Realistic Expectations

Nikita_Nikitin_2013-11-01

The Edmonton Oilers, as is well-known at this point, have signed Nikita Nikitin to a two-year deal with an average annual value of $4.5 million.

The interesting thing about the signing isn’t the deal itself, which was bad but defensible. It’s what it says about the Oilers. A team with Edmonton’s defence that prioritizes Nikitin cannot realistically expect to contend for a playoff berth in 2014-15.

One Shoe to Drop

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Stauffer said yesterday that he expected a two-year deal at a price point that was going to hurt for Nikitin, and I’m quite confident that he’s right about the Oilers’ further defensive ambitions. Who will that right-shooting defenceman be?

Here’s what MacTavish told Jim Matheson on Sunday:

We need somebody who’ll go north-south with the puck from the back end. We need defence that can move the puck better. That’s a priority, but there’s not much of that in the UFA market. Historically, a big percentage of those signings in the UFA season are poor anyway. You’re often better sticking with your own guys, guys you know. You have to do your homework with free agency. Hopefully, we make some good decisions. We are going to target some people. We’d like a third-pairing defenceman who can block shots and kill penalties. A Mark Fraser-type guy.

I don’t really see Nikitin as either of the guys described above, but MacTavish followed that question by telling Matheson that Justin Schultz “has enough game” and that “he’s not too needy out there.” Given Nikitin’s contract and MacTavish’s comment about “guys you know” (Howson has a history there), my read is that Nikitin is the big add on defence and that the Oilers are looking for a right-shooting shutdown type to round out the group. MacTavish mentions Fraser (a left-handed shot) but the name batted around for most of last season by Matheson was Deryk Engelland, who fits the bill as Mark Fraser but with a right-handed shot.

Hypothetically…

19-Schultz-3

Next year’s defensive plan probably looks something like this:

  • Nikita Nikitin – Justin Schultz
  • Martin Marincin – Jeff Petry
  • Andrew Ference – [Engelland-type]

Maybe they flip Ference and Marincin, because I have no idea who is supposed to move the puck on that third pair, but the idea of saddling Jeff Petry with the combination of Ference and tough minutes is almost as bad.

It would be nice to think that the seventh defenceman is going to be someone like Taylor Fedun or an external hire, but Mark Fraser seems the likeliest candidate for the job. Early in the year, of course, Darnell Nurse could get a cameo.

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If I’m on track with my guess above, I’d further suspect that the plan is for Oscar Klefbom to make the jump at some point during the year, either on the right side or with Ference switching to the right side, and with the Engelland-type shuffling into the No. 7 role.

It’s not nearly good enough. I like Nikitin more than some others and think he’s a legitimate No .4 defender, but that projected top-four is nowhere near good enough. Depending on usage, all four members of that group could be playing above their level of actual ability.

Which Means…?

Darnell Nurse

If all the above is wrong, and Nikitin is pegged as the shutdown guy with the Oilers eyeing a puck-mover via trade or free agency (Dustin Byfuglien or Anton Stralman, for example) the team’s blue line just might be good enough to contend for a playoff berth. A lot would still need to go right, but it would at least be possible.

More likely, Nikitin is the big add, and MacTavish is looking at the big picture long-term. It’s going to be very difficult to rebuild the Oilers’ defence via trade (the team is short of quality assets) or free agency (hello, $4.5 million cap hit for Nikita Nikitin).

That means the hope for the blue line is internal. Young NHL’ers like Jeff Petry and Justin Schultz, as well as the blue chip prospects (Darnell Nurse, Oscar Klefbom, Martin Marincin) and maybe one of the next tier (Dillon Simpson, David Musil, Martin Gernat, Brandon Davidson).

If Nikitin is the big get, that must be the team’s plan. It’s a reasonable plan, and it might even be the best plan available, but it also means that we’re going to be talking about that wicked 2015 Draft by February.

That’s getting old.

Update

Howson, Scott

From Scott Howson, on the Oilers’ desire to add another NHL defenceman: 

“I think we’re open to anything. We want a good player and Nikita is a good player. We’re targeting three or four other good players. Some are more defensive oriented, some are sort of all around guys so there is no specific criteria they have to meet, we just want a good NHL player.”

This is going to be interesting to watch. A quality top-four addition could make next season extremely interesting, while the lack of the same would have the opposite effect. Based on Howson’s comments, the Oilers have some defensive ambitions yet.

RECENTLY BY JONATHAN WILLIS

  • natedoo22

    I guess Jonathan, that you must be after David Staples’ crown – he has been Mr. Negative towards the Oilers for a long, long time, seems like you’ve now jumped on the bandwagon – thanks a lot.

    • acesaaron

      Well, I would say that staples has not been negative, but pointed out the obvious that this team is led by a bunch of amateurs.

      The results will only continue as long as Lowe is in charge of hockey and Mac T is the GM.

      Maybe it is time for fans to quick drinking the fantasy koolaid and wake up to a dose of reality.

      The oilers are bottom feeders and will continue to do so until management (all management) changes.

      • I have really liked MacT as the GM so far. He has had a couple of homeruns (Perron and Gordon) Took some low risk flyers on Belov, Joensuu and Larson. Fixed the goaltending mid season at very low cost.

        The moves I did not like were Smid, Fraser and Grebeshkov.

        This is an overpay and MacT knows it. We are not near the cap, and need a stop gap for a couple years for our prospects to develop.

        Nitkanin would not have been my 1st choice, but the Oilers are a better team today than they were yesterday.

  • natedoo22

    Personally I’d be targeting Mark Fayne as the UFA right shot D-man were looking for. 6’3 215lbs 5/6 D would be a upgrade over Fraser or Engelland all day long. If Fayne signs elsewhere then Stoner should be the next target.

  • natedoo22

    Mark Fraser?? You want to improve your blueline so you bring back the worst defensmen on the worst blueline in the league? Geez have they learned yet?? He couldn’t even make the Leafs blueline this year. How about just getting a damn defensemen who can play defense in the NHL!!!

  • Again, still hoping for Boychuck, but I haven’t heard Erhoff mentioned in a little while. I think Boychuck gives the team the best Dynamic since he’s a right side defender, thus the combos depending on what the night required could be pretty fluid.

  • 15w40

    I hope J.W that your statement…”if all the above is wrong”… is wrong, and that the Oilers will be seeking a trade deal for one of Coburn/Boychuk/Meszarov, or even Phaneuf (if leafs keep some salary here)…

    J.W – If keeping both Klefbom and Marancin… What would it now take for the Oilers to now go get one of these mentioned defencemen to go with Nikitin, Ference, Marancin, Schultz, and Klefbom and…is it still sensible to do this?

    J.W – With this deal for Nikitin… do you now think as well that the Oilers are going to still try to pick up Ekblad at #1 or #3…at this point in time… or now get one of Bennett/Reinhart/Draisaitl even more so?

    • I think it’s going to be difficult to make a trade for a useful D without surrendering something the team doesn’t want to move.

      As for Ekblad, if he’s available at No. 3 I think you take him. I don’t know that adding Nikitin impacts that decision at all.

  • Retsinnab5

    4.5 million ouch. Overpaid by 1.2 million a year. Desperation move. The only thing to save this team will be new arena. Mac T we want bold. Hey six rings what you have to say?

  • Quicksilver ballet

    Clayton Stoner is one tough hombre, he’s cheap as well.

    If management had only realized a couple seasons ago things would continue to get worse, they would’ve done things differently I’m sure. Hemmer would’ve been gone before he signed that 2 yr extension, and Gags as well. They hung onto these types for far to long and look where they are now. Literally living on their knees waiting for handouts (more Perron type gifts)

  • hallsyoilerforever5

    As I said, I smell a trade coming… Update… Means Niskanen. Remember Bob said oilers were going to after someone higher than Colburn? Something like that

  • nuge2drai

    Oiler Domination To Follow

    22 Million left in cap space – looking forward to seeing who the Oilers spend it on.

    The good news…. the team can only get better with each signing 🙂

  • Retsinnab5

    By the end of the day July 1st we will probably have a very good idea of what the team is going to look like this season (after draft and day 1 of UFA. There are still options for trade to bring in some of the positions we need. I remember last season, MacT saying 2nd round picks were the currency of the NHL. He turned a 2nd and Paajarvi into Perron. A deal many would say was his best of the year. Here’s hoping he can do something similar to bring in a defender.

  • A-Mc

    plz.. don’t write doom and gloom pieces so early. As Oiler fans, have we not earned the right to atleast maintain hope until the season starts? It’ll be NOvember when we hit the draft buzz, so please back off for now.