The Edmonton Oilers find themselves in all-too-familiar 30th
place in the NHL once again this morning — dead last, and the Maple Leafs have
three games in hand. The craziest part is that things could somehow get even uglier moving forward. It begs the question:
how desperate is this team?
I ask this because the needs are obvious: two quality defensemen who, in a perfect world, play on the
right side. They need defensemen and they need them badly.
We’ve written about Justin Schultz so much that even I’m
sick of mentioning his name, but perhaps a big
reason why the Oilers are still at the bottom of the standings is because they placed all of
their eggs in his basket. Schultz, for a variety of reasons, failed
to take the necessary steps forward to becoming a legitimate top option on defense.
The Oilers now not only need to replace Schultz, they need to replace what he
was supposed to become.
Good luck with that.
That brings us back to the desperate and lonely place the
Oilers find themselves in today. Edmonton has to make changes. The talent is
tilted heavily towards the forwards and that has to change. In the quest to
upgrade the defense, what won’t the team be willing to part with? I’d suggest
the list is small, maybe even smaller than it probably should be.
Yesterday, for the first time, I got the sense from Oiler
fans that they would move almost anything to upgrade the blue line, even Edmonton’s own
young defensemen like Nurse and Klefbom.
I think that would be a mistake.
I think part of the reason why Edmonton is where it is today
is because they’ve been swapping out parts on the blue line instead of
assembling a bigger collection. The Oilers find a piece that isn’t getting the
job done on its own and replace it with someone different. Every time they do
that, the next piece also fails.
Let’s pretend the Oilers pay a price for Hamonic that no
other club has been willing to pay all year. Let’s pretend the Oilers send
Darnell Nurse to the Islanders for the player who has demanded a trade to our region of the country. The cheap and effective
Islander rearguard is definitely an upgrade in the short term. The Oilers get a
steady presence, the Islanders assume the risk that Nurse will develop into a
beast. Edmonton still has the same number of defensemen. Now it’s Hamonic’s
turn to prove he can’t be the answer to all of the team’s problems by himself.
Edmonton hasn’t been building a defense at all during this rebuild. They’ve been
hoping for a miracle back there while they’ve been busy building the top six forwards.
Edmonton has three home grown defensemen right now: Klefbom,
Nurse, and Davidson. The only outsider who looks like a long term bet to stay
in the top four is Andrej Sekera. That leaves Edmonton with two spots to fill and
enough assets between their pick this year and their gluttony of high-end
forwards to fill them.
How desperate is this team? Desperate enough to fall for the
same trappings that got them here? Desperate enough to move quality, young,
homegrown defensemen out instead of someone like Jordan Eberle?
Darnell Nurse hasn’t had a great rookie campaign. He’s playing
too many minutes and is over his head at the 3/4 mark of the season. Frankly,
if Oscar Klefbom were healthy there would be a lot of good sense in returning
Nurse to the AHL in order to work on his game there instead of taking a beating
in the NHL. And while we’re on the topic of Klefbom, there wasn’t much
indication that he could be as effective as he is today during his rookie pro
campaign. I’m not quite ready to re-forecast Nurse’s ceiling based on his very
first season in the league.
Ultimately the Oilers have more quality forwards than they
have defense. They have had more high picks than any other team in the NHL.
They are in line to pick very high again. I cant say that it makes a whole lot
of sense to me to upgrade their weak defense by trading from their defense. Not when
they have a surplus of assets elsewhere.
How desperate would I be if I were in Peter Chiarelli’s
position? I would be desperate enough to move Jordan Eberle and their first
pick in separate deals to add two defenders. I would be desperate enough to win
now that I would do everything in my power to stop the cycle of rotating pieces
out on the blueline instead of adding to them. I would not be desperate enough
to keep hoping that this time when the Oilers move out a home grown blueliner
that the one they get to replace him will be the magic elixir that solves all
Let’s hope that Chiarelli can see a solution from the corner
that he’s been backed into that doesn’t involve moving out the best young
defensemen in his barren organization. That just doesn’t seem like the right
move, even if it’s the one his peers want him to make.