I wrote an article earlier this week outlining the Oilers lack of size, strength and experience in their top-nine forwards. It is one element that Craig MacTavish will need to revamp in the coming years, but he will also need to improve his blueline.
Today we will take a similar look at the Oilers blueline and see how they compare against western division playoff teams.
Once again, I sorted them out with height, weight, age, but I also added in their TOI during the playoffs so we could see how the Oilers pairs compare to the other team’s D pairings.
|Drew Doughty||6′ 1″||213||24||16||27:21 min|
|Slava Voynov||6′ 0″||194||24||16||21:29 min|
|Jake Muzzin||6′ 3″||214||25||16||21:01 min|
|Willie Mitchell||6′ 3″||210||37||8||18:54 min|
|Jeff Schultz||6′ 6″||225||28||7||18:51 min|
|Robyn Regehr||6′ 3″||222||34||8||17:11 min|
|Alec Martinez||6′ 1″||209||26||16||17:06 min|
|Matt Greene “A”||6′ 3″||234||31||10||13:37 min|
The Kings had the heaviest group of forwards and their defence is also the heaviest. They Kings only have one D-man under 209 pounds, Voynov. They have great puck movers in Doughty, Voynov and Martinez, (each on a different pair) and usually they pair those three up with a bigger, more defensive D-man.
It is interesting to note that Schultz has played seven games so far for the Kings, after not playing one in the regular season. Darryl Sutter wasn’t scared to use him and he even played him more than Martinez. He didn’t put Martinez in a situation where he would face tougher competition or be asked to be more defensive.
It helps having an anchor like Doughty on your blueline. He can play in any situation.
|Alex Pietrangelo “A”||6′ 3″||201||24||6||30:14 min|
|Jay Bouwmeester||6′ 4″||212||30||6||25:51 min|
|Kevin Shattenkirk||5′ 11″||207||25||6||25:39 min|
|Barret Jackman “A”||6′ 0″||203||33||6||19:55 min|
|Roman Polak||6′ 0″||236||28||6||18:37 min|
|Jordan Leopold||6′ 1″||206||33||6||16:40 min|
The Blues were the only team in the west to play the same six D-men in every game. Usually you need seven or eight, and the Blues had Coliacovo and Cole ready if they needed them. The Blues have a great combination of size, skill and speed. They have three Olympians and Hitchcock plays them a lot.
The Blues lost to the Hawks because their forwards weren’t as elite finishers as the Hawks. I don’t see the Blues needing to upgrade their backend very much. For them it might just be a matter of letting Tarasenko, Oshie and Schwartz mature a bit more.
|Erik Johnson||6′ 4″||232||26||7||26:12 min|
|Nick Holden||6′ 4″||207||27||7||22:09 min|
|Jan Hejda||6′ 4″||237||35||7||21:38 min|
|Andre Benoit||5′ 11″||191||30||7||21:17 min|
|Tyson Barrie||5′ 10″||190||22||3||18:17 min*|
|Nate Guenin||6′ 3″||207||31||7||15:59 min|
|Ryan Wilson||6′ 1″||207||27||4||15:27 min|
Many have suggested the Avs don’t have a great blueline, and the Oilers could match them. I disagree. The Avs have a legit top-pair guy in Johnson. He has matured, and his size allows him to play against any of the elite forwards in the league and not be overwhelmed physically.
Barrie’s injury, due to another Matt Cooke cheap shot, really hurt the Avs in the playoffs. He was their best puckmover, and he was averaging 23 min/game until he got hurt. Patrick Roy challenged Barrie to be more aggressive offensively earlier in the year and it worked. Roy coached to Barrie’s strength.
Hejda, who the Oilers let walk for nothing, is a solid top-4 defender, and his size and puck smarts make him very valuable. The Oilers have to hope Oscar Klefbom can develop into a player like Johnson or at worst, Hejda.
|Alex Goligoski||5′ 11″||185||28||6||28:30 min|
|Trevor Daley||5′ 11″||195||30||6||25:48 min|
|Jordie Benn||6′ 2″||200||26||6||21:56 min|
|Brenden Dillon||6′ 3″||225||23||2||18:13 min|
|Patrick Nemeth||6′ 3″||235||22||5||15:16 min|
|Sergei Gonchar||6′ 2″||210||40||6||13:24 min|
|Kevin Connauton||6′ 2″||200||24||4||10:44 min|
|Aaron Rome||6′ 1″||220||30||1||8:51 min|
The Stars playoff chances took a huge blow when Brendan Dillon got injured late in the season and missed the first four games of their series. When he returned for the playoffs he wasn’t 100% and he played fewer minutes than he did in the regular season.
Goligoski rebounded nicely after a tough year last season, and he is one of the few smaller D-man who can successfully play top minutes. The Stars have a good combination of size, speed and puckmovers on their backend. They will add Oleksiak this year or next and he will give them another big body, who can move the puck.
|Francois Beauchemin||6′ 1″||207||33||13||23:57 min|
|Cam Fowler||6′ 1″||207||22||13||23:51 min|
|Sami Vatanen||5′ 10″||183||22||5||20:14 min|
|Ben Lovejoy||6′ 2″||205||30||13||19:38 min|
|Bryan Allen||6′ 5″||224||33||13||18:20 min|
|Hampus Lindholm||6′ 3″||197||20||11||18:09 min|
|Stephane Robidas||5′ 11″||190||37||3||15:51 min|
|Luca Sbisa||6′ 2″||198||24||2||14:20 min|
|Mark Fistric||6′ 2″||230||27||5||13:25 min|
The Ducks had a lot of depth. They used nine defenders in the playoffs, and they have Sheldon Souray returning from injury next year. They have a great combination of 30+ veterans, some mid-20s and three guys 22 and under.
Fowler has improved every year and along with Vatanen, Lindholm and Sbisa their blueline should be strong in the future. They surrounded their young guys with veterans who are tough and competitive in Allen and Robidas, while Lovejoy has emerged as a solid defender.
|Dan Boyle “A”||5′ 11″||190||37||7||21:51 min|
|Justin Braun||6′ 2″||205||27||7||20:54 min|
|Jason Demers||6′ 1″||195||25||7||19:57 min|
|Brad Stuart||6′ 2″||215||34||7||19:47 min|
|Matt Irwin||6′ 2″||210||26||2||19:47 min|
|Scott Hannan||6′ 1″||215||35||7||17:39 min|
|Marc-Edouard Vlasic||6′ 1″||205||27||5||16:59 min *|
The Sharks were one of the few teams who had heavier forwards than defenders. I wonder if they would have beaten the Kings if Vlasic hadn’t been hurt early in game five (which lowered is TOI/average). The Sharks will not be bringing back Dan Boyle, but they will replace him by moving Brent Burns back to the blueline. Burns is a 6′ 5″, 230 pounder who skates very well. Vlasic is under appreciated and the addition of Burns will give them more size to counter the big forwards of the Ducks and Kings.
|Duncan Keith “A”||6′ 1″||200||30||14||27:26 min|
|Brent Seabrook||6′ 3″||221||29||11||23:56 min|
|Niklas Hjalmarsson||6′ 3″||207||26||14||22:54 min|
|Johnny Oduya||6′ 0″||190||32||14||22:03 min|
|Michal Rozsival||6′ 1″||212||35||12||17:48 min|
|Sheldon Brookbank||6′ 1″||202||33||6||16:27 min|
|Nick Leddy||6′ 0″||191||23||13||15:59 min|
The Hawks top-four moves the puck quicker and more accurate than any other team’s top two pairs. Chicago is very unique in that Hjalmarsson and Oduya face tougher competition than their top pair. It allows Seabrook and Keith to be more offensive, but when needed the top pair is very good defensively.
The Hawks 2nd pair plays more than any other in the west, and their top-four depth is why they are one of the best teams in the NHL.
|Ryan Suter “A”||6′ 1″||200||29||13||29:13 min|
|Jared Spurgeon||5′ 9″||168||24||13||24:03 min|
|Jonas Brodin||6′ 1″||194||20||13||23:37 min|
|Marco Scandella||6′ 3″||207||24||13||21:28 min|
|Nate Prosser||6′ 2″||203||28||10||12:31 min|
|Clayton Stoner||6′ 4″||216||29||13||12:16 min|
|Keith Ballard||5′ 11″||199||31||3||10:44 min|
Minnesota plays a strong team game, and they are built to play in the Central division. If they had to battle the big forwards of the Kings, Sharks or Ducks in the first round I doubt they would have won. The Wild barely use their 3rd pairing, and they will need to upgrade that area if they want to take a run at the Hawks or Blues in the future.
It helps having Suter anchor their blueline and play almost half the game, but I won’t be surprised to see the Wild try to add someone with some size/skill to complement Suter, Spurgeon and Brodin moving forward. If Scandella becomes their #5 defender, suddenly their team looks even better.
HOW DO THE OILERS STACK UP?
|Name||Height||Weight||Age||GP||TOI reg. season|
|Justin Schultz||6′ 2″||188||23||74||23:20 min|
|Jeff Petry||6′ 3″||195||26||80||21:35 min|
|Andrew Ference||5′ 11″||187||35||71||21:03 min|
|Martin Marincin||6′ 4″||188||22||44||19:09 min|
|Philip Larsen||6′ 0″||182||24||30||17:10 min|
|Oscar Klefbom||6′ 3″||213||20||17||15:47 min|
|Mark Fraser||6′ 4″||220||27||23||15:29 min|
Eerily similar to the forwards. The Oilers are the lightest and the youngest. I didn’t include Belov or N.Schultz, who played 57 and 60 games respectively for the Oilers, because they are no longer here. If the Oilers hope to improve their blueline this fall then Fraser and Larsen shouldn’t be here either. The Oilers have a lot of height on their backend, but not much weight. It is difficult to break up a cycle if you don’t have any weight behind you.
You don’t need all your D-men to be heavy, but it would be nice to have more than one defender over 200 pounds next season. Size isn’t everything, as Keith proves you don’t have to be big to be effective. He is incredibly tenacious and competitive, which is something many of the Oilers need to add to their game.
The most obvious concern about the backend is their lack of a proven top-pair defender. Trying to find one via trade or develop one from within will be Craig MacTavish’s biggest challenge moving forward.
Until the Oilers find a true top-pairing defender it will be hard to compete. If you look at the eight playoff teams each of them had at least one solid #1 defender. Most of them had two, if not three very good D-men.
The Oilers have a lot of potential in the organization. Klefbom, Marincin, Nurse and Schultz have the potential, in different forms, to become a top pairing D-man, but even in the best case scenario it is likely that only two of them emerge to be that good. Which is fine — it is extremely difficult to be a top-pair defender.
Klefbom will get bigger and more experienced over the next few years, and Marincin needs to put ten pounds on his frame if he wants to be able to handle many of the skilled forwards in the Pacific division.
I expect MacTavish to try to upgrade his backend this summer, and I’d expect him to try to find some veterans who can move the puck, but are also heavy enough to battle the big, skilled forwards in the pacific division.
It is apparent the Oilers lack size and experience when you compare their forwards and bluelines to the playoff teams in the west.
It is up to MacTavish to try and find the proper way to improve his team, by adding skilled size that can play, while trying not to make a trade in desperation.
Improving the Oilers won’t be easy, and I don’t expect it to happen in one off-season.
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