IMPROVING THE “D” IS THE KEY

No one does better Stanley Cup montages than CBC. The energy inside the arena during a playoff game is one of the best sporting experiences a fan/media can have. It is electric, and CBC’s opening montage illustrated it perfectly. I defy you to watch that and not yearn to be at a game. The seven-year drought gets older by the second, especially when you watch that video and are reminded how awesome the energy, atmosphere and pass of playoff games are.

If the Oilers are ever going to return to the wonderland known as playoffs, they will need to upgrade their blueline. That must be priority number one for Craig MacTavish this summer.

The Oilers don’t have a top-pairing D-man right now.

Justin Schultz might become one, while Jeff Petry and Ladislav Smid are #3 and #4 respectively. Finding a top-pairing defender isn’t easy, however, many teams have acquired them via trade in recent memory, so it isn’t impossible. Chris Pronger, Brian Campbell, Dion Phaneuf, Francois Beauchemin, Kevin Shattenkirk, Dustin Byfuglien, Jack Johnson and Erik Johnson have all been moved in the past five seasons.

 Here’s a quick recap of what the Oilers blueline accomplished on the ice this season: 

Player  GP  G  A  P +/-  PIM  PP  SH  GW  S  TOI 
                       
Justin Schultz 48 8 19 27 -17 8 4 0 3 85           1,029:35
Ryan Whitney 34 4 9 13 -7 23 0 0 0 30               628:14
Jeff Petry 48 3 9 12 1 29 0 1 0 66           1,051:38
Nick Schultz 48 1 8 9 -13 24 0 0 0 33               894:21
Mark Fistric 25 0 6 6 6 32 0 0 0 9              383:20
Corey Potter 33 3 1 4 8 6 0 0 0 36               575:59
Ladislav Smid 48 1 3 4 -1 55 0 0 0    30               975:18
Theo Peckham 4 0 0 0 -1 6 0 0 0 2                 70:33
                       
Totals 48 20 55 75 -24 183 4 1 3 291            5,248:58

 J.Schultz was great offensively, but he struggled mightily in his own zone. I expected that, because it is difficult for any rookie to play sound defence, especially when he had a plethora of young forwards on the ice with him.

Petry had three short stretches where he produced offensively. He had five points in the first five games of their season-long eight-game road trip, and then he had two other stretches of three points in three games. The rest of the season he added very little offence. He had only three more points than N. Schultz who is a classic stay-at-home defender.

In the second half of the 2012 season, Petry was very good. He had 18 points in 37 games, was up in the play more often and he delivered some solid body checks to attacking forwards. It looked like he had figured out what style he needed to play to be successful.

However, this year we barely saw any of that. Petry wasn’t involved offensively, and rarely delivered any bodychecks. Petry has the tools to be a very good #3, but he needs to use them. The Oilers have to find a way to light a fire under him, and keep it lit all season.

Smid is a solid defensive D-man. He won’t bring a lot of offence, and you’d like him to move the puck up to the forwards quicker, however, he is one of the few Oilers who shows a competitive fire every game. The Oilers know what they have in Smid. A solid #4 defender who will kill penalties and play against the top lines.

If N. Schultz is on your third pairing next season, then the Oilers D will be better. He isn’t a top-four D-man anymore, but he could be a great mentor beside Oscar Klefbom for one season.

Corey Potter has one year left on his contract, but if N.Schultz is in your bottom pair, I don’t see where Potter fits in. You can’t have two non-physical, non-offensive defenders as a pair. If the Oilers moved N.Schultz then Potter could replace him in the 3rd pair, but if they are a tandem next season MacTavish will have struck out trying to improve his backend.

Fistric is the only physical/hitting defender they have. He doesn’t bring much offence, isn’t a great puck mover and sometime puts himself out of the play going for the big hit, but at least he brings a specific role to the team. The Oilers have way too many players who don’t score, don’t hit, don’t fight and don’t compete. Fistric at least brings a few of these characteristics. I suspect the Oilers will try to make a few trades first, and if they don’t land the D-men they need they will bring Fistric back.

Whitney and Peckham will be free agents and moving on.

WHO CAN THEY GET?

Mark Streit is a pending UFA, however he is 35 years old. He could play in their top pair and help on the PP, but the Oilers won’t win in the playoffs if Petry, J.Schultz and Streit are all in their top-three. If they sign Streit, then I suspect they would move Petry for a different type of defender. I wouldn’t sign him.

Shea Weber is a pipedream for Oiler fans. They can’t trade for him until late July, and I doubt the Preds will move him, but the Oilers can’t afford to miss out on deals at the draft or via free agency.

The rest of the UFA crop doesn’t look great. There are a lot of offensive D-men who used to be good, but now they are at the end of their career: Sergei Gonchar, Roman Hamrlik, Adrian Aucoin, Marek Zidlicky, Tom Poti, Toni Lydman, Michal Rozsival and Wade Redden. I doubt the Oilers add one of them.

One player I’d look at is Ben Lovejoy. The Ducks acquired him from Pittsburgh in February for a 5th round pick, and now Lovejoy is in their top-four. He’s not a top-pairing defender, but you could get him for a good price. However, I suspect he’ll re-sign with the Ducks after/during the playoffs. If he was available on July 5th (date free agency starts this year), I’d be calling his agent.

The Oilers best bet to upgrade their blueline is likely going to come via trade. I believe the Oilers will move two or three of their skilled forwards who aren’t named Hall, Nugent-Hopkins, Eberle and Yakupov.

RFA

There are many very good RFA D-men, but I don’t see the Oilers making an offer sheet to any of them. The Oilers don’t have enough depth to surrender two or more 1st round picks at this point. If this team was one or two players away from being a serious contender, then I could see them considering it, but they’d be better off trying to make a trade.

Alex Pietrangelo, Kevin Shattenkirk, Zach Bogosian, Ryan McDonagh, David Rundblad and Carl Gunnarsson are all pending RFAs. Shattenkirk might get into a contract squabble with the Blues. The Blues will offer him a deal similar to the one P.K Subban got, and he likely won’t like it. I’m not sure I’d want to pay him $4-$5 million right away, but you know his agent will be looking for a big pay day.

Upgrading the backend has to be priority #1 for MacTavish, however, when you look at the free agent list it won’t be that easy.

The Oilers have four decent offensive assets to dangle in a trade: Ales Hemsky, Sam Gagner, Magnus Paajarvi and the #7 pick. MacTavish is a huge fan of Gagner’s character and how he has developed, but if the right deal was there I wonder if he’d move him.

If the Oilers are serious about upgrading their blueline, and MacTavish said he was prepared to make some "bold moves," trading one of those four assets is the only way to do it.

The Oilers don’t need any more 3rd pairing defenders, they need a top-two D-man.

PARTING SHOTS…

Don’t forget to play StreakCred – the new playoff pool game from the Nation Network. You can win a trip for 2 to Oktoberfest in Germany, and many other awesome prizes. It’s only $20 and a portion of the proceeds go to charities in Edmonton. Check it out here.

In other news, don’t forget that today is your last day to show off your "superstar skills". Are you a King or Queen? If so, read here.

RECENTLY BY JASON GREGOR

  • djc

    There are no shortcuts available to what we require, on defense. Drafting is our only option, unless we want to over pay massively!

    By upgrading our defense with a guy like Mark Streit or trading for a Yandle, we might be able to get by for a couple of years, until our draft picks mature. It is important to remember every great defenseman that we covet was drafted at some point in time.

    I’m not for over paying to get top four unless it ‘s Seth Jones.

  • Chainsawz

    Very wishful thinking ahead…

    If the Oilers were to sign Streit and trade for Yandle by moving Hemsky and 2-3 futures, that would go a long way to helping out the blueline. MacTavish would just need to find a right shooting defenseman to play on the 2nd unit. That leaves Smid and Petry as our 5/6 and that should be a legit blueline.

    • Randaman

      I was just going to say the same thing. How on earth does anyone think we can get those 2?

      Pittsburgh would most likely turn down Yakupov, Hall and Nuge for Crosby straight across. Good grief.

      • Randaman

        Ok, I am not saying Crosby at all but Malkin has one more year on his current contract. Let’s all think like Tambi and not even explore the possibility? Malkin/Hall/Yak on the first line? Scaaaaarrrryyy!!

        • Randaman

          You’re still giving up an arm and a leg for Malkin. There would be a lot of explaining to the fans of the Penguins as to why the Penguins traded Malkin to the Oilers.

          Trade Lowe for Shero best case scenario.

      • djc

        Phhhhhht, I bet you could get Crosby AND Malkin for Brodin or Garrison or Grandlund or Kreider or Kyle Wellwood or Kadri or a replica Vancouver Canucks 7th man banner or Dale Tallon’s autograph.

  • Lexi

    I hope MacT looks at how we are developing our Dmen. With Klefbom, Musil, Marancin, Gernat, Simpson, Fedun, and Davisdon in the system, I’ve got to think we have at least two top 4 Dmen and another top 6 coming in the next few years. I am concerned that the team is still not doing a very good job of giving these guys a development plan, because they would solve a ton of D problems if they could do it internally.

    I think this team should still remain focused on contending in 2014-15 and not go too crazy trading youth for short term help. I would be okay with them just getting one top 4 guy for next year. Nikitin seems to be a guy they could get for minimal assets.

    I would love to see them try the RFA route for the right guy though.

  • DSF

    “Ales Hemsky, Sam Gagner, Magnus Paajarvi and the #7 pick.”

    Given that the Oilers need TWO top pairing defensemen, how on earth do you think they would be able to parlay that conglomeration into even ONE top pairing D?

    Hemsky is coming off another injury riddled 20 point season and has another year left at $5M. That’s not a very attractive package.

    Gagner needs a new contract and will likely be looking for close to $5M which, with the cap dropping, is not going to be easy to swallow for any GM.

    Paajarvi is an almost competent 3rd line player on most teams and no one is giving up a top pairing defenseman for a player you can pick up for free in the offseason.

    One of the kids will have to be moved at some point if MacT is going to successful in his “bold” moves.

    • Bonvie

      I agree. We need to trade one of our smaller skilled wingers for a top d. Yakapov as a centre piece for a Myers trade which should net us a useful forward as well. Oilers have prospects that could replace Yakapov such
      As Omark and Rajalla

      I have been wanting a trade for Colin Wilson for years, but I think that boat has likely sailed because he really came around this year. Gagner for Wilson may still be possible as Gagner does have some good offensive skills.

      I’m still very disappointed that asleep at the wheel was still GM during the trade deadline the only time of the year when players like Whitney, Hemsky, and Belanger have any value instead we gave up a #4 pick for a player that probably would have had a hard time getting an NHL contract

    • McDavid's Comet

      I believe you may be selling these guys a little short, even though Ales is made of glass his skill is still a commodity, with a change of scenery he could be better than he is here ( tired of losing ). Paarjarvi would probably develop better if he is around a more compitent group of veterans. If we are to get any quality of d-man it would have to do a 3-for-1 and not including the 7th pick. Gags we keep unless its to trade for another centerman ( package deal of some sort ).

  • 15w40

    Definitely need to target one of Shattenkirk, Bogosian, Hedman, or Larrson.

    In addition to that, potentially looking at getting a Travis Hamonic or a Dylan McIlrath (if his skating has improved)

    Oilers need a defenseman that will punish people and right now they don’t at all.

    • Randaman

      I really don’t understand this love affair with Larrson. Too timid for my liking. We already have Petry & N. Schultz in that catagory.
      Shattenkirk or Hedman would be an improvement. Why has nobody thought of going after Jack Johnson. We could swap picks with Columbus and offer Hemsky to sweeten the deal. Then Lazar would be available at 14 I believe. Then we throw whatever it takes at Pittsburgh for Malkin. Center problem solved.

      • Citizen David

        I would do this. Minus the Malkin part. Johnson isn’t a number one Defensemen but he is a number two. It would be an upgrade and unless we’re trading Eberle, it’s probably about the best we can do. Then we find a second Ladislav Smid and dump N. Schultz. Not the best defense, but an improvement on this year and serviceable until our solid prospects are ready.

  • Quicksilver ballet

    Here we are a couple yrs later and the 5 bullet holes still remain in the bottom of the boat. This years boobie prize may not be ready for a year or two, if ever. So he won’t be able to plug one of those holes.

    We best just keep purchasing bigger buckets for bailing purposes, i guess. How can one team be so bad for so long? Is there one constant through all of this perhaps?

    • Wax Man Riley

      I’ve been trying to figure it out too….

      A constant eh??

      MacT? Ummmm nope he’s been gone a while.

      Kay-Z? I’m pretty sure they were bad before him. And he was supposed to bring the money.

      Could it be Lowe? **RUNS AND HIDES FOR FEAR OF JASMINE**

  • Chainsawz

    If the Oilers are to be a playoff team, I agree with most of what Jason said. The depth chart of a playoff team made of Oilers blueliners looks like this to me for next season:

    1. not filled 2. not filled 3. J Schultz 4. not filled 5. Smid 6. N Schultz/Petry 7. Fistric 8. Potter

    That doesn’t look good. Forwards, it doesn’t get better in my opinion either:

    Hall-not filled-Yakupov not filled-Nuge-Eberle Paajarvi-Horcoff-not filled Hartikainen-not filled-not filled 13th: Lander

    I’m looking for 8 new faces, 4 of which are of the top end variety. Too tall of an order for a rookie GM in a thin FA market and limited valuable (and moveable) assests to trade.

    All I’m saying is that I don’t have much hope for a top 4 finish in the new division next season.

  • Wax Man Riley

    I think there might be a deal out there for Crosby or Malkin. Pitts won’t be able to pay them both. It would sure solidify center.

    Hey, if you don’t try, then they’ve just given up and settled for mediocrity.

    Crosby would look great in blue and orange.

    Get’er done MacT or you’re admitting failure.

  • No one does better Stanley Cup montages than CBC.

    That’s only because NMA isn’t really into hockey.

    The STL defense situation is interesting because they of their regulars from this season they only have Bouwmeester, Jackman, and Polak signed for next year.

    They have a ton of cap space right now but given their depth at forward I wonder how much of that space they want tied up in their defense.

  • DoubleJ

    Do you think Yandle is available? I think he might be, the coyotes are a perfect fit for a trade. They have four dman on their team that would upgrade the oilers d.
    Hemsky of gags would help their offense.

    Yandle is my hopeful pickup this offseason.

    • Space Dad

      Anyone remember last playoffs when Yandle pouted about the refs and made crap excuses for why the Kings steam-rolled the Coyotes? Personally, I see Yandle as having an attitude similar to Ryan Whitney, one that (as we have seen in Oil Country) can easily turn caustic.

  • Quicksilver ballet

    Chris Pronger was a pipedream as well.

    Some teams dream of success, while other clubs wake and work hard towards it. This quitting before even getting up to the plate is really working for us, isn’t it. Really looking forward to 20th- 22nd place next season. Baby steps.

    How much more of this ship does Oiler management expect Taylor Hall to put up with.

    • Randaman

      You dint answer in the last article so I’ll ask again: how is not wanting to go after the iota of a chance that the Preds will ever trade Weber akin to ‘quitting’???

      • Quicksilver ballet

        I’m sorry, English is my first language, could you please ask your question again?

        My mind is so filled with rage these days, struggling with the whole comprehension thing just now. Thank you in advance.