Oilers: Is Now the Right Time to Upgrade the Defence?

The Edmonton Oilers are now ten games into their 2015-16 schedule and find themselves with a 3-7 record. While there were those who were expecting more from this group, they have actually started to show signs of meaningful improvement. Regrettably, it has not led to more wins and much of that can be attributed to the lack of quality players on their defence.

After creating almost zero chances during the first two games of the season against the St. Louis Blues and Nashville Predators, the Oilers have started to find their way offensively, thanks in large part to Connor McDavid becoming comfortable in his NHL skin. While head coach Todd McLellan has had a tough time finding a suitable replacement for Jordan Eberle on a line with Taylor Hall and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, the trio of McDavid, Benoit Pouliot and Nail Yakupov has at least given him two lines who are capable of creating scoring chances to throw over the boards.

Yes, the former San Jose Sharks’ bench boss has received almost nothing from his bottom six forwards on the offensive side of the equation but anyone who was expecting that from this collection of players was kidding themselves. While the Oilers may be a two-line team, more often than not, all four are proving capable of doing the necessary work to hold their own in both the neutral and defensive zones. 


Oilers Goaltending Appears To Be Much Improved

Make no mistake, this is still a ton of work to be done but, this group’s attention to detail has improved.  Add to that the fact Cam Talbot and Anders Nilsson have given this team above average netminding in most of those ten games and one would think Edmonton should have a few more than six points in the Western Conference standings. Which brings to the elephant room…the Oilers blue line. With all due respect to those who felt Peter Chiarelli did a masterful job in upgrading his backend in the summer, it is still a group that has nothing resembling a top-pairing blueliner and one that still struggles to transition the puck up ice. While players like Mark Fayne, Oscar Klefbom, Justin Schultz and Andrej Sekera would all serve a purpose on different rosters, as a collective unit they are nowhere near good enough to be caring the load that comes with being top four defencemen. [Related Article: Sekera Move Signals A Change In Direction]

Despite what some may have thought, that was the case during the summer and nothing has changed. Add to that the inexperience of a Darnell Nurse and Griffin Reinhart, the ineffectiveness of Brandon Davidson, Andrew Ference, Eric Gryba and the almost obscene workload that has been given to latter and no one should be surprised with what this group has been able to deliver to this point in the season. End of discussion.

With both Reinhart and Schultz nursing injuries and Nurse already here, the only player the organization could even consider recalling from Bakersfield would be Nikita Nikitin and that simply cannot happen. A defence with a trio of Ference, Gryba and Nikitin all inside its top seven would unquestionably make this the worst backend in all of hockey and one could actually make the argument that Edmonton may already have that distinction. Problem being, that now leaves the general manager in a bit of an awkward spot.

Sending The Wrong Message

While no one within the organization would have ever come out and said it, the moment the Oilers decided to go in a different direction with who was running the show; was the very moment this season became an afterthought. The plan was for one more year of sacrifice before hopefully showing real signs of improvement in 2016-17 in their shiny new digs in downtown Edmonton. That mindset may now have to change.

With this team now showing the ability to stay in games on an almost nightly basis, can Chiarelli really stand by and simply allow this season to spiral out of control? There is no question these players are starting to buy into what this coaching staff is selling them but if management decides to sit on their hands and refuse to make a concerted effort to address what is a glaring weakness on this roster, it could have a negative impact on this group.

In his defence, this is probably not the best of times to make such a move but with Connor McDavid now in the mix and goaltending no longer the issue it once was, Peter Chiarelli may be forced into doing something he was planning on taking care of next summer. Far from an ideal situation but one that this organization now finds itself in and don’t think for a minute that the vast majority of this fanbase would be ok with the status quo. This could get interesting.