The arrival of Adam Clendening via the waiver wire to a team
fighting injuries might not signal anything in particular coming on the horizon,
except the Oilers are actually healthy down the right side of the ice. But it is
difficult not to project change to Edmonton’s defense happening in the short
By the simple fact that Edmonton’s defense is atrocious, we
know that change is coming. We’ve known that for a long time. There isn’t anybody
who looks like a legitimately elite, top-tier talent patrolling the blue in
Oilers silks. Because there’s no work-horse/stud/some-other-farming-reference that
means everyone else is going to be exposed from time to time.
The right side of the defense has not been immune to this at
all. So we’ve been waiting for change and now with Clendening added to the mix
the Oilers seem prepared to finally make a move, and not necessarily to get a right handed defenseman back.
Eric Gryba came to the club with just this year left on his
deal. He inches forward every day to unrestricted free agency. I think he
stands a good chance to get earn a favourable deal for a player of his caliber.
For the same reasons I think he will likely get a three year deal from someone this
summer, he is probably also going to earn interest before the trade deadline.
Gryba has three qualities that NHL GMs absolutely love.
1) He’s a right-shot
2) He’s big
3) He hits people
I’m not going to argue that Eric Gryba is a top four defender,
but as far as third pairing players go, he gets the job done. For a
contending team he could be the inexpensive depth player they are looking
for to help solidify their blueline and/or add depth in the event of injury.
Is Gryba the player soon to be out the door? He’s not a
marquee guy, but he can play a rough brand of hockey and that’s important
during the final 20 games and playoffs.
Of course, for those exact same reasons the Oilers might
themselves want to extend an offer to Gryba that keeps him in Edmonton.
Mark Fayne has had a very up and down season with the
Oilers. He struggled greatly fitting into the system McLellan wanted the club
to play at the beginning of the season. He looked lost positionally, which
leaves Fayne with very little else to offer on most nights.
Those struggles, however, were not exactly lessened by the
coaching staff giving him easier assignments. He remained in a role that saw
him take on the toughest opponents available every night until one day the club
decided to put him on waivers and send him to the AHL. He and the remaining two years on his deal at $3.625 million were not picked up by any other team in the
That might suggest that nobody wants Fayne, but the reality
is that all NHL teams need to consider money in and money out. The waiver wire
is money in with no money going out. Not many teams can pick up a healthy sized
contract without moving someone out first.
Even though Mark Fayne has bounced back and is again playing
some good hockey, we should consider the possibility that he is not long for this
town. Now that he is once again playing solid hockey he could have swayed some
of the clubs that may have passed on him earlier this season.
The most obvious name on the list for Oiler fans is JustinSchultz. Since Clendening is in many ways a Justin Schultz-like player there is
every reason to believe that it’s #19 on the way out of town soon.
Clendening is a college trained, slight, offense-first, second
round pick with a reputation for awkward defense. He also makes roughly $3.2 million
less than Justin Schultz. Ahem.
The trouble with Justin Schultz has always been that the ratio of
risk:reward has been skewed too heavily to risk. To make matters worse, he’s
trending the wrong direction. His offense has never been worse than it is right
It makes sense to overlook the odd strange choice in the
defensive zone if he’s making plays that lead to goals elsewhere. However, that’s
not the reality for Schultz today.
Making things even worse for Schultz, he’s an RFA at the end
of the year which means the Oilers have to give him a qualifying offer to keep
his rights. That qualifying offer has to be made at roughly $4 million dollars,
which is incredibly high for a player of Schultz’ ilk.
There are not many pundits who see an Oilers defense in
2016-2017 that features Justin Schultz. It makes the most sense for the team to
move him for whatever they can get at the deadline (or sooner), even if it
requires retained salary, than it does to let him walk away for nothing in the
summer. For a team that might want him, they could see him as a gamble that could pay off huge dividends if he finds his offense again.
The Oilers have four RHD as we speak, plus Griffin Reinhart who played the right side in the WHL, Sekera, who can play either side, and Brandon Davidson who can play the right side as well. They have some flexibility in that regard and they have two players on expiring contracts with some skills that other GMs could conceivably want over the short term.
We don’t know what is going to happen but it seems extremely likely that it will happen quickly. Perhaps happening as soon as the all-star break is finished. It just doesn’t make any sense, to me, to keep Justin Schultz around past the trade deadline. If they do keep him then they could really only trade him after the post-season so the acquiring team has the right to sign him at his inflated qualifying rate. Since the Oilers would be verifiably insane to do that themselves it really doesn’t make a lot of sense for anyone else to do that either.
He seems destined to be a short-term rental for the last 20 games of the season.
As for Gryba, I think he will have the most value as a trade asset but that the team might genuinely like him as their sixth defenseman moving forward.