The Edmonton Oilers have used nine defencemen already this season, but unfortunately for the club the old pattern of having quantity but not quality is producing similar results as it has in previous years. In today’s edition of WWYDW, we ask which defencemen our readers would be inclined to keep for next season, and which ones need to be cut loose to make space for better players.

The Depth Chart

Via NHL Numbers, the following is a list of relevant players and their contracts. I’ve also included David Musil, who will require waivers to be sent to the AHL next year.
(As I read the CBA, both Jordan Oesterle and Joey Laleggia can be demoted next year without needing to clear waivers, provided that each is still under the 60 NHL games played mark.)
  • Andrej Sekera: $5.5 million cap hit through 2020-21. Natural LD, can play RD.
  • Oscar Klefbom: $4.167 million cap hit through 2022-23. Natural LD, can play RD.
  • Justin Schultz: RFA, coming off a $3.9 million cap hit. RD.
  • Mark Fayne: $3.625 million cap hit through 2017-18. RD.
  • Eric Gryba: UFA, coming off a $1.25 million cap hit. RD.
  • Griffin Reinhart: $833,000 cap hit (up to $3.213 million with bonuses) through 2016-17. Natural LD, can play RD.
  • Darnell Nurse: $833,000 cap hit (up to $1.713 million with bonuses) through 2017-18. LD.
  • Brandon Davidson: RFA, coming off a $585,000 cap hit. Natural LD, can play RD. 
  • Andrew Ference: $3.25 million cap hit through 2016-17. Natural LD, can play RD.
  • Nikita Nikitin: UFA, coming off $4.5 million cap hit. Natural LD, may actually be more effective at RD.
  • David Musil: RFA, coming off $894,000 cap hit. Natural LD, can play RD. (needs to clear waivers)
That is a total of 11 players, plus any additions made to bolster the blue line. So: Who should the Oilers keep, and who should they part ways with?

My Take

Sekera stays. I don’t think he’s been as bad as most others do, I’ve been impressed by what I saw of him in L.A. and Carolina, and I think it’s also natural to expect an adjustment period as he gets used to a more prominent role on a new team. Klefbom stays, obviously, as do Nurse and Reinhart given their respective ages (with the caveat that if an obviously excellent defenceman became available, Reinhart in particular might make sense as part of the return package).
That’s four spots taken up, most of them on the left side. If I’m building the team, ideally I want seven defencemen total and one of those seven to be an off-season addition (Dustin Byfuglien is a popular name; basically the idea here is to grab a top-pair defender who ideally shoots right).
That leaves two spots for the other 11 incumbents. Nikitin obviously walks; just as obviously Ference is bought out of his contract. In Peter Chiarelli’s position, I’d be open to trading all of Schultz, Fayne and Gryba. Gryba will obviously have value at the deadline given his expiring contract; the Oilers should be able to get more than they paid for him. Schultz will also be on an expiring contract and a team with power play problems might be interested at the deadline; I suspect he’s tradeable and I’d move on because I see him as a No. 4/5 defenceman and he’s just paid too much. I like Fayne quite a bit, but I tend to think he can be replaced in the summer at a lower dollar figure, so if there’s a deal that makes sense take it and if not he’s welcome to stay.
I like Davidson and I like Musil, but there’s already a ton of youth on the blue line and both guys are left shots (like every other defenceman on the team). If there’s a trade out there, great; if not there’s a training camp battle to be fought for one of the depth jobs.
When all is said and done, that leaves Klefbom, Sekera, one of Nurse/Reinhart and a newcomer in top-four spots next season, as well as the other of Nurse/Reinhart on the third pairing with either Fayne or a cheap newcomer, with one of Davidson/Musil in the No. 7 slot. That’s not a particularly reassuring defence – even if the newcomer is somebody like Byfuglien – but at this point the Oilers don’t have much choice but to give the ball to their young players and hope they run with it.