The dictionary defines a paradigm shift as a fundamental change in
approach or underlying assumptions. It’s a cool thought but very
difficult to do in reality. I think we may be seeing something close in
the offices of the Edmonton Oilers at this time. Allow me to elaborate.
Jeff Petry, over time, has been building a resume that suggests he is
going to be an effective possession defenseman. There are many things
he doesn’t do—leap buildings in a single bound, invent things, sing like
Neil Diamond—but in the portion of the game of hockey that includes
retrieval, recognition, effective outlet passing and coverage, Petry’s
got some nice things in his bag. He’s also approaching the point in his
career when all of these things will pay off for his team. I’m not going
to post the Vollman Sledgehammer, you’ve seen if before and there’s
such a thing as overkill and let’s establish he’s good at those
possession things compared to the rest of the defense group that we call
the Edmonton Oilers.
There has always been a disconnect between
the Petry’s in the world and the old timey definition of defense. Why?
Well, Petry doesn’t match our mind’s eye about how defense works. We
intuitively see ‘defense’ as starting from a position of weakness (no
possession) and playing the individual sortie to a draw. That isn’t
modern defense, it is not how successful NHL teams go about the business
Darryl Sutter: “The big
thing in today’s game is you have to be able forecheck and backcheck,
and you have to have the puck. You can’t give the puck up. We don’t play
in our zone, so there’s not much defending. I’ve coached in three
decades now and this stuff where they said Marian had to play in
Jacques’s system is a bunch of bull-crap. The game’s changed. They think
there’s defending in today’s game. Nah, it’s how much you have the
puck. Teams that play around in their own zone think they’re defending
but they’re generally getting scored on or taking face-offs and they
need a goalie to stand on his head if that’s the way they play.”
This paragraph is modern defense in prose. My generation watched Ted
Harris hammer forwards into the boards, hold them, and secure the puck.
Rule and equipment changes, the speed of the game and our tastes as fans have
conspired to produce the modern defense as described above by Sutter.
It’s how much you have the puck! Now, I’m going to suggest
that Craig MacTavish, Kevin Lowe and Scott Howson know this intuitively
but ‘fall back’ into old habits when approaching actual decision
making. It’s understandable really, if you’re charged with a very
serious job (‘is Jeff Petry worth $5 million of the money our boss is
going to spend?’) then at some point the things you trust are going to
figure prominently. Is he tough? Does he hit like a truck? Will he
fight? Does he fit the idea of a rugged defenseman in the mind’s eye?
None of those things scream Jeff Petry. I’ve always felt (privately)
Edmonton would send Petry away for the same reasons the club cashed Tom
Gilbert for Nick Schultz: A clear value assessment that gives great
import to things not included in the Sutter mission statement above.
Petry isn’t an identical comp for Gilbert, he’s a more physical player
but the overall presence is similar.
Now, let’s fast forward to yesterday.
Oilers have had recent discussions with Petry camp. Wouldn’t surprise me if offer has come. Long shot with FA looming but never know.
— Ryan Rishaug (@TSNRyanRishaug) February 18, 2015
I think an offer would be a significant departure for the Edmonton Oilers
management group. Why? Unlike the final Ales Hemsky contract, in which
there appeared to be a split on a decision (my own read was Steve
Tambellini wasn’t strong on the player, but that’s a guess) it always
seemed to me the Oilers as a group were all on the same page about
Petry. It could best be summed up like this:
- MacT: “Jeff
is anticipating a high level and he has the ability to hit it out of the
park. If that’s the case, we’re right back at the table next year
negotiating a long-term deal based on a tremendous season.” Source
has not been a tremendous season and yet there appears to be some
movement. Has the player changed his ask? I doubt it. Has the
organization changed its view of the player? My guess is they have, in
some real way, altered the evaluation equation over the last number of
months and are coming to a new conclusion.
Look, it could be
nothing. The Oilers may send him away tomorrow and Jeff Petry will move
on with his life and so will we, albeit with a different group of blue
in Oilers Nation. I’m guessing there’s something here, don’t know what
and haven’t the resources to track it down. I’ll say this: If the
Edmonton Oilers sign Jeff Petry before the deadline, it will absolutely
indicate there is a change in the weather and that the Sutter version of
defense is finally seeing the light of day in all Edmonton corridors.
And that my friends would be a very good day.