Small Shoes to Fill


There has been no shortage of conversation this year about
the Edmonton Oilers’ obvious need at right defence. Possible candidates have
been investigated, with their abilities and the acquisition cost associated
with each discussed in depth. The assets that Edmonton has available to trade
in the right deal are also well-known at this point.

Less attention has been given to how easy it’s going to
improve on the players the Oilers iced at that position last year.

Todd McLellan’s Options

Todd McLellan2

Hockey Reference has all kinds of cool options, including a tool
that makes it possible to search for individual games by teams or players. As a
quick way of determining which players got top-pair minutes last year, I searched
for Edmonton defenceman ranked by the most shifts in any given game. Then I took the top
164 games as ranked by total number of shifts (two players x 82 games) to
determine which players were being used in a top-pair role by Todd McLellan and
his staff.

Then I placed these players on either the right or left
side. For simplicity’s sake, I have assumed that Darnell Nurse and Brandon Davidson
played exclusively on the left side and exclusively with Andrej Sekera in these
games; that probably isn’t true but it serves as a reasonable approximation. The result is a chart which should give
us an idea of how many games each player spent getting top-pair minutes:

Left Side GP Right Side  GP
Darnell Nurse 24 Andrej Sekera 46
Brandon Davidson 22 Justin Schultz 18
Oscar Klefbom 17 Eric Gryba 8
Andrej Sekera 8 Mark Fayne 5
Jordan Oesterle 7 Griffin Reinhart 5
Adam Pardy 4

That’s a pretty ugly picture.

Sekera & Schultz


With the exception of some of the end-of-year
evaluation/development stuff and a few one-offs involving depth options, we can
narrow the list of regular top-pair defencemen to five names.

On the left side, Sekera and Oscar Klefbom are the names we
would expect to see and both are fairly respectable options. Sekera is an
expensive veteran who plays a smooth two-way game and can help in all areas;
Klefbom is an up-and-coming rearguard with a similar range of abilities.
Neither player is likely to win a Norris Trophy next year, but if they are
competing for left-side minutes the team is in pretty good shape.

Unfortunately, an injury to Klefbom combined with a weak
right-side depth chart meant that neither player got to stay in that role very

Sekera spent much of his time logging heavy minutes on his
off-side while playing with a rookie defender—either Nurse or Davidson. It’s
debatable whether an off-side Sekera should be playing above the second
pairing, but he certainly should not be asked to play above that slot and
simultaneously be asked to carry a rookie. It’s not hard to imagine a
second-tier right-shooting defender being part of a more successful pairing (with
either Klefbom or Sekera) than the rookie/Sekera combination the Oilers used
far too often last year.

It’s also not hard to imagine a second-tier right-shooting
defenceman outperforming Edmonton’s other common top-pair right defenceman.
Justin Schultz has generally played well (I wrote
about his performance
at the start of April) since being traded to
Pittsburgh, but he has been slotted in a No. 6-8 role. He has appeared in just
five postseason contests, and in four of them has received less than 14:00 of
total ice-time. The Oilers miscast him as a top-pair defenceman basically since
he entered the league, but his ideal placement is as an offensive specialist in
a depth role.

What’s the point of all this? I’ve read a lot of
doom-and-gloom about Edmonton’s right defence options this summer, but the
truth is that most of the players whose names have been discussed—Tyson Barrie,
Sami Vatanen, Jason Demers, etc.—would be massive upgrades on what the Oilers
ran at the position last year. Edmonton should get the best player it can, but
even a second-tier choice is likely to dramatically improve the club. 

  • madjam

    Trade Nurse, Davidson , Oesterle or Reinhart for the upgrade . Are any of them guaranteed to be better than the upgrade we can have now and probably in the future as well ? We have an abundance of left defenseman already to sort out . One thing that would be nice is not overpaying so much now and in future , such as Sekara and 4th line costing over 6M .

    • @Hallsy4

      how much would Yak and Reinhart get you in return do we figure? I’d say not much, but people do seem to value draft pedigree, which to me is mostly bull crap.

      • madjam

        Surprisingly one GM (Chia) traded for an excess defenseman they felt on their team (Islanders) that was not developing very well . That cost us a middle first round pick (16th ) and an early second round pick (33rd) . Should we expect the same if we try trading him , and for that matter Yakupov ? That might give us 2 first (middle on up) and 2 second round picks . Now the question is what we might be able to get with those picks by drafting or immediate help ? One would be to pay one second rounder for the debt to Boston for hiring Chia . Savings on Reinharts and Yaks cap hits , with the extra draft choices to barter goes a long way to paying a better viable target .

        • The Whispererer

          Just thinking out loud…

          Coincidentally Carolina has what looks like tons of cap space with only 7 forwards signed for next year. They also have draft picks galore…2 firsts, 2 seconds and 3 thirds.

          Maybe they would be interested in something like Nuge + Yak for Faulk + #10 (or their other 1st …from LA… + a 2nd) ? That would open up CAP room for us to try to pry Shaw out of Chicago for Korpikoski + a 3rd by agreeing to take Bickell ?

  • Explicit

    I keep hearing about how easy it would be to improve the team from the previous year, yet I never see any improvement… What’s up with that ?

    I’m hoping Chia doesn’t just settle for a second tier choice. Can’t we aim a little higher? I know it’s hard to get a top pair guy, and I suppose this team isn’t built to be a defensive juggernaut so I guess I’d be happy with anything. Just please don’t be a bottom feeder again. FYI, I have big F!ST’s!!

      • McRaj

        JW, what are some realistic trade options you think for the Oilers to acquire a Legit Right Shot D-Man. What would it take to get Barrie or Faulk or a big fish like Pietro? Also, would you give up what it would take?

        • I don’t think Pietrangelo is available

          Faulk is the best of the defencemen that I’ve seen realistically discussed, and I’m not sure if Carolina would move him. I would strongly consider a 1-for-1 deal in exchange for Nugent-Hopkins, and I’m a guy who is extremely reluctant to move RNH.

  • Dwayne Roloson 35

    I think people have been putting too much emphasis on right shot d-men. The red wings had only 1 right handed shot on their entire team at one point.

    I think we should just focus on icing a competitive team before we get picky about who shoots what way.

    • Yes, and Mike Babcock complained about it every single year.

      This is one of those areas where the numbers seem to support coaches who prefer lefty/righty pairings, even if it means going with a less skilled pairing.

      One recent study found a difference of more than six Corsi events per hour between a lefty/righty pairing and either lefty/lefty or righty/righty pairs.

      I’d like to dig into the numbers myself and see more work done (it’s possible the cost in transition is greater than the cost in goals, for example) but the evidence suggests that finding defencemen who shoot the right way is extremely important.

      • Just facts

        While overall it may be true that left/right is better, I wonder if it is generally true for lefty’s who throughout their careers have most often played on their off side.

    • Moe Sizzlack

      I’d offer Yak to the Habs for that Monster McCarron (reunite the Sarnia Sting duo)

      Then I’d offer Reinhart and the 4th to Buffalo for Bogosian (Reunite the Reinhart brothers and Buffalo also gets Tkachuk or Dubois)

      • Moe Sizzlack

        The only 3 fits I see for yak are ..

        1. Montreal- because it worked before with Galchenyuk (I’ll save you sh!t talkers your time and say yes I know, it wasnt in the NHL) from Habs I’d want Power Forward McCarron or undersized hard hitting Dman Emelin

        2. Pitt- playing along side Malkin, a Wiley ol vet Rusky who can communicate with Yak in his native tongue & set him up much like McDavid did (although Pens have nothing we want besides maybe a goalie)

        3. Caps- same reason as 2. A lot of Well established Russians who can communicate with Yak (Ovie, Kuznetsov, Orlov, Burakovsky) in this deal I’d ask for Madison Bowey

        • JimmyV1965

          There would be a long line up of teams looking for Yak. The Canes, Devils, Kings can use him. The list goes on. The question is how much will they pay? A couple easy deals would be for Strome or Nichushkin. Both those players are a similar boat.

  • Moe Sizzlack

    Anybody who says trade nurse knows NOTHING about Hockey …

    He’s still a KID and a MONSTER for that matter,,,

    We’ve all been crying for a Big Dman who can log heavy minutes, hit, fight and put up points … He’s still YOUNG ! You DO NOT give up on him!!!

    Don’t judge him until he’s 25!!

    Think of the Wild givin up on Brent Burns !!

    Think of Nurse’s play at the World Jr’s…

    IMO he’s the 2nd most important piece after Connor


    Nurse is the Next Prongz! (only faster ALOT Faster)

    • GK1980

      While I don’t think nurse will be a Pronger I do agree with you in his value and his importance to the future of this franchise. Times have been tough but part of me thinks this team is close to switching to a 0.500+ team. Last year they showed stretches of play that impressed me.

      Will they turn a corner this year? Who knows. We all hope they do though.


    I’ve watched for Schultz, and how he would play in Pittsburg. I see, by my eyes, he is playing quiet well, and is slotted where he should be.

    And as for only being played in 5 postseason games, that’s 5 more then we have seen in this town, from an NHL team for a decade.

    Good for him. Most people, if not all, wanted him gone. Me included. But I did want him to be an NHL player, no matter where he went.

    So, is Jordan Eberle the new whipping boy? Seems to be.

  • madjam

    Not interested in using any of our top 4 forwards in a trade unless it be for Karlsson , Subban , Doughty . One defenseman Oilers should target that has not got much notoriety so far is RFA Cody Ceci . He’s got good offense and defence . Ottawa already paying almost 20M for their top 3 Methot , Karksson , and Phaneuf . Wiercosh and C.Wideman also due for raises . I believe Ceci will be due to much for them to keep him . New target is CECI .

  • nuge2drai

    Oiler Domination To Follow

    D#1 – acquire with cap space ie. Shultz and Nikitin

    Cap space is a huge asset.

    D#2 – acquire with 2017 First Rounder and 2016 2nd rounders

    Basically a lottery and our second is a late first this year.

    D#3 – healthy Klefbom

    This is a top 2 Dman, just an absolute stud.

  • McRaj

    McDavid, Crosby, Malkin, Seguin, Thornton, Pavelski, Kuznetsov, Backstrom, Kopitar, Tavares, Barkov, Krejci, Giroux, Bergeron, O’Reilly, Spezza, Stamkos, Getzlaf, Carter, Johansen, Toews, Mackinnon, Eichel, Johnson are all center’s better than Nuge.

    That doesn’t even include players like Marleau, Scheifele, Monahan, Duchene, Sedin, Datsyuk, Schenn, Little, Stepan,Brassard, Couture, Kadri, Galchenyuk, Koivu, Kesler, Couturier, etc. Some of these player’s are better too. Nuge is a terrific hockey player but so far he has not developed into what we thought he would, maybe he never will. That doesn’t mean he ain’t good or that we should get rid of him for a B prospect and late first round pick. But if the right deal is available (Faulk, Signed Shattenkirk, etc) we should make the deal because Nuge is a second line center and if you can ever trade a second line C for a top pairing D, you make that trade every single day.

    • Word to the Bird

      This all day long. The reality is the Nuge has not improved much. You can argue that he’s been injured for a lot of that but I’d counter by saying he’s too small and fragile for the western style of hockey.

      In a perfect world I’d love to keep McDavid, Nuge, and Draisaitl but I think we can all agree when you factor in age, size, contract and last season, Nuge has been passed on the organizational depth chart by Draisaitl and McDavid is already an elite #1 centre.

      At this point in time I doubt Nuge will ever become a #1 centre unless he molds into the Jonathan Toews/Patrice Bergeron type, but we can’t afford to wait any longer.

  • camdog

    Here`s a link to a Carolina Hurricane blog about potential trades with the Oilers. I`ll keep posting what they are thinking in Carolina about the possibility of moving Faulk every time an Oiler blogger mentions his name. Consensus right now is Faulk is their best player. Maybe if RnH and the 4th were offered up they would include one of their draft picks coming back this way.

    • madjam

      Carolina will keep Hanfin and Faulk except for a vast over paynment . J.Wiesniewski, maybe best of the three now would be easier to pry from them because he is 32 years old , but man would he be costly as well . Feel Carolina will keep all 3 to be honest .

      • camdog

        It`s a new era in the NHL. The big teams are now too slow. The way Pittsburgh and Sanjose are moving the puck is phenomenal. Big and slow is yesterday, unfortunately PC is still in that mold.

        This is not the time to be looking for a right shot d-man, they have never had the value that they are going to have this off season. Everybody knows which teams are looking for them and everybody is going to want a lot in return. It`s a supply and demand market and their aren`t much more than 20-30 really good right handed d-man in the entire league. And interesting enough all the rumours coming out of Edmonton are for guys under 25 with better contracts than anybody that we could offer in a trade their way.

        • madjam

          The new era is basically about size , whom are you kidding . San Jose is big , L.A. big, St,Louis big , Pittsburgh and Dallas pretty big , etc.. None of those are slow teams Goalies are basically big now on most teams and also successful . We are just starting to catch up in that regard . The cap is a huge contributor and thus contracts are very important .

          Oilers as an example have 3 forwards making 6M or 18M overall . Take away Pouliot at 4M , and rest of Oilers forwards are 2.5M or less now . That’s pretty scimpy . Defence we do not pay a lot for either after Sekara and Klefbom at a reasonable 4 M . Fayne is next at about 3.5M , but not much after that , if we rid ourselves of Ference . .

          The kids doing well in recent drafts are almost always over the 6 foot height , and that is going to continue , and they keep getting faster and more physically mature than even 10 years ago .

          I do not agree that big teams today are slower.

    • RJ

      That was an interesting read.

      They also made a few proposals on there:

      #4 for #13 and a 2nd and a 3rd, or some combination thereof (like both the 13 & the 21 for the 4).

      The Faulk/13 for Nuge/4 came up as a fair trade in their minds. Oilers get a real RHD and a chance to select McAvoy or Fabbro for the future.

      Not endorsing any of these, but it’s worth reading

  • madjam

    In a nutshell: It is very possible to use/keep our most important offensive production forwards by not trading , but also get a viable upgrade on an offensive / defensive R defenseman that also fits best on the defensive side of things as part of that . So we have the addition on both sides of the scale – offense and defence . That is what Chia has basically been saying all along . I think he realizes a home run at this stage is unlikely , but a better upgrade is viable .

    • McRaj

      Unfortunately without good D to move the puck up ice, the offensive production will not be there. Even with all of this “offensive talent”, we were 25th in Goals for this season, 26th last season, 26th in 2013-2014, 21st in lockout 2012-2013, and 19th in 2011-2012 (the first year of the Core 3 forwards being together).

      From what I see, we have been trending down in offensive production. Part of that can be due to Eberle and Nuge having a career 0.65 points per game vs the West, which makes up 50 of the 82 games they play yearly.

  • madjam

    If we get rid of Hopkins and Draisaitl does not pan out to be a top 2 or very good center ,then the cost to replace Hopkins will far exceed anything you might pay for a Faulk . Let us not send our rebuild back further by dealing Hopkins at this stage . Other than size Draisaitl offers little in comparison to Hopkins .

      • madjam

        That’s a tough one , but I would consider Draisaitl before Hopkins to be honest . I , like you , are not sold on Draisaitl yet , and I doubt he’ll ever be better than Hopkins . I also think Ceci would be better overall for us than Faulk , and might come much cheaper seeing as Ottawa has such a huge amount payed for defenseman already . I’d start with the threat of an offer sheet on Ceci and see if we can get him for only a second round pick (about 3.6M ) . At least if they want to match it , then maybe try the trade route for him . I feel Ceci is a better option for what we require , especially on the defensive side of things , size , age and probably contract amount . Lots of options to explore , and most give us a much needed upgrade , but none really seem to be in the home run ballpark . Hopkins is probably still our nbr.1 center and you will find it very difficult to adequately replace him with another top line center for under 6M .

        • McRaj

          I agree on not being sold on Drai yet but his potential is much higher than Hopkins. Unfortunately Hopkins has not proven much at all, his 2-way game is over rated and after 5 seasons he has yet to crack even 60 points. Just an example, Backes at $6M over the next 3 seasons would be better than Hopkins would. But with Drai, he can either be way better than Hopkins or as good, I am not sold on what he will be. McDavid is our #1 Center now and there is no question about how good he is.

          In No way is Ceci better than Faulk. Faulk has a better relative corsi, relative fenwick, points, points per game, goals, goals per game, hits, hits per game, shot blocks, shot blocks per game, better turnover differential and only 2 years older (at 24 just hitting his prime). Yes Ceci would be cheaper to acquire but he is at best a #4 D-Man right now. Faulk would help the team a lot right now (as would Barrie), Ceci caliber D can likely be had in free agency (Demers).

          • madjam

            We disagree on value of Ceci and Faulk obviously , but I ask you would Faulk be top 2 on Ottawa’s defence ahead of the likes of Karlsson , Phaneuf , Ceci and Methot ? No he would not .

          • McRaj

            He would be ahead of everyone on that Depth chart besides Karlsson. Madjam, how can you disagree with stats and analysis? I don’t believe there is any single person who would take Ceci ahead of Faulk. You overrate Nuge and Eberle yet underrate a top end player like Faulk. Are you someone who doesn’t believe in statistics and analytics? Also, how do you feel about me pointing out how bad our offensive production has actually been?

          • madjam

            You like to undervalue Hopkins for some reason , even tough he is likely to improve a lot in next three seasons being as he is only 23 , and last season was injured for a long stretch . Backes is already 32 and showing signs he is not getting better . Look at his points per year are not well above Hopkins – just about even . In fact the only time Backes hit above 60 (62) was about 4 years ago . Take the team and teammates Backes had with a very vaunted defence and he actually pales in comparison to what Hopkins has had to deal with . In reality , doubt Oilers are serious about Faulk or Backes because of the price required for either . Ceci on the other hand fits with getting better at a decent price .

          • McRaj

            I don’t undervalue Nuge at all. He has been one of my favourite players since it was know we would be draft first overall in 2011. But I don’t over-value him like you do. None of his stats or analytics show that he is a first line Center. He is a perfect second line center who should be paid $5 Million. His two way game is probably the best among Oiler forwards but he is not going to get any Selke votes anytime soon (definitely not until he gets to 50% at the faceoff dot). Yes Backes is on the downturn but as of right now, he would contribute more then Nuge.

            Hopkins has had Hall, who is one of the 3 best LW’s in the game. Saying he didn’t have quality team mates ain’t true. I am happy though that you realized Faulk is better than Ceci. You are right that Ceci is available at a decent price but if Ceci is your first pair right shot then you aren’t a playoff team.

          • Ed in Edmonton 1

            I wouldn’t trade RNH for Backes at this point in their career’s, but if I had to pick one to play a game for me today…..

            I have watched Backes more in the last 4 weeks than in his entire career and I find his skating to be average at best. At 32 I wonder how well he is aging.

            A lot of people state the RNH “will improve a lot’ as he is only 23. Have Hall and Ebs shown “a lot of improvement” as they moved beyond 23?

            A study done by UBC on NHL hockey players productivity vs age concluded the following for forwards:

            • Improve more quickly than they decline and typically begin “a significant decline in their early 30s.”
            • Perform within 90 per cent of their peak from 24 to 32 years old.

            RNH will be 24 this coming season and that should be the start of his prime years, it is unlikely there will be big improvements.

          • madjam

            I think you’ll find big improvement comes from the club the players play on , and quality teammates has the most influence on how high and fast they reach the bigger heights . Seguin for example started with Boston , a very good club at the time , where Hall was stuck on a bad team here . Hopkins could have a big improvement yet , if he stays healthy and team vastly improves to a contender . What is evident , even McDavid has had a minimal success doing , is having entire club move forward in a big way as yet. What our top 3-4 have accomplished here alone under such a poor base around them poor defence and generally poor goaltending , is actually pretty darn good considering . I am sure all 3 would have done much better had they been on a contender over some of those years .

          • Ed in Edmonton 1

            Playing on a better team often puts a player in a better lite, but I’m not sure this is that true of an individual’s performance.

            Seguin only blossomed after he left the Bruins (who won one sup and made it to the finals when Seguin was there) and went to the rebuilding Stars.

            McDavid “has had minimal success”?? If you call scoring at a ppg that was in the top 5 in the league minimum success then you and I would disagree on what success is.

          • McRaj

            Yes and No. Remember players like Olli Jokinen or Mike Cammy in their prime. They threw up amazing numbers but team’s didn’t make playoffs and everyone said on a better team they would be so much better etc. Well when they went to better teams, they didn’t improve much and some player’s actually don’t do as well.

            A team needs balance which the Oilers do not have. To get value, you need to give up value. To me, it is more important that the Oilers are winners. If the Oilers improve by trading away Eberle and Hopkins, then that is fine by me. I like the names on the back of the jersey’s but I love the crest on the front.

  • @Hallsy4

    I agree it won’t be hard to improve. I don’t think we can afford any more Sekera like contracts though. Short term sure but long term no. I realize his was somewhat front loaded but it worries me in the long term. To have say Demers on a similar contract would cause us huge problems in the future.

  • I think the Oil need two of Vatanen, Faulk, Shattenkirk, Demers, Barrie to be a playoff contender. Yes any of those righties would be an upgrade, but we can’t forget we finished 2nd LAST in the entire league that year. Incremental improvement at this point is not enough.

  • Not to mention having a healthy roster. Just getting Klefbom back alone does wonders for the back end. But having the forward group also healthy is another big upgrade. Not to mention Talbot likely won’t need till December to find his groove.

  • OilCan2

    A RHD playing second pairing would be an upgrade. A #1 stud D is unlikely to shake loose.

    With Cap Space, Roster Space and people on the phone about the 4th pick PC is dealing from a stronger position than even last year.

    The Drake signing is good news and that will influence others to consider the Oilers as a good place to lace em up.

  • Speed Junky

    Take Tkachuck. no brainer. Heavy and skilled

    Free Agent for D.

    I just do not see fair Trade for the Oilers

    We got the assets. but will they pay for them.

    keep Leon. cheaper. bigger. more Potential.

  • madjam

    I still disagree on your assessment of what Ceci might provide . However , I doubt Chia is about to deal any of Eberle , Hall , Hopkins or even Draisaitl or Nurse unless someone offers us a huge overpayment – not the other way around , or just one seen as equal . Not like any of them on the decline . Nice to get a Faulk type but not entirely necessary in a trade we lose on with a big overpay . We are not that desperate yet .

      • madjam

        Chia has made some pretty bad trades over the years , and yes , it’s scary when he fiddles with the core of any team . You want to get better by adding to your main core . I’d like Karlsson but not the price in core personnel to bring him here . Speaking of Karlsson what would you offer to get him here and have entire team better ? He is quite an upgrade on Faulk and Barrie .Could we get Stamkos and Karlsson and still remain competitive ? If so , then maybe we should try to do it .

        • McRaj

          Yes Karlsson is definitely better then Faulk or Barrie. Cost to acquire Karlsson would likely be Hall, Nurse, and the 4th overall pick. In the cap world it is very difficult to get better by adding to your main core, when your main core is expensive and you are so far away from being competitive. That is why core pieces need to be used properly to upgrade your team. Truth be told, our core sucks because they are all similar players, skilled forwards. The player’s dont suck, but the make-up of the core sucks. Edit: I doubt we are going to go after Stamkos because we simply cannot afford it.

    • Word to the Bird

      I think Chiarelli would be willing to trade Eberle for Barrie. For me, that trade just makes too much sense.

      As for Faulk, I think Edmonton media is encroaching on Toronto’s way of making up false speculation regarding his availability. In other words, Faulk likely isn’t going anywhere. If he was, you’d better believe I’d move a mountain to get him.

        • McRaj

          Totally Agree. If we are still not desperate then there is something wrong with our entire fanbase. Even if we say the rebuild has been only 6 years, that’s fine. 6 Years out from a rebuild and we still finished 29th. Make the moves now. Not like we can get any worse. CHANGE IS NEEDED.

    • madjam

      Like Shattenkirk , but much prefer Pieterangelo for several reasons . Shattenkirk has his UFA set in the year after next year , and that would be a major raise we might not be comfortable with . Pieterangelo and Karlsson better top players , and have contracts for at least 4 more years at a very good rate of 6.5m . I believe they are both younger than Shattenkirk as well . Literally the price of one of our 6M men .

      Karlsson the clear top choice in offense for a defenseman and logs plenty of ice time . However , Pieterangelo rates one above him when you consider both ends of the ice in most polls . These are NBR.1 defenseman here, not possible NBr.2 like the tier that falls below the top 10 defenseman in the league like Faulk , Shatterkirk , Barrie , etc..

      As with any trade we basically have to look at contracts first before even considering a trade .

  • @Hallsy4

    With that we’d have one of the best center’s in the world and one of the best D men in the world, for many years. I can’t see Ottawa trading Karlsson though.