Last season, Nikita Nikitin hit the IR early and often. As players age and their ability to play at a high level erodes, the wear and tear impacts more often and leaves those players on the sidelines with increasing frequency. A lot of talk these days about the Oilers having ‘too many defensemen’ but how many healthy blue do they have?
Last season, Edmonton employed 13 defensemen and the list of reasons for absence was long and impactful:
- Niki Nikitin missed three games due to back injury (Oct. 27)
- Andrew Ference missed three games due to suspension (Nov. 3)
- Niki Nikitin missed three games due to back spasms (Nov. 4)
- Niki Nikitin missed 10 games with a back injury (Dec. 7)
- Oscar Klefbom missed two games with a foot injury (Dec. 14)
- Keith Aulie missed two games due to suspension (Jan. 1)
- Niki Nikitin missed 21 games with shoulder injury (Jan. 30)
- Jeff Petry missed two games with a rib injury (Feb. 20)
- Andrew Ference missed nine games due to a lower body injury (Mar. 21)
- Mark Fayne missed eight games due to shoulder injury (Mar. 27)
- Niki Nikitin missed four games with foot injury (Apr. 4).
There were others (Brandon Davidson had an early injury, Jeff Petry was wobbly enough to miss an early game) but those are the major items. Three defensemen (Andrew Ference, Mark Fayne and Niki Nikitin) were injured right at the end of this past season, so we’re not certain of complete recovery. I mention it because those injuries could have had an impact on buyout options (although there is no proof of such a development).
THE 2015-16 SEASON
Peter Chiarelli on the defensive depth chart: “Now we have nine D, I’d rather have nine than five.
That creates competition.You can carry eight D. It depends on what
happens in the next little while, and maybe it ends up in camp.”
If we create a list of those nine defenders (and I’ll include Brandon Davidson because he’s probably going to be a story, win lose or waivers) we get the following:
- Justin Schultz (missed one game last season)
- Oscar Klefbom (missed two games last season)
- Eric Gryba (missed seven games last season)
- Andrej Sekera (missed eight games last season)
- Mark Fayne (missed eight games last season)
- Andrew Ference (missed 12 games last season)
- Nikita Nikitin (missed 40 games last season)
- Griffin Reinhart up from the AHL
- Brandon Davidson up from the AHL
- Darnell Nurse up from junior
Remember, a season ago 13 defensemen played and eight of them played over 30 games. It’s reasonable to assume that—barring a trade or waiver loss—all 10 of these defensemen will play a significant number of games in the NHL this coming season.
ISSUES, WORRIES AND OPPORTUNITIES
When we talk about the Oilers in 2015-16, it’s probably wise to include the big money veterans in the starting lineup for opening night.
- (Reinhart and Gryba in the pressbox)
Remember, Chiarelli talked about (and it’s very possible) we see eight defenders on the 23-man roster. I think the Oilers will be very active during the season and it’s possibly two or even three of the men listed here move on during the season. Nikitin and Gryba are both UFA at the end of the season and could be moved along, plus Andrew Ference is a veteran blue and those players have strong value at any deadline. Complicating his trade? There’s one more year on his contract.
I think Oilers fans can assume a few things:
- Sekera, Klefbom and Fayne are on the opening night roster and are here long term.
- Justin Schultz is in the ‘show me’ phase of his Oilers career.
- Reinhart and Nurse are going to push the other veterans out of work and that should happen early and often in the 2015-16 season.
- The IR will become de facto 24th man. Oilers will be hiding older players who have been passed by younger men until they can offload them.
This is not a balanced defense but the work has only begun. Peter Chiarelli has added Andrej Sekera and some depth, with Griffin Reinhart hopefully ready to join the battle. Todd McLellan brings miles of experience and the understanding that possession means playing defense is a smaller part of the overall game. Count on a dozen defensemen this season, at least two of them currently on other NHL rosters. That’s a fair bet.