(An Attempt at) Making Sense of the Sutton and Potter Signings

Dangles, by Bruce Bennett, via Getty Images with permission

At this point, trying to make sense of the moves made by Steve Tambellini and Oilers' management is pretty much completely useless. I tried to find a witty analogy to insert there, but there really isn't anything I can come up with that strikes me as being as difficult as understanding the processes and conclusions of the Oiler front office.

There doesn't appear to be any logic or discernible analysis they use that anyone paying attention has been able to locate. There are a lot of smart people watching what the Oilers do, and, while not many people are surprised anymore when they do something out of step with what a typical rebuild plan might look like, I think it is fair to say that everyone is still in the dark as to how they possibly arrive at some of the decisions they do.

Case in point...yesterday's announcement of the re-signing of Andy Sutton.

The reaction has been, let's say, less than enthusiastic. Not surprisingly, Tambellini's track record has not inspired a great deal of confidence from the (non-main-stream) media or the fanbase.

It is pretty easy to look at the Oilers' current depth chart for next season on the blueline and question how it will lead to any better results than what we have seen this season. Tom Gilbert, Ladislav Smid, Ryan Whitney, Corey Potter and now Andy Sutton are all signed through the end of next season, and with the likely inclusion of Jeff Petry (and rightfully so), it begins to look like the Oiler blueline is nearly set for the 12/13 season. If this is the case, count me among the pessimists.

Now, if you ask what I think the Oilers ARE doing, I suspect they might be preparing to shuffle a couple of chairs over the summer. Still, nothing that will stop the 12/13 ship from sinking.

But, if we take a few minutes to consider what they COULD be doing, well, you might actually be able to find some logic behind the moves made thus far.

With Ryan Whitney's bionic ankle a permanent question mark going forward, the two biggest things that have plagued the Oilers blueline this season are the need for a top pairing, all situations, minute eating blueliner, and the lack of sufficient depth to allow them to compensate for the inevitable injuries that occur over the course of a season.

This season, players like Andy Sutton, Theo Peckham, Jeff Petry, Corey Potter and yes, even Cam Barker have been forced into situations where they were playing heavier minutes than their skill and/or experience allows for, and players like Alex Plante, Taylor Chorney and Colten Teubert have had auditions at the NHL level. I think we can all agree that this recipe has not worked.

With that in mind, and the constant drum beat of derision aimed at management team for their previous poor decisions, it makes total sense to jump to the conclusion that the current crop of blueliners will form the core of next year's line-up.

But, what if, for just a minute, we consider what a move like this might mean if it were made by a management team that had the confidence of the people?

What if this is a deal designed to keep NHL-calibre players (albeit borderline ones) on payroll for another year as insurance against injury to Whitney' ankle, or to either of the warriors (Gilbert and Smid)? What if the plan is to have Jeff Petry as your clear #5 on the back end next season, and to have Peckham, Potter and Sutton as your #6, 7 and 8 options in some order, with the understanding that if you lose one to waivers at some point, it's not really the end of the world?

If that were the case, all of a sudden I don't hate the move as much. There would still be absolutely no defense of the gross overpayment of a 37 year old defenseman, but the roster move iteself could be defended. It would push the Marincin/Klefbom/Musil/Teubert/Plante crop of prospects back a bit and make them force their way to the NHL level based on performance instead of need.

Of course, for all of this to be worthwhile, it would also mean that there was one more big shoe to drop, one more move that makes all of these small, suspect moves make sense. One move that in a single moment, improves your Defensive group 1 through 6 by pushing everyone down a notch on the depth chart. By going out and getting that elite level defender, someone like Ryan Suter or Shea Weber as Lowetide mused about Monday evening, the Oilers would push Jeff Petry out of the top two pairings and give the team a legitimate top 4 on the blueline.

A player like Suter (who I'll use an example because he will be on the open market this summer) brings the ability to affect every aspect of the team's blueline. He faces the toughest competition on the Predators and has the second highest On-Ice Corsi among the team's defensemen. He is trusted to start over 54% of his face-offs in his own zone and, quite remarkably, has a PDO over 1020 on the PP, at even strength, AND while short handed. Best of all, he does all this while leading his team in TOI/60 on the PP (2.57 min.), PK (3.91 min.) and is 2nd at even strength (19.13 min.). Overall, Suter is 3rd overall in the NHL in TOI/60 at (26.6 min.).

A signing like that, would allow Tom Gilbert and Ladislav Smid to share the heavy lifting instead of carrying the burden alone, which could only stand to help their long-term durability. It also lessens the quality of competition faced by the rest of the blueline, which should serve to reduce the amount of situations where they are in over their heads.

Now, I have serious doubts that the Oilers will either a) be willing or b) be able to go out and land someone like Suter, but if that is not the plan, then I don't see how the signing of both Potter and Sutton makes any sense.

If going out this summer and landing a top of the line, elite blueliner is part of the plan, then I can at least partially understand what the Oilers have done here, but if it is not (and I doubt it is), then (yet again), I have no idea what the hell Steve Tambellini is doing.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this FanPost are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views or position of the staff.

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