there is no toughness on the back end, not even Smid.

    I dont think Tuebert and Peckham, are the answer.

  • John Chambers

    JW – good article, but in addition to pointing out the gaps (no offence, but not that hard to do) what say you regarding possible solutions?

    I thought the Oil wiffed last year by not signing Shane O’Brien who was cheap, can actually fill the bottom pair role and is tough. Hannah was another inexpensive veteran who could have helped. Excluding the mythical “wow” deal. Who would be on your shopping list?

  • nuge2drai

    Oiler Domination To Follow

    TheDefence is the Major problem with this team.

    Watching every game over the last 3 years, I had a hard time understanding what was wrong – and why we kept losing. On odd games our Goalies would let in a weak goal, kill our momentum and cost us the game, but it wasnt costing us the majority of games.

    Than I noticed what it was. The defence was incapable of getting the puck out of our zone,to our forwards with any kind of speed. When our defenders got the puck – they would spin around, go behind the net and pass it up to our forwards with no speed.

    Our team desperately needs a Karlsson type puck mover, on the lower end.. Boyle, Edler, Streit, Gonchar, Green, Markhov – type d that will get the puck and get it out.

    I think Nick S will solidify the backend for shutdown type, and im hoping Justin S brings in the solid reliable puckmover our team desperately needs.

    If Whitney stays healthy for 48 games, than we have Whitney, Justin, and Petry as our Puck movers, and Smid, Nick and ______ as our shutdown guys. This should be a good balance, and if Justin struggles – another lottery pick it will be.

    If he plays and is nominated for a Calder, well than we have a legitimate shot at the playoffs.

  • Romulus' Apotheosis

    Wait… you’re saying Kirill Tulupov is not going to be the answer?!!!

    Seriously though… the wasted Summer was a big disappointment, especially when the team dangled a huge nugget in front of Stauffer and then left him alone in the middle of the desert.

    Still holding out for Tyutin as my prime addition that I think has a reasonable chance of squeaking into availability… god knows Ekman-Larsson isn’t going anywhere…

    then again… maybe this stupid lockout will put the final nail in Phoenix and… nah… he’ll wind up in Detroit some how.

    agreed with Chambers btw. the defense is still too weak to reach the playoffs barring chance intervening miraculously, which it probably will but in the other direction…

  • Oilertown

    If Klefbom plays 25 games+ next year then the Oilers are even worse off than I thought. We don’t know if he will ever be an NHLer yet. The kid needs at least a full year in the AHL.

  • DSF

    It’s not uncommon for an NHL team to have 2 of their top 6 defensemen injured at the same time.

    If Smid continues his long history of missing games due to injury, Whitney keeps playing like Long John Silver and any one of the other top 6 is hurt, the Oilers can kiss it goodbye.

    Their D depth is dreadful.

    Hopefully, Tambellini is smart enough to trade Hemsky for another top 4 D and he acquires another top 4 vet through free agency.

  • Oilertown

    We all know your hoping the Oilers trade some of their top drawer offence. If anything just so they are not tearing the Nuckers apart for the next decade and a half.

          • Oilertown

            Actually I will have you know I was 5 years old in 1980 and started watching the Oilers loyally in 1982. So yes I have been watching and following hockey for a very long time. There was no Salary Cap in those days DSF.

            The Oilers will be able to keep Hemsky for the duration of his contract. But I would actually probably like to see them maybe package him up with another player for either a big second line center with Gagner offence 50-60 points or another top 4 D.

            I know Gagner has never put up 50-60 points but he is n the verge of it.

  • The defensive depth is bad, no question, but if anyone expects the Oilers to be a contender or even a playoff team the center position is by far the weakest as it stands against the top teams in the WC or EC top teams.

    I still think that the Oilers will trade for a defensemen, (Not this year, however, Bouwmeester is my best guess) I trust my gut and my gut tells me the Oilers management is ok with another lottery position, the Oilers desperately need another 1-B center and drafting that center makes the most sense.

    Actually with the new salary cap whether it’s 60 or 65 the Oilers will be in tight to that cap in the next year or two.
    This makes it interesting if the Oilers actually buyout Horcoff? And trade Hemsky as well.

    • DSF

      I don’t think they will have much choice but to buy out Horcoff.

      And, I agree, their centre depth throughout the whole organization is dreadful.

      If Horcoff is bought out, and Hopkins get injured, you’re looking at:

      Gagner

      Belanger

      Lander

      VDV.

      That’s below average AHL centre depth.

      Galchenyuk would look pretty good right now, wouldn’t he?

      • As a matter of fact I convinced my best friend and die hard Oilers fan that in hindsight Yakupov maybe the better player however the Oilers would have been in a better position moving forward by drafting Galchenyuk. (I also believe we mentioned not to be surprised if he was one of the top players in point’s at the WJC)

        That said, I honestly think the Oilers will be picking a good center come June.think the Oilers know this, I wouldn’t be surprised if the Oiler do very minimal in terms of addressing any needs this year.

        Come June I think the Oilers will be drafting a very good center.

        Cheers.

        Have a good New Years.

        • Oilertown

          That’s what I said as well above. Barkov would be a gem I think. Who knows maybe Jones goes first and then Drouin and we luck into Makinnon I know he didn’t impress too much at the world’s but I still think he’s a helluva player.

        • DSF

          I was all for drafting Seguin and then all for Galchenyuk.

          The problem with the Oilers is they are burning years off ELC’s and still have massive holes in the lineup.

          While the Oilers may get a good #2C in the draft, they also may not and still need D.

          Happy New Year to you too!

  • Oilertown

    I also know that you were once an Oiler fan though how any Oiler fan could start rooting for the hated Nucks is a mystery.

    But your not a bad guy, really good at getting under people’s skin on here lol. But makes for great debates.

    Happy New Year ol timer. : )

    • DSF

      I root for teams that have smart GM’s.

      After more than 20 years of crap, I decided to take a different approach to fandom.

      I called the Hawks cup win, two years before it happened, the Kings ascendancy and I can tell you now that the Wild are the team to watch.

      And, if John Davidson has his way with the Jackets, and I’m sure he will, they’ll be passing the Oilers in short order.

      They have a very solid, deep defense, some very promising you players and THREE first round draft picks coming right up.

      • Oilertown

        I don’t disagree at all Minn is a team on the rise same as Col. Columbas I think is at least 3 or 4 years away I also believe the Oilers will be right there with them.

      • Oilertown

        Chicago and LA had nothing on this Oiler team two years before they won the cup other than potential. We all agree the potential is here but somehow you spin it back asswards but feel smart about Chicago and LA ? You make little sense other than getting everyone pissed off ? Do me a favor; explain how Vancouver and Minny are in better shape player vs player in the coming years as I just don’t see it as the Oilers have at minimum 4 studs to build the team around. Also, don’t mention injuries as that’s a crutch used too often in your arguments … Thanks man

        • DSF

          It’s all about HOW you build your team.

          From the back end out and up the middle.

          Duncan and Keith, then CENTRES, Toews, Sharp, Bolland.

          Then wingers.

          In LA…Quick, Kopitar, Doughty and a ton of D prospects.

          Vancouver is a mature team built to win now. They were built the right way…goaltending, D and Sedin and Kesler. Gillis will have a challenge keeping them current.

          Minnesota just signed the best D in the game, an elite winger and already have 2 premium goaltenders under contract.

          Their centre depth (9 deep) would make a grown man cry and and they have a ton of young wingers coming up as well.

          The Oilers have below average goaltending, the worst D and C depth in the league and a bunch of scoring wingers.

          You figure it out.

          • Oilertown

            Honestly though DSF does it really matter what order you do it in yes we need 1 or 2 centers yes we need 1 or 2 D and a BACKUP goalie cause I think Duby will be fine. I think Danis will be fine for that for now though. But really does it really matter what order you do it in. It’s not like you can pick and choose through the draft you have to pick BPA. Which the Oil have been doing.

          • DSF

            None of this is true.

            It DOES matter what order you do it in since defensemen normally take years to develop and make an impact.

            The OIlers have gone all in on Dubnyk and, while it may work out, there is no plan B.

            Same on D.

            Same at C.

          • Ok dude – consider:
            1. Chicago won one cup – that’s a waste of a rebuild …. One and done !
            2. Vancouver missed their window and are stuck with unproven playoff vets.
            3. Minny has never won ANYTHING; Parise and Suter are Americans !
            4. LA; everything fell into place and they are the perfect example.

            Edmonton consideration:
            1. TOP 2 WJC team Captains are Oilers.
            2. Eberle is a young beast (we agree) and take him over Parise any day.
            3. Hall is healthy and showing it in OKC.
            4. Schultz appears to be the real deal with 40+ points – Suter comp TBD
            5. Dubbie managed to hold down SC job.
            6. Gagner with (bunch of scoring wingers) should be fine as you say.
            7. Oilers will draft/trade/sign to fill holes as that’s how LA got it done.

            Thanks for the weak note as it shows your just jealous of the Oil ….. Cheers!

          • Good Post. Its funny how Gagner now is a bust and would never be that second line centre the oil needs…..Remember Ryan Kesler? he didnt produce until he was 25 years old…..but hey the Canucks have so many cups and were built right to win the Cup……good one DSF!

          • otter2233

            I’m not sure I completely follow your logic as it pertains to the Wild’s “bright” future to come… By my math they will have around $33.56 million tied up with 7 players(Koivu, Brodziak, Parise, Setoguchi, Gilbert, Suter and Harding) for the 2013-14 season.

            I’m going to assume Heatley’s $7.5 million will be bought out and off the books and Backstrom’s $6 million comes off as well(UFA) With a potential $60-62 million cap next season(13-14), which is aiming a little high I believe, that leaves $26.44-28.44 million for 16 players.

            Due to Harding’s unfortunate health situation, I’m not sure how much faith you can put in him as an NHL starter.(I certainly hope he continues to have a long, great career) So how much will it cost to replace Backstrom? $3 million on the cheap side?

            $23.44-25.44 million for two-thirds of an effective 2nd line, trustworthy 3rd and 4th lines and #3 to #7 D men doesn’t seem like enough to me for a SC contender…

      • I will definitely give you L.A, That’s one of your good picks, I won’t give you Minny or Van, I just don’t see it with Van anymore, and I think Minny over extended themselves to a point they have to lose some key players.

        On the other hand CBJ is on the rise and I even went as far to say I can see them finishing ahead of the Oilers, they got decent players and corrected there center depth issues, a couple key picks and a tweak or two and they could be challenging for a playoff spot provided they get a quality goalie which I’m sure JD will be all over that.

  • My new favorite word in 2013 for when I talk about “massively understating to the point of tears rolling down your face” will be “suboptimal”. The person speaking like that will henceforth be known as “Suboptimus Prime”.

    Yep. Pretty sure about that.

  • Somebody is stuck on repeat. As usual. We get it: the Oilers suck. Thank you for your insight.

    How bout we add some spice and variety to our usual proceedings? I say if there’s a season this year the Oilers finish ahead of the Wild. You want in on that bet? Loser has to say nothing but positive things about the winning team for the entire offseason. I’m game if you are.

    Ps: I also picked Chicago to win the Cup the year they did. Before the season began. I also picked LA to win last year. So my prediction here may seem crazy, but I’ve been right before.

  • Rogue

    Ahh, Drivel Spouting Fool, DSF, is once again here to remind us how futile it is to cheer for the Oil! It is getting real old. Yes the Oil have holes . No they will not be a threat for the Cup for years, and on and on. We all know it and understand. Go back to sucking your thumb.

    • cableguy - 2nd Tier Fan

      yet, here he is, day after day after day, posting on an oilers related site full of oilers fans.

      you need to put his comments into context. for example, we heard (for days on end) Schultz wont sign in Edmonton. he will sign in Toronto or Vancouver. good grief you must be an idiot to think Schultz will sign in Edmonton…

      find something…harp on it…throw out random player comparisons..harp on it… have your BS called…ignore it…have it called again…disappear for a few days until that article goes to the 2nd page…find something new..harp on it…wash rinse repeat.

  • Mumbai Max

    Why is Whitney not playing somewhere? At least this would give us some data points, to understand where he will slot in for whatever hockey is played this year. As it is, we do not know if he is rehabbing (seems unlikely still), afraid to show the world how much he has lost, or afraid to get a boo boo by playing (keeping his powder dry). None of those seem very positive possibilities.

    I think it is impossible to understand what things will look like on the blue before we know the nitty gritty of any new CBA. Cap number, amnesty buy outs, etc. There will probably be some creative packaging of real players combined with big cap hit buy out option players. For instance Gomez might come with Subban. I am sure that someone elses nightmare coming to us in a trade is going to be the amnesty buy out, not Horcoff who is still a servicable player.

    Having a creative GM is the key. Lets hope the 3 musketeers can manage that role between them.

  • nuge2drai

    Oiler Domination To Follow

    We added Justin Schultz in the offseason, a future cornerstone to our Defence. We cant ignore the massive addition he is to our blueline. Imagine the offseason if we had not signed him, now that would be scary.

    We added Nick Shultz who is a steady dependable defenceman, his addition cannot be overlooked.

    So I would say it is safe to say the Defence is trending up. Even the most pessimistic observer would agree to that. Now package Magnus, Omark, Anaheims Second and bring in a #3/#4 type for depth and we arent looking so bad.