The Edmonton Oilers will have a different look next season after some substantial changes this summer, but it’s hard to shake the feeling that the club still needs some help on the back end. As it happens there are a number of quality players still available in free agency and one of them, Christian Ehrhoff, is willing to join a team on a single-season contract.
Jason Brough of NBC’s Pro Hockey Talk blog revealed yesterday that Ehrhoff wasn’t looking for term:
Ehrhoff’s agent, Rick Curran, told PHT in an email that the 33-year-old unrestricted free agent “doesn’t mind having the flexibility of a single year commitment. He’s confident in his ability to provide a valued role to the right team. If there’s a mutual fit, an extension will likely follow.”
Assuming that the Oilers do indeed plan to nix a defenceman (most likely Nikita Nikitin) when their second buyout window opens, the team has the financial freedom to offer Ehrhoff a pretty rich contract, perhaps even one at a $5.0 million salary. They have some significant incentives to do so, most notably the current state of the defence corps.
The Depth Chart
As it stands, the most probable Oilers’ depth chart on defence looks something like this:
- Andrej Sekera and Mark Fayne in a shutdown role.
- Oscar Klefbom and Justin Schultz in an offensive role.
- Some combination of Nikita Nikitin, Andrew Ference, Eric Gryba, Griffin Reinhart and Darnell Nurse rounding out the group.
It’s not a group I’d be comfortable with, despite the excellent addition of Sekera.
Klefbom had an impressive rookie campaign, but it wasn’t without some rough patches. He was thrown into the deep end, particularly late, and showed his inexperience. If Sekera goes down for any length of time, the Oilers will be leaning on Klefbom, a couple of No. 6/7 veterans and rookies on the left side. It’s not a healthy arrangement.
Fayne and Schultz also have warts. Fayne has had his best success with a puckmover, and outside of Sekera it’s not clear there’s a natural fit for him in the system, particularly since he and Klefbom struggled as a pairing in 2014-15. Schultz on the other hand has struggled for three seasons now at even-strength and may not truly be a top-four option at five-on-five at this point in his career.
Adding another veteran, particularly a left-shooting veteran, would go a long way toward stabilizing the group. Imagine for a moment a hypothetical depth chart with Ehrhoff added:
- Oscar Klefbom and Andrej Sekera on a minute-munching top pairing, with Sekera moving to the right side.
- Christian Ehrhoff and Mark Fayne on a legitimate second pairing, with Ehrhoff free to play the role of offensive defenceman because he has the stable Fayne, and Fayne free to rely on Ehrhoff for the majority of the puck-moving.
- Griffin Reinhart and Justin Schultz in a third-pairing role, with Schultz providing the things (speed, offence) that Reinhart lacks, and Reinhart providing the attributes (solid defensive awareness, strength in front of the net) that don’t come naturally to Schultz.
Add in Eric Gryba and/or Andrew Ference to round out the group and the Oilers would have greatly improved depth and wouldn’t be in a world of hurt if one player went down.
Reasons it Could Work
There are a lot of reasons a one-year deal might make sense for everyone involved.
In addition to his five-on-five play, Ehrhoff is a legitimate power play ace – both in a general sense and specifically with Todd McLellan. Ehrhoff broke out in his mid-20’s when McLellan took over the Sharks, jumping to 42 points which was then a career-high. He’d give McLellan a weapon from the blue line the Oilers currently lack, and he’d have the comfort of going back to a coach he had success under previously.
If the Oilers are better than expected, Ehrhoff could well become a fixture on the blue line, starting out as a second-pairing veteran and shifting down into a No. 5 role as younger players push their way up the depth chart. If the Oilers are not particularly good, Ehrhoff would doubtless be moved at the deadline to a contender looking for defencemen, giving him a legitimate shot at a Stanley Cup in 2016. Either he gets a long-term home or a shot at a championship.
It’s worth thinking about.