The Blue, 11-12

I miss the old days of Oilers blue, where logic and good sense held sway. The Oilers had a nice variety of players and they complemented each other in a way even a fan like me could understand.

Jason Smith for the calm feet, Janne Niinimaa for the offense and quality kids like Eric Brewer coming along. You add a free agent like Steve Staios and a flawed but clear talent like Tom Poti and it all adds up to something. Maybe you have a Sean Brown for depth and really all the bases are covered. It’s a nice team on the blue.

In 2001-02, the Oilers rolled the following men at even strength: Janne Niinimaa (18:09), Jason Smith (17:20), Tom Poti (17:40) Eric Brewer (17:06), Steve Staios (14:38), Scott Ferguson (12:20). The club moved players in and out but there seemed to be a logic–a thread of reason–in the moves.

Since 2006 summer the Oilers have been waiting on kids and doing a cut and paste that honestly looks exactly like a cut and paste. Whatever the reasoning the hive mind enjoyed in the early part of the decade, the train of thought has been snapped off, the wand has been broken.

The Oilers decisions on defense don’t make sense.

This summer is typical of what the team has been doing for a few years now. The foundation of the blue (which was Niinimaa-Smith with Brewer and Staios rising a decade ago) is Ryan Whitney and Tom Gilbert, with really no one rising. Ladislav Smid fills the Tom Poti role (a prospect with real flaws and despite a lot of NHL games played more project than NHLer), and Jeff Petry may/would fill the Eric Brewer role if they’ll let him. I don’t think there’s a Staios in the group, but maybe I’m wrong.

This summer, the Oilers had an opportunity to add someone to the top 4D. Dollars were available, and they did have some options to add to the top 3 (which I count as Whitney, Gilbert and Smid until Petry arrives). The club would lose UFA’s Vandermeer and Strudwick so there were slots available for the new hires and the young kids coming up.

The returning Oilers at even strength this past season (TOI w/5×5 per 60):

  1. Ryan Whitney 18:19 (1.58)
  2. Tom Gilbert 18:09 (0.61)
  3. Jeff Petry 16:54 (0.21)
  4. Ladislav Smid 16:50 (0.43)
  5. Theo Peckham 15:58 (0.70)
  6. Taylor Chorney 13:30 (0.39)

Okay. The club has a couple of veterans with a nice range of skills (Whitney, Gilbert) one of which is a health worry and the other is healthy pretty much all time time. This group is followed by a big man with speed (always a positive) in Laddy Smid–a strict stay at home type. Petry’s number doesn’t give us much of a clue here but he should be better offensively (the truth is that none of the numbers above are a difference maker save Whitney’s and I doubt he could repeat that number in a month of Sunday’s). Theo Peckham lurks as a possible solution but would seem to be (at this point) alongside Petry as defenders who could move up but are best served with depth minutes at this time.

So, what would you add to that group? There are two guys the coach can count on, a third who has been trying to get up that hill forever (Smid) and has shown some progress. And you have an older prospect in Petry who could come quickly but is perhaps best suited for the time being on the third pairing. What would you add to that?

Cam Barker and Andy Sutton.

Sutton is somewhat understood–they were offloading Foster and I think both player and team needed a reboot on that situation–and Sutton fills the depth Vandermeer/Strudwick role (we’ll have to see how well). Barker is the curio and the things he’s probably going to be asked to do–top 4 even minutes, playing against very good NHL forwards every night, playing WITH a player like Ladislav Smid who has some Homer Simpson moments of his own–are perhaps not well suited to Barker’s skill set and current situation.

Barker played 14:10 at evens for the Wild one year ago, but he’s going to get 17 minutes a night for the Oilers if they slot him as expected. Barker serves some purposes, including backing up Jeff Petry on the depth chart and allowing him to start the season on the third pairng (or in OKC).

Based on what we know about Cam Barker, was that a wise decision? Is he a better player now than Jeff Petry?

In somewhat similar circumstances in the summer of 2001 (the Oilers had parted ways with some veterans like Ulanov and Musil) they signed graduating junior Marc-Andre Bergeron and mid-level free agent Steve Staios. This season they’ve added Barker, Sutton, Corey Potter and signed the promising draft picks who have turned pro.

The Oilers–at least on defense–don’t seem to have the touch enjoyed a decade ago. I don’t know what has changed, but it behooves them to get it back in a hurry.

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