As far as I’m concerned, the pivotal question for the Edmonton Oilers down the stretch – and into the summer for that matter – has less to do with whether or not this specific group can squeak into one of the final playoff spots and more to do with what the long-term plan is on the blue line.
The Current Group
- Ladislav Smid – Jeff Petry
- Nick Schultz – Justin Schultz
- Mark Fistric – Ryan Whitney
- Theo Peckham – Corey Potter
The depth chart fluctuates from day to day, but that’s more or less where it stands right now. Whitney can play either side; one suspects that part of the current willingness to play Potter is that he’s the third right-shooting defenceman in the system and the coaches prefer to go left-right/left-right/left-right down all three pairings.
It’s a weak group in the present; there was hope Whitney could return to form but in his current state the bottom four guys are all probably best suited to a six/seven role. As for the top-four, Schultz was impressive early on but has struggled of late, and with those struggles this tweet from yesterday rang true for me.
Petry-Smid: good second pair. Schultz-Schultz: good third pair. Whitney-Potter: broken-NHL-player + AHL veteran. Makes you miss 2006’s D.
— Murat (@WPGMurat) March 18, 2013
Moving to the long-term, beyond the Justin Schultz/Jeff Petry 1-2 punch on the right side, there are lots more questions than answers:
- Can the team afford to sign Ladislav Smid?
- Long-term is Smid a good fit for that second spot on the left side?
- Do Mark Fistric and Theo Peckham have futures with the team in a depth role?
- Does the extra year on Corey Potter’s deal mean he’s in the NHL in 2013-14?
The strength of Edmonton’s prospect pool is on defence. Oscar Klefbom is considered a big part of the future by practically everyone, and the Oilers are bullish on his potential in the NHL. A quartet of prospects – Martin Marincin, Martin Gernat, David Musil and Dillon Simpson – are valued to varying degrees, while Colten Teubert and Taylor Fedun likely have less long-term upside but might end up filling depth roles.
The trouble is that none of them can really be counted on absolutely. Klefbom might be ready to step into the NHL immediately in 2013-14, but he played all of 11 games in Sweden’s top league before injury shortened his season. The Oilers are in better shape if he’s the first call-up option than if he’s on the opening night roster. Gernat, Musil and Simpson haven’t played a professional game; Marincin has one year under his belt but his performance (though promising) was uneven.
Also of interest: as I understand it, Colten Teubert is in his final season of waiver ineligibility. Do the Oilers do what they’ve traditionally done, elevating him to the NHL roster, or do they risk waivers on that player?
The Oilers need help on the blue line, and the free agent pool this year is mostly atrocious. Losing Smid without a certain backup plan is simply too great a risk, plus he really does seem like a solid bet as the number two defenceman on the left side paired with one of the Oilers’ two right-shooting puck-movers. I’m not much worried about the rumours of his departure – he’s a pending unrestricted free agent and this year’s class is weak, so it’s only natural for teams to keep an eye on him as a deadline acquisition or summer signing – and I expect the Oilers get a deal done.
Of the current bottom-four, I’d likely keep one – Peckham or Fistric – for the seventh slot, dealing off the rest and burying Potter in the minors next season if necessary. Potter’s on an NHL contract but the dollars are low enough that sticking him back in the AHL isn’t impossible at some point next season if nobody else is interested. That leaves two roster spots open – one for a higher-level stopgap on a one or two year deal (an older left-side defenceman like Lubomir Visnovsky, Mark Streit, etc. would be a good fit here – the idea is to land someone to do what Ryan Whitney was supposed to do this year) and one for a third-pairing right-side veteran (a player like Ian White in Detroit is a good example) who can bring more to the position than the current collection of depth guys can.
That gives the team the following depth chart entering 2013-14:
- Ladislav Smid – Justin Schultz
- [Visnovsky-type] – Jeff Petry
- Nick Schultz – [White-type]
- [Peckham or Fistric]
It is less than ideal but allows the Oilers a secure third pairing (which they haven’t had in years) with players who can pinch in as injury requires, and a top-four that might be able to handle things by committee in the short-term. Ideally, the Oilers could simply trade for a stud left-side defenceman and bump Smid down, but that type of player is a) costly and b) in short supply.
In the minors go Oscar Klefbom (at least to start), Colten Teubert (if he clears waivers), Corey Potter (if he can’t be traded), Martin Marincin, Taylor Fedun, David Musil and possibly Martin Gernat (though Europe is apparently a possibility there) as well as Brandon Davidson. That leaves a lot of potential call-up options for the Oilers if everybody makes it down, but even assuming the loss of both Potter and Teubert leaves three reasonable call-up options for the team – and a player in Klefbom who might force his way on to the roster.
There are lots of possibilities, though – my general outline above is just one. Maybe there’s a line on a quality player via trade. Maybe they don’t feel comfortable with Smid on a long-term deal. Maybe they see Klefbom as an immediate NHL’er, or think enough of Teubert to use him as a #7/#8 defender in the majors next year – there’s a long list of possible combinations, and the Oilers’ historic willingness to advance rookies quickly and unwillingness to risk even marginal assets on the waiver wire (something mercifully reversed with Eager and Hordichuk) mean htat it’s impossible for an outsider to predict exactly what they’re going to do.
That’s why they bear watching. The Oilers intentions on the blue line in the long-term will be revealed in the lead-up to the trade deadline and over the summer. It’s a portion of the roster that needs to be handled carefully to maximize both the short- and long-term fortunes of the team.
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