Shaping the 2015-16 Edmonton Oilers defence


One of the problems that the Oilers have to address between now and whenever they’re going to be competitive is the state of their defence. It’s been a weak point for ages, and has never recovered from the Steve Tambellini-led dismantling it underwent at the start of the current rebuild.

The Internal and External Options


We might as well start with the defence as currently constructed; players below are ranked by total ice time this season.

  • No. 1 RD Justin Schultz. He plays massive minutes at evens and on the power play but is likely better-suited to a lesser role given his defensive struggles. He’s an RFA this summer; it should be a difficult negotiation.
  • No. 2 RD Jeff Petry. He plays in all situations and is the best all-round defenceman on the team, though he’s probably a No. 3 defenceman on a decent team. He’s a UFA this summer and a strong candidate to be moved before the trade deadline.
  • No. 3 LD Andrew Ference. Ideally he’d be the team’s veteran No. 5 but he’s been a top-pairing option for much of the season because of the Oilers’ weakness on the left side. Signed until 2017.
  • No. 4 RD Mark Fayne. The rare veteran who is slotted right where he belongs, Fayne plays a lead role on the penalty kill and tough but limited minutes at evens. Signed until 2018.
  • No. 5 LD/RD Nikita Nikitin. The Oilers’ veteran stopgap has played much better over the last few games, but needs to have a brilliant second half to undo the damage of the early season. He’s signed until 2016, but if the Oilers had to make a decision today he’d be a very good bet for a buyout.
  • No. 6 LD Oscar Klefbom. Klefbom’s climbing rapidly, and is at present the team’s top option on the left side. The 21-year-old veteran of just 36 NHL games combines size and speed in one package and has likely seen the last of the minors.
  • No. 7 LD/RD Brad Hunt. A power play specialist, Hunt has not been good enough at even-strength at the NHL level. He’s an RFA this summer and may or may not be signed to a two-way deal.
  • No. 8 LD Martin Marincin. The blogosphere’s favourite prospect, Marincin excelled in a cameo last season alongside Petry but struggled this year playing mainly with Fayne and is now in the AHL. He’s an RFA this summer, but a prime candidate to be sent away in trade.
  • No. 9 LD Keith Aulie. A fringe NHL defenceman who is big and tough but awkward with the puck, Aulie is a reasonable option as the Oilers’ No. 7. He’s an RFA this summer and shouldn’t be very expensive at all, though the team might opt to go another direction.

We should also add prospects to the list above. Darnell Nurse is highly-touted and likely to spend all of next season in Edmonton, while any of the AHL quartet of Brandon Davidson (who needs to clear waivers to be demoted again), Dillon Simpson, Jordan Oesterle or David Musil might also find their way into the picture.

Then there are external options. There are a handful of significant defencemen currently bound for free agency; in no particular order I’d suggest that Christian Ehrhoff, Paul Martin, Andrej Sekera, Francois Beauchemin, Johnny Boychuk, Cody Franson and Zbynek Michalek would all be awfully valuable additions to the team. It’s hard to know what will be available to the Oilers in trade and at what cost, but of course that’s a route the team could go, too.

The Plan


Given their contracts, we can probably put the names of Andrew Ference and Mark Fayne in ink on the roster next season. The question is who rounds out the group.

There are a bunch of kids vying for positions on the left side, with Darnell Nurse, Oscar Klefbom and Martin Marincin (in that order) all viable candidates for NHL employment. The Oilers should probably keep all three and may end up doing so but if I had to guess I’d say Marincin is sent out of town.

On the right side are two defencemen in very different positions. Jeff Petry is a good defenceman who should be valued much more than he is but will probably play his last game as an Oiler sometime this spring. Justin Schultz is not a particularly good defenceman and should be valued much less than he is but will probably be re-signed after a tough negotiation this summer.

Nikita Nikitin can play either side and may redeem himself between now and the end of the year, but I’d guess he gets bought out over the summer.

I expect too that we see the Oilers add one high-profile defenceman, either via trade or free agency; that’s something the team absolutely should do though of course Edmonton also needs to be prepared in the eventuality that such an addition is not possible.

If it were me, I’d add a high-profile defenceman on the right side to holdovers Fayne and Petry, sending Schultz out of town in trade. On the left side, I’d bring back Ference, Klefbom and whichever of Marincin and Nurse looked the best out of training camp, bumping the other down to the AHL for further development. Edmonton’s in a bit of a box in that it needs to develop its left-side prospects, so the trick here is to make the right side good enough to have the defence at least passable next season.

What I expect to see is the Oilers add a high-profile defenceman to holdovers Schultz and Fayne on the right side, with that trio playing with left-siders Ference, Klefbom and Nurse. Edmonton seemingly made its decision on Petry last summer and will probably trade him before the deadline, and given the team’s apparent indifference to Marincin and the logjam of young defenders on the left I’d expect him to be traded as well.


  • GlennH

    It’s good perspective on Petry to point out that on a reasonably construed team he would be a number 3 defenceman. There’s very little chance that he’s going to be here next year so we may as well feel good about it. I’m hoping that MacT isn’t the guy making a decision on Jultz in the offseason but since it appears most likely that he will lets just hope that he’s over his crush and is willing to let the kid walk if he demands more than the minimum the Oilers can pay him.

  • camdog

    Well this all makes sense, Petry was left to walk because Nurse has his spot on the roster for next season. That`s the only logical reason why Petry wasn`t upped in term, because Nurse already had his spot on the roster.

    At the beginning of the season Mact had thoughts of Shultz leading the offence and Fayne bringing the D on the right side. And Nurse filling the gaps. This is Mact`s dream defence on the right side…

  • SourGrapes

    Trade Schultz now – either alone or as part of a package – while other GM’s still think he’s a prospect. Wait any longer and they’ll know for sure that he’s really just a good college/AHL player and nothing more.

  • billythebullet

    Ooh arm chair gm time!! Defence next yr, Fire, waive, shoot just get rid of jultz. Useless. Bribe, overpay, beg petry to stick it out long term. If Yandle really is available lets make a deal!. Yandle, Petry, Fayne, Klefbom, Ferance, Nikitin. There it is my top 6 for next season. As much as I want rid of Nikitin he’s here for another yr since we have to ride out his contract. No rookies, only one sophmore and no jultz. Shouldn’t be any worse then this yr.

    • DoubleDIon

      So your goal is to not be worse than this year? How do you get worse than this year? There isn’t relegation in the NHL. The goal should be to get much better than this year.

      • Zarny

        Fairly simple.

        Bos and Chi didn’t want to trade either guy and both followed one of the tenants Lou Lamoriello preaches – if you have time, use it.

        So both players weren’t traded until October 4th. By then the Oilers already had a full roster and weren’t in a position to add both players.

        According to virtually every hockey analyst/reporter the Oilers talked extensively to Boston about Boychuk and other players. They also talked to Chicago.

        That the Oilers didn’t successfully land either player doesn’t mean they didn’t try. Elliotte Friedman commented this morning that Oli Jokinen had a better from Edmonton this summer but chose Nashville.

          • Zarny

            Oh for sure much easier said than done.

            I would suggest there were a couple of factors that favored NYI:

            1) The Oilers didn’t have the cap space to add both on October 4th. I’m speaking functionally. I’d have to double check the numbers (godspeed Matthew Wuest); they may have technically been able to add both players and still be $500K ish under the cap but that isn’t smart management.

            2) NYI blueline was already better than the Oilers with Hamonic, Visnovsky, Hickey & de Haan. Snow could afford to be patient. I don’t think MacT felt he could wait until the 1 day before the season to “maybe” improve his D core. So they struck (out?) early with Nikitin, Fayne and Aulie. Once you are fully loaded with contracts your hands are somewhat tied.

            3) Based on MacT’s comments in December I don’t think he feels he can afford to give up the draft picks because the prospects in the system aren’t good enough. He lamented quite heavily that he didn’t have a 2nd and 3rd round pick last year.

            IMO, MacT’s comments about where he thinks the franchise is at after 5 years is far more troubling than their record this season. By his words, the Oilers made zero progress from 2010-2013.

  • pkam

    If I remember correctly, Petry was the worst D in this nation just 2 years ago. He was soft, always turned the puck over at the worst time and cost us the game. Some even said he was an AHL player, or 6/7 D at best.

    Didn’t most posters here suggest to trade him away a few years ago, and we would be lucky to get a 4th rounder?

    Didn’t some suggested even this off season that he was a 4/5 at best and not worth 4M?

    Wonder why all of a sudden our first priority is trying to re-sign him, even at 5.5M for 5 years as a comment here suggested?

      • pkam

        It must be a surprise to most posters here that Petry did improve, right? Otherwise, why should they cry to trade him for a 4th rounder 2 years ago?

        I still remember most Oilers fans were happy to trade Gilbert for N. Schultz at the time of the trade. Now some suggested that was one of the worst trade. I would say trading Petry for a 4th rounder would be worse than the Gilbert/Schultz trade.

        Now all I read is J. Schultz is soft, an AHL player, trade him for whatever we can get. It is like the replay of the Petry case. Not saying J. Schultz will turn out better or worse than Petry, but I am just frustrated by the intelligent armchair GMs here.

        • Zarny

          My observations have been that Oiler fans like two types of players: HoF superstars (Gretzky, Messier etc) and blue-collar grinders (Smith, Smyth).

          Skilled players (to varying degrees) like Arnott, Poti, Gilbert, Petry, Gagner, Jultz etc are sh*t on and run out of town simply because they aren’t superstars.

          You are correct that it is a flawed mentality. There are virtually no perfect players. The answer isn’t running players out of town who have flaws. The answer is to acquire other players who have different strengths and offset/compliment those flaws.

          • pkam

            Not disagreeing with what you say, but it is not what frustrated me.

            We all know that the Oilers are having difficulty getting players to come here, whether via UFA market or trades. And we all say we have to develop our own players. Yet we run our players out of town after only 1 or 2 NHL years.

            We wanted to run Petry out of town 2 years ago when he had less then 200 NHL games. If our management is as capable and intelligent as the fans here, we won’t be talking about re-signing Petry now.

            Now we want to run J. Schultz out of town when he has less than 200 NHL games. How can we ever develop our own players?

  • DoubleDIon

    I hope what you are suggesting with the Oilers and Marincin is not true………..I’m not sure what he did that was so bad, but if traded, this kid will come back to haunt us six ways to Sunday!

    I still do not understand why Eakins sent him to the farm when our superstars like JS, AF, NN, were laying turd after turd all over the ice. If Mac T sends this guy away at his age……….I suspect MacT is a very weak judge of defensive talent.

    I would love to find out who Nelson thinks is the best defenceman is on the farm?

  • Serious Gord

    What would i like to see happen?

    First let’s say our goodbyes to petry. there is no way in heck he is staying. I think he’s a number 4d who probably ranks as a #3 because he is the rare right-handed kind. But the management has screwed him up and he’s gone. And there’s nothing that can be done to fix that.

    Trade him. Tomorrow – the more games he can give to a new team the more they will pay. Detroit seems so obvious that it won’t happen.

    Shultz, marincin, – trade them ASAP as well

    Fayne keep. Not much you could improve on really

    Try and trade Ference – to get rid of that contract and a roster spot. I’d like to buy him out but,

    The buyout is needed for Nikitin.

    Keep Nurse in the AHL for one season. At least and maybe part of the 2016-17 season. i want him 100% ready.

    Klefbom stays though it would be nice to send him back to the AHL too.

    Try and get yandle with the money freed up from the above moves

    Go and sign a bunch of veteran d-men who are on there way out of the NHL but with good previous careers.

    and tell the fans that yes 2015-16 likely will be playoff free, but that teams that play the oil will face a defense with heart and physicality that plays defense first, offense second. And that nurse and whatever other prospects picked up or drafted to play D will spend a minimum of one and more likely 2 or 3 years in the AHL before they get a sniff with the oil.

    ( the thing is the kind of moves outlined above cannot be done by the current management because the fans have no faith in them. NEw management – poho, GM AND coach can wipe the slate clean and begin the long boring and arduous rebuild that will actually deliver results, not heartbreak.)

    • pkam

      Why do we want to trade away Ference if we are going to sign a bunch of veteran d-men who are on their (not there) way out of the NHL with good previous careers? Didn’t Ference have good previous career with the Bruins before we signed him?

      If the Oilers do what you suggest, we will have to sign 5-6 veteran d-men, how likely is it there are 5-6 veteran d-men in the way out of the NHL available in the UFA market. I also wonder how many GM is capable of signing 5-6 veteran d-men in one off season.

      Even if the Oilers manage to do it, how good is the defense which comprises of 5-6 d-men who are about to retire?

      Honestly, I have way more confidence in the current management than you.

  • 2004Z06

    Really hoping Boychuck is keen to come back home, for lots and lots of money. It’s not often a legit number 1 D man hits the free agency market, let alone one from Edmonton.

    Yandle still has one more year left, but will likely command something in the 8 mill range after that. I could see the Yotes trading him at the deadline. I imagine a 1st, a 2nd, and probably a solid NHL player and an even better prospect.

    Given the Oilers will also be sellers, I don’t see them getting Yandle any time soon, or ever.

    • Zarny

      Define “legit number 1 D man”.

      Johnny Boychuk is not an elite defensemen. He’s not Drew Doughty, Duncan Keith, Shea Weber, Ryan Suter etc. And it’s not even close.

      He’s certainly very good but he’s at best a 2D on a really good team and on a few he’s a 2nd pairing guy.

      Throwing lots and lots of money at a guy who still isn’t what you need only hamstrings your budget. There is no questioning the Oilers have to overpay to attract players but you can’t throw lots and lots of money and overpay half your roster.

  • 2004Z06

    I suspect Petry not signing long term is of his own doing and not managements. Why wouldn’t he want to test FA? Youngest legitimate D-man on the market this year. Why wouldn’t he want to distance himself from this tire fire? He is likely marking the days off on the calendar as we speak.

    Stop blaming Mctavish for not signing him long term and start blaming management for failing to build a team Petry would want to stay with.

    • camdog

      It’s a trend with Mact and well the Oilers for the past 9 years – incredibly bad asset management. Bad asset management is the reason why the Oilers are unable to “build a team Petry (or Perron) would want” to stay on. As long as Mact continues to be part of the problem he will continue to get blamed.

  • A-Mc

    At the draft you may get something pretty nice for Penguins 1st, the 2 or 3rd we’ll get for Petry, and Marincin. Hell depending on what you’re going for, throw in Yakupov as well.

    For teams that have abundance in skill but no Dollars to pay them, this kind of deal looks pretty favorable.

    With MacT pulling the trigger, i have no idea what will happen so i can’t even begin to predict what the 15-16 oilers will be like.

  • Tikkanese

    About Petry, I understand the ease and want to blame Oiler management for everything but why hasn’t anyone considered that it was the Petry camp’s choice to only sign one season? MacT is on record as saying he tried signing Petry long term but had to settle on the 1 year deal. Petry’s doing appears to be the actual case to me.

    Can’t really blame Petry’s camp. Not only is is home state team, Detroit begging for RH shot players(their entire team but one player are LH shots), he will be the youngest UFA D on the market and might hit a massive home run.

    • pkam

      From what I heard, Petry’s agent did offer a long term contract at 5M+ for 5-6 years, but MacT didn’t feel comfortable at that amount at that time so they settled for a bridge. I don’t blame MacT after what had happened to Gagner. Who knew that Petry would not get an injury in the pre-season and a regressed season.

      Didn’t Subban want a 6M long term contract but Marc Bergevin chose to sign PK to a bridge contract and then had to sign him at 9M at the end of the bridge?

      I don’t think Petry will sign for less than 5M this off season. So even if we have to sign Petry at 5.5M or 6M now, we are just paying an extra 0.5 to 1M. It is peanut compare to the 3M extra that the Habs to pay to sign Subban, isn’t it?

      • Tikkanese

        Wow. Comparing Petry to Subban now? Just because he’s the Oilers best D doesn’t mean he compares to other teams best D.

        Even if the Oilers offer Petry 0.5-1M more per, doesn’t mean that Petry will accept it. If Oilers offer him 6 and Detroit offers him 4, he’ll still sign with Detroit. That might be the only other team where he’d be the #1 RD not to mention that it is a winning team and his home state. It’s a no brainer.

        • pkam

          Not comparing the player, just the situation. All I want to point out is that many GMs choose to sign a bridge contract. Sometimes it wins, sometimes it loses. Petry is one of the many cases and PK is another of the many cases.

          If you believe Petry is will to take a 2M hometown discount to sign with the Wings at the end of this season, what do you think the chance of us signing him to a long contract this off season?

          • camdog

            A one year deal taking Petry into UFA status isn’t a bridge contract, the bridge contract was the previous contract Petry signed. Completely different scenario with PK.

          • camdog

            I would have worked at getting him a 3 year contract, regardless of how long it would have taken. If that didn’t work then I would have traded him for a real tangible asset/prospect (centre), not a draft pick. And I wouldn’t have let Perron off so easy. If I could’t have gotten a real prospect, I would have waited until the off season to deal him.

            This organisation doesn’t need draft picks (as their drafting is weak) as much as they need prospects. Good prospects are usually around 20. They still may never turn into good NHL players but they are more refined, more is known about them and they will be ready for the big leagues quicker.

            This organisation is very weak when dealing with it’s players. Whether that is giving 6 million dollar deals to kids, whom sometimes don’t deserve it yet, too giving young players a position on the team without having to earn it. The culture needs to change, the Oilers desperately need a veteran, confident GM, that doesn’t have knowledge of the ghosts of Oiler past that continue to haunt this team.

          • pkam

            If you believe you can get at least 5M from UFA 1 year later, will you consider a 3 year deal at less than 5M? You are expecting MacT to do an impossible job.

            Didn’t a week ago an article here say that MacT did try but fail to trade Petry for a 3C?

            Perhaps you believe you get can something better in the off season for Perron, but nobody knows for sure. If he already asked to be traded and we ignore his request, will he turn into Souray #2?

            Our drafting was bad before 2008, but I don’t think they are that bad after 2008. I have more concern in our pro scouts and development than our amateur scouts.

            Most of our drafts seem to do fine in juniors or college after the draft, but fail to deliver at the pro level, especially the forwards.

            Remember Tobias, whom we drafted in 4th round in 2011 and traded to Phoenix for Kale Kessy, another 4th rounder drafted just 2 ahead of Tobias. Now Tobias is playing in NHL but Kessey is struggling in minors, must be another fault of our amateur scouts.

          • Tikkanese

            That was not a bridge contract that Petry just signed. It in no way compares to Subban.

            About 1% on any contract with the Oilers. There’s every reason Petry will be getting a big overpayment wherever he chooses and I’m sure the Oilers would have to really overpay for him to even consider staying over other destinations, let alone accept.

  • OilersDynasty

    If Marc Staal hits FA, go after him. With Toews and Kane’s brand spanking new contracts set to kick in next year, Seabrook has been mentioned as a trade candidate. If it’s true he’s available, do everything you can do get him. Trade for Adam Larsson in NJ as well. Bam! Two top-2 defenseman in Staal and Seabrook. Add in Petry, Fayne, and Klefbom and you got a formidable defense.

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