ABOUT THEO

Playing defense is a tough damn job, with risk of injury, exposure and public humiliation on every sortie. The development of a successful defenseman should be timed by sundial, and there’s an enormous risk in dealing away a defenseman during his development time. Trade him too soon and he haunts you for a decade.

In the beginning, the Edmonton Oilers liked Theo Peckham very much. They actually traded up for him at the 2006 entry draft, sending the 80th overall pick and the 200th overall pick in the 2006 entry draft to move up 5 slots and take the roughouse defender from Richmond Hill, Ontario at 75th overall in 2006.

Peckham’s development through junior and into pro hockey progressed quickly enough for us to recognize him as a legit NHL prospect. The Oilers loved his size, grit, mean streak and a few months after he turned pro there were good arrows:

  • Springfield coach Jeff Truitt, winter 2008: “Theo’s still a young player, but he shows a well-rounded game. He’s physical, a guy his team can count on. He’s relied upon for penalty-killing and the power play. On the power play, he has a knack for getting a shot through traffic.”

Peckham played a game with the big club in 08-09, 15 the following year and was at the 15 game mark in the 09-10 season when Peckham took a hit from Sharks defender Doug Murray (who took a penalty on the play) in their March 22nd game. We’ve talked many times about defensemen and injury; it impacts their effectiveness and shortens their careers. A player like Peckham–who I’ve never seen back down from a challenge–is doubly vulnerable to injury.

ROOKIE MAKES THE GRADE

In 10-11, the Oilers not only played Peckham at the NHL level, but they played him a lot with Tom Gilbert and against tougher than expected competition. Peckham and Gilbert played 48% of their seasons together in 10-11 and they also had the toughest zone start available. For a rookie to face those minutes–even with a quality veteran like Gilbert–and emerge with a CorsiRel or -6 and a plus minus of -5 is worthy of notice. Even if we add luck into the equation, and he certainly got a push from playing with Gilbert, there were some things to build on.

This past season was not successful. He took a puck to the face in early February and was used sparingly after that; he also suffered another concussion (his 2nd in two years) toward the end of the season. However, injury wasn’t the only problem.

In an article written just before the trade deadline, Jonathan Willis gave a nice summary of the situation at that time:

  • Peckham has some positives.  He’s a ruffian, adding the physical edge so many teams are looking for to any lineup.  He can kill penalties.  However, he’s also a bottom-pairing guy on one of the weakest teams in the league, a player with minimal puck skills at the NHL level and a guy that hasn’t shown the ability to shut down his opposition – despite the fact he usually draws weak opponents and starts more in the offensive zone than most Oilers.  Beyond that, he takes penalties roughly three times as often as he draws them.

That’s about where Peckham was at that time and about where he is today. The Oilers have to make a decision on Peckham this summer; trade him away, qualify him and then sign him and include Peckham as part of the solution moving forward, or walk away from the qualifier.

WHAT TO DO?

I think the best plan is to qualify Peckham, sign him and give him at least another year to cut back on the penalties, improve his positioning and find those calm feet required for the position. He is 24 years old, the Oilers have invested 156 NHL games (and much of that on the Gilbert pairing) to a young man with many of the things this club lacks: a mean streak, toughness, a man in every battle.

WHAT DOES IT ALL MEAN?

Defense is a bloody tough position. If NHL teams had the option (and they did in the original 6) I imagine we’d see a lot of 28-year old rookies who spent close to a decade learning the trade in the AHL. Modern teams don’t have that luxury, and the Oilers can’t afford to be wrong on Peckham.

Flush him? Sure. But you better be right, and we should have no doubts about whether or not he’d get a contract from another NHL team. Theo Peckham had a tough year, battled injury and I think coach Renney likely tired of the penalties and the positioning. NHL history is crowded with men who were in Peckham’s position today and then went on to play a decade of effective defense. It is not a position that lends itself to straight line progress or performance.

Theo Peckham is worthy of another contract, because the story is still unfolding.

  • a lg dubl dubl

    Ann Hathaway….all types of yum, good call LT good call.

    Like dawgtoy said, I see alot of Smith in Peckham when Smith got here, Id give Theo a 2 yr deal just to let him know that theres still faith in his development, but still easy enough to trade just incase he falls on his face, and with a 1 yr deal he might just put to much pressure on himself to perform that it will hinder what he needs to do.

    Peckham should go back to #49, imo 24 was a jinx.

    EDIT: I forgot to say the Oilers should keep him because with Suton off the books after next yr and who knows what the other d prospects will do to push for a roster spot the Oilers need the depth.

  • Lowetide

    What’s the danger, LT? That they get completely shut out the UFA bidding and can’t even replace Peckham? I would put that pretty far down the list of concerns, most Augusts there is some vet D kicking around, looking for a 1 year 1 mil contract. Is that player likely to be significantly worse than Peckham?

    • Lowetide

      That’s the question for me, speeds. Based on last season’s performance, and certainly his body of work overall in the NHL, then flushing Peckham for some guy may not be a big deal.

      However, he’s 156 games into his NHL career–156 games the Oilers have invested in him–and history tells us that defensemen often turn the corner somewhere in this range.

      I think another year to find out is a good bet.

  • Lowetide

    I definitely think the Oilers should go with 8 D this year. More teams should consider going with 8 D, but the Oilers in particular with Whitney’s ankle, Sutton’s history plus suspension risk.

    I’m not as sure that means Peckham stays, it depends on other moves and what they want to do with Potter.

    Petry, Schultz, Sutton, Smid, Whitney, and Potter are already on one-ways. If you draft Murray, there’s 7. Can Peckham be your 8th, if the idea is that they are looking to improve the D externally, is one roster spot enough? And that’s if they carry 8, who knows if they will?

    • Lowetide

      I’d say Peckham and Potter are about even in terms of chances to make the team in 12-13. Sending Potter down isn’t a crazy cost to the owner and if they lose him on waivers that’s the cost of doing business.

      If they draft Murray, then I agree things change. I would still find a way to get him under contract for one more year, though.

  • Lowetide

    We were patient with Smid because he was a first round pick that needed a lot of time to learn the position. You unfortunately cannot wait on later round picks because the odds are they will not elevate their game. Peckham should get a one year deal and if he doesn’t improve his spot should be taken by guys like Klefbom, Musil, etc.

  • Aitch

    If you keep him, where does he play? If you keep him, how comfortable are you with the possibility he files for arb and gets 1.5 mil, just below the walkaway point?

    It’s hard to figure out what to with Peckham in a vacuum, we just don’t know what other moves they might be making on D. Say they draft Murray and sign Schultz or another D. Where do you fit Peckham in?

    Personally, I would consider bringing him back if you could get him to accept a paycut to 700-800K, in the situation where there is roster room for him. Otherwise, I would probably decide to non-qualify him depending how the draft goes and how successful I am in finding a top 4 D by the time I have to send decide on sending out a QO.

    • Lowetide

      I think there’s real danger in doing that, considering the question marks re: health as they head into 12-13.

      Whitney and Fedun are both injury worries and the team may already be looking to walk men like Chorney and Plante.

  • The 'Real' Ron Burgundy

    I like the idea of dressing seven defensemen every game with Peckham getting a fourth line assignment and then extra minutes on the PK. The Oilers could use forwards with his skill set.

  • Aitch

    I’m not convinced that keeping Peckham is the right choice. If the Oilers D are going to get better than the bottom rung guys need to get out of town one way or another. We can’t keep ’em all and expect that natural progression will be the key to blueline improvements.

    • Lowetide

      This is an excellent point, and I’m glad you brought it up. If we assume Edmonton will add at least one defender this summer, Peckham would be in the 6-7 range on the depth chart. We could make the list of men ahead of him (Smid, Petry, Whitney, Schultz, Sutton, new guy) and then a list of men who are about equal (Potter) plus the AHL hopefuls (Teubert, Potter).

      I would suggest (and speeds had the idea before me) that signing Peckham and keeping 8 defensemen is the best plan for the Oilers. The way injuries level the Edmonton blue every fall means the team needs to have a dozen defensemen who can play NHL defense.

  • RPG

    Agreed LT. I think a great example of giving up too early on a Dman would be Jason Smith. We all know how that story ended. Similar skill sets and
    truculence. Thanks TML

  • RPG

    I hope Theo can take that elusive next step this year. The Oilers need defenders like him to play well and play consistently. I for one, am rooting for Theo this year.