I wonder if Jason Strudwick knows exactly how lucky he is today. The Edmonton Oilers have settled on him as their niche roster player who will be asked to stick up for the skill kids, make the simple play and maybe get in a fight or two along the way.
Since Kevin Lowe took over, the Edmonton Oilers have proven very capable of finding solid role playing defensemen. They could find them at midnight in a snowstorm and have proven it over the years with names like Scott Ferguson, Igor Ulanov, Cory Cross, Steve Staios, Jan Hejda and others.
These are players that are usually readily available because they often find themselves on teams where their abilities don’t mesh with the job required or they are asked to do too much by the coaching staff. Just because Strudwick is playing well in December doesn’t mean he’s going to be able to take on huge minutes against the Iginla line with Ladislav Smid as his partner.
These defensemen seem interchangeable and sometimes they appear to take great leaps forward, sign big free agent contracts, and fall flat on their faces when their roles increase. Igor Ulanov is an example of that scenario playing out.
I think the key for the Oilers is that the entire management staff were role players and they know how to handle a Jason Strudwick. He’ll be told to keep it simple, rim it around the boards when in doubt, play tough and make the safe play. And when he takes a dumb penalty they won’t bench the guy, and when he gets in a fight in which he takes the extra minor it won’t be World War Three.
The Oilers do really well with these kinds of signings. Strudwick is coming in as a depth defender, but I have little doubt there will be games this season when his TOI is in the top 4 and he’ll be asked to do things not thought possible by fans of his last team. And he’ll do them well, and by this time next season people will be talking about Jason Strudwick in a much kinder fashion than they are today.
It’s the damndest thing I’ve ever seen, and the only comparable I can think of is the Whitey Herzog era where marginal hitters like Vince Coleman becamse superstars because Herzog asked them to do only a few things (get on base, steal second) and those happened to be the things they were good at all of the time.
As for what it means for the Oilers roster, there are several possibilities. I think the Oilers might go with 13 forwards and 8 defenders to start the season if they’re not sure about how the blueline will shake out. You don’t want to lose Mathieu Roy for nothing. Speaking of Roy, this signing may indicate his career is in jeopardy, maybe those concussions have him in some trouble.
This signing could impact a player like Zack Stortini. Word is that Stortini’s agent is asking for the sun, moon and stars. It is my opinion that this organization is completely capable of using Stortini as an example to their other young kids. Strudwick is also very nice insurance against an Ethan Moreau injury, as he can also play forward and he might be able to help a young, struggling player like JF Jacques find his way.
A very nice signing by the Oilers, and an extremely good day for Jason Strudwick. He landed in the best possible spot for his ability and on a team with a tremendous record of success in this area.