If you’re playing Tambo Bingo during his press conference to officially announce the Mark Fistric trade, you can probably expect the following words: “Edmonton native”, “hits” and “kills penalties.” Also, some sentences that are very hard to understand and, possibly, praise for Mark Fistric from Steve Yzerman.
Honestly, I don’t follow a lot of teams outside of Edmonton particularly closely, so I had to look up some information on Fistric on behindthenet.ca. I think it’s awfully difficult to evaluate defencemen statistically but one thing that we can do pretty easily is see how the coach uses the player compared to his teammates, which tells us something about what kind of player he is. The table here compares Fistric to the other defencemen on the Stars who played at least thirty games in a given season:
At ES, Fistric has been a guy who doesn’t play very much and who plays against nobodies when he does play. The two years in which his Corsi QualComp were bumped is nice but it didn’t move the needle with traditional QualComp, which leads me to suspect that it was just a sort of random fluctuation – in general, he seems to have been awfully hidden.
What is more interesting about Fistric is something that doesn’t show up in that table – he was a top four D in terms of killing penalties for Dallas last year and seems to have acquitted himself respectably. Whenever I see a guy with usage like that – plays nobodies at ES and sparingly at that but then gets a shot on the PK and does ok, I tend to think that he’s probably a guy with skating problems. Defending on the PK, where you’re basically defending from your own blue in, is a different beast than defending from the other team’s blue line backwards.
The Oilers start the season without a healthy chunk of their penalty killing defencemen from last year. Theo Peckham was absent from shinny yesterday and practice today, and is apparently injured. Andy Sutton is out for the year. From that perspective, you can understand why acquiring a player who has some demonstrated PK ability was of interest to them.
What does this tell about the broader context of the Oilers defence plans? Well, they’ve now got a depth chart that looks something like this (don’t read anything in to where I’ve put Justin Schultz). Nick Schultz, Justin Schultz, Ladislav Smid, Jeff Petry and Ryan Whitney probably get to play for sure, which leaves one lineup spot and two roster spots open for Corey Potter, Fistric, Colten Teubert and Theo Peckham. Peckham’s injury presumably means that he starts on IR.
The smart money is probably on Fistric getting the spot in the lineup – nobody trades a third round pick for a guy who they expect to put in the press box – and Teubert being sent down to play games in OKC, since he’s nominally a prospect and has a real two way contract, two things that you can’t say about Potter. (Aside: it wouldn’t be a Steve Tambellini Oilers’ roster without someone making NHL money in the AHL, which will likely happen when Peckham is healthy.)
The interesting thing about that to me is that it likely means that Nick Schultz has to move over and play on the right side, which he can do. I call that “interesting” because it leaves the Oilers a little weak on the left side – Smid’s fine but then you’ve got one of Whitney, who has yet to prove that he can skate like a professional hockey player again, or Fistric taking a spot in the top four at ES – and one of Nick Schultz or Justin Schultz playing outside of the top four at ES. This assumes that the Smid/Petry pairing stays together, something Ralph Krueger has indicated is likely.
I’ve got no problem with Justin Schultz playing outside of the top four at even strength but it’s a shame that the Oilers couldn’t have found a right handed shooting defenceman who can play top four minutes at ES and kill penalties to pair with Nick Schultz and confine a Whitney/Justin Schultz pairing to playing third pairing ES minutes and first pairing PP minutes. The defence is a bit of an obvious issue of concern for the Oilers and Fistric, like Whitney, is a pretty big question mark on the right side in terms of his ability to play top four ES minutes.
The identity and success of the fourth ES defenceman on the Oilers is one of the really fascinating questions of this Oilers’ season. I’m not really sure that bringing Fistric in does much to clarify that issue, although it seems likely to me that he’s going to get a shot at being some part of the solution there. Is it a good trade? A third round pick seems a lot to give up for a bottom pairing defenceman to me (pointing out that Fistric has already had more success than a typical third round pick is not an answer to this; bottom pairing defencemen tend to be free for the asking in the summer). We’ll see if the Oilers think that they’ve got more than a bottom pairing defenceman here and, if so, whether that works out for them.
Update: This will teach me to ever assume anything about a player’s ability to play the off-side on defence. According to Jonathan Willis, Steve Tambellini said that Fistric can play either side at his press conference to announce the trade. Looking at Hockey Analysis, I see that Fistric played about 580 minutes or so last year on a lefty/lefty defence pairing. This means that a Whitney/Fistric pairing would seem like an option and that Schultz