The Craig MacTavish Blue Line

Craig MacTavish2

It’s pretty easy to gut an NHL defence corps, but it’s much harder to build one up.

Craig MacTavish has been wonderfully active in just over a season at the helm of the Oilers, flushing away 75 percent of the defence group he inherited from outgoing G.M. Steve Tambellini. But how has he done in terms of improving the position?

The Inheritance


Left Side Right Side
Ladislav Smid Jeff Petry
Nick Schultz Justin Schultz
Ryan Whitney Corey Potter
Mark Fistric
Theo Peckham 

Someday, if the Oilers ever pull themselves out of the NHL basement, somebody is going to write that a lot of the credit needs to go to Tambellini, who oversaw the acquisition of a bunch of high picks. That somebody should take a long look at the blue line MacTavish inherited before writing that:

Exactly two players are left from that group: Jeff Petry and Justin Schultz. The other six are:



Left Side Right Side
Andrew Ference Justin Schultz
Martin Marincin Jeff Petry
Anton Belov Philip Larsen
Mark Fraser
Oscar Klefbom

MacTavish made immediate moves – most notably signing Andrew Ference away from Boston – and made some low-risk bets on guys like Anton Belov and Philip Larsen:

It still wasn’t a particularly good group, and the No. 5 – 7 slots have all been purged this offseason.

The Big Move

Left Side Right Side
Nikita Nikitin Justin Schultz
Andrew Ference Jeff Petry
Martin Marincin Mark Fayne
Keith Aulie
Oscar Klefbom

It’s been a nice summer for the Oilers’ blue line, which still lacks a top-end talent but has benefited from the addition of three free agents:

There’s still a long, long way to go, and most of the heavy lifting will probably need to be done by developing prospects – Marincin, Klefbom and eventually Darnell Nurse.

That’s one of the reasons the addition of Fayne is so interesting. Fayne and Petry play similar roles in a way – they’re both guys who can be trusted with hard assignments – and so the addition of the ex-Devil means that the Oilers now have two options for that work on the right side. If I’m guessing, I’d suggest that means one of those guys will be played in a shutdown role while the other rides shotgun for a younger partner. Marincin flourished with Petry last year, and having either Petry or Fayne as a partner is a pretty nice situation for any of the young defenceman as they make the jump to the NHL.

The blue line overall still doesn’t look that good on paper, and we won’t know for sure about anything until they hit the ice in 2014-15. But it looks to me like MacTavish has done some solid working in getting things turned in the right direction. 


  • DieHard

    Poor decisions were made. Tambo wasn’t working alone, so don’t put all the blame on the guy that is no longer around to defend himself.

    The blue line is still missing the #1 or #2 D-man. Fayne might be ok. Ference seemed a step behind last season. The young guys coming up have to be the difference makers.

    • He wasn’t working alone but he was the damn GM. The buck has to stop somewhere. I don’t care if people think that Lowe was pulling the strings. GM decisions. GM responsibilities.

      Lowe is still there now but Mac-T seems to have been able to make moves to improve the team.

      Hopefully improve the team I mean.

  • DieHard

    I think at this point we have 4 good 2nd pairings and 3 good 3rd pairings. Eventually add in Nurse and Kelfbom and I think we’re looking quite excellent.

  • ThinkingOutLoud

    He has done a very good job considering what he had to work with – I mean let’s face it – being a bottom 3 team in the league makes it quite an uphill struggle to even find a trading partner. Would you want to but a vehicle from the worst used car dealership in town?

    Unfortunately though until he lands a Weber for magic beans a lot of people are not going to be satisfied – and that’s like winning the lottery in terms of odds against.

    • DieHard

      Remind me again, how many Stanley’s has Weber won. Yes, it would be nice to have a Weber or a Doughty. You still need to have a very good team to go with that stud D-man. Question is, do you have to have one to win that damn cup?

      • Serious Gord

        Irrelevant how many cups he has won. By that metric several top flite dmen wouldn’t make the cut – borje salming, brad park and mark Howe would be just three.

        Going back through the years the answer would be a pretty solid “yes” you do need a stud defensemen. Very very rare that a team has won one without one.

      • ThinkingOutLoud

        It definitely wouldn’t hurt to have one, but I was talking more about people’s satisfaction with the job MacT has done thus far rebuilding the D, rather than winning a cup.

        Are we ready to win a cup now? Honestly no – but we do have some good pieces in place which need seasoning. A stud D would help immensely with the development of the rest of the team, and not just the D. The confidence they would bring in addition to the little things they do right the others could learn from would be huge.

        I often remember the story of the kid who started with a piece of junk on Craigslist or some site like that. It took some time but managed to slowly trade ’till one day he ended up with with a Porsche.

        I think that’s what MacT is in the process of doing. A home run would of course be awesome, but a bunch of base hits in a row get the same result in the end while giving the young guys coming up time to develop as well.

  • v4ance

    I’ll admit, I was entirely too patient with Tambellini because I thought he had a plan to eventually address the D. The bottoming out and getting elite forwards worked like a charm but he never took the next step and addressed the Defencemen.

    MacT has been brought in to assemble the personnel working behind our blueline. Looks like progress so far…