The Oilers, PTO’s & the Search for a RD

Through all the initial excitement that comes with free agency there are a lot of players that will not be getting contracts heading into the 2016-17 season. Many of these players will end up having to sign a professional tryout (PTO) with an organization in hopes of earning an NHL job. In recent years the PTO strategy has been used quite frequently with general managers using the PTO to audition a free agent into a depth role.

Peter Chiarelli has done a masterful job in his short time with the Edmonton Oilers, more than some of his predecessors of the old regime. Still, the team is far from a playoff contender and what improvements Edmonton has made, it still has some issues in the bottom six, bottom pairing on defense and overall depth issues throughout their AHL affiliate in Bakersfield.

Related: Lowetide – New Balance

Related: Oilers Cap Situation (Cap Friendly)

With 46/50 contractual spots in the organization, three of them are ELC slide-eligible which means the number could drop after re-assignment to junior. Ethan Bear and Caleb Jones are expected to slide but Jesse Puljujarvi is expected to challenge for a spot in the Oilers top six this fall. The only  RFA remaining to be re-signed by the Oilers is David Musil and that should be sorted soon enough. That puts Edmonton more than likely at 45/50 contracts. That’s five potential organizational spots for players on PTO to earn.

Should Edmonton Try PTO Route to Address Depth?

This was covered briefly on Bob Stauffer’s Oilers Now radio show, where Stauffer suggested Edmonton could use PTO’s to address the defense depth. Let’s focus on the UFA market below to see what is potentially available still.

Chiarelli has been quite vocal about having a balanced lefty/righty mix on the backend. If you look at the current makeup of the Oilers defense you’ll notice a lack of depth on the right side, and that’s with moving Brandon Davidson over onto his off side to balance the third-pair. We haven’t even factored Andrew Ference potentially going onto LTIR to start the year or even that Bear will be re-assigned to the WHL Seattle Thunderbirds either. That leaves a total of three guys that naturally play the right side in Adam Larsson, Mark Fayne and Jordan Oesterle.



Oscar Klefbom

Adam Larsson

Andrej Sekera

Mark Fayne

Darnell Nurse

Brandon Davidson*

Griffin Reinhart

Andrew Ference

David Musil

Jordan Oesterle

Dillon Simpson

Ethan Bear

Joey Laleggia


Ben Betker


Caleb Jones

At the moment it looks like Edmonton is locked with a Klefbom-Larsson first-pair followed by a Sekera-Fayne second-pair. Fayne played his best minutes alongside Sekera last year and Davidson’s stock is rising on the right side so he’ll be a solid partner for Nurse on the third pair. There is some intangible “depth” on the left side here, the last thing the organization needs is to add another LD.

UFA Available RD Remaining

Here is a list of the Top 25 UFA defenders as per Cap Friendly, but altered to show only RD. It doesn’t exactly read as an array of sunshine but there are some serviceable players each with their own skill set and asterisk. There are a few names of note on this list:

1. Matt Bartkowski 28 D 80 6 12 18 -19 18:37 $1,750,000 $1,750,000
2. Marek Zidlicky 39 D 53 4 12 16 5 15:35 $1,500,000 $1,500,000
3. Luke Schenn 26 D 72 4 12 16 -2 17:33 $3,350,000 $3,600,000
4. Dennis Seidenberg 34 D 61 1 11 12 -1 19:23 $4,500,000 $4,000,000
5. Kyle Quincey 30 D 47 4 7 11 1 19:45 $4,250,000 $4,250,000
6. Eric Gryba 28 D 53 1 5 6 0 17:52 $1,300,000 $1,250,000
7. Jakub Nakladal 28 D 27 2 3 5 -5 14:11 $817,500 $817,500
8. Tyson Strachan 31 D 2 0 0 0 1 07:33 $650,000 $650,000
9. James Wisniewski 32 D 1 0 0 0 0 00:47 $5,000,000 $5,500,000
10. Brad Stuart 36 D 6 0 0 0 -2 14:00 $3,600,000 $3,600,000

Matt Bartkowski (28) – A defensive defenseman that can compete for minutes in the bottom-pairing, mobility and skating limit his abilities. Posted six goals and 18 points in 80 games last year for Vancouver. Has an average NHL frame for a defender at 6’1 196lbs. Of all the RD options available he was the only one that played close to a full season and had the best offensive numbers to show for it because of that.

Marek Zidlicky (39) –  An offensive defenseman nearing the end of his career who’s offensive production has steadily declined year after year. A PP specialist in his prime, Zidlicky’s fancy stats pin him as a #5 or #6 defenseman. Considering Edmonton needs help on the PP, Zidlicky might be worth an audition in camp.

Luke Schenn (26) – A former 5th overall pick in 2008, Schenn has hit the UFA market after bouncing between three teams in eight seasons. At 6’2″ 229lbs, he’s one of the tougher frames and as a shutdown defender could be serviceable on the bottom pairing or as a No. 5/6. Considering Edmonton may want some insurance on the backend once injuries start to mount, Schenn might be someone of interest. What isn’t of interest, however, is his lack of foot speed and mobility which has hindered his ability to live up to his draft expectations.

Dennis Seidenberg (34) – Recently bought out by Boston, Seidenberg had a rough year in 2015-16, he was injured and never really got comfortable once he was back in the Bruins lineup. Zdeno Chara’s former defense partner scored just one goal and 12 points in 61 games last year.

Kyle Quincey (30) – Similar to Seidenberg, Quincey missed much of last season due to injury and played just 47 games scoring just 11 points. Might be of assistance to an Oilers second PP unit if healthy. Has missed 44 games over the last two seasons.

Eric Gryba (28) – Fans were split on Gryba in Edmonton last year, you either saw his fit or you didn’t. He played serviceable minutes in the Oilers No. 5/6 role playing around 17:52 TOI and getting into 53 games. Injuries limited his role but coming back to the Oilers with his toughness, size and willingness to drop the gloves make the Oilers tough on the backend.

Related: Gryba Still On Oilers Radar?

Jakub Nakladal (28) – This is an interesting one, Nakladal split the year between the NHL/AHL with Calgary’s organization and had poor numbers in the NHL but played well in the AHL scoring 14 points in 35 games. He’ll play for the Czech Republic at the 2016 World Cup.

Tyson Strachan (31) – A limited ability defensive defenseman that brings physicality and size, he’s split his 186 NHL games with five different teams. Spent a majority of last year in the AHL with the Iowa Wild, could audition for the #7 job but the likes of Jordan Oesterle and Griffin Reinhart have higher upside.

Related: Best Remaining Options In Free Agency

Related: 7 UFA’s Worth Taking Risk On

James Wisniewski (31) – Of  all the names on the list, this is the one that makes sense. An offensive defenseman, PP specialist who is still fairly productive… when healthy. He was injured on his first shift last season and missed the rest of the year, Wisniewski’s body looks  like it’s slowing down. He’s missed 153 games in the last four seasons. Yet this is the market that’s available for a team looking for a right-handed RD that can quarterback a powerplay. In 2014-15 with Columbus/Anaheim Wisniewski put up eight goals and 34 points in 69 games, the year prior he put up seven goals and 51 points.

Brad Stuart (36) – On his last legs as an NHL defenseman, Stuart was a solid #4 shutdown defender in his prime. An NHL veteran of 1,056 games and a Stanley Cup champion in 2008 with Detroit, Stuart might be a steady player-coach as a #7. Still, the Oilers have Ference playing a similar role, when/if he returns from injury.

Is There Anything Worth Getting on a PTO?

As you see in the analysis, the players available to help the Oilers backend as an RD is limited and comes with more question marks than answers. The market available is essentially #5-#7 defensemen. Edmonton needs help on the PP but outside of taking a flyer on Zidlicky, Schenn, Seidenberg and Wisniewski there isn’t much out there. Each of the three is on the back nine of their NHL careers and injuries have taken a toll.

Chiarelli has a relationship with Seidenberg from his days with Boston and together they won a Stanley Cup in 2011. Wouldn’t be surprised if Seidenberg got a shot in Edmonton at camp because of that and that he was still counted on to play 19:23 TOI, 4th most on the Bruins defense last year. Briefly speaking here Zidlicky could be a PP addition, Schenn could be a big body bruiser in the bottom pairing.

Personally, I’d also take a look  at Wisniewski who has generally played well in an offensive system, much like Todd McLellan has been trying to coach while preaching defensive awareness. Wisniewski can play on both sides, when healthy and not taking ill-advised penalties. He’s got a cannon of a shot on the PP and setting up or being fed one-timers would give the Oilers another dangerous gun with the man advantage.

Either way, if either player were to catch on in camp and earn a contract only to steadily decline as the year went on, you could take solemn in knowing it’s a one year deal and role out the player in protected minutes and zone starts.

It’s worth looking into, and if it doesn’t work out there are no hard feelings and that’s the point of a PTO.