The Third Pairing

If, as expected, the Edmonton Oilers add at least one top-four (ideally left-side defenceman) to round out a group that already includes Jeff Petry, Justin Schultz and Ladislav Smid than there will need to be some decisions made on the third pairing. Who stays? Who goes?

The Overview

Assuming the top four outlined in the opening paragraph, that likely leaves three roster spots – at most four, but likely three – for other NHL defencemen. The Oilers have a lot of in-house candidates for those positions, even after we remove unrestricted free agent Ryan Whitney from consideration. Here’s the list:

  • Nick Schultz – one-way deal, $3.5 million cap hit
  • Anton Belov – two-way deal, $1.5 million cap hit
  • Mark Fistric – unrestricted free agent; likely signable on a 2-3 year deal somewhere between $1.5 and $2.0 million
  • Corey Potter – one-way deal, $775 thousand cap hit
  • Oscar Klefbom – two-way deal, $1.24 million cap hit
  • Theo Peckham – restricted free agent; would likely accept qualifying offer just over $1.0 million
  • Martin Marincin – two-way deal, $870 thousand cap hit
  • Taylor Fedun – restricted free agent; would likely accept two-way contract well below $1.0 million

It seems safe to assume that Theo Peckham will not be retained, and that Martin Marincin and Taylor Fedun will start the year in the minors. That isn’t certain, but those all seem likely. That leaves five players for three roster spots, and that assumes the team doesn’t add somebody like Paul Ranger to the mix.

The Players

Nick Schultz. Looking at the list above, the one thing that really stands out is Schultz’s contract, which is more than double any of the other players on this list. He’s being paid as a top-four defenceman, and it seems unlikely that the Oilers see him in that role next season. With a weak defensive market, are there teams out there that would see him as a fit in that role on their own blue lines? If the Oilers can add that upgrade to their top-four, I would expect them to move Schultz out for help elsewhere. Veteran defencemen – especially defencemen like Schultz – hold their value well and teams looking for blue line help will not have a lot of options. If he is not dealt, than he’s the number five defenceman by a fair margin.

Anton Belov. Technically on a two-way contract (all entry-level deals have a minor-league component) it seems safe to project Belov on to the NHL roster on opening night. A top defenceman in the KHL, the Oilers almost certainly wouldn’t bring him over just to stick him in the minors. He gets one of the three spots unless he crashes and burns in training camp.

Mark Fistric. He isn’t a fit with Craig MacTavish’s puck-possession mantra, but he played well in a third-pairing role last season and adds things (size, skillset) that aren’t in ready supply on the Oilers’ blue line. Most teams have a guy like this on the third pairing; I wouldn’t be surprised to see him back.

Corey Potter. I have a lot more time for Corey Potter than most people – he doesn’t excel in any one area but he has a range of skill and more puck-moving ability than a lot of depth defencemen. I think he’s on the bubble in Edmonton – he could be dealt, he could be retained and then sent to the minors, or he could be retained and hold any of the three open defensive spots. His low-dollar contract gives the Oilers options; I’d guess he gets penciled in for the number seven role but that a strong performance from a prospect or the addition of a player like Ranger would bump him off the roster.

Oscar Klefbom. The Oilers are obviously excited about Klefbom as a prospect, and he’s a guy that has to be considered a serious candidate to start the 2013-14 season on the Oilers’ roster. Should he? Probably not; he’s never played North American hockey and he lost most of last season to injury and got buried on his Swedish team’s depth chart for much of the year before that. He turns 20 next month; he seems a great candidate to start the year as Oklahoma’s number one defenceman and the Oilers’ first call-up option. With that said: everything the Oilers’ brass have said publicly indicates he’s going to have a shot at an NHL job on opening night.

My Guess

I think we’re looking at an incomplete picture and that the Oilers will add one more guy to the mix. It might be a very good high minors player like Paul Ranger, it might be a free agent like Ian White, it might be someone brought over in trade after falling out of favour in another city (Jamie McBain got some play at the deadline and has been mentioned at this site previously). In this scenario, Nick Schultz and Corey Potter are both sent away, Oscar Klefbom starts in the minors, and the Oilers start the season with Mark Fistric, Anton Belov, and our unnamed addition rotating through the 5-6-7 slots on the depth chart.

Recently around the Nation Network

Corban Knight, a top prospect who got some love as a potential Oilers trade candidate this week, has been dealt to Calgary instead

Knight is a good addition to the Flames prospect pool. In the current top-15 rankings, he’d likely slot in the top-5 at the very least.

Click the link above to read the whole piece, or feel free check out some of my other pieces here:

  • Quicksilver ballet

    I’d like to see MacT get aggressive with the D makeover.

    Belov seems like an interesting idea–I’m curious to see what he can bring.

    I’m not sure Ranger is the answer, based on descriptions of his play posted on earlier threads, but as depth, OK.

    Potter is cheap, but you get what you pay for sometimes.

    I like Fedun’s skating, but his size/physical play may be an issue (hope not, I really hope he makes it).

    I like Fistric’s physical play, but mobility is not a strong point.

    Mobile D is great, but size and toughness are also great to have, especially when you have a Lucic or similar in front of your net. (Keep Smid?)

    I’ve really found a new appreciation watching Keith and Seabrook recently: size, mobility, skill–nice. Too many of our current D seem too one-dimensional in comparison. I know these types are few and far between, but does Tyutin get us part way there?

  • Bicepus Maximus - Huge fan boy!

    Good overview.

    I don’t disagree with your assessments, but maybe it’s time for a Lowetide 3 (or more)for 1 deal to bring in a top 2 guy for the longer term? Even if MacT trades Schultz Sr., Fistric, Peckham, and Potter, don’t we have enough young D who will be pushing for spots as soon as this fall?

    Fedun might have a better chance than some think, as he is the mobile style D that MacT has mentioned, and was oh-so-close to making the team before the horrific injury?

    As long as we keep Petry and Schultz Jr, I’d be OK with big change on D. I’d like to keep Smid, too, unless there is something very nice in return.

  • Bicepus Maximus - Huge fan boy!

    I look at our defence this year like I looked at our goal tending last year. By virtue of having Habby not play nearly as many games, we were better in that position. True there are still question marks for Dubnyk, but no one can question our goal tending was better this year than it was last.

    In the same way, by not having Whitney stink up the third pairing, our defence will be better, no matter who we get.

  • Bicepus Maximus - Huge fan boy!

    You can’t say F*stric either???

    I wrote a thoughtful comment about what I think of the Oilers options for the 3rd pairing. It didn’t get posted because I mentioned F*stric.

    I can’t even be funny about this. #truth

    Edit: Oh look, and now it’s there…………….. Maybe it wasn’t that thoughtful, but that’s not the point.

  • Bicepus Maximus - Huge fan boy!

    By the way, I’m not ready to give up on Teddy.

    Hope it turns out like this: Ladi, Petry, J-Schu, Ranger, Belov, Fistric, and Teddy.

    • Oilergasm

      Wow, I thought we needed to improve the D?

      N. Schultz is one of only 2 NHL proven D we have and is the only reason why J. Schultz didn’t get more exposed on the backend and you think we should get rid of him?

      That being said N. Schultz and Smid would be a good third pairing, J. Schultz has top 4 potential and beyond that we have massive holes to fill.

      I’m not sold on Petry yet, and the rest (Peckham, Fistric, Potter, Belov, Klefbom and Ranger) are 7th or AHLers.

      • Tikkanese

        I 100% agree. I’m not sold on Petry either. In a perfect world, Smid and Petry would be our bottom pairing. Hopefully all that is said about Belov is true and he is a legit top 4 guy. I.e. more of a Brunner than a Dopita.

        Please no rookies on D this year MacT/Eakins. None of ours are ready, including Klefbom.

      • Bicepus Maximus - Huge fan boy!

        I really believe N. Schultz plays an old school game and the game is changing. He’s terrible for trying to play a puck possession game. Of the boards and out is not where the NHL is headed. And he’s king of that.

        I love Petry. I think he’s the best all-around d-man the Oilers have. He’s not quite ready for the top line role though. That’s why he was exposed a few times last year, IMO.

        Ranger played top line minutes in TB for a couple of years before he decided to quit hockey. I’m hoping he can regain that form.

        But you’re right, there are a lot of unproven players there. But unless MacT lands a true #1 d-man, I can go with this line up, at least to start the season.

        • Oilergasm

          I agree somewhat with your assessment of N. Schultz, but we still need our D to play D.

          I think that where Mac T is going to really help is getting back to the blue collar hard work, mainly in the bottom 6 up front, but N. Schultz is a great example of that on the back end, and he was given an A for some reason…

          If he can be used to upgrade via trade great, I think we need a bonafide top pairing guy much more than we need what Nick brings to the table.

          • OilersBrass

            Hahah. Zero NHL experience doesn’t mean he has zero experience playing the game.

            Did you watch him play in that World Tournament last month? He is actually pretty good.

          • Oilergasm

            Not everyone can adjust to the NA game, I hope as much as everyone else that we hit a home run with him, but I think expecting him to be the second coming of Chris Pronger and taking us to the cup finals is unrealistic.

            All I am saying is that with our current D minus N. Schultz we aren’t getting better.

          • OilersBrass

            I didn’t say he was the next coming of Chris Pronger.. I just said he wasn’t a 7th or an AHLer.

            Give the guy a little credit, look at his credentials and watch how he plays before throwing him under the bus.

            Wait until puck drop next season before judging the D. Go OIL!!

          • Oilergasm

            I don’t see how calling a guy who has never played a game in the NHL a potential 7th D or AHLer (but I’m hoping for more) is throwing a guy under a bus, I apologize for not drinking the Kool-Aid but I think I’m being a realist.

            I stopped wearing my rose coloured glasses when I turned 15 hopefully you will too.

            We are in for a long rough season next year if we start purging what few NHL quality players we have, so far its been said that Horcoff and Hemsky are on the way out, with Whitney and Khabibulin already done, suggestions that we trade N. Schultz now!!!

            Mac T is a GM not the messiah, so far all we’ve added is an unknown in Belov, this years UFA crop is less than stellar and unless we can get better by adding other teams castaways I guess we haven’t hit rock bottom yet.

            At least the one thing we can agree on is: Go OIL!

  • OilersBrass

    I think with what you’ve suggested JW, the Oilers blue will look and perform better. It’s almost addition by subtraction with Belov aside (Klefbom was already ours).

  • Quicksilver ballet

    So now the Flames are on the clock to get him signed by when?

    Could he be a UFA soon if he suddenly becomes audibly challenged (ignores the team who has his rights)?