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

  • Improving the communication between goalie & defence is paramount in my mind! This is where the Oilers got into a ton of trouble this season & past season’s! Our goalies just don’t handle the puck very well & other teams know it! If it wasn’t a clear cut giveaway, we would usually just ring the puck around the boards to an opposing pinching d-men! Way too predictable!

  • Tikkanese

    If Klefbom or Marincin are anywhere in our top 7 next year we are in trouble.

    Klefbom has missed significant time the last 3 years. He’s also a European who would be learning the North American game, smaller ice etc. He’s also very young still. He needs at least half a year in the AHL(and that’s only if he’s lights out good during that time), if not at least 1-2 years in the AHL.

    Marincin had a lacklustre first year of pro. He’s still filling out. Does that translate into a solid NHL’er right away? No. He needs at least a half year if not more, MacT also said this.

    We have a few promising D prospects but that’s all they are, prospects. Musil, Gernat etc are all at least a year away as well. If ever!

    Everyone needs to stop hugging Smid and Petry’s nuts already too. Do you seriously think they would be higher than 5th on the depth chart on BOS, STL, LA, CHI, PIT etc? Not a chance.

    Our D needs a serious overhaul. Yes we have a lot of good looking prospects coming but that’s 3-5 years away of them being at least solid NHL’ers. If we want to make the playoffs next year, we need to sign at least 2, trade for at least 1 which will include 1 if not 2 top pairing D. If J Schultz is down to the 3-4 spot with Smid, and Petry is down to the 5-6 and guys like Potter never play a game, we will be golden.

  • A-Mc

    I usually just laugh at the idiots that posts on ON. But Omark or Rajalla replacing Yakupov? What are you on? Why would the oilers trade someone who scores, cares, and shows some fire and finishes hits? And to trade him for Myers alone? Then you go on about a 4th round being wasted on a guy thats blood and guts by trade.
    Sorry bud, you need to take a step back and re-analyze your hockey knowledge. Typical Oilers fanatic. One step closer to a canuck fan status.