Transitioning to the New Defence

Reinhart, Griffin3

The building blocks of the Oilers’ defensive future seem obvious at this point. Oscar Klefbom debuted last year, Darnell Nurse will graduate to the professional ranks this year and Edmonton paid a small fortune in futures to bring Islanders’ prospect Griffin Reinhart into the system.

One of the key subplots of this coming season will be the integration of Nurse and Reinhart into the defence and the role of Klefbom as the Oilers shift away from their disappointing veterans and toward the department of youth.

If we treat an all-veteran defence as a starting point, we end up with something that looks like this:

  • Andrej Sekera – Mark Fayne
  • Oscar Klefbom – Justin Schultz
  • Nikita Nikitin – Eric Gryba
  • Andrew Ference

At some point next season, we can be virtually certain that at least two of the players on the above depth chart will be gone, replaced by Reinhart and Nurse. The number may be more than two; Peter Chiarelli hasn’t forged a reputation as a passive general manager and Edmonton has a number of second-tier prospects who will also be pushing for employment.

If we’re projecting ahead there are probably two serious questions worth asking: When, precisely, will that transition occur and what does the long-term plan look like?

The Long-Term Plan

Darnell Nurse

The second question is worth talking about first. The three young players we’ve considered are all left shot defenceman, as is Sekera (the lone veteran we can feel highly confident is part of the long-term plan). I’m reasonably confident that we’ll see Sekera move to the right side at some point and it’s also possible that Rienhart (who spent a massive chunk of last season on the starboard side) will end up there, too. My read would be that by the end of next season, the projection is for Klefbom and Sekera to be the Oilers’ top pairing, and for Nurse to play the left side on one of the remaining pairs and Reinhart to play somewhere on the other.

We can imagine the planning process then as one of determining partners for Nurse and Reinhart. Which players on that depth chart presented at the opening fit the bill?

5-Fayne-4

Fayne has the advantage of a long-term contract, and probably has the best shot at sticking long-term both because of his deal and because he fits the “veteran mentor” role. It’s easy to imagine him on a pairing with Nurse, freeing up the young defenceman to be aggressive and helping to cover for his mistakes. It’s also relatively easy to imagine Fayne and Reinhart in a primarily defensive role. But his struggles with Klefbom last season are a big mark against him, as is his apparent need for a partner who can handle the puck-moving.

19-Schultz-2

Schultz has points in his favour, too. He’s a right shot, a power play weapon, and young enough to fit in with the core. He had success with Klefbom and in a certain light wouldn’t be a bad partner for either of the young defencemen coming up. Nurse has a lot of the same skills as Klefbom and might work there immediately. Reinhart is a primarily defensive defenceman who might cover for some of Schultz’s defensive sins, allowing him to play run-and-gun. The problem with Schultz is that he’s already expensive, on a one-year deal, and flawed in some significant ways.

Of the remainder, it’s hard to imagine anyone sticking long-term. Under other circumstances Nikitin might be an option, but he’s making a pile of money and is on the last year of his deal; it’s hard to imagine him a) rehabilitating his reputation to the extent that the Oilers would want to keep him while simultaneously b) being willing to sign a new deal with the same team at one-third of his previous annual rate. Gryba is a third-pair defenceman (and a pending free agent) who would force Reinhart to carry the puck-moving duties there. Ference is 36 years old and didn’t perform at an acceptable NHL level a year ago.

When do the players who aren’t part of the long-term picture move on down the line?

The Transition

86-Nikitin-2

There are those on this site and elsewhere who feel that the changes need to take place immediately, that Nurse and Reinhart should be thrust into the fray and that the detritus in front of them should be swept away. That’s difficult to do; in some cases it’s also potentially dangerous.

There are advantages to starting a player like Nurse in the AHL to find his feet at the pro level and there are advantages to giving someone like Nikitin (who has been an effective NHL defenceman elsewhere) a look before casting him aside because of the permanence of those decisions. A decision to demote Nurse can be reversed at any time if he plays well; the decision to trade a veteran can’t be reversed if Sekera catches his foot on a rut in the ice and gets hurt two days later.  

Beyond that, it’s difficult to send someone making NHL money to the minors, it’s impossible to send someone with Ference’s contract to the minors, and it’s desirable to avoid a situation where a young defenceman spends the odd game in the press box.

Training camp is going to be the first test, the first opportunity for new head coach Todd McLellan to see what he has to work with. It will be a chance for Nurse and Reinhart to show that they’re ready to make the team ahead of some of the incumbents. Unfortunately, it’s also a time when NHL teams tend to be optimistic and flush with options; it’s going to be very hard for the Oilers to dump someone like Nikitin when every team thinks it has a half-dozen guys who could play on its third pairing.

I suspect there’s room for one player to make the team out of camp. Edmonton could go to eight defencemen, scratch two of Ference/Nikitin/Gryba and let the survivor play with whichever young defender makes the cut on the third pairing. Reinhart is probably the player to make the cut. No matter how physically talented Nurse is, there are some lessons that can only be learned with experience and there’s value to giving him a month or two in the AHL to overcome the first part of that learning curve. Nurse could surprise, but I expect that the developmental benefit of minor-league time will carry the day there.

After that, it will simply be a matter of clearing away players, and that becomes easier as the year goes on. Even third-pair veteran defencemen tend to have value at the deadline, and of course there’s always the matter of injury.

The first trades of veteran defencemen in 2014-15 took place in November. Eric Brewer and Jordan Leopold were moved for picks, Sergei Gonchar and Bryan Allen for forwards and Brenden Dillon and Jason Demers for each other. History tells is that there’s going to be a window in November when NHL teams need help on the blue line, and when it comes the idea of adding even a limited veteran in the Brewer/Leopold mold (Nikitin, for example, is arguably better than both were last year) is going to appeal. If Nurse and/or Reinhart can play so well as to force a recall, Edmonton should be able to make room for them at that point.

Beyond that it’s hard to project. The moves in the back half of the year will be predicated on a number of factors, including whether the Oilers can realistically contend for a playoff spot and the performances of their defencemen in Bakersfield.

The important thing here is that there really isn’t any immediate rush. There’s a tendency to hyper-focus on training camp, but it’s misplaced when looking at pro-level, waiver-exempt prospects. Those guys can be sent down at will and recalled at any point; there’s no sense bending backwards to fit them into the team in October when it’s almost always possible a month into the season to dump a third-pairing defenceman and promote those players if their performance warrants it.

We’ll see the transition at some point next season. The exact timing will mostly depend on the performance of the players.

RECENTLY BY JONATHAN WILLIS

  • billythebullet

    Sekara Shultz
    Reinhart Fayne
    Klefbom Ferance
    N.N Gryba.
    I think opening night d might look like this due to Contracts, Position and past time on ice totals. By the end of season N.N will be gone but the oilers will need to make a second trade to open a spot for Nurse.

    • bazmagoo

      I could see Fayne being traded in the right circumstance. He wasn’t overly impressive in his 1st season.

      Can’t be paying 3rd pairing defencemen 2nd pairing money and be competitive. Fayne could bounce back with a big year though, I wouldn’t bet against him considering how young our rookies are.

      • bradleypi

        Lol apparently he played well enough that oilersnation has anointed him a 1st pairing dman….. but I agree that he wasn’t overly impressive at all. Not sure why he escapes the blame that’s being heaped on the oilers defense and aimed mostly at 3 guys.
        But I also agree that he can bounce back as the rest of the oilers defence could also. Oilersnation seems to think that if a player has 1 bad year, he’s finished. I’m looking forward to seeing this defence under a new coach and system. I think they’ll be better than oilersnation thinks. Plus they have a pretty good leader back there….

        • bazmagoo

          Coaching will be the big difference this year. Nelson was a decent coach, but more offence minded. McLellan is legit, he’ll have the Oilers into a finely tuned machine by Christmas. The D will be much better.

    • oilerjed

      I rather think this wont fly as the prospect would be the most valued piece. Unless of course NJ needs help getting to the salary floor. They would be lucky if they ever answered Chia’s phone calls again after he offered them Shultz and Nikki……

    • DaveChamp

      Why would NJ do that deal? Larsson is the best player by a decent margin, and by adding Nikitin to Schultz in the deal, you’re actually subtracting value to NJ, especially when you consider Schultz has significantly less value than Larsson at this point. I find your comment foolish.

      • Oil Vice

        Oh come on. That is high class Maple Leaf fan style art right there. Here take our Garbage for your stud. No you say, well here how but if I add more Garbage to the deal will that work.

  • DaveChamp

    I saw it posted before and it has stuck in my mind as a for real question. Is there any chance Ferrence may side step into some kind of coaching or front office position before his contract is up? Can the organization pull that off? I like the guy and it would be great to see a transition that is civil and mutually agreeable. It’s going to get ugly for him as a player this year with the deep talent coming up.

    • billythebullet

      I rather not.

      I don’t think the players care and/or respect him enough for that to work or be worth while.

      If he shows that he is not capable, and other outperform him, him and the Oilganization should be honorable and brave enough to admit and come to terms of that.

    • bazmagoo

      People are writing off Ference too prematurely. He’s mega experienced and in good shape. The pressure is on though, can’t be captain when you are sitting in the press box. I like the competitive environment we have on defence right now, Chiarelli did a decent job considering what we went into summer with.

  • leage average Goalie Save% for each level of chance shot. .915 is league average Save%

    Low chance shot .9740 SV%

    Medum chance shot .9335

    High chance shot .8333

    stands to reason you want the best D at reduing HCShots and goalies with the best HCS SV%.

    Fayne #1D 10.05 HCSA/60

    Sekera #6 2nd comp D 12.05 HSCA/60

    Nikitin #7 2nd comp D 12.45 HCA/60

    These 3 D trended sub 46.00 CA/60 last year wich lends to low HSCA/60 and low HCshots/60.

    Klefbom 2nd comp 43.04

    Nurse W/ Schultz 3rd 36.80; W/ Fayne 1st 44.37

    Reinhart 3r comp 44.03

    Talbot only goalie above .8600+ HCS SV% last 2 years. #1 HCS goalie.

    Alot better than 8 years of 55.00= CA/60and 15.00 + HCA/60 D.

  • Ndustry

    Umm the first trades for veteran Defencemen took place at training camp just before the season. NYI acquiring Boychuck and Leddy for second rounders and prospects from BOS and CHI. And when Chiarelli entered Boston he virtually dismantled the whole D core with only a player or two remaining by years end, and soon BOS had one of the best D core in the league.

    I’d put Nikitin with Sekera before Fayne. I think Fayne will get stuck with Gryba. You can also rotate Schultz and Klefbom around Sekera. New guys like Nurse and Reinhart tend to play with the top D for some heavy but “sheltered” minutes. Sekera, Fayne, and Ference all saw themselves paired with the top defenders on their teams before they were let loose on their own. Niktin has had an offensive season, Reinhart is also more offensive than many claim – he plays the power play and compared to Klefbom who had 10pts in 48Gp in the AHL Reinhart had 22Pts in 59GP in the AHL. I think Reinhart might jeopardize Klefbom’s immortality to be honest here as Klefbom got some thrust in minutes since we’re losing anyway, Reinhart might become more trusted if we pursue winning. And Nurse is likely to drop Klefbom down the Depth chart too at some point so it should be interesting. Maybe something in preseason wil shake everything up even more as Chiarelli has been know to do, afterall it was him who traded Boychuck (possibly to keep Hamilton) and that with Leddy cost Reinhart is NHL starting job so I put our current situation on a preseason coin flip and guaranteed to change by seasons end!

    • The difference being that Boychuk/Leddy were deals made for high-quality players by teams that needed to get under the cap. They weren’t the ‘defenceman for futures’ trades that apply to the Oilers here.

      Fayne and Gryba are both right-shooting defenders who can’t move the puck. why would they be paired together?

      • Ndustry

        What do you mean ‘defenceman for futures’? They were traded just before the start of the season, for picks and prospects and they both signed long term deals with NYI. Not that it needs to apply – I was saying it was the first major D transactions, but it also totally applies, in that’s exactly what the Oilers are looking for!

        I didn’t consider that they were both right shooting, not that it always matters either but ya it has to be considered. I actually hear Gryba isn’t the worst at moving the puck either, and at one time Fayne was touted as decent at doing so. I just see them both as 6th in Mins D who’ll get stuck in a more shutdown, weardown role – even though OTT sent Gryba here because they thought he’d get to play more. I don’t really project Fayne who has been 6th in mins (9th on the Oil last year) to jump to 2nd in mins. I can see Nurse, Reinhart, or Klefbom given those mins to develop, rather than a guy like Fayne – who dilutes the quality of offensive – to get paired up top and drag down the top lines production in an effort to balance out their defense ever so minutely.

  • The league is so tight in the 4-10 positions in each conference. If one of those 12 teams have an injury in the first six weeks of the season, PC need to be there to unload. If we can move NN or AF without taking salary that will really position us to bring Nurse/Reinhart on to the team.

    I like the chances of Musil, Davidson, Oestrle and Simpson playing more than last year.

    • bradleypi

      By playing more, you mean in the ahl right? You do know that the Oilers have 7 nhl dmen signed to contracts right? If those guys you mentioned are part of the oilers d this winter it’ll be another lottery pick for the oil for sure. Wow!

      • Reg Dunlop

        You do know that Schultz, Nik and Ference are NHL players ONLY because they are employed by the Oilers? No other team would allow them ice time. The AHLers would be an improvement and somehow getting them ice time at Rexall is the best option currently available to avoid another lotto pick.

  • the sad reality is that one of Klefbom, Reinhart or Nurse will be moved out for a bigger package. that’s just my opinion though, there’s a huge log jam. not that I didn’t like the Reinhart trade but we should’ve looked for a two way defender prospect who shoots right that has potential to be a top pairing defender. Because the way I see it, Reinhart is a young version of a stay at home defence man that we have in Fayne and Gryba. We needed a Pietrangelo type of prospect.

  • fran huckzky

    I would call it a stretch to say that the Oilers paid a small fortune in futures to obtain Reinhart. I would maintain that the likelihood of Griffin being a regular NHLer is greater than the two picks they gave up.

  • fran huckzky

    I can agree to a point, but I think some of you are under estimating PC, TMc, Nurse and Reinhart. I think the reason they have not brought in a experienced #1 defence is to give Nurse, Reinhart and to some extent Drai the opportunity to earn a spot on the team.

    Why trade or give up assets for the short term fix? (Example Franson type) I would like to see both Nurse and Reinhart stay with the team throughout the year as to play and grow with the team and to learn the team culture / chemistry / systems etc. In other words, I would prefer to give the time, training and play times to the future instead of filling a roster spot with a warm body. (with all due respect)

    There is enough talent in Bakersfield to make them competitive with out these three. The best way to learn is hands on in real life situations as most of learn.

    No one is expecting the Oilers to make the play offs this year. Most fans and experts would consider a successful year if they can improve dramatically in the standings.

    PC and TMc have it under control.

    • bradleypi

      I think the reason they didn’t trade fof #1 dman is because no one is trading them!! Who in there right mind is trading franchise defenceman in a salary cap world? And you’re wrong about no one expecting the oil to make the playoffs this year. I expect it, and I guarantee that all of the oilers brass expect it too. You can’t honestly believe that PC took this job with aspirations of MISSING the playoffs. 9 years is enough. Just because you don’t believe in the players doesn’t mean no one else does. I believe!

    • The only flaw in this is, can you imagine how much better our defence is today and for the future if we let Schultz walk or traded him for futures and signed Franson for that same amount.

      I think Franson is flawed as well, but he is a bigger stronger version of what we hope Schultz will become some day.

      I don’t care for one dimensional offensive Dmen, but at least Franson puts up points and is better defensively then Schultz.

      • I can understand what your saying and with the previous comment about
        expecting to make the play offs. I too hope that they can pull into the playoffs.
        I sure hope they do but Realistically I don’t think so. Let PC and TMc
        Evaluate and for the players to show their worth, before giving up on
        players. If NN, jS or any others can’t come to camp prepared for the new
        group and their expectations, then I expect PC will make the changes
        required. TMc has the reputation to get the best out of his boys, so give everyone a couple months to show, before trending assess away.
        Nothing would give me more pleasure than to see the Oilers in the playoffs.

  • fran huckzky

    Defense is the same caliber as last year. It hinges on WIldcards. Could of added another veteran to offset the chance of a horrow show in our own end. Marincin was better then Nikitin, Schultz, Ference, and Aulie last year, and was traded for nothing.

    I am optimistic the Oilers score more, and are better. However the defense is not playoff caliber going into the season. Which to me was a fail for Chia.

    Sekera was a great ad, and after that Chia looks no better then MacT.

    • fran huckzky

      I’ll give PC Talbot, so far. At least he didn’t trade the farm for him.

      I also like the Griffin deal.

      Purcell, Nikitin, Ference – I give Chia dibs over MacT.

  • bwar

    Can we stop referring to Jultz as a “Powerplay Weapon” please? The guy can’t even take a slap shot and we have several other players more qualified to quaterback either powerplay unit. The guy has several more years of development before he will be a viable NHLer and with Reinhart and Nurse moving up the ranks his time to succeed is running out. He needs to take substantial steps forward this season or I just can’t see him being an Oiler next season.

  • mcjesus take the wheel

    WILLIS: Our options appear to be quite limited because we still have Nikitin and ference on our cap . It might not only effect the defence , but quite likely the offense as well . The best choice(s) may not be an option because of it .

    Example : We have a bonus cushion of only 5.175M and a small cap space of 8.335M . If we used all of that space for newbies we would still not have enough to pay for their combined bonus hit of 9.88 M . Obviously it would be most difficult to add another player to rster with most of cap space used for bonuses .

    If we use McDavid with a .285 M bonus and not use the little cap space for another newbie or additional player , Draisaitl or Reinhart alone would put us over that cushion . We still have Klefbom at .350 . That would leave only Nurse that could be added and still remain under bonus cushion . Keeping Nikitin and Ference is really hurting our options to ice best team and youngsters now and until they do something about the situation before us . Seems like the cap will make our choices for us by my estimation .

  • bradleypi

    Bonuses due : McDavid 2.85 M (another corrected figure from blog 22 ) , Draisaitl 2.475M , Reinhart 2.350M , Nurse .850M , Klefbom .350M , Slepychev .600M . Way over the 5.175M bonus cusion .

  • bradleypi

    Oh good. 3rd blog this week giving oilersnation a chance to run down Schultz, ference and nikitin. Amazing how the defence gets all the blame for the last 2 years and none falls on the forwards. It’s all ferences fault cause he’s the captain. And this love affair with klefblom is starting to sound a lot like the love affair oilersnation had with marincin last year. We all know how that went. Klefblom had at best an ok year last year. And how JW doesn’t include Schultz on a list of young oiler dmen is odd. Wait. No its not. He hates Schultz and reminds us twice a week. Can’t wait to see a lot of people eat a ton of crow this winter.

  • bradleypi

    Lets not forget what happened at the start of last years season which turned out to be an extended training camp with “auditions” still going on for some in-between guys. Management/Eakins did not go with the absolute best roster on opening night (and the first handful of games) and they paid for it with a slow start and never recovered.

    I think the transition should happen only when Nurse and/or Reinhart are ready. If they prove they are the best options on D in training camp, then you make room for them – but sending them down when they are ready because you have veterans on their last legs you are worried about losing in case of injury is pure nonsense. The best players should be on the opening night roster.

  • bradleypi

    The obvious trade is this years first and an ebs/yak/davidson for established stud defenceman. A weber or petriangelo. Less for a “maybe signs here if…” d-man such as seabrook. If we are to turn the corner and be in the dance, why not give a high-value pick and asset for what we need? Or are we stocking the cupboards, again?

    Ference is an absolute beauty. If he doesnt have the skills or abilty to be an nhl regular, cut him loose or let him mentor the ahl guys.

  • Ndustry

    Look. I’m not going to keep repeating myself. If you don’t like Schultz or want to trade Eberle not only are you cheering for the wrong team but you don’t know hockey. Go Oilers!

    • I don’t want to trade Eberle, but would consider it for the right piece.

      Schultz is a different story. I don’t think he is an NHL regular on many teams and is t a 3rd pairing offensive Dman at best. Even there, unless he is able to be more aggressive then he has been in the past I consider him more of a liability then a weapon.

      At his price point I would have attempted to trade him. If there were no takers I would have let him walk. Franson would look much better in the offensive PP role.

    • bradleypi

      Lol! Almost 10 mill in salary, “in our system”…..wow the oilers must have a good team that they can just have that much cap space playing somewhere else…..

  • Reg Dunlop

    Willis : I look at your all veteran defence and shutter to think Nurse and Reinhart might not even be good enough to beat out the bottom 3 . That’s scary . That veteran overload looks like a prelude to another tank job . Have to wonder if Draisaitl might meet same fate because of Purcell , etc.? Well at least they’ll probably leave us McDavid to appease the fans in the interim .

  • The Goalie 1976

    Gotta feel bad for a guy like Brandon Davidson. He should be a lock for the #7 spare spot, but there are so many bodies in front of him. He’s a perfect fill in player for dirt cheap. I wonder if Chicago would grab him off waivers? They need cheap guys that can actually play a bit.

  • One thing everyone has to keep in mind is that Dallas eikins had all the players compleatly confused and lost , ( worst coach ever behind our bench imo ) after he departed some players turned it around and now a new coaching staff . Some of the players that a few of us are bashing ………….. Are going to make you eat your words !

  • Schultz became our top pairing defender playing difficult minutes, a lot of which were with inexperienced partners. That is not the right way to “develop” a young, inexperienced defender. They must not make the same mistake with either Nurse or Rheinhart. Regardless of how good they look in the AHL they should not play top 4 minutes. It is too much pressure. That leaves Sekera-Fayne, Klefbom-?, Schultz – Gyrba, Ference/Nurse/Rheinhart.

    I am hoping Nikitin, who needs to play well this year going into his UFA next year (along with Gyrba), can fit in with Klefbom. He has proven skill if he can apply it. I think with new coaching and pending UFA he will.

    Nurse and Rheinhart will get minutes when (not if) there are injuries.

  • mcjesus take the wheel

    I would imagine they would start the season like this:

    Sekera-Fayne

    Klefbom-Schultz

    Nikitin-Ference-Gryba rotating

    I don’t see Gryba signing long term and he’d be a good deadline pickup for a contender. By the deadline Nikitin will either be on another team or out of the NHL for good. So they will end the season like this:

    Klefbom-Sekera

    Reinhart-Schultz or Davidson

    Nurse-Fayne

    Ference

    Much as I’d like to see them deal Ference, I’ve become less convinced that his play is going to warrant it. I think he ends the season as the #7 and faces a tough decision next year whether to come back in the same role or retire.

    The Oilers either need Schultz to be better or need a better player in the same role. But Schultz isn’t attractive in a trade package for a better defenseman, because the only reasons teams deal top four, right shooting defensemen is because they need help at another position or they’re shedding salary, and Schultz makes too much money to be part of a salary dump trade. So I see one of three things happening with him: Schultz plays well enough to convince the Oilers he’s the answer and he signs long term, Schultz is dealt at the deadline for picks or a depth forward, or the team lets him walk without a qualifying offer next summer. He’s running out of time.

    Which leaves them going into next season with:

    Klefbom-Sekera

    Reinhart-free agent, trade or Schultz

    Nurse-Fayne

    Ference or Davidson

    Which is a defense I can get behind and I think could be quite good as the younger guys improve, depending on who that second pairing RD is. If we’re dreaming in technicolour, it’s Seth Jones, Alex Pietrangelo, Kevin Shattenkirk or Brent Seabrook; if we’re being more realistic it’s probably Dustin Byfuglien, Jason Demers, Ryan Ellis, Jared Spurgeon, or an improved Schultz.

  • mcjesus take the wheel

    I dont see the supposed need for trades. Most teams use anywhere from 10-12 d-men in a season due to injuries. They’ll all get playing time and some will be healthy scratches sitting in the pressbox. We can keep all these guys and still get Nurse and Reinhart some playing time in the NHL.