Peter Chiarelli sat down with Bob McKenzie of TSN yesterday and among the subjects of conversation (as you’d expect) was the defense. Chiarelli’s views are a fascinating look into a man trying to improve a defense with a lot of problems.
TSN’s Bob McKenzie sat down with the Oilers new GM yesterday and covered a wide range of topics. Of specific interest to me—the defense. McKenzie spoke about new addition Andrej Sekera and asked if Edmonton’s new top man could name his top 4D at this time.
- Peter Chiarelli: “I can tell you I expect (Sekera) to be in our top four, Klefbom will be in our top four, Justin Schultz will be, I would hope he would be in our top four. Nikita Nikitin, who had a disappointing season last year, who was brought in to play in the top four. We’ve got some guys we acquired, Griffin Reinhart who I believe is a terrific player. I think he needs a little time to get up and running before I can anoint him in the top four. We have Eric Gryba who I think is a real strong shutdown D, we can probably shuttle him up at certain points. We’ve got three legitimate, we don’t have a workhorse right now.”
Based on those words, several things come to mind. First, where’s Mark Fayne? Well, I think we can either believe Chiarelli forgot about him or genuinely doesn’t see Fayne as part of the top four D. If the Oilers could trust Justin Schultz, MF in the bottom pairing makes sense. Fayne is a shutdown type and will probably be the tough minutes blue—tough zone starts and PK, and it would be great if his TOI ranked No. 5 or 6 this coming season.
Fayne’s 15:14 at evens a year ago was in fact third pairing (behind Klefbom, Schultz, Petry before he was traded, Ference, Marincin or Nikitin depending on who was playing) and he was the top PK man (2:29 per game). With that as a backdrop, can we take Chiarelli’s words and figure out the assumed opening night blue?
- D1: Kefbom—Sekera
- D2: Nikitin—Schultz
- D3: Ference—Fayne/Gryba
That would send Brandon Davidson to the waiver wire and both Griffin Reinhart and Darnell Nurse to the minors. One thing I do like about this group? Callups might get great cover from a guy like Fayne.
As with all things, nothing counts until the coach has his say.
Chiarelli on Justin Schultz: “He’s a player that I don’t
have really strong knowledge of. Saw him in college. Saw him in the
lockout in the American League. Saw him in bits and pieces with
Edmonton, maybe a little more this past year, whether it’s video or
otherwise. He’s got a lot of assets, like puck skills, passing, skating.
He’s been labelled sometimes as a rover and that’s more negative than
positive in my mind, but the fact that he’s up the ice with the forwards
is a good thing. That’s something that we would preach here. It’s about defending, about being the proper position and if you’re
not strong enough to defend, let’s talk about positional defending,
stick defending. He has to get better at that.”
Peter Chiarelli not being familiar with Schultz and still projecting him top four tells you this season will have a lot of struggles. Schultz is on a team that is going to play a lot without the puck and he’s not very good in those moments. No doubt in my mind that Schultz would be more successful on a better possession team and I do think his next Oiler contract depends heavily on this season and price point. If the Schultz camp wants big money, I think the young man could be in another town next season—and that might be the best thing for him. For now, the GM (“Justin Schultz will be, I would hope he would be in our top four”) has him as a key man with the game on the line—offensively and defensively.
We can slice this any way we want, but the Oilers don’t have enough depth to use Mark Fayne in a depth, secondary role. Top 4D in Edmonton excludes Fayne at its own peril. This club is miles from that kind of luxury. Peter Chiarelli not being familiar with Schultz—and projecting him ahead of Fayne—should send shivers down your spine. McKenzie interview is here.