When I look at the state of the Oilers defense I can’t help
but go through a series of facepalms and heavy sighs before I need a break,
just to return minutes later and do it all over again. I go through this for a
few cycles but try to stop before my sighs alert my coworkers and my facepalms
produce lasting bruises.
The Oilers’ blueline is a bigger work in progress today than
it was a year ago and that comes back to a decision that then GM Craig MacTavish
made that (surprise) blew up in his face. He’s been moved away from the helm of
this ship but his mess remains for Peter Chiarelli to mop up. And it’s a hell
of a mess.
Last summer the Oilers made a horrible and entirely
avoidable decision to “challenge” Jeff Petry on a one year deal that would take
him directly to unrestricted free agency while also at the same time gifting
Justin Schultz a one year deal as an RFA that would pay him 3.675 Million.
This did two things.
1) It sent the message quite clearly to Jeff Petry that he
should be prepared for a change of address.
2) It forced Schultz into a position where he needed to significantly
progress in order to be worth his deal moving forward.
These were both detestable outcomes.
With Petry it was a precursor to the Oilers making him a healthy
scratch in October, not negotiating a new deal with him (their choice), and
ultimately being traded to Montreal for a 2nd round pick plus a 5th
round pick that eventually became a 4th round pick.
With Justin Schultz it was the precursor to him treating the
contract like a finish line, to borrow a MacT phrase used on Dustin Penner. Justin
Schultz has been much maligned these days and for good reason. His offense has
regressed and his defense has failed to develop. Even the switch to Todd Nelson
failed to breathe life into the Oilers’ anti-physical blueliner.
The Oilers have a real problem on their hands and, as it
turns out, there isn’t a right handed defenseman mine we can send Craig
MacTavish to work in until he comes back with enough replacements to even out
Jeff Petry just finished up a tour of duty with Montreal and
his performance had been so good that most in that market think signing him to
an extension is Priority one for GM Marc Bergevin. He left the Oilers with his
fair share of doubters who mindlessly parroted the people in the organization
who were too inept to survive Nicholson’s Blue & Orange Wedding unscathed.
But, as soon as the Eastern media actually got to see Petry play they started
singing his praises from the rooftops.
I don’t think there can be any question that Jeff Petry
became Montreal’s Number two defenseman behind only Norris Trophy winner PK
Subban. Players like Petry never get their due on bad clubs like Edmonton, it
seems. The knock is always that they were the best player on a bad team but
they might only be third pairing on a good one. Well, Petry went from
28th ranked Edmonton to 2nd ranked Montreal and still
rose up their depth chart.
You could scarcely watch a Habs game these playoffs without
hearing about “Gritty Jeff Petry” and his fantastic play from people who just
months before would never have dreamed of heaping praise his way. It both made
me smile and then immediately perform a few more cycles of facepalm. I’m happy
for Jeff Petry. I’m also aware that the Oilers need a solid right shooting
defenseman who can help teams win games.
What they could also use is a defenseman who can play on the
power play, which is something Petry just simply can’t do…if you were to only
go by his idiotic usage in Edmonton. If, however, you watched him in Montreal
you would know that he played on their first unit during the playoffs
and he looked damn good doing it.
Good thing the Oilers don’t need any right shooting D who
can play a gritty game while also soaking up minutes on the power play.
Like all good players who are traded before free agency, we always hold a little hope that they could sign back with the Oilers. That’s just not going to happen here. Bridges were burned and reports are out that Petry wants to stay long term in Montreal.
More pressing for the Oilers, now, is the problem with
Justin Schultz and that 3.675M dollars he is guaranteed because of the way RFA
contracts work. See, as per that pesky CBA, any player making more than 1
million dollars (or thereabouts depending on the state of the cap) must be
qualified at no less than 100% of what he made the year before.
That is to say that there’s no going back. When MacTavish
gave him 3.675M a year ago, he guaranteed Schultz at least that kind of a
payday for the rest of his days as an RFA.
Is that a big deal?
Well, as of today that makes Justin Schultz the highest paid
RFA on the market. Not the highest paid defenseman, but the highest paid
player — period. There is nobody else guaranteed to cost their team more than
Justin Schultz this summer.
Stepan, Kadri, Bernier, Holtby, Backlund and quite literally
every other RFA this summer was signed to less money than Justin Schultz was
and by at least 600k. There isn’t anyone even particularly close.
There’s nothing the Oilers can do to lower the amount aside
from sending him a qualifying offer and then taking him to arbitration. And
while he’s in arbitration he will be able to use the fact that the Oilers
played the living daylights out of him in a feature role and the fact that he was
their highest scoring defenseman in his own favor. There is no slam dunk case
against him unless his Jultzing highlight reel can be submitted as evidence.
There’s nothing they can do, unless they decide to walk away
from him. No qualifying offer to Schultz would put him right back onto the
market as a UFA and we would be forever unshackled from this boat anchor. As
tempting as that might be, there could very well still be a future for Justin
Schultz on the Oilers. He is not entirely without potential, even if he’s been
trending the wrong direction since he got to Edmonton.
In any case, the Oilers made their own bed last summer when
they half-committed to Justin Schultz and half-abandoned Jeff Petry. Now
there’s a very real scenario where the best thing the team can do to fix the
mess will result in having neither player. And so I try not to concuss myself
as I go through a few more facepalms.
One bad week in July last year set the table for everything
that would unfold in the season. This year Edmonton has been treated to several
great weeks in April and May which will hopefully telegraph the coming season. However, Chiarelli is in a bind with regards to his
defense and he can blame his number two for that.
He can do nothing about having the team’s best defenseman getting
ex-communicated before he ever arrived, but it’s entirely up to him if he wants
to keep paying into the money pit that is Justin Schultz. We wait to see what