An NHL Defence

Craig MacTavish6

It’s possible to question the defencemen Oilers general manager Craig MacTavish added to the team’s blue line this week. It’s possible to argue that contracts were handed out that were too rich or for too many years. It’s extremely fair to note the lack of high-end players on the blue line.

But what is inarguable is that Edmonton’s defence has been dramatically improved from where it was a year ago. As far as I’m concerned, MacTavish deserves a lot of credit for taking the worst defensive group in the NHL and turning them into something vaguely resembling a major-league blueline group.

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The Depth Chart


Right Defence
Nikita Nikitin Jeff Petry
Andrew Ference Justin Schultz
Martin Marincin Mark Fayne
Keith Aulie

“It was an area that we talked about all year long, trying to improve our defence,” MacTavish told assembled reporters in a press conference on Tuesday afternoon. “When you look at the makeup of our defence now, it looks like an NHL defence, which it didn’t always last year.”

The Oilers now have five established NHL defenders and Martin Marincin (who for my money is better than some in that group of five) in the top-six. Keith Aulie, who has played 136 games and just turned 25 last month, is in the No. 7 slot. And that leaves Oscar Klefbom in the AHL.

There aren’t any really high-end five-on-five defenders in the mix, but Jeff Petry, Mark Fayne and Nikita Nikitin are all capable of playing tough minutes. Marincin fared well in a brief stint last year, too. Add in Andrew Ference and Justin Schultz and this is a decent by-committee group.

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Nikitin’s contract isn’t good. The term is short, but the money ($4.5 million) is awfully dear for a guy who probably should slot in at No. 4 on the depth chart of a playoff team.

“We paid a decent price for him,” MacTavish admitted. “But ultimately we get the player.”

Edmonton wasn’t alone in overpaying for a player in the Nikitin range on a short-term deal. Detroit gave Kyle Quincey two years at $4.25 million per season. 37-year-old Willie Mitchell, who had some postseason struggles in a second pair role for Los Angeles, got the same money and term in Florida.

In each case, the team signing the deal was desperate for defencemen and had few options, and opted to hold its nose and pay the necessary price on the condition that the deal not go on forever.


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Fayne comes in at a smaller cap hit ($3.625 million) but at a four-year term. That’s not a huge concern if he turns out to be what he looks like – a 6’3”, 210 pound rearguard who can both defend and make smart plays with the puck.

“He’s a 28-year-old defenceman with great character,” MacTavish said on Tuesday, “We felt like he really fit into what we’re trying to build here with his character and the way that he plays. He’s just a really solid player, a solid person, so we were happy with the term with Mark.”

The concern is that he was being carried by Andy Greene in New Jersey:

I’d be a little worried about signing any Devils player – New Jersey plays a system different than any other team in the NHL and seem to have an ability to make anybody look like a decent puck possession player – but I’m not too worried about the Greene effect.

Looking at the five-year trend, Fayne and Greene have an excellent 54.8 percent Corsi over 1,800 minutes together. But in 2,000 minutes away from Greene, Fayne managed a 53.1 percent Corsi. That’s a pretty long track record of playing well with guys not named Andy Greene.

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From MacTavish’s presser:

Later on in the day we were able to add Keith Aulie, who we feel has an opportunity to be one of the players on a one-year deal that really enhances his value through this period. We were looking at Benoit, we were looking at Anton Stralman, all these players that had come in the year before and really added all this market value to their ability. Benoit in particular was in New York on a million and a half deal or slightly less than that, and he commands this price as did Anton Stralman and I think Keith Aulie has that ability. Duane Sutter on our staff was a real advocate of bringing him in, and we think that he’s got an opportunity because of his age and his skill set to have a significant impact on our team.

That’s an awfully optimistic take on Aulie, and I’m not sure it’s one I buy, but his numbers aren’t terrible and he scratches the size itch that the Oilers have.

At least as importantly: not only is this a cheap, one-year deal for a depth player, but the Oilers opted to sign a depth player who has both NHL experience and youth on his side. Too often, teams grab 34-year-old third pairing guys and are surprised when it turns out they are no longer good enough to be third pairing guys. Here the Oilers got someone who they know is good enough to fill the No. 7 role and who is young enough to be a pleasant surprise for the team. That he has history with Dallas Eakins doesn’t hurt either.

That’s a pretty reasonable player to slot in that position on the depth chart.

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  • hallsyoilerforever5

    I’m really happy with the moves today. We turned over Mark Fraser,Jesse Joensuu,and Anton Belov for Pouliot,Aulie,and Fayne. Felt like Christmas. Now if we can find a stop-gap player so Draisatl won’t have to be rushed than this week could put the Oilers derail alittle back on track

  • hallsyoilerforever5

    MacT has done fantastic so far. The oilers still need a 2C though. I wouldn’t mind a bridge one, if Leon goes back to juniors. ( best development for him). I wonder if MacT can pry Berglund out of the blues, or guys like Grabovski or Jokinen would be ideal as well.

  • Spydyr

    It’s too bad we couldn’t get Brian Boyle, a big experienced center who I think would have been a great fit here. Hopefully MacT can pick up a center in the next few days!

    • dubbs88

      Goc is signed back in Pitt, I like Grabo best out of the bunch, unless a much shorter term deal is able to be had with Legwand, Heard Grabo is looking for 5 years, which I think is too long for a “bridge” C until LD is ready.

  • v4ance

    I’m satisfied with the signings on D. As stated, it doesn’t have a #1 but will do it by committee (IF it works properly).

    I’m really happy that the Oilers made reasonable bets on guys below 30. History has repeatedly shown that guys over 30 are well into the years where they have a slow to sharp drop off in playing ability.

    Signing guys around 27 years old is a high probability bet to get most of the prime years of ability and experience of a player.

    The last remaining hole to fill is at #2C with Grabovski or maybe Vrbata. 33 yr old Legwand showed too many signs of decline in his stint with DET. If we sign him or Olli Jokinen, it has to be only a ONE year bandage deal.

  • MacT's Neglected Helmet

    Solid work by MacT. Both in terms of the players he signed (particularly Fayne & Poo) and the players he didn’t sign (hello Deryk Engelland!). Still has a lot of work to do (centers are pretty important..), but a great start.

    You have to appreciate that he took care of some business late during the season (Scrivens, Fasth, Hendricks) and even before free agency (Gagner, Nikitin) to reduce the amount that he’d have to do post-free-agency…

    • Spydyr

      I’m excited… Is the season starting yet!? said the Oiler fan 2007

      I’m excited… Is the season starting yet!? said the Oiler fan 2008

      I’m excited… Is the season starting yet!? said the Oiler fan 2009

      I’m excited… Is the season starting yet!? said the Oiler fan 2010

      I’m excited… Is the season starting yet!? said the Oiler fan 2011

      I’m excited… Is the season starting yet!? said the Oiler fan 2012

      I’m excited… Is the season starting yet!? said the Oiler fan 2013

      now 2014……Can’t fix gullible.

      • Spydyr

        You know what being a fan of something is right? I think oilers need work, and they won’t be close next year, but I’m excited for season start too. So much negativity, at least we’ve figured out the right direction

  • MacT's Neglected Helmet

    As for FA, the only second line center that interests me would be grabovski. Boyle would have been nice as a third line center… What are the chances they move petry for anisimov? Anisimov would be unreal playing with yak….hall-nuge-ebs …perron-anisimov-yak…pouliot-leon\FA- Purcell…gazdic\pitlick-gordon-hendricks

  • Dan 1919

    My post from a few days ago updated, so….

    Hall – Nuge – Ebs

    Perron – xxx – Pur/Yak

    xxx(now Pouliot) – Arco/Lander – Pur/Yak

    Hendricks – Gordon – xxx(Gazdic?)

    Nikitin – Petry

    Ference – Fayne

    Marincin – Shultz/Klefbom/Nurse/Aulie

    The missing 2C doesn’t look so terrible to be filled by Draisaitl anymore now that he can be surround by veterans in Perr and Purc, and still have legit NHL players on the third line in Pouliot-Arco-Yak

    Everyone seems to be forgetting about Nurse in all these D signings, he could still be a very pleasant surprise this training camp allowing our Defence to actually show signs of progression, rather than just treading water.

    The Oiler fan in me wants to say Yak will rebound, one of Klefbom or Nurse will have a great rookie season and Draisaitl will be a solid rookie and the Oilers will actually push for a playoff spot.

    Realistically I think MacT put us in a great position to improve to 10/11 this year and then make the necessary adjustments plus one more year of defence development and the Oilers SHOULD be in the playoffs come 2015/2016

    • Cheesenaka

      The hole at center is huge and I don’t think Draisatl can be considered as a solution this year.

      Any of the FAs are past their prime, but for a one year deal could fill a gap.

      I think the Oil will be looking to deal with teams with cap issues to fill the hole at center. The Blues have about 6m room left and still have to sign Schwartz and Sobotka. Berglund would be a great fit with the Oil but the Blues would not be able to take back any salary so the Oil would need to offer up a draft pick(s) or highly regarded prospects. I really like Berglund but he won’t come cheap.

      The hawks and flyers are both over the cap as well, but I don’t see a great fit on either of these teams.

      • Cheesenaka

        I think Berglund would be servicable 2nd line center. I’ve heard the rumour Petry for Berglund which could be argued as a good fair trade. I don’t see St. Louis needing to move a 6’4 26 year old center making 3.25 m, and they are not doing it for our B rated prospects.

        Would people do Berglund for Petry. Top 6 forward for a top 4 defender, same age and similar cap. Granted what the heck does St. Louis need Petry for.

  • MacT's Neglected Helmet

    My favorite time of year. A fresh new lottery player to anoint as the saviour. A couple new depth wingers and a couple new depth defenceman to get excited about. Same recipe same result?

    • Dan 1919

      I hope your wrong but it is pretty hard to ignore your point.

      I do think MacT added better players to the club than were here but just because they are better than their own team last year doesn’t mean they are good enough to be better than the other crap teams in Cal, Van, Winn.

      Hopefully they catch some nice puck luck this year with a big Yak performance, and a nice coming out party for a Nurse or Klefbom and maybe even Draisaitl… but right now, it’s still very hard to picture this roster making the playoffs.

  • bazmagoo

    I like the Fayne signing beyond words. Fayne and Nikitin together for 8 million is damn fine. Fayne came in at less then I thought and Nikitin at too much.

    As much as I hate the term for Poo, this guy was on my list last year for free agents. I was peeved that MacT took Jones and Joensuu over Poo and Raymond last season. Raymond who sat on the list for weeks and Poo signed a cheep value contract, but MacT was asleep his first year on the job. I don’t think MacT read any advanced stats or read comparables when he gave contracts to Garbagekov and Jones and Joensuu.

    Allie, meh, cheep number 7. Project with upside, our Barker. At least he has size and if he excels it will pizz off Calgary fans who are really liking the 2.9 million ECHL caliber popcorn muncher they got from Pittsburgh.

    Remaining tasks. Get one of Grabbo, Legwand, Berglund, Jokinen at 2-3 years at no more then 4 million. Sign Schultz to no more then a 3 year 2.5 million bridge. Look at some of the bridge deals like Subban if you think this is out to lunch. Then get free agency years from Petry like a 5 year 4 million deal, or use him as a chip for a big bodied number 2 center or legitimate top pairing defender such as Colborne.


  • nuge2drai

    I for one am very pleased today with MacT for whats been accomplished this past week with (a) picking up Nikitin for a 5th rounder only, (b) drafting Draisaitl, (c) trading Gagner (no disrespect to ya Sammy) for a bigger and proven winger in Purcell, (d) getting Pouliot, Fayne and Aulie, and (d) keeping Gazdic for police duties on occasion.

    None of these new players come with NTC or NMC deals of which makes them better trade assets… if they dont work out with the Oilers…so the money and term of contracts dont worry me one bit.

    Yes!!!! Finally the Oilers have an NHL type full defence 6 man set-up with no AHL standard guys… with exception to maybe 7th d-man Aulie. But the best thing so far is that theres no pressure extra on Marancin, Schultz, Petry with more time to develop for Nurse, Klefbom, Davidson, Gernat, Musil, Simpson, etc.

    These guys are younger with far better upsides than what the Oilers ever got from many before them… since 2007 onward… like O’Sullivan, Khabibulin, Barker, Belanger, Foster, Potter, Belov, Grebeshkov, Sutton, Vandemeer, Mike Brown, Fraser, Frazor,..and even from Dubnyk, LaBarbera, and Ryan Jones this past year, etc.

    Also, I watched the Oilers press conference after Day 1 of Free Agency and heard MacT himself intimately acknowledge he wants another centre… so I am more happy to see whats coming soon hopefully. Best part too is there is still about $11 million of cap-space to finish up resigning Petry (if not traded), Schultz, and finding a centre to help out the team.

    Yep…. Its a good day MacT… You can tip your hat for some well earned applause. Please do not stop now either cause you are getting on a good roll…

  • Cheesenaka

    My take:

    The Oilers need cushion years for their young defensemen to mature. These signings allow them to do that. Also, this is a better d-core than they had last year. Hopefully, they can shield the goalies better than they did last year.

    We are not able to attract the high end players, but we did a decent job of filling alot of our needs. MacT is smart, he just needs time.

  • Cheesenaka

    I am quite pleased with what MacT has been able to do in his year of work. While he had a few swing and misses to start (Grebs etc) Perron, Scrivens, Fasth, Nikitin, Pouliot, Fayne all look to be upgrades. Crappy team in a cold climate, he had to overpay in dollars, but he kept most of the term manageable.

    Question – 5 teams in 5 years for Pouliot. The guy has had great possession stats. Are there any underlying issues that caused him to bounce?

    If not, I absolutely love this signing.

    • v4ance

      Researching Pouliot’s history, he was a high draft pick of Minny and established himself as a big body presence on the 4th line.

      He’s occupied that role in Montreal, Boston, TB, and NYR based on TOI/G. During the most recent playoffs, he was boosted to a 3rd line role as well as being a net front presence on the PP and still thrived.

      The common denominator for the past 5 teams is that he’s a regular season beast with 4th line minutes winning the corsi battle and getting into the top 9 scoring of each of his teams.

      Summary: He’s mostly gotten 4th line minutes but produced at the rate of a 2nd or 3rd liner outscoring his role. Think of him as a slow developing Brodziak or Glencross

  • nuge2drai


    Nikitin 6’4″ 223lb facing 2nd comp last 3 years.
    1.31 EVGA/60 that ranks #1 in league.

    Fayne 6’3″ 210lb Facing 2nd comp last 4 years 1.61 EVGA/60
    that is top 10 in league.

    Kieth Aulie:
    facing 1st comp

    3.15 EVGA/60 with Brewer and hedman in Tampa

    2.10 EVGA/60 with Phanuef in TOR

    facing 2nd/3rd comp below 1.90 EVGA/60 when not with Lee or hedman.

    Tampa destroyed a young man who was Marincin good when playing with Quality dmen.

    Craig ramsey get us back the top 20 1st comp Dman kieth Aulie.

    MacT said we needed more goal production; Possesion and size.

    Our current Wingers EVG rank last 4 years
    Eberle 69 EVG #15 W 5’10″ 180lb

    Hall 60 EVG #25 W 6’1″ 210lb

    Perron 47 EVG #53 W 6’0″ 200lb

    Purcell 47 EVG #53 W 6’3″ 210lb

    Pouliot 43 EVG #70 W 6’3″ 205lb

    Yak top 30 year 1 year
    Potentialy 6 top 60 EVG scorers.

    Hall-XXX- Yak



    That is 3 scoring lines.

    Grabovski 56 EVG #20 center

    O. jokinen 49 EVG #35 center

    RNH top 40 EVG two healthy years.

  • Cheesenaka

    I like the D signings. Expected a C today instead of Pouliot because of the Gagner- Purcell trade. I’d really like to see Ryan White signed as a depth guy. I think the upgrade in size is nice but would like to see a little more grit.

  • Cheesenaka

    Better that Aulie sit in the pressbox than Klefbom, who can be the next call up from AHL.

    And, you never know, could be that a guy like Petry might come in play for a 2 nd. line center.

  • Jordan1126

    great work mac t…..imagine if tambellini drafted hall and nuge and actually added some size, depth and nhl experience as well.

    if mac t had this team 3 years ago we would be on the verge of being a contender…

    i love the improvement….we will be tougher to play against!!

  • Cheesenaka

    I wonder if Boston would do David Kreijci and Johnny Boychuk for Jeff Petry and next years 1st round. Or maybe even a 2nd. They badly need to clear cap room and somebody has to go. Might be a fit.

  • Cheesenaka

    Don’t want to be a Debbie downer but let’s all just relax. We have all been here before and the results have been poor. Eager, Belanger, souray ect. I am curious to see how this group gels and performs. Can scrivens and fasth be for real? Can yak score 30+ goals?

    All the young kids are a year older as well so theoretically they should be better as well. Theoretically.

    • v4ance

      I think the are better, but are in no way close to making the playoffs. I don’t think people are thinking we are a playoff club yet, do they?

      San Jose, Anaheim, LA, Chicago, St. Louis, Minnisota, Colorado are locks. I think we can compete for 9th or 10th.

        • Mason Storm

          Colorado does not need Statsny. They are deep down the middle with McKinnon, Duschene and Reilly. They got similar production with Iginla for less doe, which allows them to improve their overall depth. Mckinnon alone will make them better.

          Minny just got a sniper. There a lock down defensive team that just added a 30 goal scorer.

          I don’t know what Colorado’s corsi fenwick stats were like or what their shooting percentages were like TO, but TO was expected to correct last year because the season before their unsustainable shooting percentages allowed them to win when they were grossly outplayed. Maybe the same happens to Colorado.

          • Mo Playoffs Mo Problems

            I believe MacKinnon and O’Reilly played a lot on the wing this past year. Either player can make for a very strong 2C behind Matt Duchene.

            One thing I wonder about is how Iginla’s footspeed will hold out over a 3 year deal. I haven’t watched him or Colorado enough to know, but it seems that he played more of a bump & grind game with BOS and if MacKinnon centers him then they may play more of a high-flying speed game.

            Anyhow, long story short: it looks like Edmonton got a bit better, but almost everyone of significance in the West looks like they got a lot better.

    • MacT's Neglected Helmet

      I agree that we should tread lightly and keep our optimism on hold.

      That said, MacT’s bets are not quite as risky as Tambellini’s were. Well, except for that whole Eakins thing last year. And Dubnyk/Labarberra. Oh, and Belov/Grebeshkov. Ok, never mind… I’m feeling pretty Debbie-downed now 🙁

  • Serious Gord

    At least 5 teams have cap problems and will have to shed a good player(s) to give them some breathing room for the 2014/15 season.

    There are at least 7 more good players that will be available for a cap shedding deal.

    We should be active.