The Craig MacTavish Blue Line

Craig MacTavish2

It’s pretty easy to gut an NHL defence corps, but it’s much harder to build one up.

Craig MacTavish has been wonderfully active in just over a season at the helm of the Oilers, flushing away 75 percent of the defence group he inherited from outgoing G.M. Steve Tambellini. But how has he done in terms of improving the position?

The Inheritance

15-Schultz-2

Left Side Right Side
Ladislav Smid Jeff Petry
Nick Schultz Justin Schultz
Ryan Whitney Corey Potter
Mark Fistric
Theo Peckham 

Someday, if the Oilers ever pull themselves out of the NHL basement, somebody is going to write that a lot of the credit needs to go to Tambellini, who oversaw the acquisition of a bunch of high picks. That somebody should take a long look at the blue line MacTavish inherited before writing that:

Exactly two players are left from that group: Jeff Petry and Justin Schultz. The other six are:

2013-14

21-Ference-6

Left Side Right Side
Andrew Ference Justin Schultz
Martin Marincin Jeff Petry
Anton Belov Philip Larsen
Mark Fraser
Oscar Klefbom

MacTavish made immediate moves – most notably signing Andrew Ference away from Boston – and made some low-risk bets on guys like Anton Belov and Philip Larsen:

It still wasn’t a particularly good group, and the No. 5 – 7 slots have all been purged this offseason.

The Big Move

Left Side Right Side
Nikita Nikitin Justin Schultz
Andrew Ference Jeff Petry
Martin Marincin Mark Fayne
Keith Aulie
Oscar Klefbom

It’s been a nice summer for the Oilers’ blue line, which still lacks a top-end talent but has benefited from the addition of three free agents:

There’s still a long, long way to go, and most of the heavy lifting will probably need to be done by developing prospects – Marincin, Klefbom and eventually Darnell Nurse.

That’s one of the reasons the addition of Fayne is so interesting. Fayne and Petry play similar roles in a way – they’re both guys who can be trusted with hard assignments – and so the addition of the ex-Devil means that the Oilers now have two options for that work on the right side. If I’m guessing, I’d suggest that means one of those guys will be played in a shutdown role while the other rides shotgun for a younger partner. Marincin flourished with Petry last year, and having either Petry or Fayne as a partner is a pretty nice situation for any of the young defenceman as they make the jump to the NHL.

The blue line overall still doesn’t look that good on paper, and we won’t know for sure about anything until they hit the ice in 2014-15. But it looks to me like MacTavish has done some solid working in getting things turned in the right direction. 

RECENTLY BY JONATHAN WILLIS

  • Serious Gord

    JW. Ference was a 4-5 in Boston at an age where sliding to a 5-6 is probably his current skill level.

    Nikitin played add a 5-6 last season in Columbus, did he not? He was a healthy scratch more than a few times.

    MacT lucked into Marincin.

    Fayne was the only proven top four defender with any realistic expectation of sustaining top four performance that MacT should be credited with.

  • Serious Gord

    JW – he has been wonderfully active trading and aquiring middling players. As has been noted by others above he reall hasn’t been very remarkable.

    I wouldn’t and I think many others wouldn’t describe him as being “wonderfully” active. And yet the team still lacks at centre and at D – perhaps catastrophically so. Where are the threads from ON lambasting him for two years of failure to round out the team?