The Shortage Of Right-Handed Defensemen In Edmonton

EDMONTON, CANADA - OCTOBER 17: Corey Potter #44 of the Edmonton Oilers is chased being the net by David Legwand #11 of the Nashville Predators during first period action on October 17, 2011 at the Rexall Place in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. (Photo by Dale MacMillan/Getty Images)

Tom Renney addressed the media this week and the conversation turned to Corey Potter.  The transcribed exchange is below:

Media:  Potter.  It's a little early, an early sampling, but when you watch him play you're thinking how come this guy hasn't been playing in the league?
Renney:  It's a question I've been asking myself for about seven years.  
Media:  Why?
Renney:  I think maybe you get into an organization that's hard to emerge from sometimes, ya know, you get a little bit smothered and you might not get that opportunity and the way things are with the new collective bargaining agreement sometimes contracts just prevent a guy from making that step in.  I've felt for a long time that Corey would be an NHL player.
Media:  You put him in some important situations and he seems to have done the job.
Renney:  He's a calm, poised guy.  He's an older rookie, or an older young defensemen, however you want to say that, but he does have a certain maturity level that allows you to feel good about whatever the circumstance is and he seems to have good vision, good wherewithal, he doesn't get out-muscled too often and he seems to know what to do with the puck when there is nothing to do with the puck and that's big.
Media:  And he's right-handed.
Renney:  That makes a big difference, yeah.  It's huge, huge to us, we're a little light there. 

Emphasis mine.

Throughout the summer, fellows like Lowetide, Scott, and myself have talked about the lack of depth on the right side of the defense, a shortage that's existed for awhile.  The current depth chart looks like this:

2011-12 Right Defense
Tom Gilbert
Corey Potter
Jeff Petry
Taylor Fedun - INJ
Colten Teubert
Alex Plante


Kyle Bigos arrives next year and has an opportunity to move up the depth chart very quickly given Fedun's injury and likely recovery period and the stall in Plante's development. Depth is non-existent -- Tom Gilbert is the only established NHL defenseman on the list and after him it's Potter, a career-AHLer, and prospects.  The 2011-12 depth chart is much thinner than the 2010-11 version.

2010-11 Right Defense
Tom Gilbert
Kurtis Foster
Jim Vandermeer
Jeff Petry
Alex Plante

Two veterans helped to hold up the non-Gilbert portion of the depth chart -- Foster, who suffered through a down season, but was at least a proven bottom-pairing commodity; and Vandermeer, who bounced from left to right throughout the season.  Now, instead of an experienced player on the right-hand side, the Oilers have been forced to play Theo Peckham or Cam Barker on the right hand side, and neither of them has done well.  With Jeff Petry in Oklahoma City because he's the only defenseman who doesn't have to clear waivers and no one else capable of playing the right side, Corey Potter is a key piece to the defense.  Read that again.  Corey Potter is a key piece to the defense.  But it didn't have to be this way.

Steve Tambellini contributed to the shortage by trading the right-handed, right-side playing Kurtis Foster for the left-handed, left-side playing Andy Sutton.  He passed on all available right-handed defensemen in free agency to sign Cam Barker, a lefty.  If three bloggers saw the weakness in the depth chart, there's no doubt that Oilers' management should have seen it.  Anyone who's had an opportunity to see "Oil Change" knows that the Oilers have a wealth of whiteboards available to them.  Writing the depth chart on one of those whiteboards would have made their issues readily apparent.  So why did Tambellini ignore the problems and sign Barker?

There were readily-available defensemen capable of playing the position, yet they were ignored.  I've already written about the possibility of signing Anton Stralman, but he wasn't the only man for the job.  Like the veteran candidates capable of playing bottom-end minutes were passed over, so too were this year's group of veteran candidates.  Aside from Stralman or re-signing Jim Vandermeer, right-handed guys like Randy Jones, Radek Martinek, Steve Eminger, Milan Jurcina and right-sider Sami Lepisto all signed for less than Cam Barker and all come with a history of more success than Barker.

The bloggers and Tom Renney were aware of the desperate need for righties, but Tambellini wasn't.  Or was he aware and expected one of his acquisitions to make the jump to the right side?  Forcing a player into a role he's not capable of fulfilling and expecting success is a hallmark of the post-lockout Oilers; it wouldn't surprise anyone to see that same strategy at work here.  The Oilers could fix the issue by sending Cam Barker to the farm and bringing Jeff Petry back, but even then, Tambellini would need to count on Corey Potter's hot streak being permanent, a dicey proposition for a career AHLer.  But Tambellini has made his own bed in this case.  He created a shortage on the right side and didn't fill the need.  NHL acquisitions continue to be an issue for Steve Tambellini.

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