Why hasn’t Peter Chiarelli fixed the Edmonton Oilers defence yet?

Justin Schultz

There are some disappointing names on the Oilers roster right now.

Justin Schultz continues to be played, even as his plus/minus hits double digit negatives for the fourth season in a row and his offence has all but dried up. Andrew Ference doesn’t play, but he keeps taking up that spot on the roster when he could have been bought out over the summer. Nikita Nikitin was recently demoted to the AHL after similarly avoiding a summer buyout.

Why didn’t, and why isn’t, Peter Chiarelli taking more action?

The Reset Year

86-Nikitin-3

Back in July, I wrote about the possibility of 2015-16 being a reset year. Chiarelli could have been very aggressive, making those sweeping changes mentioned above. He could also have been very conservative, basically letting the year play out and assessing the players in the organization before making any moves. He chose to chart a middle course:

Instead he’s added some quality players, made some aggressive moves (the addition of Griffin Reinhart at the top of that pile) but so far has avoided forcing the issue in places where he might get burned long-term. The team didn’t walk away from Schultz, instead choosing to hang on to the player who might yet play a key role effectively. It didn’t extend the suffering caused by the Nikitin or Ference contracts by buying out the players. It’s not a course everyone will agree with but it’s certainly a defensible stance.

Retaining Schultz may have cost the team a shot at Cody Franson. The right-shooting Franson, listed at 6’5” and 234 pounds, has 13 points and is a plus player both in terms of shots and in terms of goals for the Buffalo Sabres. I have argued and continue to believe that he could have helped the Oilers, but the more I watch Todd McLellan handle the defence the more I wonder if he would really have been a good fit. McLellan seems to prize mobility on the blue line, and while Franson has many good qualities footspeed is not at the top of that list. With hindsight, I find it difficult to be too critical of the decision to give Schultz one more year, particularly since I expect that Schultz will have some value at the trade deadline.

Retaining Nikitin means that his cap hit will be entirely off the books on July 1; had the Oilers bought him out they’d be hanging on to a $1.5 million cap hit next season. Retaining Ference and buying him out this summer means that a reduced cap hit will be on the books through 2016-17 rather than through 2018-19.

16-Purcell-3

Also worth keeping in mind is that Teddy Purcell was a popular buyout candidate at this point last season. He took action, working with Gary Roberts and Adam Oates, and he’s had a rebound performance (though of course playing with Taylor Hall and Leon Draisaitl didn’t hurt). Is it stretching plausibility too much to think that with a strong offseason Nikitin might have emerged as a serviceable defenceman for Edmonton this year, even if only in a third-pairing role? We know that didn’t happen, but it wasn’t a possibility that could be entirely discounted last summer when the decisions were made.

The big upside, though, was financial. By waiting a year, Edmonton saw a bunch of poor contracts disappear and shortened the length of the buyouts that ultimately needed to be made. Not being aggressive had a downside, of course; from the same piece quoted above:

The downside is that this coming year is likely to be another season in which the team struggles to compete.

Setting Up for Summer

Peter Chiarelli3

“It’s not that we have time” Chiarelli said last June, “…There’s a lot of steps along the way, there’s a lot of good players here, we’ve got some holes that we want to fill. You do get tempted with some of the players that come across your desk, you do get tempted with moving a little more quickly but there’s a balance there and we have to make sure we maintain it.”

Chiarelli’s measured approach leaves the Oilers with the following players under contract for next season as of right now (don’t worry too much about the line combos, which were just thrown togetherter):

Left Wing Centre Right Wing Left Defence Right Defence
Hall Nugent-Hopkins Draisaitl Klefbom Sekera
Pouliot McDavid Eberle Nurse Fayne
Hendricks Letestu Yakupov Reinhart
Khaira Lander Korpikoski Ference

Assuming a Ference buyout, that group costs almost exactly $59.0 million. We don’t know where the salary cap is going to be next year, but even with a flat cap Chiarelli is going to have more than $12 million to play with, and he can go further if he feels like using some of the rookie bonus cushion (it’s not likely that Reinhart, for example, is going to max out his bonuses).

With that money, he needs to re-sign Brandon Davidson and add a couple of goalies, at which point he has basically a full NHL roster. If he can do those things relatively cheaply, he’ll have a bunch of money with which to go shopping in the summer. He’ll have more if one of the Oilers big ticket forwards is used as trade bait, or if his shopping list has some value deals (Travis Hamonic comes to mind) on it. 

Just for good measure, given where the Canadian dollar is it seems pretty likely that he’s going to be shopping in an environment like last summer, where most of his competitors have nowhere near so much money to play with (and in some cases will likely be looking to shed dollars).

We’ve already seen much of the cost to Chiarelli’s carefully calculated approach. This summer, we’re going to see how much upside that cost purchased.

RECENTLY BY JONATHAN WILLIS

  • #97Train/McDavidCopperfield

    Ya whatever. Just more excuses from a pathetic team that will now literally be in the record book as tied for worst team in league history.

    There must not of been anything they could do. Failure was inevitable. Next year, next year will be diffrent this time… On and on it goes…. Absolutely pathetic

    Good thing this isn’t a professional sport where results matter because people pay to watch them…

    Get rid of Lowe, get rid of MacT, get rid of Howson and maybe I’ll start buying into some of this ‘change is real’ dribble being spewed.

  • #97Train/McDavidCopperfield

    Draft and develop………someone’s else garbage still has to be thrown out.

    Key to success trying to land a defenceman is getting feed back from MacT/KLowe and somehow doing the opposite. It’s hard to believe that both of these guys played professional hockey but still do not know what a NHLdefenceman looks like.

    We have some real good prospects on defence that should pay dividends down the road.

  • dougtheslug

    I love some of these posters.

    “Hall sucks. No intelligence.He flat out can’t play the game. Let’s trade him for OEL, one of the best young defenceman in the game.”

    Two questions. Are GM’s really lined up to trade their number one dmen?

    And if Hall is so bad, why would a GM trade a precious number one for him?

    Give your heads a shake.

  • 3wideinturn4

    The big ship Oilers will take another season to turn around.

    PC inherited some bad paper and as stated most of it will expire at the end of this season.

    Marincin could have been kept as a depth defenceman. The article on his shots against average (spectacular) is a real eye opener. Check the latest ‘Round Up’.

    Trade as many expiring contracts for picks at the deadline. Use them. Develop them. Entry level contracts can be very attractive.

    • dougtheslug

      I don’t buy it. I don’t think chia thinks he inherited bad contracts at all. I think he’s fine with what he came into. Because that’s the only reason he can keep the previous regime around as advisors.

      If he does think he inherited bad contracts and walked into a bad situation that will take time to turn around, then he would find new advisers.

      So, until MacT and Howson are nothing more than a distant memory, the “he inherited bad contracts” excuse doesn’t fly with

  • 3wideinturn4

    Hope the Zack Kassian experiment has an impact on the middle 6 over the summer.

    On a side note he could probably play defence as well as Jultz, has a shot and might actually hit someone! Go Oilers!!

  • Spydyr

    IMO this year was about evaluating the Hall cluster before making choices. Katz has spent about $ 80M over the last four years on the core cluster.

    I think PC will decide that group is bad money and move on, he will keep Hall.

    Eberle, Yak, Shultz and maybe Nuge will be switched out over the next two years to be replaced by bigger tougher cycling players.

    Nikitin, Ference and Purcell are complementary players and are not the main issue.

  • Jiff

    ” Retaining Ference and buying him out this summer means that a reduced cap hit will be on the books through 2016-17 rather than through 2018-19.”

    Pretty sure Ference cap hit will run to 2017-18 when they buy him out this summer.

    The trade off was $2.75M in cap space and an additional spot on the 50 man list this season vs $1.1M in additional cap space for one year in 2018-19. Against a $70M plus cap Chiarelli’s decision is a poor one if improvement is a key objective. If you can’t manage around $1.1M in dead space for one year, you shouldn’t be a GM.

    5 x 5 TMac probably would have played Franson bottom pair, but its hard to argue TMac wouldn’t have loved Franson on the PP.

  • Spydyr

    The Oilers defence sucks because the Oilers management sucks.

    Anything else is window dressing.

    How many give them a chance articles have to be written before people see the forest for the trees?

  • hagar

    It’s all Nicholson’s fault for getting Katz to agree to a new GM and Coaches perhaps . If MacT. was still Gm we save at least one draft pick from last season and one from next season perhaps depending on what coach MacT. would have gone with . We probably end up with Hamilton from Boston rather than the Flames . We would still have gone after Sekara . MacT. was fairly prominent in trading and may have used the buyout options where Chia choose not to . As it worked out maybe we should have waited on Mact. at least to mid or end of season this year , seeing as we are no better with new management and coaching . Not a huge fan of Mact. as Gm , but same for Chia at this stage .

  • dougtheslug

    Interesting article.

    Aren’t good defencemen a hot commodity now?

    Habs could deal both Emelin & Tinordi and could sweeten the deal with Plekanecs for, say, Yaks or Eberle.

  • 3wideinturn4

    Between all the brainiacs up in mgt and higher I for sure expect that both the defence shortfalls and a permanent fix for a goalie will all come in due time. Expect a big summer for Chia but it can start as early as on 29 February.

    Oilers needs: 2 X proven defencemen & stable goaltending. More scoring would help too.

  • nuge2drai

    Oiler Domination To Follow

    All these problems will disappear when McDavid returns and the team starts winning again.

    Missing McDavid and Klefbom has hurt the team.

    We have never seen McDavid and Drai play a game together.

    Everyone needs to relax.

    The right people are in charge and the team is playing better.

  • Jiff

    Willis wrote:
    “I expect that Schultz will have some value at the trade deadline.”

    Value?? I find it hard to believe that any team would want this weak wrist shot taking liability on their roster. Terrible on the PP, terrible in his own end.

    Schultz’ value ship has sailed and sunk.

        • nuge2drai

          The guys in his third and a half season stuck playing over 20 minutes a game with a team still trying to learn how to backcheck after that whole Eakins thing. I don’t think it’s that fantastical to think he could play on a second pairing with a competent number 2 dman.

          • Justincredible

            I would have to disagree. If you could list a few things he does well I might agree with you. But for a defenceman who is supposed to be an offensive specialist he can’t pass, he can’t shoot and is a terrible pp qb. Now….if he was remotely aggressive, played with and edge or had some semblance of a clue in his own end I could get on board with you. Fact of the matter is he brings absolutely NOTHING to the table. Trade him for absolutely anything that you’re offered Chia.

          • Halloween

            He has a good breakout pass and has creativity and speed on the breakout.

            However this year McLellan is playing him in a much different role, he’s usually the last D on the breakout instead of the first, and in the O-zone he’s static at the point instead of using his speed and creativity to open space and create chances. This is where all the offense has gone.

            Granted, this approach should have been taken when he was signed, but MacT though he was another Karlsson. I suspect Schultz will still be a good offensive defenseman either here or somewhere else.

        • #97Train/McDavidCopperfield

          We will see I spose. Maybe he can’t turn it around and be decent playing where he actually should be in a lineup maybe he won’t and I’m an idiot. Dubnyk and petry show that sometimes the players we want to murder aren’t always that bad.

  • Spydyr

    We need to stop developing players for other teams. Expecially defensman. We keep them for there garbage years and then give them away for nothing once they are starting to become players.

  • Justincredible

    If they picked up one first pairing defencemen for the right side after the season I think with the natural progression of the current roster we’d be looking at a decent defence.

  • Serious Gord

    I think your roster is pretty close JW ,but the oilers have to get bigger next year so I made some changes, purcell and pouliot are out and lucic comes over to play with macdavid and eberle, some protection for the kid.shultz,nikitin,ferance and fayne out,and byfuglien and harmonic in.2 ufa’s and 1 trade all doable,i know dream on .

  • camdog

    There is a conspiracy afoot.

    Nicholson, PC and TMac are all there to cover for Lowe and MacT.

    This is obvious because no major changes have been made.

    Hagar told us so yesterday…it must be true.

  • LordVallko

    Have faith in PC he’s doing the right thing. Next years oilers are going to look a lot different. Besides we still have a half season left in which to turn the ship around.

  • OILFANMEXICO

    All new signings should be over 6’/190lbs, mean streak/hitters, play 100% every shift and PLEASE check their injury history!(how many games have we lost due to key injuries).