The Edmonton Oilers need a good left-side defencemen

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Two games in and it looks like Craig MacTavish’s offseason work has paid off up front. The Oilers are bigger, deeper and more capable at forward than they’ve been in ages.

The defence, on the other hand, has not been very good at all.

The Depth Chart Through Two

Hunt, Brad

  • No. 1: RD Justin Schultz, 22:58 per game
  • No. 2: LD Brad Hunt: 20:40 per game
  • No. 3: LD Nikita Nikitin: 20:37 per game
  • No. 4: LD Andrew Ference: 19:23 per game
  • No. 5: RD Mark Fayne: 18:41 per game
  • No. 6: RD Jeff Petry: 18:31 per game

Edmonton has been balancing its three pairs pretty evenly five-on-five; outside of Schultz, five of these guys are clustered between 16:06 per game (Fayne) and 17:00 per game (Hunt) at evens. Aside from the love of Schultz, the right side depth chart is pretty decent; Fayne looked better in his second game and has the track record to round into form while Petry’s been the team’s best defenceman through two contests.

The left side, however, is a mess. Hunt isn’t a first-pair defencemen in the NHL; for all of his ability on the power play he’s in the ‘replacement level’ range at evens. Nikitin has a bit of a mixed history; he might come around but he’s been pretty bad through two games and he wasn’t any better in the preseason. Ference is a fierce competitor but was the team’s worst rearguard against Vancouver and showed last year that he isn’t a good option for more than third pairing minutes.

If only there were some options

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  • No. 7: LD Darnell Nurse.
  • No. 8: LD Oscar Klefbom.
  • No. 9: LD Martin Marincin

I imagine we’ll see some changes when the Oilers play Los Angeles. Edmonton is probably going to want a bit more size on the back end, which likely means pulling Hunt from the lineup and replacing him with either Nurse or Klefbom.

The problem, though, is that the Oilers don’t just need an injection of size or nastiness or any other individual element into their lineup. They need a guy who can step in and provide calm two-way play, a guy who can do well at pretty much everything. Actually, they could use two or three of those guys, but they need at least one.

This is a team that loves Klefbom’s raw skill, and understandably so. But Klefbom’s also a guy with pretty significant limitations in terms of hockey sense; doubtless he’ll figure it out with time but Edmonton doesn’t need a project right now. They love everything about Nurse, and again that’s understandable, but he’s 19. If they’re going to keep him he needs to get into some games, but at 19 he’s not a guy who can step in and keep the tiller steady in a storm.

Marincin showed last season that he does lots of things well and that he’s ready right now. Thrown in on a tough minutes pairing with Petry, he displayed both ability with the puck and significant talent without it. He made up for a lack of strength with reach and smarts, and he came to camp stronger and heavier than he was in 2013-14. He’s probably the best left-shooting defenceman on the team, and he’s the guy who should be skating next to Schultz on the team’s top pairing.

Instead, Marincin is down on the farm. The Oilers have lost two games now, and the second one was by the thinnest of margins; it’s not hard to imagine a different result if the defence had been a little less of a disaster. This is a team that has talked about the importance of winning games right out of the gate, which should mean icing the best possible lineup. There’s no room to test-drive guys because they’re good on the power play or were top picks or bring a specific single element that the staff likes. This is a team that has years and years of losing that haven’t ended yet; it can’t be icing less than its best lineup for 20 games before popping out with ‘ah-hah, but I am not left-handed!’

Recall Marincin. Play him with Schultz. It’s not a perfect solution but it’s far superior to what the Oilers have done to date.

RECENTLY BY JONATHAN WILLIS

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  • SlaveLake

    Why is it so hard to understand you have to play your best players? Marincin in OKC, Nurse and Klefbom sitting. Yak on fire with less than 10 mins of ice time. Petry playing less minutes than Schultz. Eakins blew the pre-season, now he’s treating these game like it was the pre-season. Scrivens gets the start (last year play) vs Hunt (preSeason play over Marincin) which side is he on? When you’re a lottery team (more than any other team) you have to play your best players. Full stop. I know there’s been a revolving door of coaches, and this is only two (regular season games). But the body of work, and the choices made, must be a fireable offence. Is the problem that Eakins doesn’t have a skype account ?

    No identity. Just confusion. And where were the timely time outs when the team needed them in the 3rd periods ? (Now I’m just venting).

  • SimmerDownBoys

    Shouldn’t our brilliant fancy stats guy have been screaming at the top of his lungs that the team had no business sending Marincin down? Maybe he did but management and coaches didn’t listen? Why would they? They already know it all. Even by eye (despite a slow training camp start) he deserved to play some reg season games.

  • Spoils

    Package Ference up with some prospects or picks for a center. Use smoke and mirrors to convince the other GM that we aren’t trading him for any reason other than we need a C. and that he is a total steal.

    Send Draisaitl down.

    Bring Marincin back.

  • 1st off, although I agree that Marincin in the minors is a bad move, some of you guys are treating him like a god-sent.. He’s still young and he still has some learning to do.. Just because we lost 2 games (1 while outplaying the other team and the other in a shootout) doesn’t mean that everything is wrong and things need to change.. As for Marincin, he will be back on the Oilers very soon, so chill.

    Secondly, for those of you criticizing MacT and his love for Schultz, look at what sticking with Yak through his tough times has gotten him. He’s played really well the first 2 games and I’m sure with the right development, Schultz will have that explosion as well.

    Third, trading/letting go of Petry would not be a smart move.. Give him a good deal and he will stay. The defensive market is too scarce to be letting guys like Petry even get a wiff of UFA..

    Lastly, it’s still early in the season so don’t give up hope yet! And hopefully MacT/Eakins and co. can make smart choices and build a team that will win hockey games.

  • Serious Gord

    Re: Eberle – he may want out, but his contract makes him very difficult to trade.

    FWIW, I suspect that some of the other young Oilers will be wanting out soon as well. MacT is not much of an upgrade on Tambi re: talent assessment, Eakins is arguably worse than his three predecessors as a HC, and the team is still going nowhere. Sooner or later one of the young guys will go public with a trade request if the team continues to overpay for washed up/overrated veteran players and the losing persists.

    Re: Captain – Ference a problem this point as his play continues to decline but he is still the captain. Like I said here when the deal was announced, it was a bad one as they overpaid in both $$$ and term for a #7 dman. He may be a good leader (I am not certain as you do not hear the young guys talking much about him as such), but at this point the message that management is sending is that performance does not matter, your contract size does……..MacT needs to admit he made a mistake, have Eakins name a new captain, and let the best players play.

  • bradleypi

    This management team and coaches never cease to amaze me. Allow 9 goals against in 2 games, get 1 point and they’ve never been happier. The bar is so low with regards to expectations that they actually believe that is okay.

    Its so bad that they even have Messier drinking the kool aid, talking about the young kids and the rebuild. where have you been for seven years Mess. This has been going on since your buddy took the reins. But you can’t tell him anything because he has a bunch of Stanley cup rings that you got for him

  • bradleypi

    Willis: “There’s no room to test-drive guys because they’re good on the power play or were top picks or bring a specific single element that the staff likes. This is a team that has years and years of losing that haven’t ended yet; it can’t be icing less than its best lineup for 20 games before popping out with ‘ah-hah, but I am not left-handed!’

    but does the organization really believe that? I don’t think so. They are not trying to win this year. If they were, they’d have Marincin in. They’d have started Fascht in game one. That have mad a trade for a C. This is another development year, whether they deny it publically or not.

  • bradleypi

    Petry having the fewest minutes in the top 6 is unconscionable.

    For most of the Vancouver game the Oilers were defending a lead and yet Schultz and Hunt were Eakins top choice for doing this?? Then Yak and Ebbs with Nikitin and Fayne in OT?? Sedin’s must have been chuckling to themselves. What is the rationale with these lineup choices?

    Oilers weren’t beat by a better team last night they beat themselves.

  • Serious Gord

    I don’t believe the ebs thxgiving dinner bs….he plays for the oil and his 6million a year contract regardless of the coach, gm or trainers.

    These guys are professionals. Oil will eventually win. Just sucks that its not sooner than later

  • Randaman

    I agree that Eberle is the most tradable asset up front. He has shown little interest so far for whatever reason. The fact is that he has been doing these fly bys for three years now. Can we for once trade a valuable asset while his value is high and we actually can fill a need with a quality return?!

    My choice is Braydon Schenn + ? Or Wayne Simmonds +.

    Let’s not turn this into a Gagner fiasco

  • The Oil have the pieces available to put together a respectable d core for the first time in years.

    Yet here they are… deploying Fayne and Petry the least. Leaving Klef and Nurse in the pressbox. Completely taking Marincin out of the equation(for now), and deploying Brad “I don’t know what to do if I don’t have the puck” Hunt as a #2 d man.

    Klef – Petry

    Nurse – Fayne

    Marincin – J. Schultz

    Nikitin

    Your best line up is right in front of you. Take off the blinders.

  • Anton CP

    Oilers should never have the last 2 coaching change anyway. However that doesn’t excuse Eakins not to get canned. The whole argument about how many coaches we had for the last few years were the by-product of indecisive incompetent managements. At least on the other side of Rocky Mountain realized the mistake and fixed it by firing the coach for just one year. The frequency of coaching change should not be an excuse to keep someone around who is just not fit for the job. It doesn’t work in real life anyway.

  • Anton CP

    We need time to meld all the new members on squad( 10-20 games ) before getting an accurate assessment of them . Not looking promising enough yet, however . Mact. could help the situation early with a couple of trades we are still going to need either way . If MacT. bombs out again like he did most of last season with his new acquisitions then a change should be made early . Eakins is a reasonable coach but this club requires a great coach of which I don’t believe Eakins is as yet . Results is progress , and we have not enough of it so far . Quality control is the responsibility of the GM , of which MacT. has yet to deliver on to a satisfactory level . He is the key . If he fails and stays on same path of missed assessments , then the team fails with him .

  • Rdubb

    First off, lets dispell this rumour about Ebs and the coach. Not every person of the 23 on the roster will like the coach, heck, id say youd be lucky to get 15 who do, @ max.
    Now, lets discuss the article; sure MM had a less than stellar camp, but why in the heck would you send last seasons best d-man to the minors & keep a guy because he has a good shot and controls the puck good in the minors?
    Would the Oilers defense look oh so much better with MM & Petry has their top pairing, 2nd pairing of Fayne & either Klefbom or Nikitan (preferably Klefbom), 3rd pairing of Schultz & Nikitan or Ference, with Ference being the 7th guy, rotating in and around the d-men while playing on the PK & sending Nurse back to junior or pairing him full time with JS on the 3rd pairing, thus giving them much less skilled opposition & finally sending Hunt to OKC.
    The Oil could & would be better off trading Petry for a 2nd or 3rd line C, keeping Nurse around and playing him full time…
    These are just my thoughts and id say these pairings are much better than what the Oil are icing at the current moment…
    What are your thoughts?

  • Jaxon

    Home vs Road deployment of D.

    Spitballing and looking for opinions on pros, cons, achievability. Does it make any sense to have a different lineup for D at home and on the road. When you can control the match-ups at home, have your best D paired together and you worst D paired together? When you cannot control the match-ups on the road, pair your best left hander with your worst right-hander and vice versa. Opinions on best and worst might make this vary, but I think most would agree that Fayne-Petry-Schultz is the order on right D, and Marincin-Nikitin-Ference is the order on left D. Some may disagree, but I have based the order on a lot of opinion over the past year that Fayne faced top lines and held up very well and that Petry was the Oilers’ best D but in over his head as a 1st pairing D for the last few years and Schultz has offence but is pure chaos defensively. On the left side, Marincin was the best on the left and Nikitin showed well a few years ago but not so well recently with some chaos in his game and Ference is generally though of as a 3rd pairing D. Plus, even if you think Nikitin is the top left D, that would put Nikitin and Schultz together on the road and that is probably too much offensive gambling and defensive chaos for one pairing. This also assumes PP will use 4 forwards and 1D. My theory is to take advantage of controlling match-ups at home but insure against any really weak pairings on the road, by balancing the best with the worst, where you can’t control the match-ups.

    HOME D – matchups

    Marincin (PK1) – Fayne (PK1) – vs top 6 opponents with tough zone starts

    Nikitin (PP2) – Petry (PK2) – vs middle 6 opponents with a mix of zone starts

    Ference (PK2) – Schultz (PP1) – vs bottom 6 opponents with offensive zone starts

    ROAD – roll D pairings

    Ference (PK1) – Fayne (PK1)

    Niktin (PP2) – Petry (PK2)

    Marincin (PK2) – Schultz (PP1)

    Thoughts?

    • Brilliant again Young Willis. I was waiting for a good breakdown on what’s been happening thus far in the season, and now that Dellow is gone, you’re the man.

      When I want thoughtful intelligent statistical analysis I come and read JW.

      When I want emotional generalities and cliches, I go and read Gregor, or Brownlee, or Spector, or or or.

      Can you see the imbalance in the media?

      • Jaxon

        I honestly have no idea if your reply is sarcasm, a compliment, a dig, or what. Went right over my head, which isn’t hard to do. My gut tells me sarcastic dig. If it’s a dig, I’m not sure why. Have I made some comments section faux pas? If it’s a compliment, umm, thanks?

    • Jaxon

      I agree with your assessment to keep Petry out of the top pairings. If they are planning to move him (his contract status suggests this is the case), it makes sense to put him in situations that will garner success (keeping his trade value up). Personally I have been a big fan of Petry’s in spite of his untimely mistakes over the years. He really got ripped on this blog last year so it is somewhat amusing to read how he is now our best D-man and should be playing first pairing again. As for Hunt playing first pairing, I have no answer to the thought process going into that decision. If they want him on the power play, they should consider dressing an extra defenseman and double shifting a forward. It is too hard scoring goals in the NHL to regularly give up pucks on simple dump-ins to the opposition’s top lines. I would like to see Petry stay, but the contact situation suggests his future is elsewhere.