If, as expected, the Edmonton Oilers add at least one top-four (ideally left-side defenceman) to round out a group that already includes Jeff Petry, Justin Schultz and Ladislav Smid than there will need to be some decisions made on the third pairing. Who stays? Who goes?
Assuming the top four outlined in the opening paragraph, that likely leaves three roster spots – at most four, but likely three – for other NHL defencemen. The Oilers have a lot of in-house candidates for those positions, even after we remove unrestricted free agent Ryan Whitney from consideration. Here’s the list:
- Nick Schultz – one-way deal, $3.5 million cap hit
- Anton Belov – two-way deal, $1.5 million cap hit
- Mark Fistric – unrestricted free agent; likely signable on a 2-3 year deal somewhere between $1.5 and $2.0 million
- Corey Potter – one-way deal, $775 thousand cap hit
- Oscar Klefbom – two-way deal, $1.24 million cap hit
- Theo Peckham – restricted free agent; would likely accept qualifying offer just over $1.0 million
- Martin Marincin – two-way deal, $870 thousand cap hit
- Taylor Fedun – restricted free agent; would likely accept two-way contract well below $1.0 million
It seems safe to assume that Theo Peckham will not be retained, and that Martin Marincin and Taylor Fedun will start the year in the minors. That isn’t certain, but those all seem likely. That leaves five players for three roster spots, and that assumes the team doesn’t add somebody like Paul Ranger to the mix.
Nick Schultz. Looking at the list above, the one thing that really stands out is Schultz’s contract, which is more than double any of the other players on this list. He’s being paid as a top-four defenceman, and it seems unlikely that the Oilers see him in that role next season. With a weak defensive market, are there teams out there that would see him as a fit in that role on their own blue lines? If the Oilers can add that upgrade to their top-four, I would expect them to move Schultz out for help elsewhere. Veteran defencemen – especially defencemen like Schultz – hold their value well and teams looking for blue line help will not have a lot of options. If he is not dealt, than he’s the number five defenceman by a fair margin.
Anton Belov. Technically on a two-way contract (all entry-level deals have a minor-league component) it seems safe to project Belov on to the NHL roster on opening night. A top defenceman in the KHL, the Oilers almost certainly wouldn’t bring him over just to stick him in the minors. He gets one of the three spots unless he crashes and burns in training camp.
Mark Fistric. He isn’t a fit with Craig MacTavish’s puck-possession mantra, but he played well in a third-pairing role last season and adds things (size, skillset) that aren’t in ready supply on the Oilers’ blue line. Most teams have a guy like this on the third pairing; I wouldn’t be surprised to see him back.
Corey Potter. I have a lot more time for Corey Potter than most people – he doesn’t excel in any one area but he has a range of skill and more puck-moving ability than a lot of depth defencemen. I think he’s on the bubble in Edmonton – he could be dealt, he could be retained and then sent to the minors, or he could be retained and hold any of the three open defensive spots. His low-dollar contract gives the Oilers options; I’d guess he gets penciled in for the number seven role but that a strong performance from a prospect or the addition of a player like Ranger would bump him off the roster.
Oscar Klefbom. The Oilers are obviously excited about Klefbom as a prospect, and he’s a guy that has to be considered a serious candidate to start the 2013-14 season on the Oilers’ roster. Should he? Probably not; he’s never played North American hockey and he lost most of last season to injury and got buried on his Swedish team’s depth chart for much of the year before that. He turns 20 next month; he seems a great candidate to start the year as Oklahoma’s number one defenceman and the Oilers’ first call-up option. With that said: everything the Oilers’ brass have said publicly indicates he’s going to have a shot at an NHL job on opening night.
I think we’re looking at an incomplete picture and that the Oilers will add one more guy to the mix. It might be a very good high minors player like Paul Ranger, it might be a free agent like Ian White, it might be someone brought over in trade after falling out of favour in another city (Jamie McBain got some play at the deadline and has been mentioned at this site previously). In this scenario, Nick Schultz and Corey Potter are both sent away, Oscar Klefbom starts in the minors, and the Oilers start the season with Mark Fistric, Anton Belov, and our unnamed addition rotating through the 5-6-7 slots on the depth chart.
Recently around the Nation Network
Corban Knight, a top prospect who got some love as a potential Oilers trade candidate this week, has been dealt to Calgary instead:
Knight is a good addition to the Flames prospect pool. In the current top-15 rankings, he’d likely slot in the top-5 at the very least.
Click the link above to read the whole piece, or feel free check out some of my other pieces here:
- Free agent centres: Western Conference
- Ladislav Smid: Never safe
- Dallas Eakins and priorities
- Nation Network Mock Draft: Final Rankings
- Anton Lander should start 2013-14 in the minors
- Follow Jonathan Willis on Twitter!