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Marincin To The Barons. Aulie Plays. Another Strange Decision With The Defence.

The strange decisions on the blue line continue.

Derek Leung

In my article from yesterday on the rather absurd decision to dress Will Acton for a night admiralmark left this comment:

The really REALLY bad thing is we can’t always tell if their incorrect deployment decisions are based on what they believe to be the best or if they are trying to send some kind of message. In either case it’s the wrong choice and they just keep right on making them. Clear cut examples of incompetence.

That comment summarizes quite nicely something that's been bothering me about this coaching staff for a while now, there are simply too many obviously wrong decisions being made. The coaches are obviously much closer to the players than we are, and that means they know things we don't which will on occasion lead to them playing a hunch with a roster decision, which is fine, I accept that, but when they do things like make Jeff Petry a healthy scratch, or give 20 minutes a night to Brad Hunt, or today's head scratcher, taking Martin Marincin out of the lineup and sending him Oklahoma City (possibly nothing more than a paper transaction) in favour of Keith Aulie in an attempt to add some grit it becomes impossible to give them the benefit of the doubt.

And what's perhaps more puzzling is that the roster decisions don't seem to match at all with how the players are being used. Take Hunt for example, I'm in a no way a fan of his, but this is a player that the coaches felt should be playing more than almost any other defender on the team (his 20:14 a night average trails only Justin Schultz and Nikita Nikitin). Fine, we have a difference of opinion regarding a player, I can live with that, but why then isn't he playing every night? How does it work that a player who is scratched half the time is also one of the most used defencemen? It makes no sense.

And the same can be said of the decision to take Marincin out of the lineup. The usage chart below shows the Oilers seven most frequently used defencemen this season. We'd all like that circle of Marincin's to be a little more blue, but for a guy taking on the toughest minutes and not getting a favourable zone start push it's not all that bad*. And like the team's usage of Hunt, I can't connect the dots between using him like this and then deciding that he doesn't belong in the lineup. It just doesn't make sense.

defence chart

And to muddy the waters even more, the player chosen to replace Marincin has so far struggled in the AHL this season; it boggles the mind. From Eric Rodgers (he's worth a follow on Twitter if you're not all ready) most recent post at Tend the Farm which looked at some of the Barons early season on-ice stats:

Keith Aulie has struggled the most, posting a -9 [goal differential] so far this season, far and away the lowest on the team while averaging an estimated TOI of 17+ minutes.

A -9 goal differential in eight games played in a less league, that's encouraging. Of course we don't have any context for that number, perhaps his on-ice save percentage is sub .800, that would help explain a number like ugly, but when I think back to the player/pylon that I saw in training camp six weeks ago I have my doubts that there is anything that'll put that total in a better light. And tonight this player will dress for the Oilers in favour of the player who has so far payed the most difficult minutes on the OIlers' blue line, and the best explanation we have for this is grit. Why would anyone be confused by that?

* To be a little more clear, those results are bad but given Marincin's history I don't think the early season results are worth getting too worked up about.