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Offensive Defensemen

Craig MacTavish is a good coach. I firmly believe that he's in the upper echelon of NHL coaches, and that he has put together some pretty remarkable seasons with some fairly dysfunctional teams.

Case in point: offensive defensemen. MacTavish has been criticized in the past for playing a stifling, defensive system which focuses on "smart" hockey at the expense of creativity. My personal opinion is that MacTavish adapts his strategies to his personnel, and that when he's given players that suit a certain style, that's the style he coaches. Here are the top three defensemen by offensive output that MacTavish has had in each season, both by total points and PPG. (Note: stats are for time with the Oilers only. In 05-06, Spacek wasn't the third leading point getter due to limited GP, but his PPG was so much higher I included him)

2000-01: Niinimaa (46, .56), Poti (32, .40), Ulanov (23, .34)
2001-02: Niinimaa (44, .54), Brewer (25, .31), Smith (18, .24)
2002-03: Brewer (29, .36), Niinimaa (28, .44), Staios (26, .34)
2003-04: Staios (28, .34), Bergeron (26, .48), Brewer (25, .32)
2005-06: Pronger (56, .7), Bergeron (35, .47), Spacek (19, .61)
2006-07: Bergeron (25, .45), Staios (17, .29), Tjarnqvist (15, .41)
2007-08: Gilbert (33, .40), Pitkanen (26, .41), Grebeshkov (18, .25)

We can see here why MacTavish used Bergeron to the extent that he did, despite defensive shortcomings. When names like Brewer and Staios are leading the blueline in scoring, there is an obvious lack of offense. With the exception of that glorious 2006 Finals team, the closest MacTavish has had to a legitimate defensive corps was that 2001-02 team, with Niinimaa, Poti, Ulanov, Brewer and Smith providing a decent top-5.

Things have started to turn around. Presumably the chief lesson that Lowe took out of the 2006-07 debacle was the need to provide his coach with a legitimate group of defensemen. While there is certainly a spot open for a veteran shut-down type, Gilbert, Pitkanen, Grebeshkov and Souray (.38PPG) provide hope for an offense generating group. The first three are all excellent passers (Grebeshkov really was a completely different player in the second half) and Souray has that massive point shot. Staios provides leadership and grit, while Smid and Greene are being brought along (particularly Smid) as shutdown defensemen. We can also see the rationale for the Gilbert signing- aside from Pronger, he's had the best offensive season by an Oiler D since Niinimaa. Going forward, this is a group that in a couple of years will look like it belongs on a contending team.

And that is something that has only happened once under Kevin Lowe.