MAKING SENSE OF THE OILERS DEFENSE

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This is Todd McLellan’s 2014-15 San Jose Sharks defense run through Rob Vollman’s Player Usage Chart. As you can see, McLellan had a hard rain pairing to face the tough zone starts and competition, followed by four guys who shared the rest of the load evenly. Todd McLellan didn’t bring Marc-Edouard Vlasic with him from San Jose, so what will he do with the Oilers blue?

When Vlasic and Justin Braun were on the ice together, getting ridiculous Zone starts and pushing against very good NHL opponents, they held 51.3% of overall possession.Source

I asked Rob Vollman today on the Lowdown to help us piece together a top 6D and his thoughts are worth jotting down and discussing.

  • Vollman: “Sekera is essentially Petry. A lot of the things I was saying (a year ago) about Petry apply to Sekera in terms of his versatility and his possession-based play. He has the ability to play tough minutes and to play in both zones.”

The addition of Sekera is a very big deal. Edmonton had two legit solutions for shut down duty a year ago but both (Fayne and Jeff Petry) were right-handed and they ended up playing less than 14 minutes together at even strength all year. The addition of lefty Sekera means McLellan might have the makings of a Vlasic-Braun pairing in Edmonton—not the same quality, but it represents improvement over last year’s opening night faceoff tandem of Brad Hunt-Justin Schultz. Source

  • Vollman: “When Fayne was playing with Andy Greene, who is really a highly underrated top pairing defenseman, Fayne was fantastic. He was a lot less effective when out there with someone who was more one dimensional. Fayne is only going to excel if he’s playing with Sekera.”

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THE SECOND PAIRING

Despite youth, Oscar Klefbom is the best available candidate to anchor the second pairing.

  • Vollman: “There’s really no choice. When you look at all of the other defensemen on the roster, is there anyone else you see who could legitimately play top minutes?”

Vollman talked about using the top pairing in the same way as McLellan used the Vlasic pairing in San Jose, suggesting that’s the most logical move outside someone stepping out from the group and taking on a larger role (probably with Klefbom). The Swede is the best candidate for a second pairing unit, but he’d have to move past his ZS push time with Justin Schultz of a year ago and take on a more prominent defensive role. His partner for the second pairing is not obvious at this time. 

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THE DEPARTMENT OF YOUTH

I also asked Vollman about youngsters like Griffin Reinhart and Darnell Nurse. If one or both of these kids emerge as useful players this year, Edmonton could have a better-than-expected blue. I asked how long it takes for a young defenseman to help push the river as a top four option:

  • Vollman: “It’s hard to predict on an individual basis, because every player is different. They have different maturity levels they have different physical resources. In general, you can’t expect a defenseman to hit the top four until age 23 or 24—possibly age 22. Nurse is an exceptional talent and Reinhart is a promising prospect, I really can’t see them having any kind of impact for at least a couple years.”

I remain convinced Darnell Nurse is a strong candidate to make the team, but as Vollman notes that’s really just a discussion of the depth defensemen. Edmonton has three blue (Sekera, Fayne, Klefbom) to play in the game’s important minutes and that’s not enough without a surprise performance.

OPTIONS

Finally, I asked Rob if there was help out there, and we discussed Christian Ehrhoff as a possible option. Then Rob came up with a secondary name of interest:

  • Vollman: “Jan Hejda is the kind of guy who could come in and play a lot of the back crushing defensive shot blocking penalty killing minutes.”

There are still options available in free agency and trade possibilities exist as well. We should also remember that Peter Chiarelli was very active in mid-season during his first season as Boston’s GM. They Oilers aren’t there yet, this much is true.

(OKC Barons photos by Rob Ferguson, all rights reserved)

(Vollman’s Usage charts are here)

(The interview itself is here, begins at 27 minutes)

  • Jordan McNugent-Hallkins

    Most teams use at least 10 D Men during a normal NHL season. What is really strange is that the Oilers, of all teams, actually have 10 D Men that they can consider putting in their line up. This hasn’t happened forever.

    • camdog

      If the Oil were to sign Hejda (or some other 10th Dman), when they cut down to the 23 man roster they would either have to carry 8 Dmen on the roster (assuming Nurse and Reinhart go to AHL if for no other reason than they don’t have to clear waivers) or one or more of the veterans would need to clear waivers. Not an impossible situation but going into camp with the current set of Dmen plus a Hejda type would make roster and cap management more challenging.

      One might argue there is no down side to putting Nikitin (or maybe Ferrence)on waivers. But I think there is little or no chance that they would get claimed and the Oil would need to carry most of their cap hit even if they are playing in the AHL.

      Dmen are more prone to injuries so playing 10 dmen in a year is not uncommon. But the 9th and 10th Dmen who play are usually AHLers who get called up as stop gaps (like Davidson and Musil last year).

  • camdog

    I really like what PC is doing with NN. Rather than buy him out, the organisation has challenged him. If he wants to play NHL minutes he’s going to need to come to camp ready to play or he’ll spend the season sitting or in a different league.

  • Given the lack of talent & experience in the players and poor coaching, the team has had a losing mentality for years. We have basically had a “do-over” on the team but need one more piece to complete the puzzle for now. That is a top 4 D with 4 or so years left at that level.

    I agree with Rob Vollman:
    “The Swede is the best candidate for a second pairing unit….his partner for the second pairing is not obvious at this time” i.e. we have a top pairing D in Fayne/Sekera but nothing for the 2nd pairing. Klefbom is the best candidate from what we have to chose from – that doesn’t mean he is a top 4 D – he is just more competent than everyone else. We need that top 4 D.

    That will give time for our young talented D to develop further: Nurse, Schultz, Klefbom (will play top 4 minutes but with a talented mentor), Rheinhart and allow us to use less of Ference and Nikitin. Our young D will be rock star D in the future if we allow them to develop properly and not throw them to the wolves as we have not other options.

    With all the new players, we have to start turning this team’s mindset into a winning one.

    • smith

      Totally agree. Been saying for years that the struggles the Oilers have are related to how they committed to loosing for such a long time. When your GM talks about loosing and admits the season is about doing bad then you are in trouble. It seeps into the minds of the players, the practice habits and everything and then is really hard to remove.

  • The Last Big Bear

    The Oilers defence as it stands today is no more talented than it was to start last season.

    They replaced Petry with Sekera (a very modest upgrade), and swapped out some skill for grit on the 3rd pairing by exchanging Marincin for Gryba.

    Klefbom’s getting older, but so is Ference.

    All in all, they’ve managed to tread water, but that’s a pretty terrible outcome for a team that gave up the most goals in the league last year.

  • Ndustry

    Go crazy and Sign Cody Franson too! It gives you more assets to make a good trade and options to balance out the D. Then you can retain salaries to trade, trade for forwards, and whole bunch of things. Infact the more assets the merrier even if you don’t need them you can trade them!

    • The Last Big Bear

      The Oilers have a cap hit right now of $67.8m, which doesn’t include Schultz’s new contract.

      There are some options, but unless they buy out Nikitin, or let Schultz walk, they’re not going to be in a position to sign Franson, or retain salary, or otherwise throw money around.

      The Oilers are pretty much a cap team.

      • Ndustry

        They also have a 5+M cushion on the bonuses and you can go 10% over the cap in the offseason. So with the cushion the have 8M and 10% is another 7M so they can acquire an asset or 2 to make a move comfortably. If you can get a better player why not? More assets lets you get rid of other players like a 2 for 1 on a quest for higher quality players!

        Anyway assets are a good thing if you can acquire them. Then you can afford to let go of 2 $4M players for a $5 or $6M dollar player or even a cheap but quality prospect.

  • Zarny

    I think the general consensus was that the Oilers needed to add 2 top pairing D. They would be the two bubbles in the top left labelled “Vlasic” and “Braun”.

    Sekera is one, but they lack the other. 3 D who can play top 4 minutes isn’t good enough. You need 4 or 5.

    I expect Chiarelli is looking for new homes for Nikitin and Ference but will have to wait until teams have explored other options.

  • The Last Big Bear

    Advanced stats should confirm what a coach already knows. Great for the fans because we don’t follow all the players,and probably good for scouts that don’t do their homework. Just another tool that does not compare to watching live and video.

    One of your fans used advanced stats to pick playoffs games, not even close. Lost most series. That should raise a red flag. Your blog puts too much weight on advanced stats, i get it if it is fun and interesting for the fans but too many think its the answer.

  • sofarsogood

    Instead of spending money on a ( franson as an example) 5 mil x 5yr # 4 defenseman, spend it on an older 1 yr stop gap defenseman. Next year spend 7 mil on one of the guaranteed good (#1 or #2 defenseman) free agents. Off the topic, I can hardly wait till 3on 3, maybe this year but for sure next when our 3 are mcdavid, hall and nurse on the ice. Is there a faster 3 some?

  • sofarsogood

    Possibly one top defenseman from trip to Stanley Cup ! Here is why .

    Oilers now have a new line that should/could rival or exceed the Getzlaf Perry line . It has all the makings in that dynamic line of McDavid , Pouliot and Draisaitl (switched to wing) . How about that Oiler fans , and Hall, Hopkins and Eberle to compliment them . This could be quite the season if that line puts it together in what I envision for them .

    The Eye of The Tiger – rising up , up to the top !

    • The Last Big Bear

      Possibly one two top defenseman, plus two top-6 wingers and probably a starting goalie from trip to Stanley Cup ! Here is why .

      Oilers now in 7 or 8 years have a new line that should/could rival or exceed the Getzlaf Perry line . It has all one third of the makings in that dynamic line of McDavid , Pouliot a guy in his 10th NHL season who has never hit 20 goals , and Draisaitl a kid who has done nothing in the NHL except score 2 goals and get his head bashed in (switched to wing) . How about that Oiler fans , and Hall, Hopkins and Eberle to compliment them (to be fair, that would be a very good easy minutes 2nd line). This could be quite the season if that line puts it together are bitten by radioactive spiders and gain superpowers in what I envision for them .

      The Eye of The Tiger – rising up , up to the top !

      We all live in a Yellow Submarine… a yellow submarine… a yellow submarine…

      FTFY.

  • The Last Big Bear

    2 cases of Labatt’s blue, 1 bottle of jäger, a few boner pills, banged the neighbours daughter = one hell of a night! And time to do it all over again!

    If only oilers management and players could get the job done like that!!!

  • BubbaZanetti

    EXPECT NURSE AND REINHART , probably together and being on the team this year . To expect otherwise would be unwise . From 2012 first round draft of defensemen already 10 of 13 defensemen are playing on big club , and only picks 23,24,and 28 have yet to do so . Reinhart was #4 if you remember .

    2013 draft has 4of 9 so far , but most if not all will be on main club this year : #7-Nurse ,#11 S,Morin, #13 -J.Morissey , #15-R.Pulock and #26- S.Theodore . Nurse is best of group , and entering onto one of worst defences in league last season if you remember .

    I expect both to make team this year . I say 80% they are both on , and only 20$ chance one does not make the leap .

    So when your making up your defensemen pairings , remember to include both of them over last years poor defences .

  • We need to have a discussion about Calgary trolls with the people who are theoretically running this site. How many posters have to complain about this before you do something about it or at least explain why you refuse to do something about it? Is that really too much to ask? Again and again interesting threads are thrown off the rails by these jerks as the usual suspects get in pointless spitball fights with them. Is this a real fan site or a sandbox? Sadly the answer to that question is becoming increasingly obvious.