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?

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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

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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.

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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


  • v4ance

    I’ll admit, I was entirely too patient with Tambellini because I thought he had a plan to eventually address the D. The bottoming out and getting elite forwards worked like a charm but he never took the next step and addressed the Defencemen.

    MacT has been brought in to assemble the personnel working behind our blueline. Looks like progress so far…

  • ThinkingOutLoud

    He has done a very good job considering what he had to work with – I mean let’s face it – being a bottom 3 team in the league makes it quite an uphill struggle to even find a trading partner. Would you want to but a vehicle from the worst used car dealership in town?

    Unfortunately though until he lands a Weber for magic beans a lot of people are not going to be satisfied – and that’s like winning the lottery in terms of odds against.

    • DieHard

      Remind me again, how many Stanley’s has Weber won. Yes, it would be nice to have a Weber or a Doughty. You still need to have a very good team to go with that stud D-man. Question is, do you have to have one to win that damn cup?

      • ThinkingOutLoud

        It definitely wouldn’t hurt to have one, but I was talking more about people’s satisfaction with the job MacT has done thus far rebuilding the D, rather than winning a cup.

        Are we ready to win a cup now? Honestly no – but we do have some good pieces in place which need seasoning. A stud D would help immensely with the development of the rest of the team, and not just the D. The confidence they would bring in addition to the little things they do right the others could learn from would be huge.

        I often remember the story of the kid who started with a piece of junk on Craigslist or some site like that. It took some time but managed to slowly trade ’till one day he ended up with with a Porsche.

        I think that’s what MacT is in the process of doing. A home run would of course be awesome, but a bunch of base hits in a row get the same result in the end while giving the young guys coming up time to develop as well.

      • Serious Gord

        Irrelevant how many cups he has won. By that metric several top flite dmen wouldn’t make the cut – borje salming, brad park and mark Howe would be just three.

        Going back through the years the answer would be a pretty solid “yes” you do need a stud defensemen. Very very rare that a team has won one without one.

  • DieHard

    I think at this point we have 4 good 2nd pairings and 3 good 3rd pairings. Eventually add in Nurse and Kelfbom and I think we’re looking quite excellent.

  • DieHard

    Poor decisions were made. Tambo wasn’t working alone, so don’t put all the blame on the guy that is no longer around to defend himself.

    The blue line is still missing the #1 or #2 D-man. Fayne might be ok. Ference seemed a step behind last season. The young guys coming up have to be the difference makers.

    • He wasn’t working alone but he was the damn GM. The buck has to stop somewhere. I don’t care if people think that Lowe was pulling the strings. GM decisions. GM responsibilities.

      Lowe is still there now but Mac-T seems to have been able to make moves to improve the team.

      Hopefully improve the team I mean.

  • Dan 1919

    Oh I just could not resist. I still interested in understanding how and who thought adding Tamby was a good idea?

    Exactly what did he accomplish in Vancouver that had people thinking he would be a good addition? Once again Lowe is at the centre of all this. I can just see Lowe interviewing this clown asking him about his vision and direction for the team……..and getting a blank stare.

    Lowe hired him because he could be easily controlled……..nothing more! He did assemble an AHL and ECHL franchise, so he was not totally useless…….but very close.

    • Oilfan69

      This type of comment makes me laugh, no I am not defending Steve but it was a fact that he was one of the so called best men not a GM yet, you ask what he did in Vancouver well under his watch the ‘Nots drafted and developed Kesler, Edler, Beiksa, and Burrows so yeah I do think he had some sort of pedigree to be interviewed for that job. Also this is what ALL YOU so called “Oilers fans” wanted – someone with no ties to the club.

    • Zarny

      So basically your theory is that Lowe, a GM who was active and aggressive acquiring players like Pronger, Roloson, Peca, Samsanov, Visnovsky etc (not to mention the offer sheets), suddenly pulled a 180 and commanded Tambellini to twiddle his thumbs and do nothing.

      Only to then do another 180 and command MacT to be one the most active GMs in the league.

      You sure you want to stick with that story?

      Funny how the job description for the POHO does not include actively trying to improve the roster on a day to day basis. They save that for the GM.

      There are certainly many criticisms that can be leveled at Kevin Lowe including not firing Tambellini sooner.

      But when faced with the conspiracy that Lowe is an all-powerful, all-controlling, bi-polar mafioso it is far more likely that Tambellini just sucked balls as a GM.

      • camdog

        LMAO!

        The idea that Lowe simply picks the GM and stands back with no say in decisions is fantasy.

        Decisions, as Lowe himself admits, are made collectively, including himself.

        If Lowe is involved in the decision making process is he not responsible for at least part of the outcome?

        I’ll let you sit and ponder that for a while.

        • Zarny

          No where did I suggest Lowe merely picks the GM and then stands back with no say in decisions. Perhaps some better reading comprehension would help you.

          Like it or not, it isn’t the POHO job to actively try to improve the roster. It’s the GM’s.

          There is no doubt that Lowe would be involved in the decision making process. Every POHO is. You have to have a decision to make for that to actually happen however. Once again, not Lowe’s job to go find those opportunities. It’s the GM’s.

          So while Lowe was GM there were plenty of decisions that were made and now with MacT there are plenty of decisions to be made but while Tambo was working the street it was crickets.

          I’ll let you sit and ponder that for awhile lol.

          If you squint really hard I bet you can even get a few neurons to fire.

      • Yes he “sucked balls” for five years. Just how long does it take to figure out this guy was not going to do anything??

        It became apparent ………at least to the vast majority, Tamby was incapable of anything requiring a re-build! In the business world we call people like this maintainers, NOT builders.

        Tamby had ” maintainer” , tatooed on his forehead. If Lowe hired a maintainer when we needed a builder, than he is a bigger idiot than Tamby.

  • DieHard

    WILLIS : Was not Petry , Klefbom and Marincin a Tambo carryover not a MacT. acquisition . Maybe even Schultz was due in part to Tams ? Mact. is responsible for Ference , Grebs , Larsen , Fraser and Belov . Fayne , Aulie and Nikitin are definitely MacT’s. ,and should be better than his last years failures on defence.

  • BlazingSaitls

    MacT needs to draw a line in the sand with Jultz’s agent. Get the deal done. If you dont succeed play the the “ahhhh…c’mon. its my birthday…pwease..” card

  • CMG30

    As far as I’m concerned, the biggest failing of Klowe was that he didn’t can Tambo years sooner. I can’t believe how refreshing it is to watch a GM actually take action to try and fix problems. Now I don’t yet know how many of MacT’s solutions will pan out and he’s clearly not done revamping the team yet but I think he’s on the right track overall.

  • Oilfan69

    Not suggesting that the Oilers are on par defensively with the following teams, however,
    these are team without the STUD defenseman , and are playing competitive hockey:

    Anaheim, Colorado, Dallas, Tampa, SanJose, Detroit,Columbus, Vancouver.There is probably others I have excluded. These teams play by committee.

    • Oilfan69

      Anaheim – Fowler. Do we have a Fowler?
      Colorado – They definitely do not have a stud, and i believe that they will come back down to earth this season. They seem to just play very well together

      Dallas – Dillon is good. Not seasoned yet, but could easily break through this season. Gonchar is older than dirt but he would make a great mentor. Goligoski is not exactly a hot name, but hes better than what we have. Their D could be their downfall this season. They are deep everywhere else on the roster.

      Tampa – Not even near the same category as the rest of these teams. Hedman is better than anything the Oilers have or will have. Strahlman was a fantastic addition. Jason Garrison is top4 any day of the week (top2 on our roster), Brewer/Ohlund stable the depth.

      SanJose – Braun, Burns, Demers are all stable and reliable. Vlasic is an Olympic Gold Medalist.

      Detroit – Smith, Kindl, Ericsson – all have top4 potential. Dekeyser is more or less Schultz. Kronwall, while old, is still responsible and dependable. But on paper, they are not the best Defense. But as a team, and with Babcock, they are far superior to the Oilers.

      Columbus – Jack Johnson (an actual #1 dman), Ryan Murray (developing into a #1 dman), Wisniewski and Tyutin (would you not love to have both on our roster??) – Surprised this team was brought up. They have good depth on their defense.

      Vancouver – They might be old, but they can still play! Edler and Bieksa (although i hate him). How about another Olympic gold Medalist in Dan Hamhuis, the young and talanted Chris Tanev? Just added a Sbisa (better than Smid). This team is still miles ahead of us in the defense.

      Arguements can be made for maybe 1-3 other teams in the league. Philadelphia would be a good example of a shot defense. But we are stil the weakest in the NHL on defense.

      We are really relying on a lot of our prospects to make an impact, and the reality is, they wont. Not this year. 2-3yrs down the road, then we could possibly be in the same conversation as the teams listed above. but not today. Not this year.

      • camdog

        This right here sums up “Oilers fans”, over rate others

        Fowler – really he is a stud d man, that is an insult to real stud d men, will Fowler be good yeah, will he be great maybe, is he a stud nothing says that but who knows

        Dallas – are you a stars pr guy ? Goligoski would slot in as out #1 maybe but otherwise their d are in the same boat as us

        San Jose and Tampa were terrible examples as they have Burns/Vlasic/Hedman so yes very good but they are not in the “stud class” – Weber, Suter, Doughty, Pietrangelo, Chara, Keith.

        Detroit – I though you were working on the Stars pay roll until I read that paragraph, those d men are at best 3/4, nothing different than what Edmonton has

        Columbus – another bad example as Johnson is a #1 d man, but before you pump Murray’s tires as a stud talk to be after he does not play sheltered minutes

        Vancouver – That was a verbal oral pleasure that Jim Hughson would have been proud of. I laughed at you claiming Sbisa being better than Smid, based on what ? Sbisa has been on 3 teams now and has yet to play anything meaningful in 5 years, Smid was already established as a competent NHL d man. Overate Hamhuis and his softer than butter’s gold medal even more (I do not think many would say that he is better than Seabrook, but by your logic he is). What has the “young and talented” Christian Tanev shown that makes anyone say he is going to be another 3/4 d man ? Is their d better, yeah Bieksa and Edler would be our one/two but the rest is far from “miles better”

        • Somebody needs to learn how to read. For 3/4 of your comments, I never said “stud”

          Fowler is a good dman. Would be our best if we had him. That’s all. Never said he was Doughty.

          Dallas- goligiski is not a stud. Nor is he a #1 dman. On the oilers, he might have to play that role. Is nikitin a #1? Is Schultz? Nope. But they might have to play as such.

          Detroit – what part of “top 4 potential” scream stud or #1 dman? Please learn to read.

          Columbus- never said Murray was a stud. I said he was being groomed into a #1 dman. That starts with playing sheltered minutes.

          Vancouver – Sbisa is better than Smid. He sure looked good on a terrible oilers defense. Now he is in Calgary playing bottom pairing minutes and struggling at that. Amazing what depth can do. Say what you want about Hamhuis but he was still chosen as part of the 7 best Canadian dmen in the world. And would easily be the oilers #1 dman. And they would be happier than hell to get him. And don’t insult me that I think he is better than Seabrook. But apparently other executive decision makers did. So keep your slandering attitude to yourself.

          Glad there are others on the site that actually read before making ridiculous comments.

          You can wear your rose colored glasses all you want. In the meantime, I’ll be realistic.

          • camdog

            Seems you’re being very harsh who made a honest error precipitated by your error in your origional post. To refresh your memory, your post was a reply to another that you included as a quote.
            That post was very specific in being about “stud” defencemen and if one was neccessary to a winning team. That fact did give one the impression that you were carrying on the discussion. I admit that it became obvious rather quickly that you had no interest in the topic and were simply looking to drive the Oiler D as deep into the ground as possible which is your right of course.
            It does cause one to ask a question though. Since the qoute was so obviously irrelevant to your comment.

            Why did you include it in the first place?????

          • Zarny

            I am not wasting my time on all your dumb comments but maybe before you decide to run your mouth you should learn how to actually read, as stated before you decided to run a list of at best B level dmen in a response to another person saying do you need a stud d man insinuating that those “d men” that you listed were stud d men but good try trying to defend yourself while calling me out.

            I love your argument discrediting Smid about being overrated by depth yet the guy you are trying to pump tires for was made expendable because of depth (not to mention he has NEVER been a plus player in his pro career, playing on defense that was better than Edmonton’s yet smid alteast was), but keep pumping his tires and think he is better than Smid.

            I also love you sitting there talking about me insulting you by saying you think Dan Hamhius is better than Brent Seabrook, but yet your sole argument on how great he is based on saying he is the 7th best d man (then you hide by the comment of team Canada executives) which once again a team that Seabrook did not make, but obviously in your mind he is worse than Hamhius.

            Finally I did expect the rose colored glasses comment because that is what all you bs’ers resort too when your dumb comments get called out, keep hiding behind the realist comments as well, good save.

        • cableguy - 2nd Tier Fan

          Fowler – really he is a stud d man, that is an insult to real stud d men, will Fowler be good yeah, will he be great maybe, is he a stud nothing says that but who knows

          false.

          Fowler is a generational talent, whom the Oilers should have drafted 1st overall instead of Taylor Hall.

          i know this to be true because DSF said so.

      • Serious Gord

        I think some of this is on point while other is as #29 jeremy says and might be a bit inflated. I see Golegoski and Gonchar as the weakest link on an otherwise decent Dallas team. I also think after their top two lines, the Oilers are a deeper team, and will continue to be as the younger kids develop.

        I agree that Vancouver still has a world class defense, though they are one Sedin away from having an abysmal season.

        I agree that Tampa has a much improved defence, and one of the best in the East now.

        Columbus, I also agree has a very deep defense, though I would never call JJ a number one. His defensive game is terrible, and he generates more shots against Columbus than for when he is on the ice. He’s a good offensive threat, but like Schultz, still is not a good defender.

        Anaheim, meh. Fowler, sure, but really, I think they are due for a dip. I think they are going to miss the depth Bonino and Peruealt and Selanee, and Kouivu brought that team. It’s all on Kesler not to get injured, and their unproven goalie tandem.

        Detroit is no longer reaping the benefit of being the premier, go win a cup destination for free agents, I think we will see them decline for the next few years. But then, betting against Detroit is kind of dumb.

        As for the Edmonton Defense, well, much better than the last few years, it all rides on the development or asset management of the 3 amigos.

        • Im sorry but a so called “world class defence” like the one you say Vancouver has doesn’t finish bottom 6 in the league.

          Now you can blame Tortorella all you want but the fact is that they are far from world class.

  • Oilfan69

    Got rid of guys who have become number 6-8 def with other teams and replaced them with guys who were number 6-8 with other teams. That should be an improvement I suppose.

  • Basshole39

    INFO REQUEST : When does free junior stars open camp here ? I see they have a Penticton Tourney with first game Sept.5 . Secondly , when does camp open for the vets , etc. ?

  • Dan 1919

    “Fayne and Petry play similar roles in a way – they’re both guys who can be trusted with hard assignments…” Really? Petry can be trusted with hard assignments if you want to finish in the basement (see last year and the year previous).

    Petry is similar to Shultz with mediocre offencive upside, and terrible defensive liabilities, except Petry is 26 years old and should have been cleaning up his game by now.

    Assuming Shultz signs, that will leave Petry to be the next surprise trade made by MacT probably before this season is up. Petry will go into the books with Smid of everyone saying how good he is then sombrely realizing how they’re actually not very good once they are seen on a different NHL team.

    There’s a reason the Oilers have been so bad (spoiler alert), it’s their players past and present. We’ve watched them play so long as an NHL bottom 3 team that we begin to overrate players and think they’re good (see Dubnyk, Smid, Petry, Gagner)

    A defenceman being able to play Defence is more important than a defenceman who can skate fast and play soft like butter. Hopefully Petry realizes that this season, otherwise he will be gone before the deadline passes.

    • Dan 1919

      He’s got a nonchalantness to him that looks like it’s going to restrict his ceiling anyway. He’ll definitely be a long term NHL Dman that puts up at least a modest amount of points.

      But look on the bright sides, the Oilers are one of the worst teams in the NHL, that means we’ve got plenty of holes to plug. If it comes down to a trade MacT will get something with substantial value to help plug a hole elsewhere (like down the middle).

      Unless you think he’s going to be the best Dman in the NHL, good players get traded all the time on good teams… and right now he is very, very far from untradeable.

  • bwar

    Oh Willis – always trying to put a positive spin on a situation. With all the gushing articles you’ve written about MacTavish, he HAS to offer you a job.

  • bwar

    I’m pretty much over the Justin Schultz experiment. We are loaded with offensive talent up front and we need to develop a rock solid defensive defense core. Schultz is our worst defensman in the defensive zone and his complete lack of a slapshot should prevent him from being part of the powerplay. So what is Edmonton to do with a $4 mil + dman who is a liability in his own zone and ineffective on the powerplay?

  • MacT's Neglected Helmet

    “Fayne and Petry play similar roles in a way – they’re both guys who can be trusted with hard assignments”

    Uhh… really? Not sure if Petry is trusted with hard assignments. More like, “we don’t have anyone better so Petry gets the hard assignments”, which he has been just-okay with. It’s not his fault that we haven’t had a true top-pairing dman, but it’s also inaccurate to label him as one.

  • Spoils

    with Pronger in 06 we only had to keep it tied when he was off the ice. It really sold me on what D can do.

    Remember how Canada’s D manhandled the olympic opposition…

    you only need 6 players to be relentless… seems like an easier way to build a team. seems like the core to chase are the d.

    Hope I am wrong, and I hate to say this because of my deep love for all things YakCity, but it kind of feels like not drafting Ryan Murray was a mistake…

    Think of what that 2017 D committee would have been:

    Murray, Nurse, Klefbom, Schultz, Petry, Marincin

    • camdog

      Everybody always forgets that even with Pronger the Oilers were a horrible hockey team. It wasn’t until we acquired an NHL goalie that we became a competitive hockey team.

  • camdog

    It’s a good bridge till Nurse and klefbom are ready IMO,
    It gives us reasonable passing and fair offence till the young ones
    Can hack the pace. Would be nice to have a weber but we don’t. I think
    We will see a much more competent group this year, which is all we can ask
    For!

  • camdog

    Here is what we can look forward to this year with a more established defence and goaltending . Draisaitl will have the type of season our other young stars were denied by a soft core , poorer defence and suspect goaltending . He could very well out perform them all for first year . Young stars will show major progress as well , and goals against way down to levels of playoff teams . We should be that close as size and weight discrepancy has also been neutralized to acceptable levels . Nurse might also make a breakthrough .

    Is Hartekainen still Oilers property after next season ?