WWYDW: The Long-Term Defensive Depth Chart

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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?

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Dramatis Personae

Team-5

Currently in the NHL, the Oilers have as follows (players ranked more or less by ice time):

At the team’s disposal in the minors the picture is slightly less clear cut, but it includes the following players:

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Still in junior, of course, is top prospect Darnell Nurse.

The Problem

Craig MacTavish6

The Oilers are trying to do two things at once here, and it’s difficult to find the right balance.

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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.

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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?

RECENTLY BY JONATHAN WILLIS


  • Spoils

    Willis,

    Take Schultz off your list. He is awful.

    A defensive liability lost in his own zone.

    Will go down is history as great in the AHL, but couldn’t transition to the big boys.

    All other managers know this and are laughing at Mac T. and his Norris Trophy comments.

    The management of this team is an inbred joke.

  • Greasy Goal

    First off: benching Marincin is one of the worst things this organization has done in a while. He is by far our most reliable defender(see 2013-2014 rel. corsi). Secondly: even though this group of dmen and goalies are an improvement on last year, they’re still bottom 15. In a league where defence and goaltending are becoming more critical to winning than scoring the oilers need to focus on this area more. Play your best defenders now( no Hunt/Aulie more Klefbom/Marincin) If we try to put forth a competitive team every night maybe we can pull out of the bottom 5 .

    • ubermiguel

      Hey stats nerd…before crying over Marincin sitting out, and using stupid advanced stats to back your argument why don’t you watch a game? He was terrible last night and deserves to be sitting in Boston.

      • Greasy Goal

        Stats tell a story, regardless of what you think. Even if it wasn’t his best game you should never bench one of your better d-men on the basis from one game.

  • BlazingSaitls

    Marincin benched is something only happens in Edmonton.

    Given black hole ozone starts and MM comes outta the abyss smoking, slightly chared and almost unscathed. He plays one game back where he should of started the season with Petry and has a mediocre game, and Eakins thinks he sees sideburns.

    Inexplicable and unjustifiable move. These two smartest men in the room (MacT and Eakins)need to both get share a room in Ponoka and give reigns to people who understand hockey.

    Boston is a must win, but I think they will loose 5-2. Nuge and Yak respond. Shultz is -2. Allie drops the mits, get dumped and is an unmitigated disaster all night. Eakins looks stunned like he has seen a ghost. Scrivens spends the night swimming in the crease while Boston controls the zone at will.

  • Spydyr

    WWYDW:

    This is how I would fix the defence.

    Fire Lowe.

    Do an exhaustive search for months.Come up with the best replacement possible regardless of ties to the Oilers.

    Let him do another exhaustive search for months.The new POHO hires his GM regardless of ties to the Oilers.

    Let him do another exhaustive search for months.The new GM hires his coach regardless of ties to the Oilers.

    Have all three in place before seasons end or shortly there after.

    Have all three build a winner.

    My bill for consultation will be in the mail Mr.Katz.

  • The Last Big Bear

    Honestly, and this is probably the only time you’ll ever hear me say this on an Oilers site…

    … but I would stay the course.

    Now, I don’t know if that’s really an option, because I suspect that come July 1st there’s going to be a Loony Tunes-style hole in the wall of Rexall that’s shaped like the outline of Jeff Petry bolting to free agency.

    But what I would do this Wednesday is at least try to keep things on the same track.

    Fayne is solid.

    Nikitin will be gone soon.

    Marincin is sound as the pound.

    Klefbom looks legit.

    Schultz is not Norris material, but with good coaching he could turn into a very useful player. Defensive responsibility is the one thing above everything else that you CAN teach, and that’s what Schultz is missing. Along with basically all of the star players on the Oil. Which says very poor things about Edmonton’s coaching.

    Ference shouldn’t be captain, but he is still a legit NHLer, and not as bad as ON tries to make him sound. He’s overpaid, but would guarantee he gets claimed off of waivers.

    I think the Oilers defence is on the right track, they just need a deus-ex-machina #1 defenceman to be dropped into their laps.

    • ubermiguel

      Can’t say I disagree with you. I’m hoping and praying that Ramsay can provide that coaching you mention. I think I’ve seen some improvement in the play this year that might be Ramsay’s influence. If a guy like Chara says Ramsay is a good coach then he’s a good coach.

      I’d love to see a vet/newbie combo on each pairing. Fayne, Nikitin, and Petry are tweeners though; they’re not quite vets yet, they’re still learning. I’m not sure they’re ready to mentor the kids.

  • Johnnydapunk

    The Oil need a proper number one Goalie. Until the defence matures into something NHL ready, having two goalies with limited experience isn’t the way forward. If they manage to get one, then the defence has time and confidence that if they make a mistake, they will have someone to bail them out.

    Great goaltending makes an average team good, and a good team excellent.

    You will never lose a game if you do not let any goals in, and I think Calgary are a great example of what a difference good goaltending makes.

    There were many on the market last summer and MacT just picked wrong.

    • PutzStew

      Concur 100% – MacT picked wrong, which sheds more light on the inadequacies of the Oiler’s pro-scouting department. How many of the players and UFAs they sign turn out to be good acquisitions? Not many.

      Didn’t anybody from pro scouting notice that Sivens has rebound control issues? Didn’t anybody worry about VFs injury issues? Seems like the Flames did a better job of due diligence and are reaping the rewards because of it.

      Isn’t Semenko on the Oiler pro-scouting team? Nuff said.

      For the Oilers to be this bad for so long reveals deeply entrenched mediocrity, which goes hand-in-hand with cronyism. We, the fanbase, are the reals victims in this charade.

      Its always the common folks that get sh*t on the most.

    • Unfortunately, I don’t believe you can just focus on 1 area (i.e. Goaltending) and let poor results in other areas slide.

      Using Calgary as an example, yes this year they started with two goalies: Hiller-proven #1 goalie that got pushed out of Anaheim by youth, and Ramo-semi-proven 1b goalie with limited experience but set himself up nicely last season. They started the season rotating every game, setting up a one-upmanship competition between the two till recently when Hiller was given the reins due to slightly better results. Both have numbers that have been above average to exceptional and Hiller even more so.

      But, at the same time…. their D has also been good to excellent, including Giordano and Brodie who both are at or near the league lead in D scoring, and possession while being both rock-solid defensively and supporting the Offense with great transitional play and passes. Their 3-4 includes Russell (Brodie-lite) and Wideman, who has picked up his play since being a healthy scratch early on. They are all scoring and the D corps overall leads the NHL in D scoring. 5-6 includes Smid and Engelland who bring toughness, clear the net and support their younger players well. Diaz (Russell-lite) sometimes subs in in the bottom pair.

      But, at the same time… the Forwards are mostly defensively responsible. Calgary plays a system where the D are given the green light to go whenever they see an opening, and they do, but at the same time when that happens, and in many other circumstances… that means someone else (a Forward) has dropped back to cover. This isn’t anything new, of course, just that they seem to do it pretty well.

      Now, my point is that Calgary’s success IS NOT GOALTENDING, alone, or DEFENSE, alone or forwards covering up, alone, but all three working together. When they work together the sum is greater than the parts. At the same time, when they don’t work together and there is a breakdown, e.g. non-coverage in the slot or in front of the net, or a bad give-away, or multiple 2-1 rushes against it can come back and look like the goalie is terrible and if we just fix that everything else will be fine. It won’t. Its a team game and I believe you’ve got to have that team unity and team accountability before it will all work.

      So, back to the Oilers. Although I believed and still do that the goaltending was way too inexperienced, and centre is weak, and D is weak and forwards put Offence first and the heck with responsibility all too often. The result is everyone looks bad. Personally I don’t think the pieces are that bad, but the “team” aspect is. The Oilers would be much better off trying to focus on and fix that first, before making these goalies the next scapegoats and looking for a saviour goalie.

  • Spiel

    I don’t know if it’s just me, but I’m sick and tired of reading 78,000 versions of depth charts, possession charts, etc, etc. I know I’m a simpleton, but I’d sure like to read an article that says “get your ass in gear”, or “go to the tough areas to score”, instead of this continuous drivel. Seeing that the 9th dman on the roster is trending upwards is ridiculous. …let’s get to the bottom of why we can’t win. (Don’t get me wrong, I thoroughly enjoy the writers here, I’m just sick of all the numbers!)

  • PutzStew

    Can someone please give me a legitimate reason as to why Katz still has Lowe on the payroll?? I get. He was a heck of a defensman! He was an important part of the dynasty that we all enjoy reflecting upon. He’s done alot for the community, and I appreciate that. but there comes a point when you got to move on. That point was a long time ago for Kevin. All he’s doing now is soiling what once was a legendary reputation in this market. Hang up the skates one more time KLowe, you’re not wanted here.

    • camdog

      Lowe is like an old broken toy that you had as a kid. The toy is broken and it doesn’t work any more, but it does have a lot of sentimental value for Mr. Katz.

  • The poster formerly known as Koolaid drinker #33

    I would trade anybody or everybody on the roster for a Weber, a Doughty or a Suter and a true #1 goalie. If you get these two for the entire team, you can bring up the AHL team and we would probably have a better record than we do now.

    I realize how absurd my suggestion is but recent history has proven, these two positions are the most important in building a competitive team.

  • The defence much like the centre group is overrated.

    Schultz is the most overated D-man since Mike Green.

    N.N was a healthy scratch on a E.C playoff team…..

    Nurse still wont be NHL ready next year, I still stand by the fact the Oilers should have taken Nichushkin.

    Ference is past his best before due date.

    Fayne & Petry are the only decent D-man the Oilers have and the Oilers still managed to screw up Petry’s value.

    yet, both Fayne and Petry would be 3-4 on most W.C teams.

    The Oilers still don’t have a 1-2 pairing D-men……..what could go wrong?

    MacTavish over valued his defence last year & appears to have done it again.

    No depth down the middle and a team full of 3,4,5,6 D-man, good grief….

      • Honestly…..I’m not sure MacTavish values his pro staff or amature staff to be honest.

        Let’s objectively look at some of the recent roster moves.

        If I’m McGregor, and Draisatli isn’t in any scouting department’s top 3 rankings do you tell your boss to take the north, south big German over the shifty, feisty, aggressive and skilled Bennett? Bennett never fell out of the top three rankings once.

        I’ll bet Bennett out performs Draisatli.

        Do you ask your pro staff to find you a defenseman who can play in the top 4 and give you good minutes, and they come up with Nikita Nikitin……A defensemen who was a healthy scratch last year.

        Meanwhile, MacTavish has one true top 4 defensemen and undervalues him making him all but untradeable.

        Now, this is where I know MacTavish is working alone.

        Instead of using Marincin or Klefbom we got to watch Hunt nose dive on national T.V for 10+ games, Hunt is a MacTavish boy.
        MacTavish is going to do what MacTavish wants to do because he’s the smartest man in the room.