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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  • HardBoiledOil 1.0

    I’m curious as to why you feel a #1LD is more in need than a #1RD.

    I’d rate Klefbom/Marincin ahead of Fayne/Schultz now, and certainly in the long term. Especially with Nurse and maybe Hanifin on the way longer term.

    • Yeah, this is good question and not one that I answered above.

      Mostly, it’s because I don’t think Klefbom deserves to be tossed in the deep end next season (his responsibilities have ramped up lately and it hasn’t gone well and that isn’t just on Schultz). Fayne had good success as the complementary guy to a real puck-mover in shutdown minutes; to me he’s the best bet for next year if the Oilers are adding just one piece.

      As for the long-term, one of the reasons I like Martin is that he’s been a RD often in Pittsburgh and he’s one of those left-shooting guys who legitimately can move to his off-side without missing a beat. So long-term if you’d rather see Klefbom/Nurse whoever in the top assignment it’s an easy transition.

      • mesa

        I like your articles JW. I read every one you put up. Usually I follow your logic trail easily, and I respect it whether or not I agree.

        How do you reconcile the age of Paul Martin? I agree that he would be a great piece for the team now, but how can we possibly acquire him without surrendering crazy money and term to a man in the twilight of his career? If you agree that we cannot, how does he provide enough value to justify the price?


  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • Oilers G- Nations Poet Laureate

    Well written Willis. Although I don’t like the stop gap defence and I want a top quality NHL defence right MEOW, it really is our only option to buy the younger D some time to develop in the minors and push Jultz and Klefbom down the depth chart where they belong. Ideally I’d like to see two new D-men capable of playing top 4 minutes on this team next year, but I’m not going to hold my breath.

  • Neilio

    Could we at least keep our hopes up for a while? I just read an article about how Paul Martin should be our #1 Defenceman next year.
    This was probably the least inspiring thing I’ve read about the Oiler’s future.
    Willis, you need a vacation.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • Petrolero

    A very good team is missing the playoffs this year (san jose) with at least another one joining them (one of either boston, the red wings or pittsburg). This will constitute a golden opportunity to pounce on some very dissapointed organizations.

    Shame on MAcTavish, Lowe and co. if they come out of this empty handed.

    • They will. You could put money on that. How much more proof of incompetence do we need to see? Same management next year? Same result. The only articles that should be written in the Edmonton media (MSM & Bloggers)should be about calling for the heads of the entire management group. I sincerely hope the City and the Fanbase have had enough and go into an “open revolt”. Don’t need another Mac-T presser unless it is to announce he is on his way out with the rest of his cronies.

  • freelancer

    If at all possible, I would bring in two vet defenders as a way to break up the Klef Schultz line and push everyone down the chart. Let’s use Martin, and I’ll say Franson as a second option.

    Marincin, Nikitin, etc

    Let Schultz and Klef get some experience playing with actual talented veteran players. If the three moves MacT said he was expecting to make this offseason were Martin, Franson, and Niemi. I would consider that a successful off-season.

  • freelancer

    If one thing will help this club imediatly it would be too defenders. Maybe they can’t get the big fish but get competent 2nd pairing guys who can defend by committee. This will help the forwards by moving the puck and help the goalies by reducing prime scoring opportunities.

    • camdog

      k lowe couldn’t run a pee wee team. Any other team would have fired this guy 5 or 6 years ago. He should not be managing an NHL team period. No offense to any pee wee teams out there.

  • camdog

    Martin just turned 34. At this stage in his career he’s about the equivalent of a Jeff Petry. He may still be marginally better or he may not be, especially if he’s put up against the big western conference teams.

    Martin would be a great addition if they could get him signed, however calling him a number 1 d-man at this stage in his career, is like calling Petry a #1 d-man because he was the Oilers #1 d-man.

    If they were to sign Martin, they would have the d that they started the season with, they would still need another guy.

  • Edsez

    The Blackhawks are going to be up against it next season looking to have about $6 mil to fill out 10 roster spots. They also have no 1st round pick in this year’s entry draft … is there a combination of assets, say for arguments sake, Schultz or Marincin and Pittsburgh’s 1st, that might pry Brent Seabrook away ?

    • camdog

      The Oilers would also have to convince Seabrook to waive his limited no trade clause, second the Oilers would have to sign Seabrook to a contract extension. The Oilers can’t have Seabrook as a pending UFA on this team in this market like the Islanders did with Boychuk and Leddy.

      It would be a very complicated/difficult move to make.

    • Positive Ray of Sunshine

      Why trade any player to a team up against the cap? Seabrook, Sharpe + Raanta could be had for draft picks. Oilers have 5-6 picks in top 90 (not including their low 1st rnd)to offer up. Also have options in OKC. It would be BAD business to offer up top assets. Not to mention that CHI can’t take back $4M-$5M in salary from shultz/marincin contracts.

    • Dobbler

      Totally agree. Assuming Seabrook signs long term and assuming Hanifin is drafted this year, in 3 years, the D could settle down to be:

      Nurse (6’4″ 200lbs)-Seabrook (6’3″ 220lbs),
      Klefbom (6’3″ 210lbs)-Schultz (6’2″ 190lbs),
      Hanifin (6’2″ 200lbs)- veteran D with size

      That’s an exciting left side.

  • Since Pronger was moved, I have been saying the oil need a real top pair D. Hasn’t happened. I’m not optimistic that the current management knows how to assess this teams need.

    I used to think we needed a big name D (that would be nice) but they don’t grow on trees. Paul Martin seems like a good choice. I think they need two players of that sort of ilk. Two safe D men that are used to logging a lot of minutes. Biggest need on the team right now and it will help across the board. Helps the goaltender out to have reliable D.. Helps the forwards to have D that can battle and regain possession for transition to offense.

    They will need to overpay but it will be worth it. And overpay on a guy who has a good track record.. Not a risk like Nikitin.

      • Positive Ray of Sunshine

        I’m more comfortable having guys play their senior year in junior……..if for no other reason but to physically develop and increase strength.

        Nuge should not have been brought in right away or Hall, or Yaks……IMHO

        There are very few exceptions to this rule for me.

        • Positive Ray of Sunshine

          1st overall picks going back to junior?? Why?? They have already proved they were the best at their age.

          All 3 oilers were Calder Trophy candidates.

          You listen and read Jason Negative too much.

          Elite are elite and need to be challenged to grow.

          • Zarny

            Nonsense. 1st overall picks are not all the same.

            If the #1 pick is someone like Crosby, Tavares, Stamkos, Hall or McDavid whose draft -1 years were as good or better than the draft years of many top 5 picks they aren’t going to benefit from another year of Jr. They’ve already dominated Jr for 2-3 years.

            Some years, however, that isn’t the case – see Nuge. He only had 1 dominant year in Jr. Nuge was ready skill wise but not physically. Bennett and Reinhart were no different. They were both in the mix for 1st overall and neither was NHL ready.

            Elite prospects need to be challenged but not overwhelmed – see Draisaitl. And the decision should always be on a case by case basis; not draft position.

  • Positive Ray of Sunshine

    I hope someone with say has a far better plan than yours Willis. 34 year old Paul Martin? Not enough. This organization hasn’t iced a decent pairing since Pronger, and people wonder if it’s a coincidence we end up last every year.
    Unfortunately someone in the group that loves small skilled forwards are going to need to recognize they need to get rid of skill to get get skill. And Blue line skill is just as important and O line skill, contrary to what the writers on here would have us believe.
    It astounds me. You guys are apparently bright, well educated hockey minds… Yet you have little to no concept of what it takes to win in this League. And apparently the Oilers feel the same way. Watching Calgary live on Saturday night it’s clear they have it figured out with Brodie, Wideman, and Russell. They might be enough to get through in the West but they’d give anyone in the East fits right now.

    Scott Niedermeyer, Chris Pronger, Zdeno Chara, Duncan Keith, Drew Doughty.

    The modern game is not won without these men. Trade Hall and whoever else is needed to aquire something resembling these guys. OR better take Hanifan in the draft.

  • 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?

  • tileguy

    Been saying it all along. THE OILERS NEED TO TRADE EBERLE OR HALL in order to get a top dman in return.

    No good free agent dmen, and even if we could sign one, we’d definitely end up overpaying.

  • WTF2

    We need to two quality defensemen, not just 1. One alone will quickly be overworked and overwhelmed by the task at hand. Let’s be realistic there are few defensemen who will voluntarily choose to come to E-town. And by the way Martin is not a number one defenseman.

    That being said I have zero faith in MacT to do anything that resembles positive action to improve to the team.

  • loyal2theorangeandblue

    I’m not saying he’s available or anything. If the sharks are going to make some moves in the summer and can’t trade Joe or Marleau could Burns somehow be had(he has a limited no trade..which probably includes edmonton) can’t hurt to try though right? 6’5 230 seems like the man for the job to me

  • Positive Ray of Sunshine

    Ah, the defence debate rages. Still hoping the Rangers won’t be able to keep all three of McDounagh, Yandle, and Staal.

    Though I believe Staal would go to Carolina before the other two were traded, if not, then this Pens pick might turn into something pretty special.

    I think Mcdounagh would be the best solution for getting that top pairing vet D to calm everything down. He plays on the left which means Klefbom and eventually Nurse could get some sheltered minutes.

    I’ve always liked Yandle, but he’ll be a UFA next year, so maybe he comes cheap. He plays on the right so could pair well with someone steady like Klefbom or Marincin, though that would be tough treding for a while. It would give Schultz a chance to play soft minutes, and Fayne could keep his spot on the shut down pair. It would basically be an upgraded Petry situation.

    Really though, the Oilers need to buy out Nikitin, and get two top end guys. Maybe Franson for the right side, and either Mcdounagh or Martin for the left.

    That should be their priority. If they do that, and resign Roy, I’d be happy with the moves they made.

    But if they also go O’Conner, and drafted Strome at 3rd, then I would say that is a huge step forward as it gives them a lot of depth in most positions. Finally if somehow, after all of that, they get a guy like Niemi. Well then I see little the organization could do to upgrade itself, short of trading for Hall.

    • Positive Ray of Sunshine

      I am sure the Rangers are just itching to trade their best defenseman for 1st round pick in 17-23 range. It’s puff puff pass, not puff puff puff.

      • Zarny

        Actually I bet they would absolutely hate having to do that. Just like I’m sure Boston hated having to trade Boychuck for two second round picks. And just like Chicago I’m sure hated having to trade Leddy for the same package. Just like Vancouver probably wasn’t a big fan of having to trade Schnider for a 9th over all pick.

        But, the thing with cap crunched teams is they usually have to make trades they don’t like simply because they have no other choice. And in those situations, they try and get the best return, that doesn’t include taking on any cap since that is the problem they are trying to fix.

        So, without taking on any cap, and yet needing to shed some cap, they have to get rid of guys teams actually want. That’s why you don’t see Lecaviallier going anywhere, it’s why Phaneuf is not being traded from the Leafs, and it’s why a guy like Luongo got such a low return. Not to mention the above Boychuck and Leddy deals.

        Will they trade one of those guys? Well they might have to. And if they do, again considering they can’t really take cap back the other way as in an actual NHL player, then you have to assume they will trade for picks and prospects who are still in their entry level deals.

        Mcdounagh I would imagine would be really pricey. Staal has his no move so unless it’s to Carolina, I’m not sure he moves, and since Carolina is in a situation where they need picks and prospects, not sure a deal gets done that way.

        If I were slats, well I’d look at trading the rental player Yandle since he becomes a UFA end of next year anyway, and his cap is 5. something mill. Since he’s a UFA, I really don’t think the Rangers would be in a position to get a big asking price (again Boychuck and Leddy are good examples). So, is the Pens first rounder worth more than two second rounders? I would say it is. But hey, maybe I’m just gettin into too much of the puf puf?

        • ThinkingOutLoud

          Leddy and Boychuk were #3 on their teams depth charts and the canucks still had Luongo a legit #1 goaltender. If the Rangers jettison a D man it will be Boyle. You don’t trade your best dman away for draft picks, unless you’re name is MacT.

          • Zarny

            Boy chuck played top pair with Chara. Boyle is going to be 38 next year and will be a UFa at the end of that year, no one is taking that contract for that player, no one.

            The team needs to resign Derek Stepan and Carl Haglin with no significant contracts coming off the books. And the cap is maybe even going down.

            I do not doubt the GM will likely try and shed salary without having to trade any of his top D men, but what I’m saying is he might not have a choice.

  • mesa

    The post season press conference should be quite comical.This team will hve the all time record for playoff futility.
    Brian Burke went to Calgary to give Lowe the TKO punch.Is Daryl braindead from a coma?Just wondering.What is there to give fans hope?The Oilers have to be one of the worst run professional organizations in the entire universe.
    Bartender 3 triple rums and cokes please.
    Angus Young and AC/Dc september 20,now that brings happiness.Daryl wakey wakey

  • 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.