Crowded. That’s the way I would describe Edmonton’s defense
at both the NHL and AHL levels. There are a finite number of positions that come with significant playing time, and right now there are more players than open spots. 

In The NHL

Edmonton’s NHL defense is currently log-jammed with one way contracts and particularly heavy on fat contracts to third pairing
players. We’ve lamented about this all summer. Going strictly by
what makes sense, based purely on contract status, the blueline should look
something like this:






It will be extremely difficult to knock any of those players
out of their spot on the roster if they can all show up to camp looking like the
NHL veterans they are. If their skill-level is at an NHL level then opting to
send one of them to Siberia (or Bakersfield) will be a tough pill to swallow.
The worst part is that the Oilers have $9 million dollars tied up in their 5-6-7
defenders, and if Gryba is playing that means either 3.25M or 4.5M will be
sitting dead in the press box every night.

This is obviously less than ideal, but Ference has a no
movement clause and sending Nikitin to the AHL would only clear up roughly $900k
from the books. From my perspective the path to the NHL for the prospects is
blocked until there are injuries, contracts expire, or Chiarelli can make a
trade. Two of those things can happen at any time but I don’t have my Voodoo
dolls out yet, and only Chiarelli knows how close he is to pulling the trigger
on a deal.

In The AHL

Assuming the seven names above will make up the defense on
opening day, the Bakersfield Condors will be left with a log-jam of their own.
The addition of Darnell Nurse and Griffin Reinhart to the roster for Edmonton’s
AHL affiliate will mean some players who were expecting to be in the AHL might
find themselves in the ECHL instead.

Let’s assume that Griffin Reinhart is close to NHL ready (as
Peter Chiarelli believes) and we can trust Condors’ head coach Gerry Fleming when
he recently said on Oilers Now that if Darnell Nurse was returned back to the AHL,
he would be on the top pairing. That should leave a Condors defense
that looks something like this:







The youngest players on the roster are most likely to also
be their best. Reinhart played much of his WHL career on the right side and
given the strengths of the Oilers and the Condors respectively, it makes sense
to keep him on the right side. Hunt was the fourth highest scoring
defender in the AHL last season and if he hadn’t been called up by the Oilers
he would have probably been number one. He was a first team AHL All-Star
and while he shouldn’t be in the NHL, he is a very good AHL player. We also
know that Brandon Davidson has a lot of support within the organization and he
was clawing away at an NHL job too. There are your top four Condor defenders.

That leaves five more prospects vying for the final two regular
positions and potentially a third player who would sit out a
significant amount of time. And, for simplicity’s sake, I’m not even including defenseman
Nick Pageau who is on an AHL contract. The math doesn’t hold up and unlike in
the NHL where it’s fine to have a reserve player waiting in the press box, the
whole point of the AHL is to serve as a developmental league. It doesn’t make a
lot of sense to have prospects sitting around instead of playing hockey.

Something Has To Give

Obviously teams want to have competition. Competition is
good. It’s the very backbone of professional sport. What teams don’t want is an
environment where things are so crowded that there’s no room to maneuver.
Having many NHL quality defensemen is fantastic for the Oilers. Lord knows they
haven’t had enough of them for a long time. Having many NHL quality defensemen
on contracts that are impossible to move to other teams or even out of the way
for younger/better players is problematic.

Without the ability to climb upwards, Oiler prospects like
Nurse or Reinhart are going to be fine in the short term. They both stand to
play 20+ minutes a night for Bakersfield. It’s the players below them on the
depth chart that are going to lose playing time. That’s not the end of the
world, but it could lead to the end of a few prospects within the organization.
Nothing says, “You aren’t in the plans” like a demotion to the ECHL in October.

Of course, if someone like Darnell Nurse comes into camp and
makes himself indispensable to the Oilers then something has to give. Hands
will be forced into action. Is this really a problem? Not at all, it’s just the
way things stand right now if I’m seeing them correctly. No matter which league you’re talking about, the Oilers have more defenders than they have available spots. Something has to shake loose soon.

  • freelancer

    I like the idea of starting Reinhart and Nurse not only in the AHL, but playing together. It seems likely that unless Schultz can get his act together, a Nurse-Reinhart pairing is what management is currently imagining for the future.

    In theory you would have two big body guys who are both fairly mobile/offensive minded and play with a physical edge.

    Not saying those two should start in the NHL together but long term I feel that’s the plan.

    • stonedtodeath61

      Agree, these youngsters are both going to be stud Dmen in the bigs. I can see the same thing happening with them that happened with Karlsson here in Ottawa. He was sent to Binghamton, lasted 10 games, got 9 points and was in Ottawa to stay after that. I could see that happening to Nurse and could see Reinhart making it out of camp. This would obviously mean PC is wheeling and dealing. Is that D too young, with Oscar and these two monsters ? I don’t know but that’s a lot of talented weight on the back end. Add Sakera, Fayne and Gryba and that’s a big mobile D.

    • Oilers G- Nations Poet Laureate

      Actually, the little pucker is between the two hot tubs in line to the left of the tall, striped “concession stand”.

      Oh….maybe I should comment on the article.

      One more year of suck,

      with that posted D line up

      Next year, Nurse plus, Please.

  • Oilers G- Nations Poet Laureate

    Lots of defenders but only 3 of them are playing at a high NHL level – Fayne, Sekera, Klefbom. That won’t get us into the playoffs. All the rest are either inexperienced or 3rd pairing. Take your time with Nurse and Rheinhart – don’t drop them into that 4th spot. Schultz can play there at a high level. Nikitin is the only one that has a chance to fill the top 4 role competently if he can get his game together. He needs to play like the $4.5M man.

  • RomZ

    New Series: Where’s Waldo Wednesdays.

    On a more serious note, It is nice to have these kind of tough calls to make regarding veterans, and young prospects looking to force their way into the lineup. Nurse, and Reinhart will surely push one of the bottom 3 guys for a roster spot in TC. Top pairing AHL duties won’t hamper either one of them if that’s the case. Maximizing the potential of both young men is paramount.

  • freelancer

    I would imagine they would start the season like you say, but I don’t see Gryba signing long term and he’d be a good depth 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 probably end the season like this:





    Much as I’d like to see them deal Ference, I’ve come to doubt that he plays well enough to make it possible. 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.

    Anyway, I think they probably go into next season with a similar defense to that, but with Davidson as the #7 if Ference retires, and possibly an upgrade on Schultz if they can swing a trade or sign a good free agent. Which leaves 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.

    Assuming they also let Gernat and Hunt walk next summer that would leave the AHL defense as Oesterle, Musil, Simpson, LaLeggia, Betker, and maybe Davidson, with Lagesson or Ziyat Paigin or Ethan Bear possible as well but not likely. So it’s really just a one season logjam.

    • freelancer

      Pretty much agree. Short version this year we will unfortunately have to deal with some poor decisions MacT left for Chia. Adding better players is hard when over 12 million in cap space in dedicated to guys like Ference, Nikitin, and Purcell.

      Getting way ahead of myself but next year I expect Klef to be on the top pairing, a true #1RD signed, Sekera moved to the second pairing along with whoever of Nurse and Reinhart shows better, with the other on a third pairing with Fayne.


      If that blank space is a true #1 that is a playoff calibre D.

      • HardBoiledOil 1.0

        actually, Klefbom, Nurse, Reinhart, Sekera may be the only d-men guaranteed a spot next year, and if Gryba plays well this season, despite whether or not fans think he’s expendable, he could earn himself a new contract.

        i heard a media wag on the radio the other day mention that Fayne could possibly be trade bait for the Oilers at or before the end of the season. with a better crop of UFA d-men available next year, i could see this happening, though trading experienced d-men is not something i am a fan of after the Petry trade.

        • freelancer

          True. I was less trying to figure out a potential roster, and more pointing out that at the very least the log jam we are going to have to deal with this season will be gone next year.

          Fayne and Schultz are the two names I see could potentially be traded that might actually have some value.

        • Sheldon "Oilers Fan for Life!!!"

          You might be right seeing as new coaches and management already know which ones are of little use to begin with from last years squad . Not like they have to do much of an evaluation with any of them (veterans) , as the already have sufficient knowledge of them all to make a decent decision . We thought that was their initial intent on taking Schultz to arbitration and opening up that window to buyouts. Worked out that was a costly blunder for no reason , or the reason got scrapped along the way . We have had ample opportunity to dump those contracts since MacT. left.

    • stonedtodeath61

      ” but I don’t see Gryba signing long term and he’d be a good depth deadline pickup for a contender”

      This to me is 50/50. Not due to talent level alone but because every team is going to need solid 5,6 D that are priced right. I could see Big Earl being re-signed at 2Mill per x 3 years. I hold seasons here in Ottawa and I have said this many times, The Sens will be looking for someone just like him by October. Not going to demand crazy dollars, play 12-14 min. a night at evens 2-3 min. a night on the PK. This is a quality move by PC. He knows what he’s getting. Boston and Ottawa have had some nasty ass games, same division and hate each other. Milan and Company have all been knocked on their butts by the big man. You are going to like what you got in this deal.

      • Randaman

        You’d probably have to move Fayne to make that work.

        Which I wouldn’t be opposed to at all, assuming that Gryba shows well. I haven’t seen him play much. I think by as early as 2016-17, or even late this season, Fayne is going to be pushed out of the top four by Reinhart, Nurse or both, and his $3.6 million deal is pretty pricey for a third pairing defensive specialist. If they could move Fayne for an asset and sign Gryba for what you say (or less) as a tough-nosed #6 guy, I’d be all for it.

        • stonedtodeath61

          I have watched a number of interviews with him and he is just a good ole country boy. Works hard, knows who he is and gets the job done. Ian Mendez of team 1200 radio asked him if he had a chance to talk to oiler management and what his role would be. Big Earl’s response was ” run the PP, dish off to the talent up front and QB the first unit, followed by laughter and a response of Knock guys down, clear the crease, win puck battles and play solid PK mins. He played behind Karl and Ceci ( 15th overall pick and local boy) on the right side. Always got the DZone start and even though he played with Boro as a D pairing, he would be sent over the boards with Methot for the last min. of a game with a one goal lead. Your going to like as long as you don’t expect offence.

    • Tikkanese

      Hmmm, I don’t hate that defence. I don’t think Fayne is suited to be paired with anything but a puck mover. Not sure he’s the right guy to mentor Nurse.

      While it’s not ideal, a sheltered bottom duo might be the better fit.

      Sekera – Fayne

      Klefbom – Schultz

      Nurse – Reinheart

      Reinheart did play the right side and projects to be more of a shut down type than Nurse who seems to want to develop his game more two way.

      And again, while this likely is not the best pairing. Maybe by then Reinheart will have spent time with Ference, or Nurse may have spent time with Nikitin. I know those also aren’t the best mentor options, but they might help for a stint while those two transition.

      Beginning next year though, that left side looks particularly deadly.

  • freelancer

    Unrelated… I officially hate the flames more than the Canucks (although it’s close). I’m sick of hearing flames fans talk about how they’re a shoe in for the playoffs this year. If the flames good luck ever runs out they’ll end up as a bottom 10 team in the league… However everything always seems to go their way so who am I kidding

    • MorningOwl

      you are so right, what on earth makes the Flames fans think they will even get s a sniff of the playoffs this year? there is NO reason to believe this is even a possibility.

      there is much more sanity among Oiler fans, who talk about McDavid getting 130 points and the Oiler making the playoffs with two rookie defenseman and a rookie forward carrying the team! let the sanity continue! 🙂

      • MorningOwl

        I don’t think anybody has predicted mcdavid to get 130 points.. Lol and also just looking through comments sections you’ll see the majority of oiler fans tempering expectations and many even admit we won’t make it in this year. So I’m not sure where you’re coming up with that.

        As for the flames, I just think they’re play last year is unsustainable for long term success. And I hope it backfires and everything blows up in your face this year, jus sayin 🙂

    • stonedtodeath61

      Are you seriously accusing other teams of good luck? Do you know how stupid you sound? I don’t want to defend the flames but any hockey person knows that they had their share of adversity (3 centres injured to start the season and Gio gone for the last 20 plus playoff run) and persevered through hard work and determination. The Oilers on the other hand, gifted 4 overall first picks in 6 years! Rewarded for being the doormat of the league. McDavid is the only reason that our infini-build has a chance of actually turning around and heading north. I am glad he is here but I can already hear the comments when we start winning that any of the Oils accomplishments going forward will have nothing to do with smart hockey and everything to do with losing our way into being gifted McDavid.

  • MorningOwl

    MATT – SHOW ME THE MONEY nice picture and fitting . Oilers have a 5.175 bonus override . McDavid and Klefbom alone eat up 3.2M of that figure leaving only 1.975M to reach that limit . Both Draisaitl and Reinhart are over that limit and thus cannot be on team , unless I believe , we have additional cap space . Nurse at .850 M could however make it in and still be under bonus override limit . The additional cap space we have by NHL numbers is only 3.144 M , and who knows how they might use that for as it’s not enough to add both of them ? If they want to leave most options open they have work to do deletions to accommodate those that have bonus hits . If bonus override max. is 5.175 M despite cap space , then we have a big problem and would be basically forced to go with veterans .

  • HardBoiledOil 1.0

    i like the fact we have so many d-men on the team and in the system. it’s just too bad most of it is bottom pairing ! when your only potential top end young guys are Nurse, Klefbom and Reinhart after all these years of drafting d-men and having to trade for Reinhart, i can see why Stu and his scouting staff were let go!

  • CMG30

    I’m not opposed at all to both Nurse and Reinhart starting in the AHL. The worst outcome for the Oil is if those two just squeak onto the roster only to sit for 58 minutes a game. They both have the potential to be pillars of the blue if the Oil bring them along properly.

    IMO they only start with the big club if their performance blows an established vet out of the water. Well, except for Ferrence since they’d get no minutes by replacing him anyway.

    The other benefit to starting them both in the AHL is that it becomes harder for them to hit their bonuses which could save Edmonton cap wise, should McDavid explode…

  • vetinari

    No one wants our cast offs but it would be great if we could move two or three guys out for one higher end talent. The problem is that former management handed candy contracts to guys like Nikitin and Ference and no one would likely want them now at their current price point. I guess the plan is hope for the best and demote the underachievers.

    • HardBoiledOil 1.0

      ^yup, and i would imagine that *IF* Ference were to waive his no trade, we *might* get something like a pick perhaps for him if we moved him closer to the end of the season, same with Nikitin or Gryba, who if both suck this year will at least be off the books.

  • stonedtodeath61

    That the fact that a player like Ference can handicap a team is unbelievable and an example of many things that is wrong with the structure of the NHL.

  • Randaman

    Can you please stop with the possibilities and or constraints facing Management/Coaching when it comes to our defence?

    All it does is give Bradleypi the opportunity to tell us that we are all clueless and that Jultz is our best defenceman.

    • Jordan McNugent-Hallkins

      I can’t help wondering if the Eakins factor played into Nikitin being so terrible.

      I mean, he has a big shot and did look really good on some shifts. Then he got injured for pretty much the duration of the Nelson time.

      I am betting on either Schultz or Nikitin being the biggest surprise of 2015 – 2016. Especially because Nikitin will be playing for a new contract somewhere.

      • stonedtodeath61

        Couldn’t help.

        But Niktin’s decline seems to be all about his back injury.

        That’s why he came to camp last year in such poor shape, and why he can’t keep up with opponents, much less cover the crease for less experienced players.

        Backs don’t just miraculously cure themselves either.

        Makes me wonder if long term IR (and the cap room that clear up) is Chia’s plan if Nikitin has problems this year,

        Also it’s not fair to lump Schultz in with the declining and slow to react/skate Nikitin or Ference.

        He has a valuable skillset, just that he’s been badly mismanaged, especially with Eakins throwing him out on the ice 23+ minutes a game with the aforementioned pairing mates.

        Now that we have a quality coach and staff in place and more veterans on the club, along with the reported extra work he out in during the offseason, I expect to see a difference in Schulz this year, especially in the defensive zone.

  • Sheldon "Oilers Fan for Life!!!"

    I really believe the big “C” is not done. Sure he inherited a royal train wreck. Just picking up one legit player for Defense would change this team a ton.
    If we look close at Christmas he pulls a big trade.

  • freelancer

    At the orientation camp game at Rexall Laleggia was the most noticeable player on the ice outside of McDavid, Nurse and Dr Drai. I hope he gets to play at the AHL level this year and is not stuck down in ECHL.

  • freelancer

    Can’t help think we may regret not pushing for Cody Franson while he (a top four dman) is available for nothing but cash. Send the big question mark Nikitin to Russia. Roll with:


    It’s an important upgrade in my opinion.

    • Tikkanese

      While I agree big time that Franson is a huge upgrade on Schultz, that bottom pair is not great as both are right side D men.

      No, I think barring a team needing to get to the cap floor, the Oilers are going to be stuck this season with a log jam on D. It would also appear that instead of free agents, Chi is looking at internal development as a way to both improve the D and manage the cap in the next few years.

      Or, maybe he’s waiting for a few contracts to expire, either buys out or trades Ference at the deadline / offseason, and is looking to make another huge splash in next year’s free agent pool by grabbing Seabrook. (keep hope alive!)

      Sekera – Seabrook

      Klefbom – Schult

      Nurse/ Reinheart – Fayne.

      Now that is an impressive looking defence.

    • Adding Franson is far more complex than just dollars . If we give him every dollar of our cap space that would be 3.144m (nhl numbers for cap space we still have ) . Buffalo reported to have offered him a 2 year contract already , he is considering . We do not have the money ( cap space ) to get into a bidding war . Let’s just say we still get him at our price of 3.144M for sake of argument . That means we cannot add Reinhart or Draisaitl to our team because of the bonus override maximum . That’s a stiff price to pay would you not agree .

  • Tikkanese

    Wow Laleggia a #7 or 8?!? He has a lot of substantial hype behind him. He would be top pairing AHL on a lot of other teams.

    I believe Gernat is at the bottom of that depth chart by a mile. Sad tho since he was looking like a younger Marincin a couple years ago.

    • Tikkanese

      He’s like a younger Hunt though. And Hunt was already named as an AHL allstar. So that’s his competition for top line puck moving D duties.

      Only difference is Hunt plays right side where the Oilers depth is a little weak. Whilst Laleggia plays left side, where there’s a huge log jam. Sekera, Klefbom, Nurse, Reinheart, Ference, Davidson, Lagesson, Laleggia, Musil, Gernat.

      Wow, no wonder they traded Marincin. Kind of wish they got more for the kid though.

      • Tikkanese

        I understand why Laleggia is possibly a #7/8 on the farm, just saying “wow, we are really really stacked as Laleggia would be top pairing on a lot of other AHL teams”.

        • MorningOwl

          Fair observation. The Oilers do have an impressive pool of left side D developing. Maybe one day we see a bottom pairing of Reinheart and Laleggia? (Reinheart played on the right his whole junior career). Assuming Klefbom, Nurse, and Reinheart all develop into really good D men, I could be okay if one day the Oilers D was something like:

          Nurse – Sekera

          Klefbom – Schultz

          Laleggia – Reinheart

          Top to bottom it’s a very mobile defense, and it has size on every line to break up cycles.

  • MorningOwl

    if Oilers are serious about getting defense, I suggest they make a bold move and trade next years 1st round pick plus real prospects, maybe Yak, for a legit 1st pairing dman. after all, Oilers are not going to be anywhere near the top 15 picks next draft, right? right???

  • MorningOwl

    Kudos that you recongize that the Oilers defense is untenable as it now stands.
    But the obvious is that the NSF trio must never play a game for the Oilers ever again.
    Better Reinhart and Nurse start playing from Game 1 of this season than the NSF.
    Best of all is that the Oilers actually trade for #1 defenseman, using virtually any of its assets other than MacDavid for this purpose.
    If the Oilers are serious about the playoffs this year, it can’t write off the season by playing a defensemen that has already shown themselves to be deficient if not outright incompetent.
    This should have been done in the off-season, but wasn’t. That is a real Chiarelli blunder.
    OEL is the gold standard of all Oiler trading objectives.

  • MorningOwl

    Crowded? From my perspective, the Oilers are in need of two NHL defenders. Still missing a top pair defender, and a veteran quality depth defender. Ference, and Nikitin, and Schultz don’t count.

  • stonedtodeath61

    It’s not as complicated as it seems.

    Ference NMC isn’t worth the paper its printed on and a GM like Chiarelli knows this, if the GM has gone on the record saying Rienhart is NHL ready and will be on the Oilers starting roster, then someone on this list is out.

    Ference will ether move via trade or Chiarelli sits him all year in the press box, if you’re an athlete then what’s the option here? Sit or except the trade? Not to difficult.

    My guess is Chiarelli is going to see how N.N reacts in training camp if he’s out of shape and a mess again and both Nurse and Rienhart are having better camps then he’s probably toast.

    As for Gernat, most likely goes to the ECHL, lowetide seems to think he hasn’t done enough to impress at this point he’s a Euro team option now.

    IMO, going into the season with N.N & Ference weakens the team.