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.

Recently around the Nation Network

  • The Oilers Shot Clock

    No FA signings please. A veteran puck mover has the most inflated value when it comes to signing season. Its like people get all nostalgic for an antique, and put themselves in a bad spot to buy it because they really think they could use it and before you know it, you just signed Wideman until 2017 for 5.2 million. I would be upset if we let Smid go, and then we just sign Streit to more than we would have had to pay Smid to begin with.
    Lets make a hockey trade to address this need. Vlasic,and Carlson are signed to long term value contracts. We have the assets to get one of these guys.

  • Smid wants to be here. I think the Oilers may over pay to keep him 3.75 for 5 years is probably fair. But I think the the winners of the northern Alberta Miss management pageant will likely go for the congeniatally portion by offering 16 over 4 years.

  • Just had a thought that could help the Oilers in a few ways (mostly on the back end). Trade Yak and Gagner to Montreal for Subban, Lars Eller and Louis Leblanc.

    Subban would immediately step into that #1 D role and #1 PP spot, Eller would be a great 3/4C once either or both Horc and Belanger are gone and Leblanc (although he’s young and unproven) has some serious size at Center and could potentially be our future #2 C.

    It’s definitely a lopsided trade for Mtl but in order to get a player like Subban that what needs to happen. I highly doubt any of this happens seeing where MTL is in the standings and their wack job GM is gone now but its fun to throw out ideas.

  • Muji

    Jonathan, I also think Smid (1) actually wants to be here (big check mark), (2) hates losing (someone already alluded to Oil Change episode), and (3) plays shutdown D like nobody else on the team.

    If I am evaluating contracts, I would look first at getting rid of Nick’s contract before Smid’s. Not that I would necessarily give up on Nick, but he’s (currently) a more expensive, less skilled version of Smid. It’s funny that lots of posters and bloggers are saying that anything above 3.5 and he’s not worth it, and that’s exactly what Schultz gets paid… Seems like you can forget about Smid accepting anything less than the precedent set on the Oilers’ team, let alone the fact that he’s a UFA. The length is what scares me a little, though, in that the rumors say 5 years. He should be coming into his prime but he’s not a slam dunk.

    I always like reading your posts, because you’re always quite balanced. Not as doom and gloom as Copper and Blue (nor as focused on new statistics), but at the same time, no rose-colored glasses, either. I also like that you give suggestions, actually put yourself out there for criticism, etc. rather than being depressingly pessimistic without a suggestion on how things should improve (again, refer to C+B). My question is this: White-types should be attainable. But who else out there fits the Lubo/Streit role, as Streit will likely be re-signed? Do you think J-Bo is a solution or a problem (in a new contract)? Do they need to trade for this type, and what would you offer?

    • I like Bouwmeester, though I don’t see him as an offensive defenceman. More than that, however, is I’m a little skeptical the Oilers/Flames could work out a deal that would see him land in Edmonton in the summer of 2013.

      Aucoin, Corvo, Gonchar, Hamrlik, Rozsival, Streit, Visnovsky, and Zidlicky are all free agents. Streit/Visnovsky are probably the best of the bunch – it’s kind of an ugly list, but that’s a shallow market for you. If Whitney were playing well he’d be an option, but unfortunately that just doesn’t seem to be in the cards.

      Thanks for the kind words!

  • I keep hearing the market in D is shallow this year. Are there any notable names that stick out? Much like Sutter and RFA Webber, are there any big Whales out there that could be worth trying to land?

    Do we have tradable assets the likely won’t net us a solid number 2, but maybe a Smid type in case he goes, without overpaying wiht the likes of Gagner or Hemsky?

    If we draft a big centre, does that make Gagner expendable as an RFA, and if so is his value high enough to get back a number 2? Does a trade like that make our team better or did we just make a hole at centre?

    In that scenario, I don’t think we do as we trade for a more unproven centre, but with Horcoff and Nuge, there is time for that centre to develop without sacrificing too much of what Gagner brought.

    It really feels like we’re so close on defence. Like one good trade and a prospect development away.

  • Word to the Bird

    I would say our defense is like this.
    Blank J.Schultz
    Blank Petry
    Smid Schultz

    Our problem is that we are missing two top 4 dmen. You can trade any of those guys at the bottom so long as you get an equal or greater player in return. I don’t know who the oilers can get outside of the draft without paying extravagent prices either. Only marincin and klefbom have potential to fill the second pairing hole. Maybe we target jake gardiner? The top man job is a lot harder. We need a second J. Schultz at the very least to fill in there. Teams don’t trade those guys. So maybe d by committee.

  • Muji

    Klefbom – J.Schultz
    Smid – Petry
    Whitney – N.Schultz
    Fistric – Potter

    That looks perfect because:
    – Klefbom is a stud
    – J.Schultz is a stud
    – Whitney will be fine after a summer of rest and seasoning

    *Note that the above does not reflect MY opinion, but the probable opinion of our savvy** management.

    **Our management is not savvy. at all.

        • Depends how talks are going – trade talks and contract talks.

          If contract talks are going bad and the team can land a proper defence prospect – i.e. a guy like Voynov instead of Teubert back when the Penner deal was made – you can think about trading him.

          But if contract talks are going well, even without a deal, I’d probably roll the dice and keep him.

  • RexLibris

    Wholeheartedly agree on starting Klefbom in the minors next season. Re-signing Whitney, while inadvisable, would have at least one positive in that it would ensure the team takes it’s time with Klefbom in the AHL.

    As for Gernat going to Europe, I actually think they may be on to something here. This young man is very close with his family and the Oilers are already running a lot of young men through their farm system. While it would be nice to have him play alongside Marincin as a fellow countryman and defensive prospect, if he feels more comfortable in Slovakia, and that it will help his development, than I’d support it.

    It means giving up some control, but as an act of good faith and using Frank Musil as an overseas contact, it may provide a net benefit for the team.

  • vetinari

    This is the area where we need a bold and creative GM with the ability to turn surplus goods into an actual team asset.

    Keep Smid– you can’t replace him easily. Also, extend Fistric because he is a good bottom pairing guy.

    Trade Whitney at the deadline but if you can’t get back a decent pick or prospect in return, let him walk in July.

    Go shopping for a cap casualty or two at the April trade deadline or talk to some non-playoff teams looking to shed payroll: teams will have to get cap compliant by July so maybe a package of Whitney, Potter and a surplus prospect might get you back an actual top four veteran you can use (and give them depth for either a playoff run or to retool for 2013-14). Whitney comes off the books in July so a team might take him on as a rental player for the playoffs.

  • Con-Air McDavid

    Always a great article when Jonathan writes it. I’ve got a question for the rest of the nation though, where can I guy get the absolute dirt cheapest nosebleed oilers tickets? Any advice?