The Second Defence Pairing


The Edmonton Oilers entered the summer of 2016 with several
issues on the defensive side of the depth chart. Adam Larsson was deemed to be
the solution to the right side of the team’s top pairing, but there are still
questions regarding how the Oilers plan to approach some of the secondary
issues with the back end.

The top pairing is likely to include Larsson and countryman
Oscar Klefbom, and while not the focus of this piece it’s worth taking a moment
to look at that duo. Klefbom is a fantastic, well-rounded defenceman and will
be the key element on this pair. Larsson has history playing brutally tough
minutes and has been relatively successful with Andy Greene in that role. I’m
less certain of him being adequate in this role than I am of Klefbom, but he
seems a reasonable bet.

If we assume those two players are spoken for in the top
pairing, that leaves a question on the second unit. 2015 free agent signing
Andrej Sekera is likely to be the anchor piece, but who will he partner with?

Brandon Davidson


Davidson enjoyed a breakout performance last season and
certainly belongs in this conversation. Playing largely in a third-pairing
role, he posted the best relative shot metrics of any regular defender in

The trouble is two-fold. First, he doesn’t have a lot of
experience playing tough competition, though it’s hard to get experience
without being given a shot and based on his body of work last year he probably
deserves one. Second, he’s a left shot, and Sekera has historically
performed better
with righties.

He played 76 minutes at 5-on-5 with Sekera last season and
the results weren’t great, though not as bad as at first blush. The duo had a
46.2 percent Corsi rating together and fared a little worse in the goal
department (though goals aren’t predictive over such a short stint). The saving
grace is on the zone starts side of the equation, which we see when we look at
their numbers as a duo (via Puckalytics SuperWOWY tool):

  • 18 offensive zone draws, 32 defensive zone draws (a
    difference of 14)
  • 66 shots attempted for, 78 shots attempted against (a
    difference of 12)

I would guess that Davidson is coach Todd McLellan’s first
choice for this duty, and he’s probably a reasonable one. The shot metrics don’t
look that bad when we consider how often this pair started in the defensive
zone in its hour-and-change together.

Mark Fayne


Fayne is a veteran defensive defenceman with long history
playing tough minutes. Unlike Davidson, he’s not a particularly well-rounded
player; he’s big and smart but needs help moving the puck. Playing with Sekera
(and with Andy Greene before that) he’s had that help and when he has it he’s
an effective complementary player. He is a righty, which helps his cause.

His performance with Sekera last year in a shutdown role was
reasonably impressive. The duo pretty much broke even by the shot metrics and
like most everyone in Edmonton had on-ice goal totals that were a little shy of

Let’s give the 11 hours that Fayne and Sekera spent as a
tandem the same consideration we gave to Sekera/Davidson:

  • 200 offensive zone draws, 255 defensive zone draws (a
    difference of 55)
  • 604 shots attempted events for, 616 shots attempted events
    against (a difference of 12)
  • 22 goals for, 26 goals against (a difference of four)

Under the circumstances, those are pretty reasonable
results. We haven’t considered quality of competition, which requires a little
more explanation, but for a shutdown pairing on a team as poor as the Oilers
were last season that’s satisfactory. Fayne would be my first choice for the job
with Sekera next season.

Darnell Nurse   


It’s impossible to rule out Nurse at this juncture. He’s a
raw talent with tremendous athletic gifts but who clearly needs polishing at
the NHL level. A big improvement year-over-year might have him in the conversation
on merit, but right now he has Davidson’s problems (inexperience, left shot)
without his solid on-ice results.

Unlike Davidson, Nurse spent a ton of time with Sekera last
year. In their more than six hours together at five-on-five, we saw a tandem
which was brutally ineffective:

  • 121 offensive zone draws, 135 defensive zone draws (a
    difference of 14)
  • 308 shots attempted for, 391 shots attempted against (a
    difference of 83)
  • 12 goals for, 18 goals against (a difference of six)

The Oilers clearly value Nurse, and given his on-ice
belligerence, size and speed it’s easy to understand why. Dan Barnes suggested
in passing
two weeks ago in the Edmonton
that Nurse may be a second-pairing option, and given the way
McLellan and his staff used him in 2016-17 it wouldn’t be at all surprising if
that was the plan. If Nurse/Sekera were to perform at all like they did last
year, that would be a costly mistake for Edmonton.

We will need to wait and see how the Oilers set things up
entering training camp. The team is still missing a true power play option on
the back end, and there are a number of events which could transpire over the
summer that might result in such a player becoming available. Barring that, the
second pair is likely to feature Sekera and one of the three players listed

I’ve argued here that Fayne is the optimal choice, Davidson
a reasonable one and that Nurse would be a sizeable risk if employed in such a


  • oilersfan497

    The Oilers should hire Jonathan Willis as their new GM or at least assistant GM. It seems he’s right way more often than Chiarelli.

    The similarities between Lowe and Chiarelli are scary. Both acquire a superstar defenseman. Both overpay their depth players. Their teams have short shelf lives because of contract issues. Its sad that after we decide we’re gonna do things right we hire another team destroying GM. I wonder how Lowe would have looked if Pronger hadn’t left the Oilers after the cup run. We could have made another push, and suddenly Lowe would be a very smart man for years to come. Chiarelli had good enough luck to win a cup, which means that now he’s really smart.

    I hate to have to say it, but the Oilers have found a new lowe.

    • Powdered milk

      “Hall is third best LW in the league”

      “The hall trade was for Larrson, Lucic is irrelevant”

      Hall is not the third best LW and no one can say Lucic would have signed here without the hall trade. I’m with the Larrson+Lucic makes the team better than just Hall

      Also don’t like the argument that plus minus is a useless stat

      • DannyGallivan

        To say Lucic had nothing to do with the Hall Larsson trade is ridiculous. If Lucic played RW and you do the Hall Larson trade you have a HUGE HOLE at LW and Lucic does not get signed. L’s availability was key. The rumours that L was coming to Edmonton before the H trade was announced basically says that Chia “landed” L before H was traded. It was not an afterthought. As soon as they heard L was coming, everyone saw a target on H’s back.

        Everyone knew we needed RHD. Everyone knew that years of nibbling around the edges of change did nothing. People loved Hall and whether he was the 3rd or 4th or whateverth best LW in the business is irrelevant. He is a high quality player and we lost the one for one trade. That said, it is a team game and I believe, one for one aside, we are a better team because of it.

        How many young, fast, very talented, smallish, lack toughness, light on the puck, used to losing (Hall, RNH, Eberle, McDavid (except used to losing)) does it take to screw in a light bulb. One of them had to go and get REPLACED with talented, big, mean, heavy on the puck etc. L was available, Hall was the odd man out.

        • Powdered milk

          Ovechkin, Benn, Panarin and Jonny hockey were all better last year

          What I said was no one knows if Lucic would have signed here without the hall trade. How would I know I’m not Milan or Peter.

          If plus minus is useless why does the NHL pay someone to keep it?

          Oilers are better off in my opinion with Larrson and Lucic over just Hall. Not that I’m thrilled with losing Hall but going into next season with the same team would have only lead to another lottery pick

    • crabman

      Lets start with games played. Until recently many articles have been writen about 200 games,seems now 300, being the point when a defenseman is concidered experienced and you see what you really have. Larsson has reached this point but Willis discounts this as not being established because of time needed in the AHL, where at leadt he was playing and not missing seasons do to injury.
      Lets move on to +/-. According to Willis anyone who talks about this stat is an idiot who he is better than, at least I read it as an arrogant comment, dispit the original commenter using it to compare 2 players on the same team with the same system and goalie. If ever it is a stat that can be used it is in this context.
      The Hall trade and Lucic signing not being connected angle. Come on. Of coarse they were 2 different trasnsactions but of coarse they are connected. You don’t trade Hall without Lucic coming in to replace him.
      And the sarcasm throughout the response came of as childish and snotty.
      Willis is usually one of favorite writers on this site but I lost some respect for the man after reading that. It seems many of the writers have become sarcastic and very defensive in the comment section lately. Not gonna stop me from reading and it’s their right to say whatever they want. Just my two cents and an answer to your question.

  • Explicit

    With Fayne being an option on the second pair, I can’t remember the circumstances regarding him being sent down to the AHL last year. Would it be a fair assumption to think the coaching staff isn’t exactly high on the player, or was there other factors? I think he would be gone if they could find a suitor, I get the feeling he’s not fully appreciated. I think Chia is looking under every rock to fill that spot on the right side. Not sure what they’d do with Fayne. His contract probably makes him a hard sell. Maybe the Devils would take him back since their down a man back there now

      • Hemmercules

        Thats pretty brutal if thats true.

        Imagine being paid millions of dollars to play a game, mailing in the season before it even starts, and still getting paid every penny. Aren’t guaranteed contracts great! I’m looking at you Nikitin……

  • camdog

    On a side I’m going to be comparing Larsson’s game to Jeff Petry’s game, that’s going to be my measuring stick. Life as an Oil fan has been cruel the past decade.

    • Yeah, that is interesting. It seems reasonable moving forward to compare Lucic to Hall’s performance and Larsson to Schultz and/or Petry.

      There were many people including ON writers who were saying at the time that Petry was the Oils best RHD which has now been proven to be correct. I’d love to see a “one year later” article comparing Shultz and Petry over the last season.

  • Hockeyfan

    Trade Barrie for Klefbom.

    Fantasy trade #395. Where do you guys get these?
    teams don’t want a big ? mark on d. Klefbom has proven nothing to warrant 1st pairing. He has shown a propensity towards getting put on the LTIR list.

  • madjam

    The relevancy of plus/minus is such it is the 5th group on stats for the league , right after games , G,A, and points . Like all stats it doesn’t tell you everything , but gives the reader a good indicator of how that player played full strength and shorthanded goals only . It does not include power play goals , thus is more a defensive stat . Personally I find it quite indicative of the player and his defensive abilities/reliability mainly at full strength .

    Davidson surprisingly was our top plus minus player last year . Therefore , my impression of Davidson is more optimistic/solidified this year . Eberle and Sekara’s poor plus/minus bears more scrutiny this year , as they were on the poorer end last season .

    It is simple to read and draw some fairly active/accurate conclusions from , but like all stats is limited in value . You go from team to team and it is surprising how poor some are defensively in comparison to their scoring .

    The stats page is plus/minus ,Pim , shots and shots% over and above games , G,A, and points . Really that is enough stats to formulate your opinions , this isn’t horse racing forms thank goodness . Plus /minus is relevant whether you like it or not , it is not a useless stat .

    • pkam

      I wouldn’t say that +/- is totally useless, but I don’t think that is of any significant value.

      The best Swedish defensemen arguably are Erik Karlsson and OEL. Both of them are horrible in the +/- stats.

      Team Canada has chosen Brent Burn over Subban and Letang to fill the last RHD for WC. In other words, Hockey Canada chooses one who has a negative career +/- over two with excellent career +/-. This is how significant +/- is considered in the assessment of a player.

      • As you said, it’s not useless. I think instead of answering anything the stat can raise questions in specific areas about a player and team, especially when the stat seems opposite to either the player to the overall team stats.

        In the case of Larsson, it’s only a good thing that the team had a minus 20 goal differential, and Larsson was +15, playing tough minutes against tough competition, on the lowest scoring team in the NHL.

        I don’t know how you read that, but I read that as Larsson helps the team score more than he allows the opposition to score, by a wide margin. It’s especially impressive given Larsson doesn’t get power play time.

        • pkam

          +/- will be the factor I considered the last after all the other factors.

          If you use the goal differential vs player +/- as a point to prove Larsson is a good player, then how about Brent Burns? The team is +31 and he is -5, so he must be a terrible player?

          • I don’t really think I’m saying that one stat alone shows he’s a good player. I am saying in conjunction with D zone minutes, amount of games played, who he played against, the fact he didn’t get powerplay time, and how low the team scored last year, he is good at defending.

            A more concrete stat might be the fact he lead all D men in Goals against 5×5 over 60 min last year. I think that is a hell of a stat.

            As for the Burns comparison, I concede it does not always tell the tale. An even better example was Ovechkin having the worst +/- two years ago when he scored 50. He was such a freak of offence, he effectively broke the stat. There’s a few good write ups floating around about it.

            But specifically with the case of Burns, I do think it more or less paints his picture. In the finals against the Pens, Vlasic almost exclusively ate the Crosby minutes and I think held Crosby to like two assists. The guys straight up shut Crosby down.

            Burns and Martin, meanwhile, drew the Kessel line. By my eye Burns pretty much traded offensive chances with Kessel. It was way more run and gun where either guy had a chance. He generated a ton of offence, but also let Kessel do the same. I don’t think either stat for either player says they are good or bad players, I think they show they are different types of defencemen, which they are.

            To further my point, Burns was -5, but Vlasic was +15. Do I think Vlasic is better at defending than Burns, yes. Do I think Larsson is better at defending than Burns, maybe. Remains to be seen here in the West. But so far his numbers last year suggest he is.

            Fair? Not fair? Thoughts?

          • pkam

            Not disagreeing with what you said and glad to know Larsson has the best GA 5 on 5 per 60 minutest last season.

            Since you are interested in what I think, I still prefer Karlsson, OEL, or Burns over him even Larsson has better +/- and GA 5 on 5. Not that I don’t like Larsson, but I prefer a complete defenseman (or two way defenseman who can play ES, PP and PK, not just 2 of the 3) as 1st pairing. If the Oilers have the luxury (which they don’t at the moment), I always prefer complete defenseman on the top pairing. Defensive defenseman is only good for 2nd or 3rd pairing.

            If I have to choose one between Larsson and Klefbom, I will always choose Klefbom. I know Klefbom is more risky due to his injury history. But I believe Klefbom will be more likely to get into top 30 in the near future if he can stay healthy. I don’t see any chance Larsson will ever get there. I will bet on Nurse than bet on him. I may be wrong but I doubt he will ever get to the top 60 unless he can improve his offensive game significantly.

            And Larsson has only one good season in the 5 seasons he played. I am not completely sold on him until he has another 2 good seasons. Don’t forget, the Swedish team picked Klefbom (LHD) over him (RHD) in 2015 World Championship to form a defensive group of 6 LHD and 2 RHD, despite that he has played almost 200 NHL games while Klefbom has only about 80. That was how good he was in the eyes of the Swedish GM and coaches at the end of the 2014-15 season.

          • Ah, yes for sure. I would also rather have Burns and OEL or Karlsson. That would be pretty hard to defend.

            I think where I’m going is that Burns works, but largely because Vlasic is there to take the tough minutes. Without Vlasic Burns is not the guy to stop the offence. And neither is Karlsson.

            OEL I think is a bit more complete than those two, but plays for a terrible team, so I imagine he’s on the ice for pretty much every goal against cause they have no one else.

            With Larsson’s 18 points, that’s only 3 back of Hamonic. Vlasic got 39 points last year which is impressive for a guy like that.

            I will be happy with Larsson’s play if he can keep up the high level of defence, and end a season between 30 – 40 points.

            I also agree Klefbom is likely to be the more complete guy. But that’s why I think they will work so well as a pair. Up till now Klefbom had to pair with Justin Schultz. Put with a guy he doesn’t have to worry about so much, I think he’ll excel. Plus they’re both Swedish. And from what I understand they know each other rather well.

            All said and done, I think the Oilers still need a Subban, or Burns, or Barrie, or Faulk, but I am glad they got one of the two major missing pieces on the right side.

            If I’m the GM, I pick up either Wideman or Wisnewski to fill that role for a year, then see what’s available next summer.

  • madjam

    Not to many players (especially forwards ) don’t try to focus on points and offense , as it translate into dollars when time for contract comes up or close . Cheat offensively for bigger bucks , and who could blame them , especially if your on a non contending club .

  • TKB2677

    As much as I would prefer the left- right combo, the Oilers need to play the best possible dmen they have. Willis and company can trot out all the numbers they want about Fayne but any realistic person who doesn’t believe you can run a hockey team based on a spread sheet knows and saw that Fayne is NOT a top 4 dman. There are a lot of teams in need of Dmen especially on the right side and Fayne passed through waivers last year. You can say “well his contract” that’s BS because if he was any good and considered an upgrade over what teams had, someone would have taken him and found a way to make it work. This off season, I think the Oilers would gladly trade Fayne if they got anything remotely decent for him. Put Fayne on pretty much any other team in the NHL and he’s not a top 4 guy. If Fayne was a top 4 dman, his 3.625 mill deal would be a steal for most teams. But he’s not, he’s a 5-6 making twice as much money as you want your 5-6 making.

    Further to that. If Fayne was a left shot, unless Willis and company were either being paid by Fayne or related to Fayne, they wouldn’t even be mentioning his name as a top 4 option. So just because Fayne is a right shot, doesn’t mean you play him in a role he can’t do. The fact he was supposedly not in good shape last year I find really troubling.

  • GCW

    At evens:

    Klefbom – Larsson

    Sekera – Fayne

    Davidson – Wisniewski/Franson (Buf)/Miller (Bos)

    PP1 QB/Point Shot:

    PP2 QB/Point Shot:
    I would try Davidson or Larsson here. Oates thinks Larsson could do it so it’s worth at least trying. Second choice is Davidson with that bomb of his and if all else fails, Sekera can do it.

  • 2Oilers4

    Here is a great article that explains why you can’t use Team Canada as a rating for a player. As I stated in my previous post, C’s are rated higher than Ws so not making the team as a winger in not indicative of how good said player is.

    In response to ‘It’s not all about points. It’s how you contribute to wins.’ Hall was one of, if not THE contributing factor to the Oilers winning any games. He not only drove his own line, he also on many occasions drove the team.

  • Spydyr

    The Pittsburgh Penguins have re-signed defenceman Justin Schultz to a one-year, $1.4-million contract.

    Great news. No chance of Mac-T asking for him back here.

  • Druds

    I am reasonably confident Pete will bring in another D man to fill this out…plenty of time yet. I also am more confident that the D will be more solid this coming year. But I am worried about Nurse… He has so much potential and yet was kind of a nuclear disaster last year. I really hope that he is given the time to develop at a better pace. When I see him I see a young Weber or if the planets align ” Pronger”!!! Reinhart will develop into a sold second/third line pairing shutdown guy and that’s okay but Nurse can be a star!

  • Honestly, given the expansion draft coming up, I’d be happy if the Oilers took Wideman off the hands of Calgary. It sounds like they’ll let him go for cheap. Too bad Chi didn’t ask them to take back Korpikoski’s contract for Wideman.

    And it’s true, him and Engelland were awful last year. But he can run a PP, only has a year left, is big, mean (to refs anyway), and can move the puck. On a third pair with Davidson or Nurse or Reinheart, and with some PP time, he would be as fine as Wisnewski on a one year deal. Maybe better.

  • Oilersrule

    I don’t know if you read the Cory west analysis on cult of hockey of Adam Larson , I hope he is either underestimating Larson’s defence or somewhat missing something related to his offensive game . I suppose chiarelli still freed up some cap space in the deal but it seems painfully obvious, especially seeing the style of the game moving towards more skating and offence; that the oilers are still is in desperate need of a defenceman that can get involved in the offensive play, IE:good offensive instincts that has the skating ability and hockey IQ to properly join the rush ,pinch and move the puck and of course run a powerplay. Clearly chiarelli couldnt get a true number one in free agency and didn’t get the right deal to move up in the draft for sergecheov , which means this year is going to have to be move the puck up the ice from the back end by committee , which means on every defensive pair they need a player that should be a relatively good puck mover, therefore they need another defence man somewhat good defensively but above average offensively or a defeceman with weak defence but excellent offence to run the power play and pair up with a good shutdown guy like Larson. I think if the oilers look hard enough they will find a few available that will not and should not require the loss of one of their top six forwards . Let’s hope they can find one!!?

  • Oilersrule

    I agree with working something out with wizniewski, though I’m not sure why Carolina would buy out such a lucrative contract if he’s healthy.The oilers need more than anything still a good puck moving right D with a good shot and offensive instincts, Barrie may be too much to acquire as alot of teams are interested.
    If wisniewski is good to go physically and can be signed for a safe contract I think he fits exactly what they need with low risk on a one year deal.