From the sound of things, Edmonton Oilers general manager Craig MacTavish is quite the juggler – negotiating with Sam Gagner, trying to land players at all three positions, trying to move on Shawn Horcoff and Ales Hemsky, and bringing a sense of energy to the draft that picking first overall simply could not.
It also seems he isn’t worried about swinging for the fences, either – and that’s a very good thing.
It seems like half the players in the league are involved in trade discussions in one way or other this weekend, and the Oilers have been mentioned in the race for a lot of the smaller pieces – players like Cal Clutterbuck and Braydon Coburn, guys who will shore up depth or maybe do a little more. It’s good to be talking about those players, but the real priority – especially on defence – needs to be a game-changer.
That’s why Kris Letang is such an interesting name to see popping up in trade rumours. Letang is a legitimate number one defenceman, somebody who pushes everybody else on the depth chart down one slot. Imagine the following two depth charts, one adding Letang and one adding Coburn (before pieces go the other way) and look at the difference:
At first glance, there’s not a huge difference and both proposed pairings are significantly better than what existed previously. But the most important matchup in the game is the top one, and one of these scenarios is significantly better than the other in that regard. Ladislav Smid isn’t a perfect player, but he’s a much better fit for top pairing work if a legitimate number one like Kris Letang is on the other side; Jeff Petry’s a good defenceman but at this stage in his career he’s not a number one even if he’s the closest the Oilers have to it.
To some degree, MacTavish is going to have to settle for what he can get. Top defencemen are rare and valuable commodities, and entering this off-season it looked for all the world like the best the Oilers were going to be able to do was add complementary top-four guys and hope a by-committee approach would get the job done. It was and is a poor solution, albeit better than maintaining the status quo. If there’s a chance to really move the dial forward on the blue line, though, it’s a chance MacTavish needs to take.
Players like Braydon Coburn are good targets, in the absence of something better. Kris Letang is something better.
Interestingly, it’s a tack that the Oilers seem interested in taking between the pipes. Devan Dubnyk has played like a perfectly capable middle-tier NHL starter the last three seasons; he may not represent dynamic strength in net but Stanley Cups have been won with inferior goaltenders, and not infrequently. The rumour that the Oilers are pursuing Vancouver Canucks goalie Cory Schneider indicates the team is really interested in having a top-10 NHL starter (Schneider doesn’t have the games played to qualify, but he’s certainly on track by save percentage). Over the last three seasons, Dubnyk has been a 0.917 save percentage goalie to Schneider’s 0.931. Even assuming Schneider is really a 0.925 true-talent goalie (a cautious approach), for a goalie playing 60 games (roughly 1,600 shots), that’s a difference of 13 goals per year – one every five games. It’s a big difference, and it’s likely why the Oilers are talking to other teams about a position of relative strength.
Recently around the Nation Network
Who will the Oilers take with their second round picks at this year’s draft (assuming they make the picks at all)? Derek Zona, using the consensus NHL rankings, has offered up some names at NHL Numbers.
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