KIDS AREN’T GOING TO SOLVE EDMONTON’S DEFENSIVE PROBLEMS

Going back at least as far as the day the Edmonton Oilers drafted Sam Gagner, fans of the team have been taught to place their reliance in young up-and-comers. 

It is an easy mindset to fall into on defence, where the problems are many and top prospect Aaron Ekblad may join an already strong prospect group at this summer’s draft. As tempting as it sounds, general manager Craig MacTavish cannot afford to make the mistake of falling into the trap of thinking the solution is youth.

The primary problem has to do with timelines. 

Edmonton’s NHL team has been in rebuild for a long time. Whether one subscribes to the party-approved line that the rebuild started with the drafting of Taylor Hall in 2010 or instead places the date at Chris Pronger’s departure for Anaheim, futility has been the order of the day for far too long. The fans are unruly, and the only way to turn it around is with winning.

Another factor is what Lowetide likes to call the heart of the order – players like Hall, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and the like – who are now established as NHL players. Hall’s being paid to produce like a first-liner, as is right wing Jordan Eberle. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins will join them next season. These players are tremendously talented and entering the prime years of their careers but if they aren’t supported – and soon – the Oilers run the risk of losing them. Edmonton has already lost the cheapest years for that trio, which poses its own problem (Chicago won the first Stanley Cup for the modern era Blackhawks while Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane were still on their entry-level deals).

So with the clock running on its young stars and the fanbase’s mood already turned to ugly, the Oilers have to start making considerable progress right now. To do that, they need good defencemen. 

Time & Opportunity 

There may not be a steeper learning curve at any position in hockey than there is on defence and the examples of players really putting things together after two, three or even four seasons of NHL hockey abound. Additionally, an organization can only devote so much space to prospect defencemen if they want to win.

A good example is the Oklahoma City Barons. At the start of the year the team’s defence was pegged as a great strength and why not – with some strong second-year pros (Martin Marincin, Taylor Fedun, Brad Hunt and Brandon Davidson), a guy the Oilers felt might be NHL-ready (Oscar Klefbom), an actual NHL’er (Philip Larsen) and some extremely talented rookies (Martin Gernat and David Musil) pushing for time the Barons should have been set; they could ice two top pairings, and force the kids to fight with older guys like Hunt and Davidson for ice time

It hasn’t worked out that way. Call-ups and injuries and regression (particularly on the part of Davidson) mean that for much of the year the Barons have relied on three rookies – one for each pairing. That’s not a problem for the Oilers – these guys need at-bats and the AHL is a developmental league – but it’s a big part of the reason who the Barons are four points out of a playoff spot.

The NHL is even more punishing. Oilers fans have seen first hand how a defenceman coming off college and an incredibly dominant AHL run struggled to adapt to second-pair and now first-pair minutes. They saw Ladislav Smid find his way in the majors after being pushed there well before he was ready.

Edmonton doesn’t have a top-pairing defenceman right now. Even if Schultz is penciled in for a top-pair role next season on the assumption that he can handle it, the Oilers need a top-pair guy to complement him. Andrew Ference isn’t that guy, and it’s crazy to think Darnell Nurse or Oscar Klefbom or Martin Marincin or Aaron Ekblad will be either. The first three (and the fourth, if drafted) may evolve into the role but the Oilers need is immediate. 

As it is, phasing in prospects like those listed above (to say nothing of Gernat or Musil or Dillon Simpson) is going to result in growing pains, which means the Oilers will need to lean on experienced guys who can play hard minutes to off-set the talented youth. Jeff Petry and Andrew Ference might be those guys on the lower pairs, but there has to be somebody topside who can cast a long shadow for the other pairs while they figure things out. The Oilers don’t have anybody like that, and may not for years.

Recently by Jonathan Willis

  • pkam

    @Willis

    I know Ekblad and Nurse won’t be our immediate help. But it doesn’t look like we are going to get a top pairing D from trade or UFA. So what is our option?

      • I agree the team needs a stop-gap, but I don’t agree that the right decision is to break up the core and deal one of Eberle, Hall, Nuge, Yak, or J. Schultz.

        I subscribe to selling high, don’t most people? Do you think those core pieces I just mentioned have value on the market that is at it’s peak? Maybe their value stays the same, but it certainly isn’t about to drop any time soon.

        There is one player on the oilers who is worth more right now than he will ever be worth again… One player who’s value is at its Peak: David Perron. He has been better than anyone in oil country could have expected and if ever there is going to be a time to move him, that time is now. If a package involving Perron can bring in one of Hamonic, Roman Josi, Brodin, MacDonald, Mcdonagh, or another d man that is under 30 than great. That basically means we traded MPS for our top d man.

        If you’re screaming that Perron is way too valuable to move, than you’re reinforcing my point of how highly people value him right now. Higher now than he ever will be again.

        I might argue Perron can get close to as much as Eberle or more because he brings a nastiness that Eberle doesn’t have, his contract is much lower, and he’s right behind Eberle offensively. But in the long term, eberle is more valuable to this team than Perron.

        Stay the course. It’s the right decision, and it’s the best course of action. If you’re worried that hall’s contract will be up by the time we make the playoffs, than there’s no hope for you. You can’t let the fear of losing Hall dictate how this team is managed. Thinking like that will just get the oilers in more trouble.

        Move Hemsky, Perron, and Gagner if you can get fair value.

        • oilerjed

          This may be the best idea on here. I like Perron alot but it doesnt look like he is in the long term plans. What is his actual value I wonder. Most definitely better return then Gags but less then Ebs?

      • A-Mc

        Really JW?

        Come on man, we can stop-gap with a buttery soft d-man in Erhoff, a small midget with Campbell, or a sieve like Byfuglien?

        NO thanks! I would much rather endure the pain and build our own than trading away our youth for marginal upgrades. UFA is the only option if we can get someone on a reasonable deal……..not like the Clarkson deal which in my opinion will hog tie the Leafs for a few years. This has to be the best thing that ever happened to Edmonton ( not sigining Clarkson) …….we dodged a bullet there!

        • That’s the same Brian Campbell who helped bridge a gap in Chicago, right?

          The same Dustin Byfuglien who stands 6’5″, weighs 265 pounds and plays tough minutes every night?

          The same Christian Ehrhoff who played big minutes on five multi-series playoff runs?

          Maybe you’re right, and the Oilers blue line would only be improved if they can somehow add a 6’3″, 230 pound guy (or bigger) who can play 25 minutes a night. That’s not the Oilers’ blue I’ve seen, and I haven’t seen the player you want popping up in trade rumours.

          Improvement is needed. Stop letting the perfect be the enemy of the good.

          • reaperfunkss

            I agree. I’m not sure it’s possible for the Oilers to hit the home run the stud #1 LD/RD in a trade. We may need to trade our way up with singles and doubles. There’s no quantity of 5/6/7 Defense we have that can be turned into a #1 without selling the farm with the kids.

        • billythebullet

          So you would be willing to “endure” the pain. So you’re willing to wait for Nurse, Klefbom et al to develop which may take another 2-3 years and in the meantime endure more seasons of merde like this one? I am not. We need a dman who can play now. That doesn’t mean you trade away a blue chip forward for nothing mind you. As for the UFA option you suggest, you might want to have a look at the upcoming UFA dmen and ask yourself whether any of them is a solution. On second thought don’t look, it’ll only depress you. Trade is the route to go. BTW agree with you on Clarkson, Edm dodged a bullet there.

          • Lowe But Now High Expectations

            I in my heart-of-hearts want a decent trade to happen………the problem I have is that no “real”, player will consider Edmonton as an option.

            With this in mind our only real option is to develop our own talent.

            It’s well know that in player circles ( I know a few players) that Edmonton is not player friendly……we have 6 rings to thank for that. Players know that management in Edmonton is poison.

            Eventually Katz will figure that out.

          • A-Mc

            So the players you know specifically say that K.Lowe is bad for players?

            If so, can you elaborate with specifics?

            After the Souray/Tambo ordeal, i could see a bad wrap coming from that. But Tambo is gone and now players deal with a GM that was a coach and a player with a great career. The player experience might be different starting the minute MacT was hired

      • pkam

        So this temporary band-aid player probably will help us get out of the basement and become a playoff bubble team, like the Jets?

        So if we have to develop our own top pairing D, does it mean we won’t be able to become a cup contender until Nurse, J. Schultz, Klefbom, Marincin, Ekblad if we draft him mature into our top 4, which is at least 4-5 years away, right?

        In other word, it won’t change the timetable, just reduce the pain in the next 4-5 years?

        • I’m a guy who believes winning begets lots of good things, including accelerated development and more winning.

          Look at a guy like Nail Yakupov, who everybody loved a year ago. On a team like this, once something goes bad it goes *really bad*. You can say the same things about Sam Gagner and Jeff Petry and practically half the roster.

          If the team’s more successful, the individual criticism on those guys is less. If the team’s better, guys can be developed more frequently in roles they’re ready for, facing less of a baptism by fire. If the team wins a few games it lessens the risk of a young guy tuning out or losing hope. That’s to say nothing of the development value of having another good, veteran D.

          It is imperative that the Oilers show progress, and bringing in a guy who can play big minutes, offer a little shelter to the youth and spark an improvement is an important step, even if that guy ends up getting traded elsewhere before the team really has success.

          At least, that’s how I see it.

          • pkam

            I am not against getting some veteran D help, I just want to confirm that you are not suggesting that it will speed up the rebuild.

            In fact, I support the idea. I am so tired of reading the negative comments and hearing the calls for the head of Lowe, MacT, Eakins, and some players here. I am sure this will help the situation.

            Just don’t mortgage our future for short term #2/3. I absolutely don’t want to go back to pre-2010 era.

          • Zarny

            Absolutely some veteran D will speed up the rebuild.

            And I’m not talking about mortgaging the future.

            There is no future where Nurse, Klefbom, Marincin, Ekblad and all the young prospects are the Oilers blueline.

        • Eulers

          Pretty sure we wouldn’t be complaining quite as much right now if we were 5 spots higher in the ranking, compared to fighting for the bottom spot. So we don’t get whooped as badly for a few more years, I’d take that over watching them get manslaughtered every time St Louis comes to town. If they end up in the playoffs as they would 4 years (hopefully) what is the difference if they reduce the current pain?

          • pkam

            I don’t mind less pain, just don’t want to pay a big price for a temporary band-aid.

            Rather go UFA for band-aid. If we can get a true 1st pair D, then it is another story.

          • pkam

            If it is a true 1/2D who we can sign to a long contract, I don’t mind to pay for a trade.

            But if it is a 2/3D for a couple of years, I’ll rather sign an UFA to a short beefy contract. In other words, I’ll rather pay extra cash than asset for a short term 2/3D.

          • bazmagoo

            Look at the UFA list, there isn’t a 1/2 D man on there. The best you have is trading someone, and you WILL over pay simply because this is the Edmonton Oilers and no team is going to give up something to them if they aren’t getting one of the top players.

            If you think 1/2 D men are just growing on the UFA tree you need to take a step back and look at the facts. HENDRICKS didn’t want to sign in Edmonton…if you’re going to say a 1/2 D man (if they existed as a UFA) would want to sign here you’re certified insane.

          • pkam

            I didn’t know I said to sign 1/2D UFA.

            Let me repeat again what I said.

            I don’t mind to pay a high price to trade for a true 1/2D if he has a long contract or willing to sign a long contract.

            I don’t want to pay a high price for a 1/2/3D for a couple of years only. I’ll rather sign a UFA 2/3D to a 2 year beefy contract.

            If none is available, then I’ll take the pain.

          • Johnnydapunk

            Wording is everything on those things.

            Well you can’t bank on any player staying around anywhere for more than a couple years, especially a 30th/29th place team. Because there is a chance anything can happen, but at the end of the day if you get 2-3 years out of them I’d consider that a big win since we should have Nurse and the gang up and hopefully ready to play by then.

      • Bucknuck

        Robbing Peter to pay Paul what it amounts to what your suggesting. any one of those players is going to cost you considerable assets to obtain.

        If one of those assets is Bennet,Eckblad or Rheinhart is it not taking 2 steps back to go 2 steps forward?

        I can’t but help wondering if we spite our nose to save our face if it helps in the long term anyways?

        The rebuild is in MacT’s hands. My opinion is such that we have 3 years more before we can even think we have a shot at winning more than a round in the playoffs.

        Hall,RNH and Yak and Ebs will all be in their prime at that point.I just can’t see wasting assets on defenceman who may not be here when we start winning.

        I believe that MacT wll find at least 2 NHL defencemen this summer. We certainly need more seasoned NHL defencemen.That is a given. Heck we need more seasoned forwards. Halland EBs are certainly rounding into form. Given time RNH and Yak will be up there too.

        Suck it up and let MacT do his thing.Good cripes you’d think he was only on the job for less than a year. Have some patience. Tambo wasted 3 years doing nothing. MacT at least does something.

        • 2004Z06

          I can guarantee you that if this current debacle continues at this pace at least two of, RNH, Hall, Yakupov, Eberle will have requested a trade. I presume Yakupov will be the first followed shortly after by Hall.

          Making a bold move shows both the team and the fans that this organization is actually committed to improving.

        • oilerjed

          You have guys right now in the farm or in junior who the Oilers are banking on becoming NHL level defensemen. What he is suggesting is taking a step to stop the constant last place finish by putting a quality player in now to train and teach the new up and comers while at the same time preventing a few more pucks from ending up in our net.

          Sure we give up a player like Eberle right now, but we need to replace our vast plethora of small skilled forwards with someone bigger upfront anyways.

          Since they aren’t going to win games getting outmuscled by most teams in this league.

        • oilerjed

          What good does it do our current players to undercut their development by not having a good group around them in which to develope. The first round pick this year is nothing more then a pipe dream to a better future. At some point you need to make the move to bring in experience, and by this I mean quality experience. Using your logic we are only going to be 2-3 years down the road but no better off. Encouraging prospects that fail to develope into what they are hyped to be.

  • Why can’t the Oilers develop their own defensemen? It’s not like top end Dmen are lining up to play for the Oilers. Which current NHL #1 or #2 D-man would come to Edmonton Via Trade or FA? Stay the course draft D-men, Goalies, Big Forwards and don’t rush but Develop them!!!!!!!!!

    B/C news flash everyone… The Oilers will miss the Playoffs next year too!

    • You want to develop goalies? Is your master plan to contend in the year Hall retires?

      It’s great if you can develop Duncan Keith or Drew Doughty, but sometimes you have to go out and get Zdeno Chara or Sergei Gonchar.

      After four years of not rushing, it’s time to figure things out.

    • oilerjed

      The problem with the statement is, who is going to teach these young players that we are developing? Coaching is fine, but the real learning comes on the ice with an experienced mentor. Which means trade or free agency.

      • camdog

        That’s pretty much what Steve Staois said when the organization said they were going to get rid of all the veterans. I remember when people would get mad at guys like Moreau when they gave their exit interviews, seems like many of these players were right about management was doing and the vision of the organization was faulty.

        • NsxZero

          OH it all makes sense now! With the intention of ‘rebuilding’, Katz traded away all of the real leadership, and now this team is overall too young to know how to win in the nhl. Kinda shot yourself in the foot there bud.

        • If I remember correctly, a lot of the grousing about Ethan Moreau was that he had a perfectly clear vision of problems except for his exactly Ehtan Moreau-shaped blindspot.

          I seem to recall him complaining about the power play to the press on a night where it went 1-for-4; the same night a penalty kill featuring him killed 3-of-4.

          • camdog

            What I remember is him commenting on him supposed to be carrying the load in respect to physical play when he was surrounded by very small hockey players that were unable to compete physically. It’s the same quote that applies today.

  • Spydyr

    I heard Jason Strudwick mention on his show last night that Dan Girardi might become expendable by the Rangers now that they traded for Klein who plays a similar role.
    Girardi while not a true top pairing guy, would still fit in very nicely and bring some much needed veteran leadership in the Oilers top four. I wonder what it would take to trade for that guy..

    • Tikkanese

      So Girardi who either leads the league or is in the top 5 in TOI nearly every year is not a top pairing defenseman?

      He’s also a UFA at the end of the year. Unless he comes very cheap, or in one of those sign and trade deals, there is no use trading for him in this wasted season.

      That all said, I hope we do get him here and signed.

  • pkam

    Do everything to sign Callahan and Matt Moulson if they go to free agency. With that you have trade options on the right wing.

    I like having the depth of defensive prospects, but I wouldn’t be sad to see one of them traded out to net even more help on D.

    I get the feeling after the draft, having Nurse and Ekblad as our top 2 defensive prospects will give us depth at that position for a lot of years.

    With Moulson and Callahan, you balance out the top 6 a little bit more, push everyone on the defensive depth chart down one peg, add some much needed veteran leadership, and allow say Klefbomb and one of Yak or Ebs to be traded for either a top 2 D man, or a legit 2nd line centre with size and skill.

    Although, I’d be fine with our second line being Arcobello, Perron, Callahan.

  • Spydyr

    OT:

    I’m watching TSN regarding Seahawks Sherman’s rant. They go on to say Sherman is the most articulate athlete in sports. I really wonder if TSN would say this about a white player. TSN does not even know how racist that statement was.

    • Oil Kings 'n' Pretty Things

      No one bothers to call Eli Manning smart, because they know it’s not an anomaly that a white quarterback is intelligent. Yet some dreadlocked black cornerback has a slightly above-average intelligence, and every sportswriter bends over backwards to call him a genius and articulate .

      To quote George W. Bush: this is “the soft bigotry of low expectations.”

      • Ahhh, it was only a matter of time. I didn’t think someone would actually go there but you did.

        “not an anomaly that a white quarterback is intelligent”

        And the cherry on top, you quote George W. Bush as wise sage that justifies your ridiculous stereotype.

        Well played sir…well played.

    • Racist ? Really ?
      I don’t recall anyone calling VP Joe Biden or U.S. Senate majority leader Harry Reid racists when they used exactly that word to describe Barack Obama. Or maybe you subscribe to the theory that Liberals can do no wrong.

    • Spydyr

      What the H E double hockey sticks are you talking about???

      How is that racist!!??

      Nevermind i don’t want to hear anything else come out of your mouth….

      • It is racist because you would never describe a white athlete as the most articulate player in sports. You describe a black player in those terms as if your shocked or white guilt. Either way your not treating the black player as an equal.

        • 2004Z06

          It was a general statement by TSN. It had no reference to color at all. You are the one making an assumption as to the intent and playing the race card. Many people regardless of color have been described as articulate.

          You should really not be allowed near a computer.

          It is people like you that proliferate racial stereotypes through this type of nonsense.

        • oilerjed

          Why exactly would you not describe a white athelte in those terms? Seems to me that the meaning is exactly the opposite of what you are implying. If you are implying that the qualifcation of “in sports” is the problem then the prejudice may belong to you.

          edit: fixed spelling

  • Word to the Bird

    One word: trade

    It’s time to make that bold move. How does management think that this defensive core should suffice? Without defense, we will lose. And lose, and lose, and lose.

  • 24% body fat

    I don’t understand why everyone is so high on Aaron Ekblad . They make it sound like a given he #1 D-man.

    Aaron Ekblad comparables in the NHL are Chris Phillips/Brent Seabrook.

    From what i have read Nurse has a higher upside and higher downside compared to Ekblad.

        • Spydyr

          The Oilers cannot draft any worthwhile players outside of round one. That is why they trade away all their second and third round draft picks for quick fixes.

          • pkam

            I wonder why the Hawks drafted Anton Babchuk ahead of Duncan Keith? And why so many teams passed on him and let him go 54th overall?

            Don’t forget the team that drafted Seabrook and Keith also drafted Barker 3rd overall.

          • Spydyr

            Sure, every team makes mistakes in the draft. It is hard drafting 18 year old kids. The Oilers are just consistently bad outside the first round.

            Prove me wrong.

          • pkam

            We all know the amateur scouting before 2008 was not good. But still they have found a few NHLers. Greene, Stoll, and Petry come to my mind.

            I believe the current head scout Stu started 2008. We already have a glimpse of his work in Lander, Pitlick and Marincin. I believe we will see how good his earlier picks will be in the next couple of years.

            Another factor that may affect the scouting performance is development. Without good development, the scouting may work wonder but still get no result. Hopefully, OKC is a better development system than the past.

          • Oiler63

            In the last 5 years, the Oilers sit 15th in the NHL (middle of the pack, so not good not bad in 2nd to 7th Rounds Picks playing games)

            It is the 2007 and before drafts that they suck at.

            Who is number one? I am glad you asked, Anaheim has gotten the most out of its 2nd to 7th Rounders since the 2008 draft.

            Stick Tap to Hockeydb.com

            Proven wrong… average isn’t bad, just average.

        • A-Mc

          I will say that i’m excited to get Ekblad, but not because i think he’ll be a #1 dman. He could be a career #4 and i’d be OK with drafting him.

          The reason i’m excited is because he’s already over 200lbs and he’s only 17. His size and defensive play alone would make him a great asset to the Oilers. His offensive upside is what COULD put him into the top pairing one day, but if it takes 300 NHL games to get that out of him, i’m OK with that. I dont need the offense.. I want the size, jam and defense first.

      • Spydyr

        Yeah what’s so bad about top pairing Bent Seabrook?

        I don’t Agree with rushing Nurse or Klefbom, even Ekblad (if we get him), but we might need to use one or two of these next year if we dont make a trade that brings a good top 2 D our way.

        we need a big nasty D man, not 6 feet – 190 pounds guys.

  • 24% body fat

    Ekblad, Nurse, J Schultz, Maranicn, Perty and Ference may not solve the D problems but the D is so bad right now that it is still likely an upgrade.

    Ouch, we need some D.