On Tuesday, I argued at some length that Anton Belov would be a really nice option to have at the bottom of Edmonton’s roster next season. Naturally, on Wednesday morning came news that the defenceman was returning to Russia. So feel free to get your requests in for my next piece below; I assume ‘tell us again why Shea Weber will stay in Nashville forever’ will be a popular one.
— Dmitry Chesnokov (@dchesnokov) April 16, 2014
That’s a nice soft landing for Belov, offering the security of a long-term deal and presumably comparable (if not better) money than he would have got in the NHL on a second ‘show me’ contract. I’d also imagine that – as it is for a lot of North Americans who give playing in Europe a try – there’s a certain amount of pull to go home to a familiar culture and language.
It’s a shame for the Oilers, because Belov looked a lot like a guy who could play at the NHL level. It’s also a shame for Belov, who might have been more than a depth defenceman once he found his legs and adapted to a much less passive North American game, because now it’s impossible to know whether he could have distinguished himself over here.
With the departure of Belov, one of the (many) moving pieces is now removed from the equation at the bottom of the Oilers’ defensive depth chart. With four players seemingly written in ink for next year (Justin Schultz, Andrew Ference, Jeff Petry, Martin Marincin) what’s left looks something like this (players set in LD/RD format):
- Oscar Klefbom (2-way) / Philip Larsen (RFA)
- Mark Fraser (UFA) / Taylor Fedun (UFA)
- Darnell Nurse (2-way)
So what’s changed? Not a lot, really. As I see it, there’s room for one of Klefbom or Nurse on the third pairing (with Klefbom the likely choice), and there’s still a need for a veteran defenceman to augment the Schultz/Petry duo on the right side.
Belov’s departure opens up the No. 7 spot on the NHL depth chart. He would have been a nice fit, and the Oilers’ roster doesn’t really have one – Fraser and Larsen both looked like AHL’ers this season, Fedun’s ability to translate his game to the majors is somewhat questionable and sticking a prospect in the press box a lot of nights seems wasteful. The bottom line is that this departure adds one more (small) item to the Oilers’ off-season shopping list.