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Could Todd Nelson Be The Key To Keeping Jeff Petry?

There has to be a way. The just has to.

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With the NHL's trade deadline in the not too distant future I spend a lot of time thinking about Jeff Petry. League wide, it's more or less accepted that when the deadline passes, Petry will be a member of a team that is not located in Edmonton. I know this, and I've tried to make peace with it, but I keep finding myself dreaming of a scenario where, rather than trading him for pennies (more likely a draft pick, maybe second round, possibly third), the Oilers find a way to get his name on an extension. It happened with Ales Hemsky in 2012, it could happen with Petry in 2015.

In early January, when the Oilers reached the midway point in another disappointing season, I came up with five things that the Oilers needed to do over the season's final 41 games. Not surprisingly signing Petry was right at the top of the list.

The reality with Jeff Petry is pretty simple. He's the best defenceman on the team. There is nobody on the team or in the system who is going to be able to replace him next season. And finding a replacement through free agency is going to cost as much if not more, if they can even find one. Sign Petry now. This is the single most important thing for the Oilers to get done between now and the end of the season. In fact, it's been a week since the Oilers could first get his name on an extension, why isn't this done yet?

When it come down to it, this almost isn't a negation at this point, the Oilers need to get his name on a new deal that badly. And if he doesn't want to stay, if he's had enough of the losing and just wants out, beg him to stay. Offer him a one year deal at $6.5M - more if he wants it - and tell him that if he likes how this team looks at this time next year that there'll be a multi-year offer waiting for him then. Whatever needs to get done, do it. And then do it again just in case.

And that's why I find it more than a little troubling that the Oilers, as reported by Jim Matheson,  haven't even been negotiating with Petry. Sadly this doesn't come as a major shock because Matt Henderson wrote the same thing on Oilers Nation a little over a month ago, but his status as a lowly blogger led many to simply dismiss what he said. When it comes from someone like Matheson though, the story has to be taken seriously. And as Jonathan Willis says, it's incomprehensible.

To simply shrug and say, "Oh well, I guess he doesn't want to be here because he turned down a deal last summer" is unacceptable

It takes two to make a deal, I get that. And if Petry told the Oilers that he doesn't want to stay in Edmonton past the end of this season because of the weather, the city, or the travel - in other words, things beyond the Oilers' control - then fine, there's nothing more that they could do, you can't force a guy to sign on the dotted line. But if it's anything else that has him contemplating a future with an NHL not located in Edmonton, well then it's up to management to at least try to re-sign him. If Petry's agent opens with a seven-year deal worth $70M, you counter. If Petry turns down 15 deals, you put together a 16th proposal. Maybe there isn't a deal to be made, but the point is that you do something. To simply shrug and say, "Oh well, I guess he doesn't want to be here because he turned down a deal last summer" is unacceptable.

Of course, when you talk about Petry re-signing here, or anyone else for that matter, you also have to consider the state of the team. This is Petry's fifth season with the Oilers, and it'll be the fourth time that the team has finished in the bottom three league wide. That's terrible in more way than I care to try and explain, and those kind of results have to wear on a player, I know that it's had an impact on me. I wouldn't blame Petry if he wanted a fresh start somewhere else, but I do blame the team for creating the situation in the first place.

Mismanagement led to the team's second rebuild, a rebuild that started with the drafting of Taylor Hall. That same management group then decided that a scorched earth rebuild was the way to go, and since then have been trying to find a way to flip the switch from lose to win, with very little success. Craig MacTavish has tried to distance himself from the past failings of this organization, and that's fair, he didn't sign Nikolai Khabibulin for example, but he has done plenty to try and reshape this team and the results haven't been there. If Petry has decided that enough is enough, that's at least partially on MacTavish too.

Is that the reason though? It makes sense total sense that, given the state of the team, that Petry would have been reluctant to sign a long term deal last summer. It's also possible that other factors played a part in that decision. Bob Stauffer made an interesting statement on his show yesterday as to what one of those things might have been:

I got the sense that Jeff Petry likes Todd Nelson. And I don't think that Jeff Petry liked Dallas Eakins.

Not liking the coach would also explain why Petry wouldn't have wanted to sign a long term deal with the Oilers last summer. And it's  a problem that's completely correctable now. There have been some encouraging signs during Nelson's tenure as the team's head coach, the improved special teams for example, but as I've said more than a few times, I think that a thorough search for a new coach should be item number one on the team's off season to do list. If, after taking some time and talking to a few candidates, it turns out that Nelson is the best man for the job, great, but I'd rather not see him simply handed the job in April. Unless of course, that would be the kind of thing that would convince the team's best defenceman to hang around for a little while longer.

Obviously the General Manager doesn't want to give full control of the team and all personnel decisions to a single player but let's assume for a second that it's not just Petry that feels this way. Now consider the signs of life that Nelson has coaxed out of this team. Would giving him the job for another season - think of it as an extended audition - be that ridiculous of an idea if it was in fact the kind of thing that would make a player like Petry a whole hell of a lot happier? Like so many decisions, it comes down to risk/reward. Is there going to be a better coaching candidate out there? Will the Oilers be able to find a replacement for Petry this summer? What happens if they don't? Petry isn't Chris Pronger but he's a damn good defenceman and this is a trade-off that I could live with. As good as it sounds though, the General Manager will probably have to pick up the phone to start negotiations to find out for sure.

In reality, I'm probably just grasping at straws with this but I can't help myself. I really wish I wouldn't get my hopes up, it always makes the inevitable a little more painful.