There are exactly two holdovers from the Edmonton Oilers blue line that Craig MacTavish inherited when he ascended to the team’s general managership. One is a young defenceman who he helped recruit and who has routinely been lumped in with the best young players on the roster.
The other if Jeff Petry, a pending unrestricted free agent playing on a one-year deal. Would it surprise anyone if Petry were to find himself representing another NHL team before the end of next season?
The Right Side of the Blue Line
The Oilers have a bunch of players who can play on the right side. Schultz, who we alluded to in the introduction, is an exceptional offensive defenceman who might yet evolve into a true two-way player. MacTavish has publicly described him as “very much one of our core players,” “outstanding” and alternately described his upside as “huge” and “limitless.”
Also playing the position is Mark Fayne, a new arrival who the Oilers signed to a four-year deal as an unrestricted free agent. Asked about the length of the contract in his July 1 presser, MacTavish made it clear that he wasn’t worried about it.
“Mark asked for a shorter term but we felt like he really fit into what we’re trying to build here with his character and the way that he plays,” the G.M. said. “He’s just a really solid player, a solid person, so we were happy with the term with Mark.”
Then there’s Nikita Nikitin, another free agent signing whose best season came on the right side of Fedor Tyutin under the watchful eye of current Oilers executive (and then Columbus Blue Jackets G.M.) Scott Howson. He’s a left-handed shot and will likely start on the left side, but could easily transition over to the right, and he’s earning $4.5 million for the next two seasons.
Right now, the issue is that the left side of the defence (Andrew Ference, Martin Marincin, Keith Aulie, Oscar Klefbom, maybe Darnell Nurse) can’t really afford to lose Nikitin. But it’s not hard to picture that changing, and soon – Nurse, Klefbom and Marincin are all very young and very promising and one would imagine the Oilers will want all three on the team in 2015-16 (barring a trade of one of them).
In a scenario where Nurse plays wonderfully over a nine-game cameo or Klefbom dominates the minor leagues over two dozen games, the Oilers may well decide to clear space in the majors, and an easy way to do that would be to send Petry out and shift Nikitin to starboard.
It’s also easy to imagine the kind of deal that could prompt the Oilers to move a defender like Petry. Edmonton, at the moment, appears ready to go into 2014-15 with a centre depth chart that leans heavily on hope, with both Leon Draisaitl and Mark Arcobello penciled into feature roles.
There is a possibility it works – that Draisaitl is ready to go from Day 1 and that Arcobello shows the wonderful form he displayed in filling in for Sam Gagner early last season. The difficulty is if it doesn’t work, something Edmonton should know within 10-20 games.
This is where we draw a line between the uncertainty at centre and the uncertainty on defence. On the blue line, the Oilers have excellent depth and could well find themselves wanting to make room for Klefbom. At centre, they have scanty depth and may need to bring in some outside help.
There were rumours for much of the summer that Petry might be moved out of town – the Islanders were frequently mentioned as a potential trading partner – in order to address the shaky state of centre. It didn’t happen, and as the summer has gone on a big trade has seemed increasingly improbable.
But unlike justice, a trade delayed is not necessarily a trade denied.
RECENTLY BY JONATHAN WILLIS
- NHL changes draft lottery rules – and the timing works nicely for Edmonton
- Keith Aulie or Oscar Klefbom: Which would be the better Oiler next season?
- Justin Schultz: One-year deal?
- Toni Rajala: Lost along the way
- Justin Schultz: No wonder the contract isn’t done
- 2014-15 goals projection series: Hall, Eberle, Nugent-Hopkins, Perron, Pouliot and Purcell, Yakupov, Arcobello and Draisaitl, Forward overview, Defence overview.
- Follow Jonathan Willis on Twitter