It has been a furious couple of days, OilerNation. So much
has happened that we’ve barely been able to delve into it, but we have to press
forward. The Oilers roster, as different as it is, still is not complete. There’s
at least one player missing on the blue line and it looks like there’s only one
way to get him.
Before we look ahead, we have to look back to see how we got
here. First a little further back, then to just a few days ago.
Once upon a time, just a couple seasons ago, Edmonton
believed it had two right handed defenders on its roster to fill spots on the first
and second pairing. Justin Schultz was supposed to grow into the
offensive defender that would drive play into the attacking zone. Jeff Petry
was supposed to be the all-situations Jack-of-all-Trades type defender who
could move the puck up ice but took on the tougher defensive tasks.
Through a series of unfortunate decision-making errors, the
team alienated Petry then determined he was not worth retaining. A choice had
been made that the club valued Schultz more than him as if somehow it was a “one
or the other” kind of decision. That kind of thinking will make it’s way back
to Edmonton later.
So Petry was moved, leaving a gap at the 2RD position. But Justin Schultz was still here to drive the top pair.
Well we all know what came next. Justin Schultz failed to
develop further as an offensive defenseman. Worse, his own zone play seemed to
get even worse. He could not be trusted to play in his own zone and since he couldn’t
move the puck he was back there a lot. He produced a grand total of 18 points
last season with his time in Pittsburgh and Edmonton combined.
For me, 18 points is not enough for a top pairing defender. We can
revisit that later too.
So by the end of this season the Oilers were left with gaping
holes on the right side of the defense from the Petry departure (which they
failed to fix for an entire year), and the Schultz meltdown which they had no
choice but to address. Edmonton’s defense was one-third incomplete
and it couldn’t be ignored a moment longer.
Not So Way Back
So Peter Chiarelli was staring down at a roster with
absolutely nobody capable of playing the right side on the first or second
pairing (sorry, Mark Fayne). He was surrounded by the people that made the
choices in the Way Back section of this article that lead to this roster, and
they were in full-blown panic mode. Every call they made was apparently being rejected because everybody knew the Oilers were in a
position of absolute weakness.
Peter Chiarelli, looking at the buffoons around him, had no
choice but to draw on past experience. What does he know? He knows the Boston
Bruins, Milan Lucic, and how to trade top picks from the 2010 draft for
significantly lesser players.
He met with Milan Lucic and from the second Lucic left that meeting we started hearing various
reports that the deal was as good as done. He was going to be an Oiler. Peter
Chiarelli found his 1LW and his Bruins connection. Finally someone with the
right attitude, size, and skill to move the dial here in Edmonton. He claimed this had nothing to do with what came next but I call BS on that.
What came next was that he made the defining decision of
his Oiler career and what can only be properly described as a completely insane
one. Cementing his legacy as the man who hated 2010, he opted to trade Taylor
Hall, third in 5v5 points per 60 minutes over the last four NHL
season, for Adam Larsson, defensive defenseman who until two years ago was
labelled a bust.
Taylor Hall finished as Edmonton’s leading scorer by a
margin of 14 points over the next highest scoring player, Leon Draisaitl, whose
numbers away from Hall suggest he can thank Taylor for making it to second
place. I can go over all the statistics that show Hall has been the catalyst for
this team’s offense and how competitive the team has been just so long as Hall
has been on the ice, but that’s an article for another day.
Edmonton no longer has Hall. They have Larsson. So a spot
gets filled on the right side of the defense. But which spot? Peter Chiarelli
sells Larsson as a top pairing player, a 25 minute a night blueliner. The only
problem with this valuation is that Larsson lacks the offense you want from a
top pairing defender and he doesn’t play 25 minutes a night.
As far as minutes go, he averaged 22:30 last year and that
was the most he’s ever averaged. In terms of how many times he’s played 25
minutes or more, that happened just 10 times last year. So if Peter Chiarelli managed
to view him personally on one of those nights and assumed he could do it eight more times than his current average, then that’s unnecessarily risky from my
perspective. Projecting a player who has not established a certain ability to
become something he hasn’t even hinted at being is dangerous.
In terms of Larsson’s offense on the top pairing, we weren’t
happy with Schultz, in part, because 18 points is not enough for a big minute
defender. Well, Larsson had 18 points last year too. Last year, 55 defensemen
played at least 60 games and averaged more than 22 minutes a night. Larsson was
ranked 53rd in points per game and 52nd in total points.
His career high is 24 points. Regardless of what Chiarelli wants to sell us, there
is little to suggest Larsson can appropriately fill any offensive component of
a top pairing player.
He’s used to playing tough minutes though. There is no
denying that and Edmonton needs someone who isn’t a joke in his own zone. Larsson will make the team better in its own zone, we are told.
Edmonton still needs a defenseman who can run the power play
and contribute to the attack. There’s nobody here that has fully established
themselves in that regard. The fancy stats love Klefbom and it looks like he
could be the real deal, but he’s never put in a full year performing at that
level. Expecting Nurse to become Pronger over the summer is too much.
There are no current UFA players that appear to be long term
solutions for offense from the blueline. Edmonton’s defense today is no more
capable of contributing to the offense than it was with a brutal Schultz in the
lineup, though Larsson should be a massive upgrade defensively.
The Oilers have to wade back into the trade market if they
want that player. The rumours as of yesterday were that Barrie was the player
Edmonton wanted to shake loose. That was mentioned by TSN’s Ryan Rishaug and
continued to develop steam throughout the day as Colorado signed defensemen Wierciosh
and Tyutin, then centre Colborne.
If Edmonton wants to add an offensive catalyst like Barrie,
it’s now going to cost them another asset (or two, or three). It’s going to
take Ryan Nugent-Hopkins or Jordan Eberle and again we are at the mercy of the team
holding the defenseman because the Oilers announced they were going to accept
any deal, no matter how terrible, when they traded Hall for Larsson.
The Avalanche have MacKinnon (team leader in total
faceoffs), Duchene, Soderberg, and Mitchell down the middle, but they really don’t
have anyone outside of a million year old Iginla on the right. Should there be
a deal to make for Barrie, it is possible that a package with Eberle as the
centrepiece could be moving out of Edmonton.
This looks like what is next for the Oilers. Edmonton will
be forced into moving another of their top scorers but this time for a
defenseman that actually fills their needs on the blueline. In order to find a
better balance on the blueline this team likely still needs to keep robbing
from its offense. At this point, I don’t see any other way to move forward.