There has been a lot of discussion already this summer about upgrading the Edmonton Oilers’ blue line, with the majority of the focus spent on acquiring players through trade or free agency. We’ve spent less time looking at what should be done with the team’s in-house options. In this week’s edition of What Would You Do Wednesday, we ask our readers which players would make the cut if they were in charge of the Oilers’ blue line.
1. RD Justin Schultz
- In short: A young, puck-moving rearguard, Schultz plays heavy minutes at even-strength and on the power play. He generally started a lot in the offensive zone and against second-tier competition. He led Edmonton’s blue line with 31 points.
- Options: Schultz is an RFA whose qualifying offer will be $3.675 million. Edmonton could sign him to a multi-year extension, qualify him, take him to team-elected arbitration to get that salary reduced by as much as 15 percent, or simply choose to walk away. A trade would likely involve a significant contract coming the other way.
2. LD Oscar Klefbom
- In short: A big, fast defenceman with a range of skills, the 21-year-old Klefbom played heavy minutes at evens and regular minutes on the penalty kill. Schultz’s regular partner saw similar usage in terms of competition and zonestarts. He managed 20 points in 60 games despite limited power play time.
- Options: Klefbom has one year left on his current contract at a cap hit of $1.244 million and a base salary of $833,000, after which he will be a restricted free agent. He’d be a superb trade chip if the Oilers chose to go that route.
3. LD/RD Nikita Nikitin
- In short: A heavy defenceman with a powerful shot, Nikitin is the 29-year-old veteran of 248 NHL games and played significant minutes in all situations a year ago. He was used against reasonably tough opposition and had slightly more shifts start at the offensive end of the rink than his own end. He put up 10 points in 42 games in an injury-filled season.
- Options: Nikitin has one year left on his current contract at a cap hit of $4.5 million, after which he will be an unrestricted free agent. The Oilers could buy him out, with a residual cost of $1.5 million over each of the next two years. A trade may not be possible and if it is would likely involve retaining 50 percent of his salary.
4. LD/RD Andrew Ference
- In short: An undersized defensive defenceman with a non-stop motor, at age 36 Ference is the greybeard of the Oilers’ blue line, as well as the team’s captain. He played second-pairing minutes at evens and was a penalty-kill regular last season. He saw middle-tier opposition and a severe zonestart and managed 14 points.
- Options: Ference has two years left on his current contract at a cap hit of $3.25 million, after which he will be an unrestricted free agent. The Oilers could buy him out, with a residual cost of $0.67 million in 2015-16 and then $1.17 million over each of the next three years. There were indications around the trade deadline that there was some interest in Ference via trade, though any deal this summer would likely see the team retain significant salary.
5. RD Mark Fayne
- In short: An big stay-at-home defenceman, Fayne anchored the penalty-killing unit and played significant shifts at even-strength, though his short average shift length meant his minutes stayed low. He saw the toughest competition on the team as well as a severe zonestart. He has no offensive game to speak of and posted just eight points.
- Options: Fayne has three years left on his current contract at a cap hit of $3.625 million, after which he will be an unrestricted free agent. He’s probably tradeable but moving him in a summer when teams are economizing may hurt his value.
6. LD Martin Marincin
- In short: A young, lanky positional defender, Marincin played regular minutes at even-strength and on the penalty kill. He saw the second-toughest competition on the team as well as a severe zonestart as Fayne’s regular partner for a good chunk of the year. He managed just five points in 41 games.
- Options: Marincin is an RFA whose qualifying offer will be $891,000. Edmonton could sign him to a multi-year deal, qualify him or trade him, with his youth and modest cap hit making him an intriguing option for opposing teams. He would need to clear waivers to be assigned to the minors.
7. LD Keith Aulie
- In short: A mammoth physical defenceman, Aulie played limited minutes at even-strength and saw spot duty on the penalty kill. He saw the weakest competition on the team by a significant margin, though he did start a disproportionate number of his shifts in the defensive zone. With limited puck skills, Aulie unsurprisingly managed just one point in 31 contests.
- Options: Aulie is an RFA whose qualifying offer will be $880,000. Edmonton could sign him to a multi-year deal or qualify him. His trade value is likely negligible given that the Lightning declined to qualify him last season and his most recent campaign was not noticeably better.
New: LD Darnell Nurse
- In short: A big, mobile, physical defence prospect, Nurse played just two games in Edmonton last year but will be graduating to the professional ranks this season. In addition to the obvious even-strength role, he’s a good bet to get time on the penalty kill and might even be a power play option after scoring at a near point-per-game pace in his final season in the OHL.
- Options: Nurse has three years left on his entry-level contract, with a cap hit of $1.744 million and a base salary of just $925,000. He’s a blue chip prospect and would command massive value in trade, but realistically there’s pretty much no chance of that happening. The real question is whether he starts the year in the NHL or AHL.
The Other Internal Options
- Brad Hunt: Undersized offensive defenceman could conceivably make the cut as a power play specialist.
- Brandon Davidson: Physical defensive defenceman would need to clear waivers to be assigned to Bakersfield.
- Jordan Oesterle: Undersized puck-mover has speed and smarts but is still raw defensively. Likely bound for the minors.
- David Musil: Big, intelligent defensive defenceman lacks speed and an offensive dimension. He still has another year of waiver exemption.
Who Stays/Who Goes?
Everybody’s answer to this question will be a little different and we’d like to see yours in the comments section below. Mine sees two top-four defencemen added to the roster (likely one through trade and one through free agency). To make room for those players, I’d suggest a retained-salary trade of Ference and a buyout of Nikitin. I’d also suggest walking away from Aulie and penciling Nurse into the minors unless he blows the doors off in camp. That leaves the following depth chart:
- Shutdown Tandem: X – Mark Fayne
- Offensive Tandem: Oscar Klefbom – X
- Third Pairing: Martin Marincin – Justin Schultz
- Spare: Brandon Davidson
If Nurse plays extremely well in camp, he bumps Marincin into the spare slot and Davidson into the minors. I’d also be open to the possibility of running 11 forwards/seven defenceman like Tampa Bay did during the playoffs in the event the coach wants to keep Hunt’s power play abilities on the roster.
But, that’s just my allocation of the current in-house options. What’s yours?
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