It’s a rough time to be Corey Potter. The Edmonton Oilers have six other defencemen on one-way contracts, and three other guys on two-way deals who will (Justin Schultz), will likely (Anton Belov) and might (Oscar Klefbom) make the team out of training camp.
But there is good news. While the writing may be on the wall in Edmonton, Potter has virtues that should make him of interest to other NHL teams.
As I see it, Potter currently sits ninth on the Oilers’ defensive depth chart, which I have arranged thusly:
- Jeff Petry
- Justin Schultz
- Ladislav Smid
- Andrew Ference
- Nick Schultz
- Denis Grebeshkov
- Anton Belov
- Philip Larsen
- Corey Potter
- Oscar Klefbom
The cut-off line for NHL employment is likely right after Philip Larsen (though it may fall just south of Anton Belov).
Already I can hear the complaint: if Anton Belov is on a two-way contract, why not ship him to the minors? There probably isn’t going to be a big gap in performance so isn’t that the smart asset management move? I doubt it, and here’s why: Belov is on a 27 year-old Russian who stands 6’4”/216 pounds and has puck-moving ability. He’s on a one-year deal and doubtless has plenty of options back home. There could well be an impact player there, and it makes no sense to stick him in the minors and possibly finish him with the team in order not to expose a decent six/seven defenceman like Potter to the waiver wire. It’s penny-wise, pound-foolish.
I have similar thoughts on Larsen, too. Potter is 29 years old, and it’s a good bet he’ll never be more than he is right now – a solid depth defenceman. Larsen is 23 and his performance at other levels indicates there might be an offensive contributor there. Unless Potter is clearly better in camp, does it really make sense to dump the guy who might make a real difference in favour of a reserve player?
Working in Potter’s favour are a few things:
- He’s cheap. Potter has one year left on a deal that pays him $800,000 in real dollars and has a $775,000 cap hit. That’s chump change for an NHL team.
- He can play in all situations. Potter may have a low ceiling, but he’s versatile. He played regular third-pairing minutes at even-strength, logged almost 2:00 per game on the penalty kill and served as a point man on the Oilers’ second power play unit.
- He is a right-handed shot. Right-shooting defencemen are generally rarer than their left-shooting equivalents.
- He doesn’t come with Ryan Whitney. Last season, particularly without Ryan Whitney, Potter actually had pretty decent on-ice scoring chance numbers. This is actually a two-year trend – when playing with Whitney, Potter’s pairing was lit up the last two seasons; when apart from Whitney, the (terrible) Oilers came pretty close to breaking even with Potter on the ice. Separated from Whitney, Potter has looked like a competent depth defender on a bad team.
Add it all together and Potter almost certainly isn’t worth very much – he’s a cheap third-pairing/seventh defender who can hold his own and play anywhere he’s put. A team tight to the salary cap still in need of a player to round out their depth chart could probably use him, and maybe the Oilers could get a late draft pick out of that team for their troubles.
Then again, with most teams seemingly done for the summer, maybe there isn’t a trade market. In that case, the Oilers can stick Potter on waivers – if he clears, the team has a useful depth guy in the minors, and in the (likely) event that he doesn’t he’ll have a chance at a second opinion from another NHL team.