Over the course of the Edmonton Oilers’ error-prone rebuild, two positions have been and remain particularly weak: centre and defence. The centre position has been debated to death, but less time has been spent discussing the defence, which general manager Craig MacTavish took some pains to address in the summer.
How should the Oilers proceed at the position, both in the short- and long-term?
Currently in the NHL, the Oilers have as follows (players ranked more or less by ice time):
- 1. RD Justin Schultz, 24 years old, $3.7 million per season, RFA summer 2015
- 2. LD/RD Nikita Nikitin, 28 years old, $4.5 million per season, UFA summer 2016
- 3. RD Jeff Petry, 26 years old, $3.1 million per season, UFA summer 2015
- 4. LD/RD Andrew Ference, 35 years old, $3.3 million per season, UFA summer 2017
- 5. RD Mark Fayne, 27 years old, $3.6 million per season, UFA summer 2018
- 6. LD Martin Marincin, 22 years old, $800,000 per season, RFA summer 2016
- 7. LD Oscar Klefbom, 21 years old, $1.1 million per season, RFA summer 2016
- 8. LD Keith Aulie, 25 years old, $800,000 per season, RFA summer 2015
At the team’s disposal in the minors the picture is slightly less clear cut, but it includes the following players:
- LD/RD Brad Hunt, 26 years old, $550,000 per season, RFA summer 2015
- LD/RD David Musil, 21 years old, $894,000 per season, RFA summer 2016
- LD/RD Dillon Simpson, 21 years old, $925,000 per season, RFA summer 2017
- LD Jordan Oesterle, 22 years old, $925,000 per season, RFA summer 2016
- LD Martin Gernat, 21 years old, $925,000 per season, RFA summer 2016
- LD Brandon Davidson, 23 years old, $650,000 per season, RFA summer 2015
Still in junior, of course, is top prospect Darnell Nurse.
The Oilers are trying to do two things at once here, and it’s difficult to find the right balance.
First, the team wants to be competitive in the here-and-now. That means drawing up a plan that makes use of the currently available players (the list above, minus Nurse, plus anyone potentially acquirable through trade) to provide a competent defensive group that can get the job done in the interim.
Secondly, the team clearly plans to build around their best young defencemen – in the team’s eyes, I imagine that group would include Schultz, Nurse and Klefbom – with the veterans on the club the kind of guys who can mentor the young guys and then transition to supporting roles down the road.
Is that the right approach? Is trusting in the prospects the way to go, and if so how does the team transition them into place while still icing a competent group in the meantime? Does there need to be more of a focus on the here-and-now – which might potentially mean trying to acquire a high-end defender to hold the fort right now, even if it means sacrificing futures or strength at another position?
In short: what should the plan look like right now, and what should the team look like down the road?