The Nazz are Blue

The Edmonton Oilers have a perfectly good NHL defenseman playing in the land of the white chocolate rabbit. They sure could use him in Our town, but that isn’t going to happen this year.

The current 6 (and the one bubbling under) is a mostly veteran group without a complete player to lead the way. It’s an unusual hodge-podge not far removed from an expansion group and there are no “Taylor Hall’s of the defense” waiting for their opportunity.

We’re 4 games into the NHL season and can begin to see how Tom Renney and company are using the blue. I think. Here are their total minutes so far:

  1. Ryan Whitney 105
  2. Tom Gilbert 91
  3. Kurtis Foster 78
  4. Ladislav Smid 73
  5. Theo Peckham 69
  6. Jim Vandermeer 64
  7. Jason Strudwick 0

This is about what we might have expected in terms of ranking, I guess there may have been a thought that Vandermeer would be used more than we’re seeing so far this year (and it is early). Here’s a look at their EV times:

  1. Ryan Whitney 69
  2. Tom Gilbert 65
  3. Theo Peckham 60
  4. Ladislav Smid 60
  5. Kurtis Foster 57
  6. Jim Vandermeer 56

This is a fairly even split for the current blue. Renney is pretty much rolling them at even-strength; on the PP Whitney, Foster and Gilbert are getting the work and on the PK it is all but Foster in rotation.

Foster is the interesting item here. I’ve mentioned Dennis and his great work over at Tyler’s, this really is an exceptional hockey reference. I don’t know that any of us have used this information enough but it certainly gives us an indication about what is happening in these games (like another camera angle). Here are the chances for/against totals for each defender through 4 games:

  1. Tom Gilbert 24-15 (.615)
  2. Ladislav Smid 18-13 (.581)
  3. Ryan Whitney 18-22 (.450)
  4. Theo Peckham 13-21 (.382)
  5. Jim Vandermeer 13-22 (.371)
  6. Kurtis Foster 12-21 (.364)

The Dennis numbers jive with Gabriel Desjardins early results and I think by eye we’ve all identified Kurtis Foster as a guy who is struggling. Now, if the Oilers plan on using Jason Strudwick on Thursday (and I think they will) the fellow I suspect they’ll sit is Theo Peckham. Why? He’s the newbie. I would rank Peckham as the 4th best defender of the group so far (exactly as above) but Vandermeer and Foster are veterans and will get more leeway at the beginning of the year.

A couple of items from Oklahoma City may become part of this week’s story. First, the Oilers got a fine outing from Bryan Pitton today (stopped 29 of 31 in a Baron victory) and second Shawn Belle (5gp, 0-4-4 +3) has been impressive to start the season.

Should the Oilers test the hockey Gods and send down one of their two backups (either Belfour or Hasek, both are quality), it might mean they recall Shawn Belle and insert him into the lineup. Based on performance, Kurtis Foster should get the rest.

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