Today, the Edmonton Oilers continued to add to the depth of their blueline and entered another contestant into the training camp "Battle for the Bottom Pairing" by signing UFA Dman, and former Oiler, Denis Grebeshkov.
GM Craig MacTavish announces the #Oilers have agreed to terms with defenceman Denis Grebeshkov on a one-year contract.— Edmonton Oilers (@EdmontonOilers) July 18, 2013
Grebeshkov comes to back to the Oilers after a few seasons in the KHL. There were some question marks about his play while he was there, but with the rumoured price tag to be approximately $1.5M and the term being limited to only one year, I think this is a very reasonable gamble for GM Craig MacTavish to take in the hopes of solidifying his blueline.
How does this affect the depth chart?
It seems quite obvious at this point that the gameplan heading into camp will be to carry 13 forwards and 8 players on the back end. With the first five spots reasonably spoken for (J. Schultz, Petry, Smid, Ference, N. Schultz) the team will have quite a battle in camp for those final three spots. Incumbent Corey Potter isn't going to want to give up his spot in the line-up without a fight, but he will be pressed hard to make the team with newcomer Philip Larsen (acquired in the Shawn Horcoff trade) being a reasonably comparable player who is also a right-handed shot and is significantly younger. To be honest, I would imagine that the depth chart as of this moment may have a third pairing of Grebeshkov and N. Schultz with both Potter and Larsen in the press box. At this point I suspect that those eight players would be the players who "have a spot to lose" heading into camp, barring any more trades or signings between now and September, as all are on one-way deals. That said, the team signed Anton Belov, and have high hopes that he could come in and earn a job in the starting six, with the potential to grow into a top four player as he was a top-pairing guy in the KHL just last season. Belov does have a two-way deal however, so he would not be subject to waivers to be sent down to Oklahoma City. (Incidentally, the Barons roster is already pretty full in its own right). Still, while I think Belov will have to play well enough to take someone's job, I believe there's a good chance that he does so and whichever of Potter and Larsen has the weakest camp may be waived so that Belov can stay.
That's now nine players up for what appears to be six regular spots in the line-up and two additional spots on the NHL roster, so one man will already be left without a chair when the music stops. The wild cards in this game of musical chairs however are the team's prospects. There has been much talk of Oscar Klefbom coming in and stepping right into the NHL line-up. This now appears unlikely at least to start the season as he would need to displace at least two of the players mentioned above while simultaneously adjusting to the North American ice surface. Many have said that at least half a season in OKC would likely serve Klefbom well, and that now appears somewhat likely unless the calibre of his game forces the team's hand (which is a nice problem to have).
The two final names, both of whom would be considered dark horse's, but who many believe can be ready for NHL duty before the end of next season are Taylor Fedun (who is still in need of a new contract) and Martin Marincin. Both are likely to begin the year with high profile assignments in the AHL, but will do their best to make it difficult for the Oilers to keep them out of Edmonton.
That makes 12 players coming in to training camp likely believing they could have a legitimate shot at making the NHL roster if they play well enough. This is likely the most competition the Oilers have had at the bottom of their roster in many years, and I believe it is a wise move for the new GM to bring a bunch of experienced bottom-pairing NHL guys to camp as well as the prospects and let them battle it out.
The other thing that the added depth does is provide Craig MacTavish with trade options should he wish to address the team's lack of depth at forward. The most likely players that could see themselves become expendable are either Nick Schultz (who is likely slated for a bottom pairing, and is over-priced for that role at $3.5M for one more season) or Ladislav Smid (if the team wants to increase the calibre of a possible return in a trade). I have no issue with the Oilers bringing this many blueliners to camp and letting the best players stay, but given the troubling bottom six at the moment, I understand the logic of exploring ways to improve that area as well.
With Ales Hemsky (who it is believed MacTavish is still trying to trade) and potentially one of Smid or Schultz to dangle on the trade market, the team would have the resources to trade to bring in some much needed help in the bottom half of the forward depth chart. With 47 of a possible 50 contracted players signed, the team will likely need to focus on trades for the majority of any roster upgrades moving forward.
No matter which scenario the Oiler GM takes between now and training camp, having an additional experienced NHL defenceman on a decent short term contract is a low risk move that has the potential to provide a significant payoff.
All in all, a decent day at the office for Craig MacTavish.