WWYDW: Internal Defence Options

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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.

Dramatis Personae

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Darnell Nurse

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?

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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?

RECENTLY BY JONATHAN WILLIS

  • bradleypi

    Although Nikitan is a complete fail, lately I’m on the mindset of not buying him out and letting him rotate from 3rd pair to press box. I know it sucks having a 4.5 guy watching the game but I think the 1.5 mill in cap space for the next two seasons in a buy out could be more important, as I’m hoping that 2nd year will be a playoff push and we could use the money else where. 4.5 for next year doesn’t limit the oilers that much if they are not expected to be buyers at the deadline. Also, let Schultz walk. Even a15% cut in arbitration is too much. All the oil could trade for him is another bad contract. Let him walk and then sign someone else to a better contract. My D looks like this-
    New guy – Fayne
    Klefbom- Ferrence
    Nurse/Marincin – Nikitan

    In a perfect(ER) world nurse starts in the A and two new D arrive so to start it could be
    New guy 1 – Fayne
    Klefbom – new guy 2
    Marincin – Ferrence
    Nikitan
    Now if Nikitan actually rebounds, the threesome of him Ferrence and Marincin can take turns in the box, keeping these guys to push harder.( I know, can’t sit ur captain, but that’s an entirely different problem) When nurse is ready, slot him in with ferrence or Fayne and remove whichever player is injured as that’s inevitable.

  • Tikkanese

    I know everyone hates Schultz but I still think there is a player there. I know the contract’s terrible but it is what it is. Hopefully they can renegotiate or at the least win arbitration and bring it down to earth somewhat.

    Think about Schultz another way. He’s been mishandled since his rookie season. He’s been forced into playing way more and harder minutes than he should be at his young age. That is due to the lack of quality defenders on the team and the fact that he has been basically the only D with any offensive inkling on the Oilers since his day 1. None of that is his fault. Thusly, his stats and confidence have taken a nose dive.

    The fact that he’s been basically the only offensive D on the team also makes his ice time go up when the Oilers are behind in the score, which happens more often than not. Willis even wrote an article showing that when the Oilers are ahead, Schultz plays less and the reverse when behind.

    Hopefully Chiarelli fixes the Oilers’ D sooner than later. Then Schultz can play much lower in the lineup, concentrate on his game, regain his confidence and work his way up the lineup as warranted.

    Even in a self admitted terrible season for him, he still managed 31 points on a brutal Oilers’ team. He’s only 24. He lead the entire lockout stacked AHL in points in his rookie year, 48p in 34gp. That is nothing short of insane. He followed that with 27p in 48gp in the NHL in that same rookie season. That’s basically ridiculous. There is a salvagable player there. He needs to be paired with a steady defensive type, preferably with a little grit. Nurse-Schultz pairing in a couple years could be dynamite, Nurse brings what Schultz lacks and can also keep up offensively. New coach. New GM who hopefully surrounds him with a better D core. Other than the contract, I’m optimistic.

  • thumz

    None of Schultz, Nikita or French can play for the Oilers next year.

    The Oiless should just walk away from Schultz, make him settle for maybe a free agent contract of less than a $1.5 million. Just desserts.

    The Oilers must fix the defence asap.
    That means coming to terms with trading Hall or Eberle.
    OEL is the holy grail the Oilers should pursue at all costs.

    Offer sheet Hamilton at the high end.

    Failing that trade all draft picos for functional defencemen.

    Fix it now, don’t waste the MacDavid years!

  • thumz

    I’m wondering how “injured” Nikitan was this last year? If he was banged up last year, I wonder what the evaluation of him and the contract would be if he had a healthy season?

    I look at Wideman down in Calgs. Before last year fans were calling for a buyout (5.25 mill cap hit) and screaming that it was the worst contract. Then last year, he was healthy and had a great season. Now the contract doesn’t look that bad.

    In all the fancy possession stats, there are no variables for injuries and their effects.

  • thumz

    @JW

    Marty Marincin with Justin Schultz as 3rd pairing, I just don’t see it working out. With a legit first pairing that would leave less than ideal minutes for an inexperienced Marincin and an ineffective Schultz.

    I think we keep one of Marty or Justin and use the cap space to bring in a legit NHL defensemen.

  • TKB2677

    The Oilers defense was the worst in the league, I don’t think that can be disputed. I think we all can agree that the weakest links were Niktin, Schultz and Ference in that order.

    Nikitin: He was a complete disaster. He is way overpaid, was hurt a lot and sounds like he wasn’t even in shape.

    Schultz: He has some offensive ability. Can move the puck but his shot isn’t very good. He plays WAY, WAY too much. His defensive game has seemingly not progressed at all and is to the point where it is becoming a huge concern. He scores some points but not enough to even remotely even out the goals against he causes. He makes too much money for where he is at in his game and what he brings. The only thing he has going for him is he is young.

    Ference. He gives you what he has so I respect that. His biggest issue isn’t something that you can fix. His age. He’s on the very down side of his career. He’s losing several steps. He’s clearly a 3rd pairing guy or a #7 but the problem is he is making WAY too much to be a 6 or 7.

    I hear people calling for Nikitin and maybe Ference to get bought out. The media guys scoff because of the salary you have to retain. They are worried about what will happen years from now. The concern about having to retain salary moving forward is a legit concern. However, my question is this. If last season you had the worst defense in the league and needs help. The old GM even said something to that effect. The new GM most definitely has said the defense is an area that needs help. So with all that being true, don’t you have to for at least sake of optics for your fans and especially your team do something? Players aren’t stupid. They know who isn’t good enough. They know the defense needs help. So if let’s say you bring in one guy but you keep all the rest, what does that say to your team?

    • camdog

      The Oilers forward group didnt play good enough in their own zone last season. Team defence needs to improve throughout the entire line up, it isnt just the defenceman that need improvements. Now you can trade a skilled forward now for a defensively reliable player or you can wait a year to see how everybody reacts to the new coach. These trades for young skilled d-man dont happen if you arent willing to pay a price.

  • Ever the Optimist

    My thoughts here have to be mostly about money. With the current contracts we will only be able to afford 1 addition in our top 4 defensemen. So we look to the future and see what needs changing. The left side is set up very nicely for in 3 years with nurse, klefbom and marincin. I say keep Marincin as he plays a very effective game in his role with Fayne as a pure defense and pk duo. The right side is where an addition needs to be made as we obviously don’t have a top RHD.

    Aquiring a RHD
    I would suggest moving any of the following pieces as needed to aquire this player. 16, 33, yakupov, 2016 1st and second, Gordon or Pouliot. Also any prospects not named Nurse or Draistl.
    Hamilton, Larrson, Jones, Faulk or Trouba would be my targets but one must be gotten.

    that gives us
    klefbom and RHD pick up
    Marincin and Fayne
    Ference and Schultz(take him to arbitration)
    Nikitin
    Nurse in the AHL until Ference or Nikitin can be LTIR or traded.
    This leaves us very young but is good as it will be a very good group when we need it to be in a few years.

  • AJ88

    I think it’s pretty easy, we have 3 young defenceman in Schultz, Klefbom, and Marincin. Yes Klefbom and Jultz did play well together, but they’d benefit with playing with “actual” NHL defenceman. That being said, Fayne is doing a beautiful job of mentoring Marincin in that shut down role, so our bottom pairing is solid. As for the NHL in general, most successful teams defence pairings contain a shutdown, stay at home defenceman, and a puck moving type. Klefbom and Schultz are both puck movers, and Marincin is a tweener.

    Klefbom (puck mover) – Burns/Seabrook (Shutdown) via trade Yak, 16th, and more?

    Martin (shutdown – Schultz (puck mover)

    Marincin (tweener) – Fayne (shutdown)

    But we still have cap issues so yolo.

  • nuge2drai

    Oiler Domination To Follow

    First – Assign Nikitin to the Minors. Bring him up near the deadline and trade him while retaining some salary.

    Second – Trade Ference and a third to a salary cap floor team looking for leadership (Horcoff type trade).

    Third – Sign Martin and Beauchemin.

    Martin Fayne (Shutdown)

    Beauchemin Klefbom (Offensive)

    Marincin Shultz (Soft Minutes)