How much better is the defence?

Defence

Peter Chiarelli signed free agent defender Andrej Sekera and traded for Eric Gryba and Griffin Reinhart in the past week. He still has Oscar Klefbom, Mark Fayne, Andrew Ference, Nikita Nikitin and Justin Schultz on the roster and Darnell Nurse will turn pro this year.

Will  the Oilers’ blueline be better than last year?

Your first response was most likely, “They better be,” which is completely understandable.

I believe it is virtually impossible not to be.

Here is the starting six for game one last year. I’ve outlined their ES minutes, because there was only six minutes of special teams play in the opening game.

Justin Schultz: 20:56
Brad Hunt: 18:02
Nikita Nikitin: 17:52
Mark Fayne: 17:42
Jeff Petry: 16:13
Andrew Ference 16:01

That is not a good picture.

Petry didn’t play in the preseason due to injury and Dallas Eakins didn’t want to rush him back. I guess he believed Petry at 80% wasn’t as good as Schultz or Hunt. It is obvious that some of the coaching decisions regarding icetime amongst the blueliners was highly questionable, but even when all the players were healthy the former coaching staff wasn’t blessed with an abundance of talent. That said, I felt too often they didn’t put players in the best position to succeed.

The Oilers starting lineup for 2015/2016 will be much better than the aforementioned roster.

Todd McLellan will have much better options to choose from.

Sekera shoots left, but he can play both sides. I believe Mark Fayne is better than his numbers showed last year. I felt he was underutilized and 64% of the time he was paired with Nikitin or Martin Marincin, neither of which was a solid defender. Fayne did not have a great year, but I expect he’ll be much better this year, used properly and paired with a more suitable partner.

Those two will be solid defenders in their own end.

I’m a big fan of Klefbom and if you pair him with one of those two, rather than Schultz, he will emerge as a solid top-four defender. Klefbom matured a lot last season, and he’ll be better due to learning some hard lessons. He is built to handle heavy minutes.

Nurse is the wildcard. He is the best skater of the bunch. He is aggressive and mean, but has the least experience. He has to win his spot on the team, which is great, rather than be handed icetime. I know many believe it will be best for him to start the season in the AHL, and I can understand that rational, but if he shows he clearly better than Nikitin, Ference and Reinhart then he needs to stay.

Schultz will be better this year, because he won’t be fed to the lions. It was asinine to have him play the most minutes on the team. It did not put him in a position to succeed. Schultz is not physically strong enough to play 22 minutes a game. He wasn’t conditioned for it, and you could see when he was fatigued. He should be playing 18 minutes a game, with about 14-15 of that at ES.

Schultz needs to be more competitive, but playing fewer minutes will allow him to utilize his maximum strength more often. He needs to train harder and get stronger, but he was put in a position to fail rather than succeed, by playing big minutes.

I don’t see that being an issue this year. He should receive 3rd pairing minutes at ES and PP time, because the Oilers have better depth on the backend.

HOW MUCH BETTER WILL THE “D” BE? 

The opening night roster was a bit misleading, but I wanted to use it to illustrate the point that the Oilers started the season destined to fail. You were not going to win with that D corps, even if Petry played the most minutes.

The top minutes amongst Oilers blueliners last season was:

Schultz: 1.831 TOI (22:36/game)
Fayne: 1,327 (17:56)
Ference: 1,321 (18:52)
Klefbom: 1.319 (21:59)
Petry: 1,236 (20:57)
Nikitin: 824 (19:38)
Marincin: 764 (18:38)
Aulie: 443 (14:18)
Hunt: 214 (19:29)
Davidson: 181 (15:08)

Jordan Osterle played 88 minutes, David Musil 80 and Nurse played 34.

When you look at TOI/game, the only two I see playing similar minutes this season are Fayne and Klefbom, and both might be down a bit.

Ference will not play 19 minutes a game and Schultz definitely won’t be on for almost 23, which should help both of them perform better.

Sekera will play more than Petry, mainly because he is good on the PP, but their ES numbers will likely be similar. Petry is a better skater than Sekera, while Sekera is a better pure defender. Sekera will replace Petry, and I’d argue will be a slight upgrade. I’m not complaining about Petry, I feel Sekera essentially replaced him, and the Oilers record, even with Petry, was not that great. I like Sekera a bit more because of his offensive upside and his overall strength.

But the other five D will be better than last season due to more experience, more size and because I expect Todd McLellan and Jim Johnson to use them in positions where they will have a better chance to succeed rather than fail.

PARTING SHOTS…

It was a refreshing change to see GMs show some fiscal restraint in free agency. Despite the rumblings that Matt Belesky would get more than $4.5 million he only signed for $3.8. Only four players receive contracts of 4+ years, Paul Martin (4), Belesky and Michael Frolik (5) and Sekera (6). The combination of the small increase in the salary cap and a weak UFA crops played a part, but I wonder if GMs have finally realized that overpaying players on July 1st doesn’t guarantee victories.

Phil Kessel might not be a leader and he won’t win any body competitions, but he is a hell of a scorer and the Maple Leafs gave him away for nothing. I’d argue the return they got for Kessel is just as bad as the return the Bruins received for Dougie Hamilton.

I understand if the Leafs wanted to change their culture, but giving away one of the league’s best scorers for nothing suggests Brendan Shanahan and Kyle Dubas have a lot to learn about being NHL managers. Kessel will flourish in Pittsburgh. He will not be asked to be a leader.

I’m sure he could be in better shape, and possibly a better influence, but even in supposed bad shape he has produced the 8th most points in the NHL over the past five seasons:

Claude Giroux: 376 points
Alex Ovechkin: 366 points
Steven Stamkos: 357 points
Martin St.Louis: 354 points
Sidney Crosby: 347 points
John Tavares:   347 points
Henrik Sedin:    343 points
Ryan Getzlaf:   339 points
Phil Kessel:      339 points

Despite his “conditioning” issues he never missed a game. He along with Antoine Vermette, Patrick Marleau, Andrew Cogliano, John Carlson, Karl Alzner and Keith Yandle are the only players to have played every game. (376) the past five seasons.

**Yandle actually played 378 because of mid-season trade. Vermette was benched for a game in Chicago but due to mid-season trade still played 376.**

Kessel might not be a great leader, and the Leafs know more about his dressing room influence, but to garner that patry of a return for a 27 year old winger, who is one of the best point producers in the game was awful.

The Leafs roster current roster does not look great. They traded and signed for two players, Marincin and Mark Arcobello, who were not regular contributors on the Oilers, a team that has owned the NHL’s basement for the past six seasons.. Leafs fans will need to be patient, but they should be concerned that the first major trade made by Shanahan and company was incredibly one-sided in favour of the Pittsburgh Penguins.

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  • Craig1981

    I believe the Oilers need a solid 3rd line center, and Nurse AND Kelfbom to play like solid top for dmen, and Talbot to live up to expectations…. That’s a big order at this point IMO.

    …It also still leaves us one top 4 D short.

  • Craig1981

    I don’t think PC is any rush about moving a couple D-men out…not having Nurse, Reinhart penciled in so to speak is a good thing. Having competition at training camp will be good for them and for Nikitin, Ference that are on the bubble that’s if they’re here. I think it would be to pair up a vet with a young guy to start eg; Sekera-Shultz Klefbom-Fayne Reinhart or Nurse-Gryba and keep Ference as the 7th D but if Reinhart and Nurse are not quite ready than Ference can play that 3rd left spot. The only way Nikitin stays on this team is if he comes in to training camp in shape and blows me away with his effort and play coz in my books the guys a bum and I’m all for running him out faster than Ben Johnson on roids!! The future so bright…I gotta wear shades…I gotta wear shades! Go Oil Go!! Yeah baby! Yeah!

  • Reg Dunlop

    Gordon was a good soldier here on a bad squad. Never was a public distraction. Kessel and Peron are the polar opposite. The first 5 game losing streak in Pittsburgh will produce some fine drama. Maybe Crosby will ask for a trade.

    A couple years ago Nurse looked like one of the top 6 Oiler defenders in camp. 2 more development seasons under his belt, I know he will once again look good in September. But now he is more physically and emotionally mature. There is no risk in keeping him on the roster this season if, as expected, he shows better than Ference, Nikitan, Fayne and Schultz. Time to unleash him on Gaudreau and Bennett, payback for a decade of Regehr. Snot bubbles for all.

  • 1st Line: Pouliot/RNH/Eberle

    2nd Line: Hall/McDavid/Stewart (3 years, 3.5 AAV)

    3rd Line: Purcell/Lander/Yakupov

    4th Line: Korpikoski/Hendricks/Letestu

    Extras: Klinkhammer or Pitlick

    1st D: Sekera/Shattenkirk (Schultz + 2nd RND + 3rd RND)

    2nd D: Klefbom/Fayne

    3rd D: Reinhart/Gryba

    Extra: Davidson

    Starter: Cam Talbot

    Backup: Ben Scrivens

    We’re only 2 players away from being a well balanced team. If Purcell hasn’t shown up by the deadline, then we can trade him for picks and let Drai take his spot on the 3rd line. I’m a strong believer that even if Nurse blows everybody up at camp, that he’ll still need a full year in the AHL. Same thing with Draisaitl, hopefully he gets a full year in the AHL even if he performs well. A full year of having both being leaders in the AHL will help them become great NHL players. I’m kinda iffy about having two 23 year olds in Klefbom and Reinhart to start the season but I’d rather have one of them instead of having Ference or Nikitin.

    • nuge2drai

      Oiler Domination To Follow

      Shattenkirk for the 2016 oilers first rounder would do it. It’s almost guaranteed to be seen as a lottery pick.

      The defense would solidify with the addition of another top two D, dropping everyone down to their natural spot.

  • O.C.

    Are we better on Defense?

    Petry is about the same as Sekera

    Gryba is a mix between Aulie and Marincin

    Like the potential of GR …

    Nurse is still 20 and AHL bound.

    The rest are the same

  • Zarny

    @Jason Gregor

    That is certainly great news for Pit if Kessel is training with Roberts.

    And I agree Kessel should light it up the next 3 seasons. My hesitation with Kessel is what he’ll look like the final 3-4 seasons of his contract.

    I suppose if he pots 110+ goals over the next 3 seasons and Pit wins the Stanley Cup it doesn’t matter. You just deal with it then. And with the retained salary he only costs Pit $6.8 million/yr.

  • Anton CP

    The right side is still a bit thin, with only 3 right shots on the roster: Schultz, Fayne, and Gryba. Left side is very jam packed with Klefbom, Sekera, Reinhart, Nurse, Nikitin and Ference. This is at least far better than last year…

  • NJ

    The next person to pencil in Yak on the 3rd line will be called Dallas for the rest of your ON life.

    You might as well trade him if you are gonna pull that. $100 says he plays top 6 or gets the pine. TM understands players and what their role is, and Yak’s isn’t along side Lander.

  • The Last Of Barrett's Privateers

    Oh man….

    I just realized that Sekera wore 4……..Thats Halls

    he also wore 44………………………Please burn that number already!!

  • The Last Of Barrett's Privateers

    The D is better today. It could even improve with another addition before camp.

    For the first time in a long time we will have competition to make the starting line up and thus some depth for a call up as required.

  • The Last Of Barrett's Privateers

    Wow. St. Louis obviously had a “down” season this year but didn’t realize that he still managed to finish 4th overall in pts in addition to winning an Art Ross over the last 5 years of his career between the ages of 36 and 40. Easy HHOF choice in my books. I wish we got that same consistency from marathon Ference…

      • Canucks, when Doughtys hurt or sitting on the bench then the kings, I’d also take our overall D instead of The Avs, jackets, flyers,…. and outside burns and vlasic then the Sharks aswell !!

        Pens are not very deep … Might even be younger then us after losing Erhoff and Martin

        That’s 10 teams I wouldn’t trade Overall D with …

        And there’s 28 teams I wouldn’t trade all forwards for … Maybe 29 🙂

  • wiseguy

    Schultz strikes me as a player who needs the team to have momentum before he really starts to shine. Isn’t there a possibility that his defensive play could improve to round out his offense? I hear Jim Johnson is a top-notch defensive coach. If Schultz could really improve his defensive game, we would all be singing his praises. Plus, with him receiving a bit more sheltered minutes wouldn’t that allow him to thrive once again? Remember how good he was during his year in the AHL and also it seemed like his first year in the NHL he was really pushing. I think he has lost some steam over the last few years due to the lack of hope for a playoff spot. I hope this year brings the spark back into his game that can catapult him to new heights.

  • wiseguy

    If they re-did the 2012 draft again now, Reinhart wouldn’t even be drafted in the 1st round, there are over 30 players better than him from that draft class already making their mark and much farther along in their development path.

    He is way over-rated, be prepared for (more) disappointment Oilers fans.

    • Draftsite did a 2012 re-draft. They had Reinhart 18th overall, and 8/11 out of defencemen. So he is not a horrible player, but when you consider they traded a 16th and 33rd for the 18th-best player in 2012, the trade looks worse. GR could still improve; and prospects never develop in a straight line, but that was a lot to give up.

      • Stack Pad Save

        Draftsite. That’s who you’re going to use to back up your argument?

        These are the same guys who think that Taylor Hall should have been drafted 4th overall behind Sequin, Tarasenko and Johansen.

        They also have Landerskog and Saad being drafted in front of RNH. They lost all credibility with that call.

    • To me this is a wait and see, if a re-draft is held there are a few players that would have fallen off including Murray & Yakupov both the consensus top picks.

      so I’m not sure if there’s a lot of weight behind that, plus, you’re dealing with hind sight which is a horrific way to gauge a player. Seldom defensemen’s paths are a straight line, look at a lot of the top pairing defensemen and most played in the AHL.

      Can you imagine if Calgary gave up on Giordano

      Rienhart has the size, the pedigree, was the Oil Kings best player mesh that with the good genes and that sounds like a player, do I think he’s a top number one defensemen, no…. but, I think a 2-3 shouldn’t be out of the question ether, which is fine by me.

  • Darkmanic

    The lines as I see them next season are

    Hall-RNH-Ebs
    Pouliot-McDavid-Yak
    Korpi-Lander-Purcell?
    Hen-Let-Klink

    Kle-Fay
    Sekera-Schultz
    Nik-Gryba

    Talbot
    Scivens

    I don’t want Purcell back and I would rather see Nikitin gone as well but this is how I see it now.. you give Schultz the time to grow and Klefbom has gotten better the more ice time he’s gotten in the past and I think putting him with a good defensive player will do wonders. I also believe that a trade of Chase, Purcell, and Hunt can get most players because it’s a great mix.. I would also like to see Franson here as well but that might be a little greedy and with out Purcell we could move Korpi to RW and move Draisaitl to the wing or move Miller in on RW or trade Nikitin for a RW on the third line. Chiarelli has lots of options I’m ok with the team as is and with the whole team playing defense we will be more like the rangers than the 2010s Oilers

  • Darkmanic

    The lines as I see them next season are

    Hall-RNH-Ebs

    Pouliot-McDavid-Yak

    Korpi-Lander-Purcell?

    Hen-Let-Klink

    Kle-Fay

    Sekera-Schultz

    Nik-Gryba

    Talbot

    Scivens

    My suggestions for the trades are for ANTON STRALMAN orJOHN CARLSON orMATT NISKANEN orERIK KARLSSON any would help Klefbom become that number one guy as we wait for Nurse to come in and Sekera will help Schultz become great as well then you have Gryba who is great in that bottom role

  • Stack Pad Save

    What a mistake by MacTavish, if he had picked Petry over Schultz this would be the defence today

    Sekera-Petry
    Klefbom-Fayne
    Ference-Gryba
    Reinhart-Nikitin

    This defence actually looks solid and the Oilers could probably compete with this defensive lineup. Instead we’re left with Justin Schultz who continues to be a big question mark as a defender.