Oscar Klefbom’s free pass & the perils of a young defence


Edmonton’s defence is bad, and there are plenty of candidates to take the blame. Mark Fayne is a popular one these days, elbowing aside old favourites Andrew Ference and Nikita Nikitin. Griffin Reinhart has had a target on his back since the pricey trade that brought him in at the draft. Free agent addition Andrej Sekera gets his share of flak; so too does limited-but-useful veteran Eric Gryba. Brandon Davidson gets dismissed as an AHL’er, and there are plenty of drivers willing to hop in and back the bus over Justin Schultz as soon as he gets healthy.

Frequently getting a free pass is Oscar Klefbom, whose regression this year has been a big part of Edmonton’s problems.


Klefbom has had some just wretched games, games where he’s been culpable in two, three, even four goals against in just one evening. It would be nice to say that Sunday’s contest against Chicago was the first time that happened, but it wasn’t. Incredibly Klefbom shares responsibility on all four goals the Blackhawks scored in that one.

That’s Klefbom at the defensive blue line, failing to control the puck, failing to even get it out of danger; just getting overwhelmed and turning it over. I’ve seen some (fairly) blame Cam Talbot and I’ve seen others (unfairly, good lord, unfairly) blame Mark Fayne but there’s no shot if Klefbom makes a play when the puck lands on his stick.

Fayne surrenders the zone entry, and it’s a good bet the coach didn’t like that. Hall didn’t need to glide on the backcheck, and it’s a good bet the coach didn’t like that either. But Klefbom isn’t covering anyone; he’s stuck in no-man’s land, too far away from his shooter (or anyone else) to impact the play.

Davidson bobbles the puck here. You do that against Patrick Kane and bad things happen. Klefbom’s kicking around at the zone entry, though; he can’t block that passing lane to Kane and if Kane doesn’t miss the initial pass Davidson never has a chance to bobble the puck because Kane’s already gone with it.

I feel bad for Darnell Nurse here. Yes, he’s ludicrously out of position, but it’s easy enough to read his mind: Down by one, 10 seconds left, if he overwhelms the point man… breakaway… if he doesn’t, they’ve lost anyway. You don’t see Klefbom here because he’s in the penalty box. I didn’t particularly like the call against (his glove briefly touched Marian Hossa’s stick; it was a ticky-tack call) but I can’t legitimately say that there was nothing there to call.

So, four goals against. All four tied in large part to Klefbom’s work. It was reminiscent of that night in Washington, where Klefbom went minus-four (partner Justin Schultz was minus-three) and earned it in much the same manner as he did against Chicago.

I can’t recall Fayne or Gryba or anyone else on the defence having a single night which was that bad this year, let alone two of them.


What about the stats? Klefbom’s been an analytics darling in the past, but not so much this year:

  • High danger scoring chances percentage: 46.8% (4th, behind Fayne, Davidson and Sekera)
  • High danger chances against/60: 9.93 (3rd, behind Fayne and Reinhart)
  • Scoring chance percentage: 50.2% (5th, behind Nurse, Davison, Sekera and Fayne)
  • Scoring chances against/60: 22.5 (2nd, behind Nurse)
  • Fenwick percentage: 46.9% (5th, behind Davidson, Fayne, Nurse and Sekera)
  • Fenwick events against/60: 37.0 (2nd, behind Davidson)

That’s a wall of numbers, but the trend is pretty clear. When Klefbom is on the ice, the Oilers get worse at creating more shots, chances and high-danger chances than the opposition. That matters for Klefbom, because he’s supposed to be a true two-way defencemen; not just fast and strong in the defensive zone but capable of carrying and moving the puck, kick-starting the offence. The chance against numbers aren’t as bad as they could be, but his high-danger chance numbers are worse than his regular shot attempts against numbers, which is telling.

In a vacuum these aren’t terrible numbers; Klefbom’s essentially middle of the pack of the nine defencemen Edmonton has. But he’s expected to be more than middle of the pack on one of the worst blue lines in the NHL.

Long Term


I think I know the reason that Klefbom generally gets skimmed over when it comes time to apportion blame to the Oilers’ blue line. It’s a good one.

Klefbom is 22 years old. He’s played 92 career NHL games. He has real promise and there’s no sense beating up on him before he has the age and experience to really deliver on his formidable potential. That’s all true, and I agree with it, for what that’s worth.

But it’s important to recognize that a big part of Edmonton’s problem comes now and has come in the past from players like Klefbom, promising young skaters not yet ready to take on the significant roles they’ve been asked to fill. Those problems are likely to persist for years – for defencemen, I often hear “200 games played” as a benchmark, and sometimes the number is 300.

Edmonton has Klefbom (22 years old 92 career games), Reinhart (21 years old, 15 career games) and Nurse (20 years old, eight career games) on its blue line now. If we say it’s going to take 200 games to get those guys up to speed (and it might) we’re talking about January 2018 before the training wheels can come off the blue line.

I don’t know if it’s going to take that long. But it’s something to keep in mind when trying to figure out when the Oilers are going to make it back to the playoffs.


  • The Last Big Bear

    LOL @ all these ppl crying over Matt Bartzal. Where exactly would he play in our top 6 or top 9 even ?? We needed better defense and our GM took a chance on trying to upgrade that. I’m done with drafting skilled forwards. Every draft pick or trade should be put towards defense. End of story.

  • The Last Big Bear

    Klefbom has really slipped. If he even realized how slipshod his defensive instincts are ‘THAT’ would be progress. I don’t think that is how his mind works. I think he sees himself as a locked in pro who is undemotable. Wake up Oskie you are not all that and a bag of chips just yet.

    Who is coaching this tire fire of special ed. defensive group? Are his initials J.Woodcroft, Jim Johnson or Ian Herbers? Someone coaching the D may know D but suck as teachers. The D on this team are constantly out of position and run around like chickens sans their ‘noggins.

    The D are lacking in anything resembling structure. That has to change. Neither the vets nor the rookies seem to know where they are supposed to be. That is a systemic and hockey IQ issue IMO.

  • ubermiguel

    Regardless of Klef’s struggles, i’ve seen him make tremendous keeps at the offensive blueline a dozen times this season, something Shultz is brutal at.

    Klef has surpassed Schultz as a PP quarterback

  • Anton CP

    I’m not too sure about Klefbom getting a free pass but maybe because he is a bit invisible so it is also hard to find him to fault him? Even that he has signed a big contract before the season begins that he might have made the smallest headline around the Oilers bluelines. Nikitin and Ference were carried over from last year’s disasters, Fayne has a sudden regress from a decent performance of last year, Jultz, Reinhart joined the team as a fall back plan of failed trade for Hamilton, Gryba surprised a few with decent performance at beginning and a sudden fall back to earth, Sekera was the biggest FA prize this year, and both Nurse and Davidson are just added to rosters. Unless the Oilers want to get into another Tom Poti situation that it may just be better for not saying too much about Klefbom until much deep into the season.

    • For Pete's Sake!

      BAHAA! That’s what you were able to comprehend from that.

      Nice write-up!! I think Klefboms development is relevant to our eventual return to the post season.

  • camdog

    Little overreaction much? Reinhart not playing well? Where is that coming from? Do you know watch him and Gryba play? When Gryba plays with anyone else other than Griffin he is a tire fire. Klefbom has played what maybe 100 games? So we are ripping all over him? Nurse 10 games? Let’s maybe talk about the vets that have been a let down not the young kids who have been forced to play on the blue line shall we?

  • Our young defence are already up to and perhaps better overall than the mistake ridden veterans that we have . They are already our best option , and mistakes we are going to be have to live with as they become even better . Many other teams are still having success with their young defensemen .

  • GVS

    Get used to it. There is no help coming. Injuries have forced them to bring up players they didn’t necessarily want to. Trades are impossible to make. Unless something changes real soon, its welcome to the lottery again.

  • Makaveli

    Guys, I think the answer is obvious… trade, hall, RNH, Eberle, Yak, et etc…. this should fetch us, Doughty, Weber, Seabrook, maybe even the next D-man with Norris potential not named Justin Shultz…. Oliver Ekam Larsson!.

    Then fire, PC, bring in one of the top readily available GM’s in the league, Bring in a new coach, one with a more credible resume than Todd McLellan (this shouldn’t be that hard either).

    BOOM!, instant over night success!

    Why this hasn’t been done already is beyond me! Do the Oiler brass even know how easy this is?!?

    if the majority of Oilers nation get’s it, why doesn’t anyone else!?!?

  • For Pete's Sake!

    It’s easy , and rather stereotype , to blame players and their mistakes , yet deny a lot of it has to do with coaching and how and when the players are used . Don’t care how you slice it or view it , but management and new coaching has done little to make our club anymore competitive despite all their changes , while clubs that were below us last season have made big strides in comparison .

    We can knock Eakins, MacT. and Lowe all you want , but new group has not done anything as yet to improve on what they accomplished with less player wise . So where is the ineptitude if not a combination of all three ? I never expected club would be dogged with such poor results with all our restructuring in management and coaching . Like it or not quality control and getting positive production from players rests with GM and coaching staff , and we are simply not getting it !

    • camdog

      There is only one team in the league that has over 10 miilion dollars tied up in veteran d-man that don’t play at all or very little and that’s the Edmonton Oilers.

      Until these contracts are off the books we can all continue to knock and mock Mactavish.

  • Mooseroni

    One can only dream ….. Oilers take Plante-2007/15 overall and Subban still on the board[43/ 2nd rd.]

    Same year they took Gagner @ 6th, when Shattenkirk and McDonagh were still on the board.

    Same year Oilers took Kytnar 5th.rd @127 and Jamie Benn went two picks later [129].Everyone missed this one many times over.

    I think had the Oilers in 2007 no chased shiny marbles, and went after defense men , guys li8ke Shattenkirk, McDonagh, could be wearing Oiler silks today.

    One can dream.!

  • paul wodehouse

    “…and there are plenty of drivers willing to hop in and back the bus over Justin Schultz as soon as he gets healthy…”

    …a true & harsh turn of phrase to be sure!
    … and further to this “bad defense” piece you’ve penned…the tragic domino affect… Cam Talbot AND his backup take the undeserved flack to go with their own “bad” stats in the end [literally]
    … turns out to be,as some say here, a place where goalies come to die…

  • passenger

    Reading these comments on ON is like rubbernecking at an accident scene; emotions can range from “aww, that’s too bad” to “what an IDIOT”.


  • For Pete's Sake!

    What JW fails to point out is that hockey is a game of mistakes……….no mistakes equals tied games at 0/0.

    Boy would that be fun!

    Every defenceman in the league makes mistakes even the top ones………and probably just as often. The difference being that their teams score more goals for than against. Our team is not scoring goals so the differential becomes highlighted and the defence stands out.

    We just need to start scoring goals and stop micro-analyzing the defenceman on the team. Just remember the Oilers defenceman of the eighties………I don’t recall too many of them being blasted for their defence??

  • hagar

    In a tragic comedy of the oilers sticking to their long term plan, I can see them winning the lottery this year, and taking Austin Matthews for keeps.

    I don’t think Vegas would give very high odds of it not happening.

    A team built completely around forwards, that can’t win the game without defense.

    You can at least be a 50/50 team with average defense and average forwards, but you can’t even come close to being a 500 team with four first overalls, and crap defense. It’s pretty clear what is more important in building a competitive team.

  • paul wodehouse

    So to sum all this up. Klefbom and for that matter all the young Oilers D need to have a Certified 1st pairing D man in the lineup. So they can all have a player to emulate and learn from but more importantly they can slot down into a pairing they are actually ready for.

    Tell us and pretty much the entire Oilogosphere what we have not known for several years now…. Can someone one pass this info on to Chiarelli? MacT and Howson sure arent the ones to tell him. Plus I shudder to think who they would suggest to sell the farm for.

  • Sheldon "Oilers Fan for Life!!!"

    The reality is we keep taking young players and throwing them in to the deep end. When they nearly drown we trade them and try again. Just one pair of top D-Men and the whole story is different. I have no clue how to fix this in a world where a trade is near impossible.

  • paul wodehouse


    …nice take using the 80s Dmen and they weren’t blasted for gafs like D are today …remember though…there was a redline back then and breakout plays were surgical and complex (at least with the Oiler teams that I saw) with 99 staddling the blueline…once you gained the offensive zone it was like shouting fish in a barrel…the game was slower, the trap was invented, but once the team “got” how to attack? mistakes were few AND the team was scoring 400 plus goals …how much do I miss that era of hockey? let me count the ways … no instigator rule …clutch and grab…you could even be in the league and not be able skate all that well…

  • Makaveli

    Hey JW,
    Ever heard something called the central limit theorem? Before splaying out all these stats and calling someone bad like you’ve been doing so consistently try to actually provideo analysis instead of jaunting the same message. We all get it, the defense is young and makes lots of mistakes but we still need at least 30 games before most not all these stats have limited error because outliers like klefboms games skew the data.

    I’m not some optimist saying the Oilers are actually better but I can sure say there is no Stat on how much harder the boys are trying. I’m just happy things are actually different around here.

  • For Pete's Sake!

    What if MacT had just thought about it for 2 seconds and we were looking at a top 4 of:

    Klefbom – Petry

    Sekera – Fayne

    with a 3rd pair of:

    Reinhart – Shultz

    Wow, just wow. Thanks for spending 4.5M on Nikitin instead of giving that to Petry. To me, that was the single action that cost MacT his job. Nikitin over Petry – credit where credit is due, he did made a number of other good moves (most notably Pouliot, getting exceptional value for Perron, and Mark Fayne who is being miscast right now), but that one was so baffling he had to be cut.

  • For Pete's Sake!


    You know for 7 years i have been a fan of Lange’s original shot quality curves that showed Defence man’s ability to defend the net.

    The study that showed Dmen only influence +/- 1.23% of 1.000
    which is really +/-1.23 of .899 to .935 or 3.6%
    2.46/3.6% is 68%.

    I have stated in the past that 15.5 of a games 29 shots slot/box create 84-85% of the goals. So you need D that can prevent that.
    you know I have been arguing this for 5 years. Welcome to the club Scott Cullen.

    You Know Gmoney did a fenwick based chart which adds amplitude to standard shot based metric. His work became supporting Evidence of lanes work. They were matching curves.

    Klefbom faces 13th toughest comp in league and is the 77th best of 195 D at preventing the Elite Scoring chances.

    Fayne 32nd comp (1st comp ) 54th best 9.18 at Defending HCS.

    Rheinhart 61st best (1st/2nd comp)9.37 @ defending HCS.

    Klefbom 13th (1st comp) 77th 9.93

    Davidson 108th (2nd comp) 104th 10.76

    Sekera 156th (3rd comp) 107th 10.84

    Nurse 178th (3rd comp) 109th 10.89