The Edmonton Oilers need a No. 1 defenceman in the worst way

Defensive mess

There should be no question what the Edmonton Oilers’ greatest necessity is. The club desperately needs a top-pairing rearguard, preferably a No. 1 left-shooting defender. That player isn’t easy to find; even with a concerted effort the Oilers may not be able to land him and it isn’t at all clear that the team is willing to put the legwork in.

If there’s one benefit to Edmonton’s nasty skid of the past few days, it might be that the obvious need for a top defenceman has been made abundantly clear to management. The great fear is that it hasn’t.

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Craig MacTavish6

It is likely that general manager Craig MacTavish will give a state of the team availability at some point not too long after the conclusion of the Oilers’ season. When he does, he needs to make it clear that his viewpoint has changed since his last major presser, back on March 2:

I’m reasonably comfortable going forward with Oscar and Justin and Nikita and Andrew and Mark Fayne. Nikita was playing better. He started off slowly, I don’t think he was in the best shape he could have been and we have to get that rectified next year but he was getting into shape. He’s a top-four NHL defenceman. We’ll see what Jordan Oesterle has coming forward, we’ll see what Brandon Davidson has coming forward; they’re both young players, there’s optimism there that they can develop. We’ve got Darnell Nurse coming forward. Who knows what we get in the draft; we could help ourselves not only at centre but on defence depending on how this team finishes and where the bingo balls fall.

MacTavish may or may not still feel that way. We’ve seen the Oilers get blown out of some recent games, but injuries have also forced the club to ice Justin Schultz and the Oklahoma City Barons on the blue line. That leaves open the possibility of two very different conclusions:

  • Oscar Klefbom and Justin Schultz have been forced to take on tougher minutes and have been found wanting; therefore they had better not be the Oilers’ top pairing in 2015-16.
  • This losing is terrible, but things would be a lot different if Andrew Ference, Mark Fayne and Nikita Nikitin were healthy and supporting the defence.

If the Oilers brain-trust comes to the former conclusion, they have plenty of time to do something about it. If they come to the latter conclusion, 2015-16 is already a write-off.

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What Can One Man Do/Can One Man Be Found?

Ideally, the Oilers would be extremely active this summer. Failing that, they need to make sure the moves they do make are big enough to have a real impact on the club.

One good defenceman could go a long way. Paul Martin is a pending free agent and the player I’m going to use as an example, mostly because he seems like a guy who might shake loose and who might be attainable. If the Oilers were to add Martin and do nothing else, they could potentially ice the following depth chart:

  • Paul Martin – Mark Fayne
  • Oscar Klefbom – Justin Schultz
  • Andrew Ference – Nikita Nikitin
  • Martin Marincin

It isn’t ideal. I’m not at all convinced that Edmonton should be married to the Klefbom/Schultz pairing, I’d have Nikitin headed for a buyout, I’m skeptical about the abilities of several players there to live up to their positions on the depth chart and I don’t think there are six better options than Marincin. But it has the virtue of being plausible, both in terms of being attainable for a team in the Oilers’ position and being at least hypothetically palatable for MacTavish and company.

And it’s a group that might just be middling enough for the Oilers to make some headway in the standings. Martin has been facing tough minutes for ages, can contribute at both ends of the rink and has a lot in common with Andy Greene, Fayne’s old partner in New Jersey who he had good success with. Klefbom and Schultz have had good stretches in a somewhat sheltered role; with a little progress from one or both they could potentially be a decent second pairing. Ference and Nikitin aren’t exciting but should be able to tread water as a third pairing; if not Marincin is a seventh defenceman who can play.

Adding someone at least as capable as Martin may or may not be enough to make the defence serviceable. It should be seen as the bare minimum for MacTavish and company.

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  • Serious Gord

    I’d like Phaneuf, Despres, and Schenn on D.
    I’d give up Eberle, the Pens #1, Marincin, Schultz without hesitating to bring in some actual Dmen like this.

    I think all these guys are attainable.
    I hear people hoping for Seabrook. I’d love that, but there is no way Chicago parts with him.

  • Zarny

    If any one is serious about improving the Oilers next year, the one tactic that must be tried at all costs is to pry OEL out of Arizona.
    That should start with offering up Hall plus whatever future considerations Arizona might be dumb enough to accept.
    If Arizona wants hard currency then give them Draistal if you have to, but OEL.
    This the kind of trade that might actually move the Oilers forward next year.
    We have all seen enough of Hall to know he is not transcendent player, actually fairly mediocre in an all round sense.
    This team will never progress until its defense is fixed. For years, teams like Nashville and St. Louis have been consistently competitive on the basis of defense even with mediocre forwards, albeti big mediocre forwards.
    Oilers need to come to terms how uninspired their so called core actually is.

  • Spiel

    Simple solution. The Oilers drafted Nail “best player available” Yakupov, regardless of position in 2012 so they could swap him or another winger for a #1 D at the right time.

    So, let’s just trade #1 overall pick Nail Yakupov for #8 overall pick Jacob Trouba. Oh, right… the Jets would NEVER do that.
    Ok, how about Yakupov for the #6 overall Lindholm from Anaheim? Not going to happen.
    What about #22 overall Olli Maattaa? No again.
    Why did the Oilers draft Yakupov again?

  • Serious Gord

    “Who knows what we get in the draft; we could help ourselves not only at centre but on defence depending on how this team finishes and where the bingo balls fall.”

    Mact has talked about giving prospects time to develop – that not doing so in the past was an error. Yet he says the above – clearly implying that he would plug those picks into the line-up next season straight out of junior.

    That or the prospects in the system miraculously become top four capable.

    Nowhere does he say that he needs to aquire a veteran D from another team.

    Next season can be booked as a lost cause already if he’s left in place as GM.

  • Zarny

    Sorry I’m not buying it. It looks like another stop gap defense that it 1 or 2 injuries away from finishing at the bottom of the league again. If they finish 3rd in the lottery they will take a d man who is a couple of seasons away from potentially being the d man they need now. Nurse is the same . And there is no way this city is willing to take another two years of having the season end by December, unless they know for sure things are getting better. Hall will be gone by then because he will ask for a trade, Eberle will follow him shortly. The truth is this team will probably be better in a few years, by then though there will be a new GM and a new coach for sure. I would be fine if they traded their core players except RNH in order to have a great team in two years. And if they were also honest about it. Maybe Hall, Gordon , a solid prospect land their later first round pick get them the second pick. They take a center and a d man at the draft and prepare for the next two,years. At least that would be a plan, instead of the hoping for the best fuelled by a very delusional GM.

  • Serious Gord


    Paul Martin leads the Penguins in plus minus at plus 20. He is their second leading scoring defenceman. He averages 22:35 ice time per game. The Penguins are not stupid like the Oilers. They will make a serious effort to retain him.

    Is he a UFA? If so, what conceivable reason would he have to come to Edmonton? You could throw as much money as you like at him. Everyone can see what a sh!t show the Oilers are.

    • Serious Gord


      Martin is a UFA. His last contract with Pittsburgh was 5yrs at 5M.

      Let’s look at what Edmonton had to do recently to sign UFA’s.

      Pouliot: Last contract: 1 yr at 1.3M. With Oilers: 5 yrs at 4M.

      NIkitin: Last contract: 2 yrs at 2.15M. With Oilers: 2 yrs at 4.5M.

      Fayne: Last contract: 2 yrs at 1.3M. With Oilers: 4 yrs at 3.5M.

      So, in order to sign UFA’ s, the Oilers have basically had to double the SALARY AND TERM of players’ previous contracts.

      So in the case of Paul Martin, that means 10 yrs at 10M. But that is just plain stupid (even for the Oilers). So you are probably talking (seriously) about 7yrs at 7M or 6 yrs at 8M for him to hold his nose and sign here. And he is 34 years old.

      There is a STENCH about the Oilers franchise. The Oilers are like a baby who is so ugly, they have to tie a pork chop around his neck to get the dog to play with him.

  • Neilio

    “…it might be that the obvious need for a top defenceman has been made abundantly clear to management. The great fear is that it hasn’t.”

    Why would it be abundantly clear? Sure, a top defenceman would improve the club. But it doesn’t really matter. It’s likely that MacT knows he’s got a job for life. Let the organization rot in the dregs of the league for the rest of time. The main thing that’s important is that the old boys club are still employed because they’re the owner’s pals.

  • HardBoiledOil 1.0

    It is hard to believe that MacT is really this poor at evaluating D. That D including another old D like Martin puts us in the lottery again in 2016.

    We cannot have NN Ference And Shultz again. Trade for Hamonic, draft Hanifan then get Sobotka or Soderburg and stack the G with O’Connor and Talbot or Lehner.

  • Dobbler

    I disagree with you thesis that “There should be no question what the Edmonton Oilers’ greatest necessity is…#1 defenceman”. As bad as the defence is, I can’t imagine how anyone could not fill in the blank “Edmonton’s greatest necessity is _______” with Goaltending. Although it would be roughly as stupid to not replace Petry with an equal/upgrade as it was to not replace Gagner with an equal/upgrade, if we start next season without a proven #1 Goalie, then McT will earn the worst scorn that has been thrown his way.

    • mesa

      I think Dubnyk is a good example of what a goalie can do behind a competent defence.

      Look at the combined games of experience the Edmonton defence has compared to really any other in the league. It’s pretty laughable, and actually miraculous that Nelson is able to win anything with a core like that.

      Top end defence helps in every faucet of the game. A top end goalie only improves the chance of the puck not going in the net, but only marginally as the defence is still bad.

      I’d prefer to have a team where the goalie didn’t need to stand on his head every night for wins, ala Colorado.

      • Dobbler

        Of course we need better defence, I’m not arguing that. I am saying that but both to the eye, and looking at the stats, Edmonton Goalies have let in way too many goals that were not the direct result of a Jultz turnover or other such weak play. Would better defence help whatever goalie we have? Of course, but it isn’t a cure for incompetent goaltending.

        The gap between Edmonton’s save % and the rest of the league is huge (.013 behind the Carolina, .014 behind Arizona, the next 2 lottery teams). They’re middle of the pack (12th in the NHL) in shots against (I know that isn’t the definitive measure of a defence, but it’s something). a middle of the road save percentage of .910, if my math is right, would have meant about 55 more saves this year. That’s 2 more goals every 3 games (.66 less goals per game). How many games did we lose by a goal? I count 24. 24x.66=16. 16 games we might have won with average goaltending. That’s not even accounting for how such bad goaltending hurt the confidence of the rest team at the beginning of the season.

        • Zarny

          I agree with you on all points. I suppose my theory is that better defence mean better possession, less shote, less quality shots, and that in turn results in better goal tending. Again, I look at Dubnyk and ask, was he the problem? Hard to say as there isn’t really a metric for this. I would also argue that having a better goalie is not going to help the team score goals as would a better defence.

          However, I think getting a big upgrade on defence will be a lot more difficult than getting an upgrade in net. Best case scenario of course would be to have both. Sadly I wonder if MacT will do even as little as resigning Roy.

  • Positive Ray of Sunshine

    You lost me in your first sentence. I agree 1D is a huge hole in this lineup, but until there is a goalie who regularly stops floaters from the blueline, it wouldn’t matter if we had Subban and Weber. Goal is the biggest need.

    OK we have 2 biggest needs.

    Maybe 3.

    If you include management we have 15 to 20.

  • Prongers Promises

    I lust for a team that gets the city excited. Imagine the buzz around town right now if we were gearing up for the playoffs. Nothing else would matter, nothing at all.

    “Ok Monday & Tuesday work some OT get shit done because Wednesday is game 1 vs the Canucks and we as a city are going to GET ELECTRIC” Moral skyrockets higher than a foot long line of Columbian. High fives and water cooler gossip debates about how we shut down the sedins and Bieksa hatred spew from every edmontonians mouths.

    You set out your jerseys for the week. Monday is Reasoner day. Tuesday lets toss on the Gretz. Wednesday we honour Roloson. Throwback thursday to the Moose and friday is Hall day.

    Give us something to be passionate about. We as Edmontonians need this. Get Don Cherry in the barn raving about how we are the loudest and most passionate fans in the NHL.

    A guy can only watch 06 highlights for so long. -“Samsonov over to Hemsky… SCORES!!!! Ales Hemsky!” That look in Legacy’s eyes of utter defeat.
    -Black eyed peas pump it intro *Shivers*
    -Pronger being the entire team
    -Smytty losing his mouth and still coming back
    -Roloson flashing leather like he’s working 118th.

    GIVE US PLAYOFF HOCKEY. This city deserves it. The fans deserve it. WE NEED IT.

    I cant read another article on the future and the daunting tasks ahead of management. I want to feel alive right now.

    • freelancer

      I hear you fellow fan. Unfortunately it’s been 23 years of relatively poor hockey. Even 2006 they barely made it into the playoffs. Apart from the 80’s they have been a dreadful francise. Will next year be any better? I’m not very optimistic like many of you.

      I suspect another losing season with many of the same articles as this year being written next season.