The debate over whether the Edmonton Oilers should trade away pending free agent Eric Gryba would appear to be over. On Wednesday, the team announced that Gryba would miss a month after suffering a knee injury, and while he’ll still be back before the playoffs it’s doubtful another NHL team wants to bring in a third-pair defenceman coming off a long-term injury if there are other options.
In this week’s edition of What Would You Do Wednesday, we ask how the Oilers should manage the blue line over the remainder of the season.
“Long-term with a knee injury… Probably at least a month.” Coach McLellan on @grybes02‘s status after leaving last night’s game
— Edmonton Oilers (@EdmontonOilers) February 17, 2016
The First Question
The loss of Gryba leaves Edmonton with six healthy defencemen on the roster, and one or more of that half-dozen may well be dealt before the trade deadline. The list is as follows, in order of likelihood of some kind of move:
- LD Darnell Nurse. A fast, physical blue-chip rookie. He would seem to be a Chiarelli-type player.
- LD Andrej Sekera. An effective veteran signed just this past summer. It would be a major shock if he was dealt.
- LD Brandon Davidson. A polished rookie who is a legitimate success story for the team’s drafting/developing groups. It’s hard to see how moving him would make sense.
- RD Mark Fayne. A limited but useful veteran brought in by the previous G.M. on a pricey contract. He might be moved, but the money is problematic.
- RD Adam Clendening. Waiver acquisition hasn’t carved out a role yet. It’s hard to imagine he has trade value.
- RD Justin Schultz. A mobile right-shooting defenceman who can pass on an expiring deal. It would be a surprise if he wasn’t dealt.
Our first question is this: Barring further injuries, how many of that group of six should see steady use down the stretch and after the deadline? In other words, which of them should be sent out either via trade or minor-league demotion?
For teams outside the playoff race, the post-deadline period is often an opportunity to experiment with prospects and line combinations for the coming season. That should certainly be the case for the Oilers, who have some interesting names in the minor-league system and who may want to give some of their prospects a test-run in the majors.
Edmonton has six defencemen in the minors who might plausibly be recall options. The list is as follows, ranked based on what I would guess is the level of likelihood:
- Griffin Reinhart. The 2012 No. 4 pick was acquired via trade over the summer and has been recalled multiple times this year. He is a left shot who has played both sides of the ice.
- David Musil. The 2011 No. 31 pick is in his third AHL season and nearing the end of his waiver exemption. He hasn’t played in the NHL since a four-game cameo last year. He’s big, smart and physical but skating has been an issue all down the line.
- Jordan Oesterle. The undrafted college free agent is in his second AHL season and (I believe) has another year of waiver exemption. He hasn’t played in the NHL since a six-game cameo last year. He’s smart, fast and has an offensive dimension, but lacks size and has defensive shortcomings.
- Brad Hunt. An undrafted college free agent, Hunt is now 27 and in his fourth full AHL season. He got a seven-game stint as an offensive specialist and would be a plausible No. 7 defenceman.
- Nikita Nikitin. Signed as an NHL veteran, Nikitin has played his way out of the team’s plans and outside of a seven-game cameo has mostly been stuck in the minors. He’s a possible recall mainly as a press-box body.
- Dillon Simpson. The 2011 No. 92 pick is in his second AHL season and has another year of waiver exemption. He has never played in the NHL. He’s a smart two-way defender without gaudy AHL numbers or a standout skill.
The second question here is this: Which of these players should find their way to Edmonton before the end of the year?
If It Were Up To Me
If it were up to me, the only player heading off down the line would be Schultz. Clendening has no value, while Fayne’s contract means likely means taking something financially nasty back in trade and the majority of those players are going to be less effective than the veteran shutdown defenceman Edmonton already has.
The player I want to see is Musil, who is in many ways in a similar situation to Davidson a year ago. Davidson ended up being surprisingly effective, and it would be nice to get a read on Musil before making a waiver decision on him.
I’d be inclined to leave Reinhart in the minors for the duration, both so that he can get into a rhythm with Bakersfield in anticipation of a lead role in the playoffs and to save on cap space, given that Edmonton is close enough to the ceiling that there would seem to be a chance of some rookie bonuses being deferred to next year.
With that decided, that gives Edmonton two options: either give Clendening a legitimate chance to show something (which probably means recalling Brad Hunt to be the press box guy at some point) or give Oesterle a shot and stick Clendening in the press box. I’m not a big believer in Clendening, but he probably deserves a fair shake and in any event both Gryba and Oscar Klefbom will likely be back at some point, which will probably keep the Oilers from needing to bring up either Hunt or Oesterle.
The other thing I’d want to see is Davidson playing on the right side for a while, just to see if it’s workable for next season.
Eventually, that would leave the following units:
- Sekera / Davidson
- Nurse / Fayne
- Musil / Clendening
- Hunt (press box)
But that’s my view. Now we once again turn decision-making over to our readers. Our three-part question is as follows:
- Of the six healthy defencemen currently on the roster, who should be gone by the deadline?
- Of the Oilers’ recall possibilities, who do you want to see?
- Taking the first two questions into account, what six-man unit do you think best serves the Oilers’ long-term objectives?