Twitter’s speeds (an excellent follow if you don’t follow him) almost had me talked into hoping beyond hope for a pair of Oiler wins and a pair of Red Wing losses that would see Edmonton tied with Detroit by Saturday night but, unfortunately, that required Edmonton winning and with a 3-1 loss to Phoenix on Wednesday night, the season is now well and truly lost. All that’s left for Oiler fans is to hope for an eight game losing streak (in regulation please), good luck in the draft lottery and that we have a name for Steve Tambellini’s successor by June 30.
As we turn our minds towards next year and what the Oilers have to do, it strikes me that the biggest job is with the defence corps. In my optimistic post before the season, I highlighted this as a potential area of concern for the Oilers:
The defence is awfully thin. The Oilers are obviously relying on one of Justin Schultz or Ryan Whitney to be able to play top four minutes. This strikes me as the thing most likely to blow up of the three areas I’ve identified. Schultz has had his defensive bad moments in OKC and Ryan Whitney has just finished his traditional pre-season explanations of how last year his ankle was affecting him even though he said it wasn’t but this year it’s totally cool…
There’ve been a lot of foreseeable problems that have blown up in Tambo’s face over his time with the Oilers, most famously Nikolai Khabibulin. If planning to round out the top four of what could be a playoff contender with one of an immobile guy with chronic leg injuries or a rookie doesn’t pan out, he shouldn’t get a pass for it unless serious efforts were made to find a defenceman last summer. Considering that the Oilers had Justin Schultz and seven defencemen on one-way deals come July 1, it seems unlikely that that was the case.
As it’s turned out, Whitney’s been horrible and Justin Schultz, while he’s done just fine for a 22 year old rookie defenceman, doesn’t really belong in an NHL top four. This has been compounded by the decay of Nick Schultz. I would assume that Whitney is finished in Edmonton and that he’ll leave this summer.
That gives the Oilers the following guys under contract for next year:
Like Whitney, Mark Fistric is a UFA. Theo Peckham is an RFA but I would have to think that the writing is on the wall with him in Edmonton. Krueger’s reasonably aggressive at deciding who is and isn’t part of his plans; in the past, guys like Darcy Hordichuk and Ben Eager would have just festered on Edmonton’s roster and he’s moved them out the door. The fact that Peckham can’t get a game with the Oilers despite their struggles has to be a bit of a tell and I assume he’s only still on the roster because Tambellini thinks he can get something for him before the fall.
There’s going to be an interesting summer in the NHL, as there are a number of teams that are going to have to move players in order to meet the cap next year. The Oilers, meanwhile, have $16.46MM in cap space according to CapGeek. Gagner and Paajarvi are going to need new contracts, but even if that costs $8MM, that still leaves the Oilers with $8.5MM with which to find a backup goalie and a couple of defencemen.
I’m not convinced that there’s going to be a Pronger-type defencemen available to the Oilers for basically nothing, as there was in 2006. That was kind of a special confluence of circumstances, with the Blues not wanting to pay him, Pronger needing a new deal and every large market in which he might be interested being uninterested in him because they had their own cap issues. There probably will be a bunch of real NHL defencemen available from teams with cap problems though.
Speaking of real NHL defencemen, I noticed the other day that old friend Tom Gilbert has been a healthy scratch for the last two Minnesota Wild games. Gilbert’s numbers are pretty hilarious when you look at them (admittedly, not for him). He has the second best Corsi% amongst Wild defencemen, which is good, and he has the worst PDO and second worst on-ice save percentage amongst D with 30+ games in the NHL, which is what coaches tend to notice in that goals against is what affects that.
With Minnesota up against the salary cap next year and Gilbert dropping into third pairing/healthy scratch territory (and only having one year left on his deal), you wonder if the Wild will be open to moving him come the summer. Everyone’s going to want to shed the expensive pieces of their team that they don’t feel are providing them with value for the dollars spent.
I doubt that the Oilers would bring Gilbert back but with their cap space and next year’s cap crunch, they should be able to have a defence corps that basically boasts six top four NHL defencemen – there are other Tom Gilberts out there, I am sure. (This would be easier if they could find a sucker to take Nick Schultz.) Finding a Pronger who’s being given away is tough; finding guys who can play to fill out your top six shouldn’t be in a summer like this. I, like all of you, have heard the legend of Oscar Klefbom but surely there’s nothing wrong with planning for him to start in the AHL and letting him force Corey Potter off the roster at some point.
The time for guys playing in the NHL as of right has to be over in Edmonton.Email Tyler Dellow at email@example.com