The Defence

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.

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 Prospects

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?

My Answers

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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  • Jason Gregor

    Ladislav Smid – Justin Schultz
    [Visnovsky-type] – Jeff Petry
    Nick Schultz – [White-type]

    JW,

    That is your projected top-six. Who is physical, how plays tough in front of net? You can’t win with just one blueliner like that. No team does.

    Can’t use Detroit as example, because they had the greatest D-man of the past two decades play 25 minutes a night. They also had bangers like Stuart and Kronwall.

    That D would get killed in my opinion.

    Side note, many scouts are extremely high on Klefbom. They feel he’ll step in next year. I’d be cautious of that, but I’m surprised how many scouts, not with Oilers, are that high on him. Maybe he is the surprise guy next season… We’ll see..They need to protect him and J.Schultz IMO…

    • That’s a fair point, Jason. I’d have one of Peckham/Fistric as the seventh defenceman but there is a definite lack of beef on the group as I have it laid out. Petry has at times showed encouraging signs in that department but that isn’t really his game; Schultz is a defensive guy but not a bruiser.

      It sounds like everybody’s high on Klefbom – I’d just be nervous leaning on him to take a spot in the lineup right away. I like it best when teams don’t count on rookies for anything; that way whatever they get is a nice surprise and if they struggle out of the gate the team is built to be ready for it.

    • GVBlackhawk

      I agree that Klefbom would require protection. That is precisely why it is in everyone’s best interest to start him in the AHL. If JSchultz and Klefbom both need to be protected, you are a veteran injury away from disaster. Get a stop gap Dman for at least two years — use Klefbom as a call-up option based on his performance in OKC.

      • Quicksilver ballet

        Needs protection, did the Neidermeyers/Lidstroms of this world need protoecting? Both guys never let these distractions get in their way. Why can’t Justin Schultz be all this as well?

        • GVBlackhawk

          Comparing Justin Schultz to Nick Lidstrom and Scott Niedermeyer is very unfair to young Schultz. Please don’t do that.

          If JSchultz could dominate the opposition soft parade and score points on the PP, he would be much better off. His defensive play will continue to improve as he matures. Then he can more effectively manage opposition toughs.

          Throwing rookies to the wolves is a classic Oilers strategy. It rarely works but they keep doing it. Klefbom will get the same treatment next year. Why do fans such as yourself keep falling for this rouse?

          • Quicksilver ballet

            If that’s your train of thought then perhaps the Scott Stevens/Garth Butcher model would be more easily attainable, lower that bar considerably then, no?

            Am i way off base thinking he’s more sportscar than F150/Dodge Ram? What would your comapables be for this type of player. I don’t believe that Lidstrom/Neidermeyer comparison is as off base as you think it is. Granted he’s no Paul Coffey but i think a turn the other cheek offensive type is nearly bang on.

  • Citizen David

    Next season D

    Smid-Petry
    Smid type-J Schultz
    Klefbom-Fistric

    Not the mightiest defense ever but very serviceable if we can sign Smid and get another Smid in trade.

    • RexLibris

      Not bad, but I’d reverse the 1st and 2nd pairings, depending on the fill-in-the-blank addition to go with Justin Schultz. Also, Klefbom is a shut-down guy who’ll need someone calm and decisive with which to play. Nick Schultz may be a good mentor for a few games.

      Ideally, I’d rather see Klefbom learning from an old Crash Davis-type in the AHL for at least half the year.

      Anyone here think Tambellini could hoodwink Gardiner away from Nonis?

      Me neither.

    • Citizen David

      That would mean attempting to prove that they are in fact better than all Oilers, which, of course, he cannot do. Not with any metric he’s using. cue the asymmetrical excuses.

      Notice how he’s gone silent?

    • The Soup Fascist

      Under the category of: what is the colour of the sky in your world, DSF?

      Granlund a 21 year old forward scoring at a miraculous point-per-game clip over 23 games in the AHL = second coming of Sundin / Forsberg

      Schultz a 22 year old defenceman scoring 48 points in 34 games in the same league = power play specialist who won’t be considered a top 60 dman in the NHL……. ever!

      Is there a doctor in the house? A large man in white with a butterfly net?

      Oh yeah, I almost forgot ……… Good Grief!!!!!!

  • Citizen David

    Hope they sign Smid. Love that guy. need another like him. Excited for Justin Schultz. hes got so much talent and he’s just getting into it. hope he just keeps getting better and better. I think with the addition of a veteran defensive defenceman we’d be looking pretty good on the back end.

  • The poster formerly known as Koolaid drinker #33

    So all the right teams won tonight without a single 3pt game in the West. We’re still 2 points behind 8th. Sweet! Pass the Koolaid from the left hand side..

  • Quicksilver ballet

    I do agree that Justin isn’t a legitimate top pairing blueliner in this league yet, but he is on this team during these dark days.

    Keep Justin Schultz and hope he continues to progress, shipcan the rest outside of what you need to fill out your 4-7 types.

  • Quicksilver ballet

    You guys are all nuts at arguing with DSF. He clearly is right. C’mon, look at all the math and statistics. We all know that they are all that matter. All the GMs for the good teams are math majors and all the GMs for bad teams are probably high school drop outs. You guys are just jealous that DSF knows how to build a winner based on math.

  • Quicksilver ballet

    We have too many contracts (49 I think) this is the point in time we can OVER PAY in the short term to get the right dman.

    What would it take to get a younger dman like, Shattenkirk Alzner, Carlson, Fowler, Johnson. This type of hockey trade is a good option for the Oilers so they don’t miss their window to win in the next 2-6 years.

    Hemsky, Jones, Harti + Whitney for a young future star dman (and maybe a NHL back up goalie) might solve a few issues piling up on this team.