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Balance on Defense

Kurtis Foster just wasn't physical enough.
Kurtis Foster just wasn't physical enough.

The Oilers made a flurry of moves yesterday, adding six players and subtracting just one. With the additions of Ben Eager, Éric Bélanger and Ryan Smyth, the forward group looks, dare I say, competitive with the second tier of teams in the Western Conference. But the rest of the lineup still has some problems. The club is still in desperate need of a goaltender at the top of the depth chart to push everyone else down, and even though they made three moves with their back-end, that still needs work too. In fact, the blue may need more work now than when they started.

Before going any further, I should mention that the Oilers have used 46 of the 50 spots on their reserve list (including unsigned restricted free agents and junior-eligibles) with one spot almost certainly reserved for a goaltender and another for Ryan Nugent-Hopkins - the team doesn't have much flexibility. With that as backdrop, let's take a look at the Oilers' depth on defense at both the NHL and AHL level:


NHL Right-handers (2) - Gilbert, Petry
NHL Left-handers (5) - Whitney, Smid, Barker, Peckham, Sutton

AHL Right-handers (6) - Helmer, Potter, Plante, Teubert, Fedun, Motin
AHL Left-handers (2) - Chorney, Marincin

It didn't need to be this way, but a series of decisions in the last week have put the Oilers in a state of imbalance at both levels. So what could they have done differently?

LD Kevin Montgomery - It's not like Montgomery was a top notch prospect, but I thought that he performed quite well at the end of last season for Oklahoma City, earning seven points in just sixteen games to go along with a +8 rating, which was good enough for sixth on the team. He's a capable player, but the Oilers decided not to give him a qualifying offer, opting instead to give Ryan O`Marra yet another chance.

LD Cam Barker - I think this signing is a good low-risk play by the Oilers even if the price is a little bit high. With Ladislav Smid and Ryan Whitney likely to be playing top four minutes, the team will be able to bring Barker along slowly on the third pairing. Having said that, playing Barker on the left side does put Theo Peckham either on his off-wing or right out of the lineup.

LD Andy Sutton - I spoke yesterday about not liking the deal that sent Kurtis Foster to Anaheim in exchange for Sutton. Foster, for all his faults last season, was better statistically than Sutton. He's also both younger and cheaper than Sutton, which to my mind, makes him a much better bet moving forward. On top of all that, Foster is right-handed! Is Sutton so much better than Foster that it's worth going from a 3/4 split to 2/5 split? No sir, he is not. I llike this trade less and less the more I think about it.

RD Corey Potter - When this deal was consummated, the Oilers were down to their last five contracts, two of which were likely already spoken for. It's perfectly reasonable to use one of those spots for defensive depth in Oklahoma City, but if that's the goal, why go out and get a sixth right-handed defender? With more left-handers than right-handers more generally, does it serve any prospect's interest to make a temporary switch to the left side? I don't think so, but with Martin Marincin possibly headed back to junior, it's quite possible that two guys in Oklahoma City will be playing the off-side every night.

I know it's a small issue, but it's something that's important when trying to understand how all of these pieces fit together going into the 2011-12 season. At this point, they don't fit together all that well, although if the season started today I'd be running Smid-Gilbert against the toughs, Whitney-Petry as the offensive pairing in the top four, and then Barker-Peckham (Sutton) on the third pairing with Peckham being asked to flip to the right side. That's not a disaster by any means, but it's not exactly ideal either. The AHL is a different kettle of fish, especially since a guy like Marincin might not be ready. Thankfully, there's a whole summer to rectify the situation. Here's hoping it gets done.