Are we there yet? Pondering Edmonton’s defense
If nothing else, the Edmonton Oilers seem willing to pay to improve their defense. Did they do enough to finally see some actual results, though?
In a way, Justin Schultz symbolizes the team as a whole: expensive, hyped-up and disappointing.
His possession stats have been disastrous at times. At a glance, his offensive numbers look reasonable enough, yet he’s really been given every opportunity to produce even more. The 25-year-old’s even been a healthy scratch on a defense that’s been downright terrible at times.
The Oilers haven’t done themselves any favors by pronouncing his potential to be Norris-level and boxing themselves into a corner with bloated contracts, including Wednesday’s one-year, $3.9 million deal. All in all, it’s been an ugly start to his NHL career.
Still, a lot of people believe that he still has a chance to be a difference-maker ... in a good way, that is.
All I'm saying is the tools for Schultz have always been there. Someone just needs to teach him how to use them in the NHL— Twitch Dot TVs MurtBunch (@JSBMjeanshorts) July 15, 2015
I fully expect Justin Schultz to take a big step forward this season. Will blossom under experienced coaches and will be a willing pupil— Bob Stauffer (@Bob_Stauffer) July 15, 2015
Long story short, the jury’s out regarding Schultz’s potential, but what about Edmonton’s defense as a whole? PHT’s Jason Brough took a quick stab at what the Oilers’ blueline might look at, while Mike Halford also threw Griffin Reinhart’s name in the hat:
So what do the Oilers' pairings look like next year?— Jason Brough 🙁 (@SadClubCommish) July 15, 2015
Or does Nurse get in there? Nikitin?
There are a few things that stand out while pondering potential pairings:
- Most obviously, that’s a pretty expensive group, especially considering the middling (at best) results. War on Ice pegs their 2015-16 defense spending at $22.92 million, and that’s assuming Darnell Nurse isn’t in the mix.
- It’s highly mercenary. As much as the narrative revolves around the Oilers being built off of high draft picks, it’s remarkable just how many of their defensemen have come from free agency (especially if you count Schultz) and trades. There isn’t much “homegrown” talent involved.
- Improvement is indeed feasible. Andej Sekera is a possession darling, while Mark Fayne came in with some solid credentials last summer. Nurse could very well be a gem, as his draft status would indicate. People continue to await Schultz’s growth. Maybe most importantly, Todd McLellan is arguably the most qualified coach the Oilers have employed in a long time.
Of course, it remains to be seen if “improved” means much, as there was a significant gap between the Oilers and the NHL’s defensive elite. Schultz remains a microcosm once more, as both the player and the group are absolutely at the “put up or shut up” juncture heading into 2015-16.