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Defense Needed: Apply Within

The Oilers need help on defense. Where will it come from?

As Oilers' fans glow in the bask of the team's best all around game of the season, the 7-0 throttling of the Blue Jackets does little to mask the ongoing issues with the makeup of the roster.  While Ryan spent his off-season (and October) pointing out that the Oilers were woefully lacking in centre depth, and we've written at length about the problems the team's 4th line (no scoring chances necessary) creates for the rest of the team, Craig MacTavish's desperate reach for a goaltender opened a whole new can of worms on the blueline.  By moving Ladislav Smid he sent the only solid top four option out of town, and left Jeff Petry playing with a not-solid top four option on the top pair.  Below are the defensive corps' updated numbers:

Defenseman Qualcomp ZS Adj Corsi
Jeff Petry 0.294 -6.00
Ladislav Smid 0.293 -8.41
Andrew Ference 0.289 -9.97
Justin Schultz 0.285 -3.88
Philip Larsen 0.285 -12.54
Nick Schultz 0.284 -7.07
Anton Belov 0.283 -4.50
Corey Potter 0.279 -6.13
Denis Grebeshkov 0.278 7.72
Taylor Fedun 0.277 -10.94

Ladislav Smid, of course, is no longer with the team.  The table above is represented visually in the chart below.

Click on the image for a higher resolution image
Key: Y = OZone%, X = TOIQualcomp, Fill Color = Pos/Neg, Size = Abs. Value of ZS Adj Corsi

When I last went through this I had some advice for the Oilers:

  • Stop playing Justin Schultz in a top four role. He couldn't handle the defensive responsibility last year and he can't right now. Most people don't learn how to swim by drowning. Let Anton Belov and Andrew Ference take on the second pairing role and give Schultz an easier time of it.
  • Find Jeff Petry a real top-pairing partner. That partner might be the January version of Anton Belov, or that partner might be available via a trade, but Ladislav Smid isn't it. Smid can't move the puck up the ice right now. At all. 90% of the pucks that come to him are immediately thrown to Petry, regardless of the circumstances. Move him down, because if Smid is your top pairing stopper, you're in trouble.
  • Get Nick Schultz out of town or find him a seat in the press box. Schultz is mired in a ton of issues at this point, but it's become clear that he's not top-6 caliber anymore. Put Denis Grebeshkov on the third pairing with Justin Schultz and let them do their thing.  Grebeshkov is the only Oilers' defenseman with a positive ZS adjusted Corsi. Granted, he's facing easier competition, but that's all I'm asking for. Grebeshkov and Schultz on rose petal-lined minutes. Even if Grebeshkov doesn't work out, putting him in a situation to succeed might generate trade value, which Nick Schultz no longer has.

While Smid was a poor option as the top pairing stopper, the others on the roster are worse options.  Now Andrew Ference is going to have to play top pairing defense and Justin Schultz is going to have to play second-pairing minutes and so on.  The Oilers need help and need it quickly, moreso than they did just three weeks ago.  MacTavish is on record saying that he's been shopping for a top-end defenseman, but isn't willing to move with his 7 (maybe 8?) man core.

Where does that leave the Oilers?  Some of the names kicked around by the local media and bloggers include Christian Ehrhoff, Braydon Coburn, Brian Campbell, Dmitry Kulikov, and Tyler Myers, with pipe dreams of P.K. Subban and Shea Weber and terrible ideas like Luke Schenn and Andrej Meszaros.  But for the bad teams like the Panthers and Sabres, they have no incentive to move their defensemen now without getting exactly what they want out of the deal.  They can hang on until the trade deadline and ask for more and more than likely get more at that time.  It leaves the Oilers in a tough spot.  If they aren't willing to part with Jordan Eberle, Justin Schultz or Sam Gagner, how, exactly are they going to entice a team with nothing but time to kill to move a player?