The Revolving Door Next to Eric Gryba

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One of the big storylines through training camp was head coach Todd McLellan’s decision to run NHL-style lines immediately. The thinking went that this would allow the Oilers’ players to gel as units and allow the coaches to get a firm read on what they could expect from lines and pairings.

With that in mind, it’s interesting that the signals sent out on Monday indicate that Griffin Reinhart will be scratched for the second consecutive game and that Eric Gryba will get his third defence partner in as many nights.

Monday’s Practice

Responding to a question from Bob Stauffer on the likelihood of Brandon Davidson and Anders Nilsson playing against Dallas on Tuesday, McLellan all-but-confirmed both names.

“There’s a chance that both will get an opportunity to play tomorrow,” he replied. “It’s early in the year. Davy’s here; we’d talked about wanting to use him and see what he can do, give him a chance to perform. He’ll likely get that opportunity.”

Obviously, McLellan might shift things prior to Tuesday’s game, but barring illness it’s hard to imagine why he would and if he doesn’t, it looks like we’ll see Davidson and Gryba as the Oilers’ third defence pairing, playing behind the established tandems of Oscar Klefbom/Justin Schultz and Andrej Sekera/Mark Fayne.

Managing Eight Defencemen

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There’s no good way to manage eight defencemen. Regardless of how a coach does it there’s always a choice between a) not using everybody or b) icing sub-optimal lineups.

In 2012-13 Ralph Krueger had eight defencemen on the roster for a big chunk of the year, and he elected to run a steady top-four (Ladislav Smid/Jeff Petry and Nick Schultz/Justin Schultz) while rotating Ryan Whitney, Mark Fistric and Corey Potter on the third pair. No. 8 defenceman Theo Peckham got into just four games all season. In 2014-15 Dallas Eakins also started the year with eight defencemen, and some weird stuff happened, with Oscar Klefbom and Darnell Nurse sitting out some games and even Petry being scratched on one occasion. The former scenario saw the Oilers basically write Peckham off even as he took up a roster spot, while the latter saw several games in which Edmonton iced less than their best lineup.

In the early going McLellan’s approach has split the difference. Like Krueger, he has opted for firm pairings at the top of the lineup and seems to have settled on Gryba as his No. 5. However, like Eakins, he hasn’t picked a No. 8 defenceman to basically exclude from the rotation, despite Andrew Ference being a logical candidate for the role.

There seem two obvious explanations for McLellan’s approach.

The first is that this is the plan, that with eight defencemen in the mix McLellan wants to rotate through his options and we’re going to see a revolving door on the third pairing (or possibly just the left side of the third pairing). If it’s the plan, it isn’t a good one. A top prospect like Reinhart needs to be playing, and an AHL ice surface is infinitely preferable to an NHL press box, if that’s what it comes down to. A player like Ference, meanwhile, isn’t a mystery and there’s no reason for him to be playing NHL minutes after the season he just had. That was confirmed again – not that it needed to be – on Saturday.

The second possibility is that the Oilers’ coaches and management are still making decisions on how to deploy personnel, that like the Eakins/MacTavish duo last season McLellan/Peter Chiarelli are going to spend the early part of the year getting a read on things. That means rotating players in and out to see what they have.

Davidson, Brandon

That certainly fits with what both have said. For example, here’s how Chiarelli fielded a question on October 5 about Brandon Davidson having made the Oilers:

What I’ve seen from him here is that I feel he’s one of eight. He’d have to clear waivers. What I see is someone who can skate and has a little physical element to his game. For me, he still has to prove himself to be a full-time NHL player but I like the grit and the skating that he brings and I think he’s a good complement to our group. That doesn’t mean he’s a full-time NHL player but right now he’s on the roster.

The next day, McLellan was asked about what he was looking for from the third pairing and after a brief explanation of the qualities he wanted to see acknowledged that he didn’t know what mix was going to work best.

“There’s a lot of characteristics that each of those individuals has to bring, whether it’s in the top four or in the bottom four, because we have eight right now,” he said. “We’re still sorting that out; I don’t know who the top four or the bottom four are. As we play games we’ll figure it out more and more. ”

Normally, this sort of tinkering at the edges wouldn’t be a big deal, but in the Oilers’ case it might actually matter. It’s too early in Reinhart’s career to make definitive statements about the player, but he’s certainly looked a cut above the rest of the third-pair mess; if anything I would have expected him to be fighting for top-four minutes, not fighting for a spot in the lineup. It’s also far too late in Ference’s career to be figuring out what he’s capable of. He spent last season being the worst regular defenceman on one of the NHL’s worst teams, and at age 36 it seems the magic which powered a modestly-skilled and undersized rearguard to a 900-plus game NHL career has finally run out.

RECENTLY BY JONATHAN WILLIS

  • Jordan McNugent-Hallkins

    Unless Davidson plays unreal I don’t see how it’s possible to sit out Reinhart for many more games. Think Reinhart is close to the he has to play himself out of a
    Job at this point. He looked pretty good in his one game and the preseason. Much better then ferrence and I don’t think Davidson will be able to edge him out either.

  • YakCity1039

    Just keep Reinhart-Gryba as the third pairing. It works. It’s effective. Keep Davidson as the 7th D. Keep Ference on standby (in the pressbox) for injuries until the deadline where we trade him.

  • YakCity1039

    Davidson, Reinhart, Gryba as the 5-7 next year once Ference gets bought out. Looks good to me. Now, about that top 2 pairs. We need to somehow swap out Fayne for a legit top pair guy better than Sekera. No idea how you do that, but that’s what chia needs to figure out

  • YakCity1039

    I agree with the fact that Reinhard needs minutes rather than sitting in the Pressbox. I think before sending him to the AHL he should play a few more games for the big club.

  • Kevwan

    I don’t understand not playing Reinhart.

    I don’t understand putting in Price and pulling Dickey with a 6 run lead in the 5th inning.

    My teams are doing some strange things lately.

    • two smokes

      He’s not very good. It’s that simple. How can we expect him to go from not playing in the AHL to being a full time player in the NHL in such a short time?

      • Kevwan

        I thought he was very solid in St Louis.

        But if the Oilers management shares your assessment then he should be sent to Bakersfield.

        Personally I think Davidson is going into the lineup to showcase him for a trade. We’ll see.

        • Ready to Win

          There are no other options and Chia gave up a lot in what seems to have been a panic move after missing out on Hamilton. Maybe Reinhart can learn by watching but I agree that the minors would be better.

        • AJ88

          So when was Price’s last start? Thursday…I believe they decided to go with Stroman on Wednesday which would leave him on his normal rotation. Price needed to go in because he would have had too many days off before his next start. Yes , I know Price could have gone on Wednesday but they decided to go with Stroman. If they had decided to go with Price on Wednesday you would have seen Stroman relieving today.

          • Kevwan

            Except with Cecil out, Loup is the only lefty available in the pen against a left handed strong Rangers lineup. By using Price for 3 innings Gibbons lost his other viable lefty option for game 5.

            He had a 6 run lead.

          • AJ88

            I think they had to have Price in at some time today if they weren’t playing him on Wednesday. He can now rotate into one of the first two games of the league championship with proper work and rest…Go Oilers.

  • Serious Gord

    It seems to me that management has little confidence in ference, Reinhart or Davidson.

    That’s understandable in ferences case – were it not for the contract handcuffs he would not be with the team.

    Ditto Davidson – but for opposite reasons – he’s still too young and it’s not certain that he’s going to be a regular nhler.

    But Reinhart is the problem. They need him to be a solid third liner at the very least. And obviously they aren’t seeing it. And my very limited viewing of him I’m not seeing it either.

    Nurse Needs to remove all doubt about his readiness by xmas and then Reinhart can be sent to the ahl and given the ice time to either improve his game (read: learn how to skate and from that develop an offensive aspect to his game) or get ready for a long ahl career.

  • two smokes

    Davidson is a good alberta boy.He beat cancer and then somehow still made the nhl.He has champion drive in him that the oilers need more of. I’ll dress him before ference everyday of the week.

  • two smokes

    For as much as the Oilers gave up to get Reinhart, they should be feeding him a steady diet of top-6 minutes in the NHL or top-2 minutes in the AHL. The only exception would be for health/off-ice issues.

    Since we have heard nothing about either an injury or off-ice issue, what gives?

  • two smokes

    WILLIS: Copper n Blue article had a column by Flarewick about our 2-0 loss . In it he had what I thought originally was just a joke ” Griffin Reinhart said something about Jay Woodcroft’s mother and found himself in the pressbox “. It was a joke was it not ?

  • Explanation #3 – Chiarelli is desperately working the phones for a D-man trade. Maybe trying to trade a guy like Davidson for a quality player from a team looking to dump salary. He’s showcasing the trade options.

    Face it. Our D still sucks is “way below NHL grade”. Something HAS to be in the works, right?

  • Oil City Roller

    “while the latter saw several games in which they iced less than their best lineup”

    And therein lies the Coilers clever way of tanking throughout the season for McDavid. Never addressing goaltending or a 2nd line Center throughout the season. Simply shameful. Content to allow the losses to pile up…speaking of which,

    Anyone see Eichel’s 2nd of the season this afternoon?? Lawdy Lawdy!!! What a player!!

    How’s Connor doing? Still got that miserable look on his face?

    • I don’t disagree with your tanking comments or the fact that Eichel looks tremendous. But, I’m pretty sure Connor is going to be alright and although he didn’t score in his first 2 games, he was pretty good. You have to admit that he has been pretty good defensively for an 18 year old.

    • dach3569

      McDavid is a giant talent but you are right Eichel seems happier and less stressed then Conner.
      Eichel seems arrogant yet more certain of himself then Conner. We have to be mentally tougher as a team in total.
      On paper we are superior we just need some winning attitudes and culture to emerge soon in Edmonton

  • Oil City Roller

    So now that we know that Ference can no longer play at this level, what can we do with him? Do we put him in the press box and play the season with a 22-man roster? Offer him a deal with the organization if he will retire? We can’t buy him out. We can’t send him to Bakersfield. Putting him on waivers will accomplish nothing. No one will take him in a trade no matter how much of his salary we retain. Thanks MacT.

  • Oil City Roller

    Man I would love to see the Oilers get a legit number one defence. I think that is what it will take to see the Oilers turn the corner. Until then its going to be a steady diet of moral victories and kool-aid.

    • Oil City Roller

      We need to develop one. Nurse struggled in game2 in the AHL and is probably not a top guy anyway. Only other way would be to overpay and with all the top drafts we’ve had and could continue to have, that may be the answer. I would have met the Bruins price Hamilton would be here playing top minutes and providing offence. Nurse isn’t here anyway and Reinhart isn’t playing.

  • bradleypi

    Is it just me or is it kinda weird that the Oilers have just gone 2 games with zero goals and the biggest question/news from edmonton media and fans is who is the 6th defenceman gonna be? Why is that the only pair thats getting any attention. I’d worry about the other 2 pairs before I worry about who’s playing with Eric gryba….

    • Oilerz4life

      What is even stranger is that with zero legitimate goals so far this season, why is the defense the topic du jour?

      I am seriously concerned with the Oilers’ inability to score. We keep hearing about the offensive talent on this team but never see it displayed

      • bazmagoo

        “I am seriously concerned with the Oilers’ inability to score. We keep hearing about the offensive talent on this team but never see it displayed”

        We saw it late last season.

        Nugent-Hopkins and Eberle were among the NHL’s top scorers since the All-Star break last year. During the second half, Yakupov became of the Oilers most consistent scorers. This, during a time where Hall was injured.

        In the last month of the 2014-2015 season they were 6th in the NHL in scoring.

        Of course this all happened after the coaching change from Eakins to Nelson.

        So we’ve seen it, but never across a whole season. Nelson, contrasted to previous coaches, got a lot out of these guys offensively. He had only a half season with them to boot, and their output was accelerating over time. Hall re-joining the roster helped as well.

        The concern may be whether or not McLellan can get the same out of the guys.

        I’m thinking it will take some time, like it did with Nelson, to come up with a PP system, lines, and general system for offense that was effective.

        The Oilers had the 4th most scoring PP in the final month of last season (I can’t seem to get percentages from war-on-ice, still figuring it out), so it took a while to get there with Nelson. It certainly didn’t happen overnight.

        So I’m

  • Petrolero

    Defense or lack thereof (we all knew) was always going to be an issue – hopefully short term. Let Nurse be for now.

    Reinhart I don’t believe is that good from what I have seen and the fact that the Icelanders kicked him to the proverbial curb. That said no time to panic.

    I still don’t think we are built to compete in this conference with the current roster, we need skill and size (size and skill especially down the middle)…I know easily said than done but the fact we have not moved any core players to make this a reality is a bit concerning.

    Connor will be more than fine – enough of the BS.

    From Brooklyn!

  • Ready to Win

    If we get to game 10 and Reinhart is still playing better than Ference and Davidson plus McLellan is still only letting him play 1/3 of the games, I’ll be concerned, but right now, I’m just going to wait and see what happens.

  • Ready to Win

    Nurse will be better than all four d mentioned. He needs a chance and will get it once they clear some space which I believe to be coming soon. All that Nurse will likely be getting from AHL is a broken hand. There is more confidence to be gained from being with the big team and watching NHLers than AHL ice time and getting run by wannabes.

    • Petrolero

      He’s not ready and is also a wannabe. Let’s see if he can develop. Rushing a guy who struggles with pressure and the speed of the game is not the answer. See if our development coaches can teach him to simplify his game and to skate away from rather than into pressure.

      • Kevwan

        good points Jonesy and worthy of more discussion. My question is what you state really what we seen from Nurse? Or just what has been told?

        Best player at World Juniors, skates, hits, passes, rushes, jumps into the play- he really does have a lot of good qualities. Has tons of fire and heart on him. Did any of our D even through a decent hit against Nashville? Are any opponents the least bit worried they are going into the corner with ANY oilers defence man? Nurse will make mistakes but at least the other team will know he’s there!

        Back to question. I don’t know that I witnessed Nurse head into funnels, panicking, Or struggling with speed of game. As a rookie he was right where he should be, particularly when you observe that he adds several dimensions to his game as opposed to just stay at home D. I was supeised at accusations of trying to do too many things at once.

        What I thought I heard was a GM trying to manage his team and the business end. Manage waivers, showcase potential trades. Words around Nurse were just cloaks to cover true intention, and the fans buying into It.
        Chia could have said similar but different words around Davidson or Rienhart insisting on development and folks would nod their head. I think Nurse is ready to enter the league, an excellent option. I don’t like to put him against Rienhart as I like them both, but I do think he is paying a development price driven by business ( which is reality) as opposed to not being ready.

  • Petrolero

    I think the Oilers are being forced into this mess because of the logjam created by Jim it in and gerencia contracts.

    Out of the bottom d men gryba is the only veteran who’s looked capable so the other 3 guys are probably going to have to rotate with each other until nikitin is dealt with. Sending Reinhart down the way things are will screw with everyone else in that d corps.

    As for Davidson, if he plays way he is going to be the casualty of ference’s contract. He will be traded because he would need to clear waivers and ference owns the 7th d man spot by circumstance.

    It wouldn’t surprise me to see a trade some time next week

  • ziyan94

    Reinhart has been steady so I want him to stay. However this may explain what’s going on:
    If McLellan feels Reinhart can’t play top-4 minutes yet, and if Davidson works well with Gryba, then Reinhart can be sent down for more minutes while Ference becomes the #7 D, thereby opening up a roster spot for another winger.

  • camdog

    The Oilers defence really confusing me. For about 80 games now Mark Fayne has gotten less minutes than the teams regular 3rd paring d-man.

    Maybe it’s a statistical anomaly because they can’t play him when they are behind because he handles the puck like Smid. I know the advanced stats guys like his game, but why don’t the coaches?

  • dach3569

    Davidson shows and personifies overcoming adversity and pushing through his cancer and draft status to be a winner. His mental focus, perseverance and confidence is a model other Oilers might develop.
    He has what all teams desire most, he has “CHARACTER”

  • dach3569

    Are you drunk?

    Reinhart is terrible.

    He should be in the AHL. He doesn’t even stand out in one of the worst Defence in the league, which shows his true talent.

      • bazmagoo

        I don’t get the “continues to play poorly”. He had a solid pre-season and in 1 game at least held his own (no goals against, a positive shot differential with the benefit of good zone starts). He may not have knocked it out of the ball park but “continues to play poorly” seems an over reaction.

        • Yakcity7

          This comment right here shows the downside of all these advanced stats experts who have no clue about the game. I wonder many times if they actually watch the game? I’m sorry the guys a Coke Machine and as much as we all love Griffen for what he did with the OilKings it’s not going to matter in the NHL. Just think logically for a second if he was as good as you and all the advanced stats in the world say he is then Todd would have no choice with our Dmen but to play him. The reality is he looked weak in transition as his foot speed hinders him. He and Gryba 2 on 2 looked like you or I would out there and as much as I love his compete and size in the corners the slow boots really limit his effectiveness.

    • Kevwan

      “He [Reinhart] doesn’t even stand out in one of the worst Defence in the league, which shows his true talent.”

      He addressed this directly, in a pre/post-game interview, stating that the advice that he got from a veteran was to not try too much and to play a simple game.

      As such he’s been pretty dependable. Which makes him pretty invisible, for sure. He’s not an incredible puck mover, and he doesn’t have a nasty edge to his game. He’s positionally sound and has great gap control, able to strip pucks and win battles.

      But that doesn’t make him terrible. Maybe a terrible trade, considering the picks he went for? You might have an argument there? Maybe you expect a whole lot more from him? Again, your expectations of him doesn’t mean he isn’t reliable and solid.

      I’m not averse to sending him down. Giving him and Nurse big minutes makes a lot of sense to me. While I think he’s better than some Oilers Dmen at this point, the price paid for him warrants a proper investment into his development.

  • mcjesus take the wheel

    I’m not trying to be to negative towards Mclellan but two games is hardly enough to develop chemistry……..at least not the real kind.

    Griffin Rienhart has played as well as Andrea Sekera who continously coughs up the puck, but GR gets benched……what up with that? Andrew Ference is a pile on and continues to play?

    Sometimes coaches are their own worst enemy!