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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  • Zarny

    MacTavish is just putting lipstick on a pig to make it look like something else. IT’S STILL A PIG. Who ever heard of Fayne? The defense is still the same as last year just a few diferent names at higher price tags.
    They don’t have a second line centre and now they have to try and negotiate with Petry and Schultz after they have over paid Nikitin. I know those two don’t have the same leverage as Nikitin had but they both are way better than him so looks like they will be in for some hefty raises.
    It’s nice to see that Eakins got another one of his boys here in Aulie, we seem to have luck signing those old Marlie players that are no good anywhere else.

    • Don’t agree with you. The oilers have signed guys with NHL experience, enough to actually stay and play on their old respective clubs. The Defence is different than last years additions which were either wash-ups in the KHL or had ZERO NHL game experience. Your comments are not accurate.

      These guys actually have NHL experience and will calm the back end down. This should help out the team, or at least make the games more competitive and hopefully bring the shots against down.

  • 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.


    • 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.

  • bazmagoo

    MacT has done extremely well so far at the draft and early in free agency.

    I am however convinced that there is at least one more move to come. He knows he needs a #2C. I expect him to make a deal with a team like the Bruins or the Pens to take on a player they can’t afford due to the Cap.

    I am concerned that it may involve either Marincin or Petry. I hope MacT gets a great return if he goes this route. (Boychuk, Letang)

  • 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.

  • Fair and reasonable take by Willis. I’m not crazy about the D or the contracts but it is no doubt improved. I still don’t get the Pouliout signing. Is Mactavish getting ready to move out a winger, or is he planning to roll 3 scoring lines?

    • acesaaron

      I think he is rolling three scoring lines. He wants 9 reasonable forwards that can score a lot (Hall-RNH-Ebs) or a modest amount (Perron, Purcell, Yak, Pouliot, ?Arcobello) so that they can drive the play in the opposition end of the ice. These guys can learn to backcheck as a team and have improved defence and goaltending so that should all help their goals for / against. It makes sense that if you can have 3 scoring lines, why not use all of them and break the mold of 1st line = ++ scoring, 2nd line = scoring, 3rd line = checkers, 4th line = scrappers and guys to rest the 1st and 2nd lines. Use your top 9 forwards to score and drive play and have less of a need for playing in your own zone. Your 4th line (Gordon, Hendricks, ???) can be the only checking line you have and the rest of the time, you are looking to score goals. Works for me with all of the talented wingers we have.

  • nuge2drai

    Oiler Domination To Follow

    Hall Hopkins Eberle

    Perron Grabovski Yakupov

    Pouliot Draisaitl Purcell

    Hendricks Gordan Pitlick

    Petry Marincin

    Nikitin Fayne

    Shultz Ference

    Scrivens Fasth

    If Grabovski wants 5 years, I would give it to him. He can move into the third scoring line when Draisaitl is ready. Grabovski is a good two way center and depth up the middle is never a bad thing.

    Our defense finally has size and each pairing has a solid puck mover. This years team will be much tougher to cycle against.

    The goaltending will be above average, which would be the first time thats happened since Rollie or Cujo played for the Oilers.

      • nuge2drai

        Oiler Domination To Follow

        I have a feeling that if the Oilers are doing well in November you’ll be no where to be found.

        Having bigger defenseman who can move the puck is something to be optimistic about.

        The team played well with above average goaltending when Scrivens arrived, that is something to be optimistic about as well.

        • Serious Gord

          There are many forms of optimism. Yours in this case is correctly termed “blue sky”. So many ifs in the line-up you present – not the least of which is it includes a player the oilers have yet to aquire.

          That said, it seems to be a lineup that is a little bit better than the one that existed a year ago, but not one that looks to be able to move out of the bottom third of the league even if it performs to modest expectations – still no 1/2 physicality down the middle (and really nothing to fear on the wings either) and no d-men in the top sixty in the league.

          And that’s just what is on paper.

          Many of these players are very unproven – little more than rookies at best – you have one on every line position and two in net. The oil is going to have to be remarkably injury-free (after years of being at or near the top for most-injured) to deliver even close to what you expect – is there another team in the league lacking depth more than the oil?

  • 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.

  • 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

  • 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.

  • acesaaron

    I just wish that Mac T had signed Schultz and Petry at the end of the season. Should have just told Schultz “you’ll get the same bridge deal as PK Subban got with Montreal…now get out there and win a Norris”. Negotiating with Petry may have also been easier when the ceiling was Ference. He would have been happy with $4 million per season I think but now, maybe he wants a bit more (hence the trade rumours). Would also have given us a better idea of dollars heading into free agency but overall, I’m happy with what Mac T is doing. Of course, he could be waiting to see who is available from the overspent teams to see if a trade can be worked out but I think draft picks are the only thing that should be sent back. If Gagner and Crombeen go for a sixth and Gorges went for a second, a third and fourth-rounder should be good for almost anyone looking to dump a contract.

  • bazmagoo

    Your criticism about the moves on defence, price and terms of contract is bitvere. He has been on the job as GM for just over a year and after this last couple of weeks I would think you would cut him just a little slack. Not only did he have to push the rebuild forward he had to undue the pathetic work of Tambellini before he could start to really put his plan into motion.

    Anyone could take what he did or didn’t do and take the antipodal position.

    They aren’t ready for a cup run but the D he signed as a bridge til the young guns are ready makes all kinds of sense. Combining the coaching/player moves are at leastlogical. I feel a whole lot better today based on the changes allowing the young players time to develop.

    • bazmagoo

      You seem certain that the prospects only need a few years in the minors And just like that they can come and be superstar NHL players and carry us to the promised land.

  • Zarny

    I would really like to see both Lander & Arco on the team, Instead if rushing LeoD (assuming they get a solid 2C) why not deploy those two? Arco on 2nd and Lander on 3rd?

      • agreed

        I may be in the minority, but i’m quite tired of the Arco buzz…..if Arco truly was an NHLer with staying power he never would have been in the AHL last year…..all the BS talk about his advanced stats, etc…..what exactly did Arco do after the first 12 games last year……well, according to advanced stats he “didn’t hurt the team”…..

        So, the rationale that Arco didn’t hurt the team is the reason some of the media now tout him as surefire to play next year in the show……

        Arco can be a stopgap until someone with staying power can slot in, he is not a solution, so let’s stop acting like he is…..

  • 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!

  • 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…

  • what happens when Klefbom outplays ference and petry in TC? I don’t understand this hard on everyone has with sending him back to the AHL. He clearly elevates his play when playing higher quality hockey. If he starts in the A my guess is it wont be for long.

  • I guess the #1 D man we were hoping for just isn’t going to happen. The #2C is still a “?” But it won’t likely end up being anything better than Grabo.

    While our defense is looking better, it still isn’t looking good. Unless Marincin is 25lbs heavier and twice the player he was when he finished last season, we simply cannot expect this d core to get us to the playoffs. Nurse is 2 years away, and Klefbom is 1 year away.

  • ……has anyone else noticed what the rest of the west has done?

    Just to scrape for the 7 or 8 spot in the playoffs next year the Oilers will either need to play a responsible team game with a focus on possession + get very good goaltending……or Taylor Hall will have to score 136G (98 on the PP) and add 274A for a total of 410 pts, setting new records in all categories, win the Richard, Art Ross, Pearson, Hart, and why not the Selke and Lady Byng too…..either scenario works for me

    I love living in the Oilers bubble….so awesome.

    • Lowe But Now High Expectations

      You’re so right. The Oilers did improve themselves, but even a 20% improvement still keeps them light years from the playoffs. All of the free agents of ability wound up on western teams.

      • Quicksilver ballet

        They are so far away from being a playoff contender that some people actually think they are a contender. One big thing they have to improve is the Head coach. Until Eakins is gone and Craig Ramsey takes over this team is going no where. By far the worst coach in the NHL. Will be another year of meaningless games from January on

    • 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

  • 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.

  • Serious Gord

    Twice I heard on sports net that it is assumed that Petry would be dealt to make room for the players acquired.

    If so I’m not sure that the d as it stands today is much better than it looked last year at this date – 99 days from when the first game of the season.

    And the draft picks mentioned really aren’t MacT’s doing.

    And are there any of these d in the top sixty in the league?

  • bazmagoo

    Yes we have the makings of a underwhelming defence, but at least it’s an NHL defence. No playoffs until 1 of Klefbom, Nurse, or Marincin turn into a #1 d-man though. No pressure fellas, haha. Thankfully we’ve got 5 guys behind them with reasonable credentials as well. Davidson, Gernat, Musil, Oesterle, and Simpson.