THE BLUE

At some point over the last decade, the Oilers changed their minds about defensemen. Instead of “we need veterans to mentor the youth” the club appears to have adopted a “throw ‘em all out there, they’ll be fine” attitude.

And its driving me nuts. Completely around the bend.

During the Stanley Cup finals, the Oilers employed a strong top 4D of Chris Pronger, Jaroslav Spacek, Jason Smith and Steve Staios. Pronger (30:57) and Spacek (25:52) played big minutes and then Jason Smith (22:28) and Steve Staios (21:31) took regular turns at evens and PK but didn’t get powerplay time.

After that, they employed Marc-Andre Bergeron (chaos incorporated and I think MacT never forgave him for the Roloson injury–I might be completely wrong on this, or could be projecting my own venom); Dick Tarnstrom, who came over from Pittsburgh at the deadline and didn’t quite fit into the Oilers style; and green Matt Greene who was a penalty waiting to happen every time he stepped on the ice.

Incredibly, the lesson of the 2006 SC run wasn’t “lets get veterans like Pronger, Spacek, Smith and Staios” it was “man, that Matt Greene is going to be something some day.”

Since then, the Oilers have become a development team for the NHL and AHL clubs, too. In 2006-07, they introduced Ladislav Smid, Greene again, Jan Hejda (a keeper but they didn’t keep him), Danny Syvret, Tom Gilbert, Mathieu Roy, Bryan Young and Sebastien Bisaillon. After that, it was Theo Peckham, Taylor Chorney, Alex Plante, Johan Motin, Jeff Petry, Corey Potter, Colten Teubert and on it goes.

That’s an enormous group of young defensemen since 2006 fall–15 listed and about one dozen more on the way.

Photo courtesy Rob Ferguson. All rights reserved

We’re seeing this play out again this season in OKC. The Barons began the season with two young defensemen who had pro experience–Alex Plante (173 pro games), Colten Teubert (123 pro games)–and then 26-year old Dan Ringwald who had been a regular in the ECHL until catching on with OKC mid-season 11-12.

What does that mean? A pile of rookies. The Oilers have been fortunate in many ways–Justin Schultz paired with Martin Marincin to form a solid rookie duo, and Taylor Fedun–an older college prospect–has played well despite foot speed being an issue (as we might have expected considering the nature of his injury).

However, Alex Plante is not playing at last season’s level (4 concussions since turning pro can’t help) and Teubert has not been able to lead a second pairing successfully thus far in the season. I think that’s a big part of the problem–Teubert and Plante aren’t experienced enough to anchor a pairing with a rookie. That shouldn’t be a huge surprise, we see a veteran paired with a rookie in the NHL all the time.

The team’s best defensemen to my eye have been rookies: Marincin and Schultz. After that, there have been problems everywhere and Brandon Davidson’s injury doesn’t help matters. My own feeling is the club should retain Teubert and Fedun as the RH options on pairings 2 and 3, and then find a LH fit for Fedun outside the organization.

And it is probably a trade. Plante’s play means his value is not high at this time–even in the AHL. It will likely cost a useful AHL player, say Chris VandeVelde or maybe a mid-level prospect like Ryan Martindale.

Either way, the organization is completely off the rails in regard to how they use their blueline and this OKC club is just the latest example. How many kids have to fail before the Oilers decide a veteran hand is needed? This is ugly. I know wins and losses don’t matter in the AHL, but no one can convince me this is the way to develop defensemen.

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38 Responses to "THE BLUE"

  1. Woodguy says:

    I think that’s a big part of the problem–Teubert and Plante aren’t experienced enough to anchor a pairing with a rookie

    Given that Plante was an AHL All Star last year, shouldn’t we expect him to be able to anchor a pairing?

    I think Kevin Lowe took the endless needling about “Boy we have a lot of defensmen!” too seriously.

    Kev, we forgive you if it means you’ll put together a balanced roster.

    In MacT we trust.

  2. Lowetide says:

    WG: I didn’t mention it in the story, but I wonder about concussions with Plante. He’s had four since turning pro.

  3. Woodguy says:

    Lowetide:
    WG: I didn’t mention it in the story, but I wonder about concussions with Plante. He’s had four since turning pro.

    You may be onto something there.

    I wonder what he’s trying to play through to keep his dream alive?

    Haven’t watched much this year, but hearing he looks slower than ever.

    Not good.

    For his future or for the team.

    I can’t begin to imagine what its like to be very close to achieving your dream of playing in the NHL (and the financial security that goes with it), then the next thing you know you are out of hockey and can’t stand to be in a well lit room and have headaches all the time.

    To have the rest of your life altered significantly and fall short of the dream.

    That’s really depressing.

  4. Lowetide says:

    Agreed. One of the things I always try to factor into these things–failed prospects and such–is the injuries. Its difficult, because as a fan maybe its an easy excuse, but certainly in Plante’s case this should be the season where he’s emerging, pushing Peckham out of the way and holding off Teubert.

    He is not close.

  5. godot10 says:

    They may have to give Bryan Helmer a $500K phone call. I don’t think he comes unless you pay him to come out of “retirement”, and make it worth his while. The lockout makes it difficult to do because the Oilers aren’t generating any operating profits to afford a $500K defenseman in OKC.

    Ringwald played really decent paired mostly with Helmer last year.

  6. Lowetide says:

    And ringwald (I think it was Ringwald) played well last night with Schultz. Problem is the Oilers don’t have enough of those anchor guys. I think the RH side is covered: Schultz, Teubert and Fedun. LH side might be Marincin, xxxxx and Ringwald, with Plante drawing in when he gets healthy.

  7. Bushed says:

    Lowetide:

    While I agree with the sentiments here, it doesn’t change the fact that Plante was not likely to make the NHL even before the concussions–he’s just too slow. I groaned when we took him at the draft and evn his AHL all-star play hasn’t changed my mind. The brief call up to the Oil was brutal,and I’m talking about Plante’s play, not the hit he took.

    Also thought we got out-GMed on Teubert–could have sweetened the deal a little and held out for one of LA’s better D prospects maybe? I haven’t given up on Teubert, but he isn’t looking like the bill of goods we were sold when we got him.

  8. Lowetide says:

    Bushed: Yes, agreed on Plante. Tough to project him into the NHL and that’s been the case for a long time. I thought Penner was a helluva player, but Klefbom should be a quality defender for years and that’s part of the pauback, too. I’m not certain on Teubert–stay at home guys are so hard to project–but he seems to be coming around a little this season.

  9. PunjabiOil says:

    Disappointed they took Plante. Wanted Cherepanov. Also was interested in Perron, as was Prendergast.

    Problem was the Oilers made it clear they wanted to draft 1 forward and 1 D at 6 and 15, instead of going for the BPA.

    It’s quite sad, actually.

  10. PunjabiOil says:

    For the record, the pipeline show guys indicated that if Plante was gone at 15, the Oilers would have taken Colton Gillies – another bust.

  11. Smarmy says:

    PunjabiOil:
    For the record, the pipeline show guys indicated that if Plante was gone at 15, the Oilers would have taken Colton Gillies – another bust.

    I would have taken Gillies over Plante. (i’ve never seen Plante good)

    Gillies didn’t have enough offense to be a first rounder BUUUUT he was big and great on defense and the Wild did him no favours bringing him up when he still had junior eligibility. He could of been a key player on a team that won the division without him and had the Wild let him develop in a normal fashion they’d probably have a good bottom six player.

    On the topic of Oiler dmen from the Cup run. I bought the sweater Tarnstrom wore in the first three rounds of the playoffs. That team drove me crazy during the regular season and made me fall in love in the playoffs. I’m kind of glad I could buy a piece of it for cheap.

  12. wheatnoil says:

    godot10:
    They may have to give Bryan Helmer a $500K phone call.I don’t think he comes unless you pay him to come out of “retirement”, and make it worth his while.The lockout makes it difficult to do because the Oilers aren’t generating any operating profits to afford a $500K defenseman in OKC.

    Ringwald played really decent paired mostly with Helmer last year.

    Matheson had an article up a few weeks ago about how Helmer hadn’t retired and was still looking for work but hadn’t landed with anybody yet. It may not take 500K to have him on the team. I’m not sure how much he made last year, but I imagine something similar would do the trick on an AHL-only contract.

    Of course, Helmer doesn’t solve the Oilers D problem, but it at least helps OKC. I know LT is pushing for a trade, but if the NHL actually gets playing again, that means Hall, RNH, Eberle, and likely Hartikainan are getting called up and MPS could possibly be gone in this “wow” or called up as well to fill in for who-ever is. Suddenly the forward depth isn’t nearly so great as it appears now.

  13. ace says:

    Love the picture of Maligne Lake in Jasper. I’ve done some great fishing there in my lifetime, it’s a beautiful spot, and a great place to spend a sunny Saturday

  14. Bushed says:

    Lowetide,

    Yup, I like your list, too. Would look a lot better for the Oil now, wouldn’t it? Coulda, woulda, shoulda…

    Fast forward to the present and I’m not as sold on Gagner as I was on his draft day. I’m willing to give promising players some slack and time to develop, but 5 years later Samwise still can’t win enough faceoffs, still can’t commit enough to D in his own zone, still gets beat badly in puck battles, and (unlike RNH, Omark, Smyth) still can’t figure out how to use body positioning to compensate for not being the biggest dog in the fight. On the plus side, yes he does have some offensive skills. If our team make-up were different, I’d be OK with keeping Sam, but I’d really rather we get equal value from somewhere else that could address some team needs, and good luck, no hard feelings to Sam (on some other team).

    I know that relies on our GM actually getting equal value, but that’s a different issue…

  15. fuzzy muppet says:

    Lowetide,

    Good thing the OIlers don’t need a guy like McDonaugh now :/

    Christ, you knew it was the end of prendergast when the guys on the message board knew more than he did.

  16. Bushed says:

    PunjabiOil,

    Good point, but it doesn’t make me feel any better about the wasted Plante pick (sigh).

    Agree that BPA would have been a better idea, although I’m not always sure about how our brain trust determines their versions of BPA?

  17. Lowetide says:

    I think Gagner has developed and will be a quality player for a long time. Suspect the Oilers may have decided to cash him, though. That one year deal is a tell.

  18. spoiler says:

    This is a different story if Ringwald and Plante could each anchor a pairing, and going into the season there was no reason to think they couldn’t. With two older rookies in Schultz and Fedun filling out the top 4, hiding a Marincin or a Davidson shouldn’t have been a problem.

    Unfortunately Ringwald is good enough to play but not good enough to anchor, and Plante is. One of the zombie sailors wandering around in John Carpenter’s The Fog.

    That’s fine, That’s a legitimate miscalc anyone can make. Question is, how long do you give Plante to find is way to clear skies and how much do you risk, if it takes a trade to fix?

    By my eye, they need two guys, although either Ringwald or Plante should be available to go the other way.

    I do think Plante looked a little better last night than what I saw 2 weeks ago.

  19. Lowetide says:

    entering this season, Dan Ringwald had played in 31 AHL games. I don’t think you can count on that player to be the experienced member of an AHL pairing. It’s a very good league when there isn’t a lockout.

  20. Bruce McCurdy says:

    Injuries a factor? How about this list of young defenders over the past 1.1.seasons.

    2011-12
    Colten Teubert — 2 head injuries
    Alex Plante — 2 head injuries
    Theo Peckham — 2 head injuries
    Taylor Fedun — shattered femur
    David Musil — wrist surgery

    2012-13
    Oscar Klefbom — shoulder (also had various “minor” injuries last year)
    Martin Gernat — shoulder surgery
    Brandon Davidson — cancer FFS

    Healthiest young D who was in the org both years might be Martin Marincin, sidelined since Friday’s first period with a “high hit”, prognosis unknown/uncertain.

    It’s been open season on young Oilers blue for quite some time and it doesn’t seem to be in any danger of stopping any time soon. It is frustrating as hell.

  21. Bruce McCurdy says:

    spoiler: I do think Plante looked a little better last night than what I saw 2 weeks ago.

    Plante played his best two games of the season the last two nights. That said, he was part of the third-period meltdown both nights.

    I do, however, think he is quite capable of “anchoring” a defence pair. :P

  22. spoiler says:

    I hadn’t seen much if any of him prior to this season, LT, so I have to concede on that point to those who were watching him every day–OKC management and coaching. Maybe he played well enough last year they thought he could do it? Dunno. He had put a lot of time in the salt mines, so maybe they thought they had seen the light go on… but instead it was a flash in the pan. And he would have been either anchoring the bottom pair or helping a Tubes or a Plante. I don’t think the expectation was obviously too high going into training camp.

    Looks like it right now though.

  23. Lowetide says:

    spOILer: Makes sense.

    Bruce: :-) Anchor.

    Hall and Marincin draw back in today.

  24. VOR says:

    I’ve been hunting around for a veteran AHL defenceman that would fit OKC’s needs. The ideal person would be someone they can pair with either Teubert or Fedun. He needs to be rock solid in his own end, calm, and with NHL upside. The best thing would be if OKC could sign him as a free agent and not have to trade.

    Tampa Bay, loaded with d-propsects didn’t resign Scott Jackson, a classic AHL shut down D with a rather odd skill set. Bob Mackenzie had him at #29 in the 2005 NHL draft. He went I think it was #37 to St. Louis. St. Louis chose not to sign him coming out of junior and Tampa Bay picked him up. As I said they need a lot of ice time for prospects and soon to be NHLers and Jackson ended up odd man out. Just as an aside Jackson’s career plus minus versus team performance screams great D-man.

    The only negative thing anybody has ever had to say about Jackson (who is apparently super bright) is that a guy his size shouldn’t play a cerebral high efficiency game. He doesn’t hit, he doesn’t block shots, he doesn’t fight (well he fights from time to time, usually against a goon, and gets the crap beaten out of him). What Jackson does is create chaos for opposing teams as they enter his end with great gap control and tremendous positioning, gains the puck, and moves it with simple, super accurate passes. Yzerman referred to him as a non-chaos defenceman. OKC has enough chaos for two AHL teams. Someone calm might be a pleasant addition.

    Many people have found it hard (dating back to the 300 plus games he played for the Seattle Thuderbirds) to look past Jackson’s size and physical skills and appreciate his zero impact approach to the game. For old timers, he looks like Don Jackson but plays more like Charlie Huddy. I’d say there is little to no chance he would ever play for the Oilers but Jackson might be the perfect fit for OKC.

  25. Bruce McCurdy says:

    Lowetide:
    spOILer: Makes sense.

    Bruce: Anchor.

    Hall and Marincin draw back in today.

    Marincin back already? Praise the hockey gods!

    I’m just so used to bad news on the back end I assumed it would be a month to a year if it didn’t actually kill him outright.

  26. Bruce McCurdy says:

    Btw, Ringwald (26) was lowly regarded enough that he was the odd-man out on opening night, while the Barons played 6 guys all aged 24 or below. Taylor Fedun was the “old man” of the group … and he was making his pro debut! In fact, beyond Plante and Teubert the other 4 dudes had a TOTAL of 7 pro games under their belt. (Marincin 6, Davidson 1, Schultz and Fedun 0).

    A little more experience up front but I believe the Barons only have filled 2 of the 5 eligible “AHL veterans” positions among skaters, and one of them is injured (Josh Green; the other being fourth liner Dane Byers). It is an extremely young crew, so it shouldn’t be that big a surprise that they have had their struggles closing out games.

  27. jfry says:

    had really good seats for the barons/heat game last year where plante got decked by that AHL thug. He took two blows to the head in that fight that were straight to the mush. I remember saying to my friend, “that could be a career ender, right there.”

  28. Marc says:

    Bruce McCurdy:

    A little more experience up front but I believe the Barons only have filled 2 of the 5 eligible “AHL veterans” positions among skaters, and one of them is injured (Josh Green; the other being fourth liner Dane Byers). It is an extremely young crew, so it shouldn’t be that big a surprise that they have had their struggles closing out games.

    You gotta figure they’re saving those spots in case there is an NHL season. The Barons could lose 5 of their top 6 forwards as well as the AHL’s top scorer.

    LT noted how many AHL rookies that the Barons are playing so far this season. I wonder how much of that is because they anticipate adding a bunch of overage AHL vets when the NHL season starts up and need to structure the roster accordingly.

    Though if that is the case then Byers is an odd choice for one of the overage slots.

  29. Bruce McCurdy says:

    jfry:
    had really good seats for the barons/heat game last year where plante got decked by that AHL thug.He took two blows to the head in that fight that were straight to the mush.I remember saying to my friend, “that could be a career ender, right there.”

    I was in the press box for that game and I was just incensed beyond belief. It was such a needless cheap shot that PL3 landed with Plante already down and beaten. If it had been boxing it would have gone from a KO to a DQ in no time flat. AHL didn’t even suspend the SOB. I was a little disappointed that the Barons didn’t press the issue. If the AHL prides itself on being a developmental league there is no room at all for that shit. In fact if the AHL prides itslef on having any class at all there is no room at all for that shit.

    I get riled all the time as an admittedly hot-blooded fan, and have learned to roll with my emotions as they happen but judge them after the fact. A lot of stuff is gone by the time the game is over. If I’m still pissed about an incident the next day or a week later, there is usually something to it. If my blood is still boiling NINE MONTHS later chances are it was a real asshole move that got my goat. This was a real asshole move.

  30. Bruce McCurdy says:

    Marc:

    Though if that is the case then Byers is an odd choice for one of the overage slots.

    Good points about keeping spots open. In truth, though, Byers would likely be a second liner in a “normal” AHL season. He’s had five AHL seasons of 15-25 goals and four over 45 points. He’s just been pushed down the depth chart due to circumstances.

  31. ohhell says:

    Sam Gagner
    Drafted 6th overall in 2007 (366 games, 220 points)

    2008 Draft Class – only Steven Stamkos has more points
    2007 Draft Class – only Patrick Kane has more points (369)
    2006 Draft Class – 1 yr older with more points (Backstron, Kessel, Toew, Stall and Giroux)
    2005 Draft Class – 2 yrs older with more points (Crosby, Kopitar, Statsny and Ryan)
    2004 Draft Class – 3 yrs older with more points (10 players including Malkin, Ovechkin, etc.)

    There are only 20 players who have scored more points than Gagner since the Ovechkin, Malkin draft of 2004. Obviously there are players who may be better that Gagner that have higher PPG and will have the greater career that are not on this list, but is sure looks like we have a hockey player here. This is the exact spot in a career where the Oiler’s management group likes to jettison a player so they can grab a new toy and from there they go on to great careers. There are many teams in the NHL that can make good use of a player lie that – let’s hope management can at least get a good return when they walk away from this player.

  32. Lowetide says:

    Oh Hell; I’ve heard more bitching and moaning about Gagner than I did about Steve Kelly! A lot of that is the internet, but I agree: Sam Gagner is a good NHL player and hopefully a part of this team when they turn the corner.

  33. Mr DeBakey says:

    I still like my list. http://lowetide.ca/blog/2007/06/what-a-day.html

    Its fun to go back & read those threads.
    The angst just oozes out of them.

    That was a weak draft, but Jayzuz they did a crappy job.

  34. Jesse says:

    This is a bit OT, but….

    Regarding the big picture of the Oilers’ rebuild, I think we’re all expecting them to develop into a contender in a straight line, and I tihnk it’s possible that something weird could happen this season if a half-season gets played. A percentage driven/hot streak driven run could make them appear better than they are (maybe even squeaking into the playoffs for a first round exit for example), and then next year when they play a full season, things could regress, and it could look like the team has taken a step backward. I don’t think that’s all together unlikely, and it would be interesting what the perception of the rebuild would be at that point. I think that we are starting to get quite a bit closer to seeing the team make the playoffs, especially if K Lowe is talking about adding key pieces. (Hopefully this isn’t just fan bias speaking).

  35. jp says:

    Marc: You gotta figure they’re saving those spots in case there is an NHL season. The Barons could lose 5 of their top 6 forwards as well as the AHL’s top scorer.

    LT noted how many AHL rookies that the Barons are playing so far this season. I wonder how much of that is because they anticipate adding a bunch of overage AHL vets when the NHL season starts up and need to structure the roster accordingly.

    Though if that is the case then Byers is an odd choice for one of the overage slots.

    I also agree this is a good idea in theory. But where are these quality AHL vets going to come from? Sure there’s guys sitting out there as FA due to the lockout, but the guys who can play top 6 are already signed and playing down a line or 2 from where they normally would (see Byers). The Barons look like a powerhouse as long as the lockout lasts, but their roster is going to look awfully mediocre once the the big guns are in the NHL and Cornet is back on the 2nd line.

  36. PaperDesigner says:

    Lowetide:
    spOILer: Makes sense.

    Bruce: Anchor.

    Hall and Marincin draw back in today.

    The injury is not career ending! GREAT SUCCESS!

  37. Captain's Log says:

    Lowetide:
    Oh Hell; I’ve heard more bitching and moaning about Gagner than I did about Steve Kelly! A lot of that is the internet, but I agree: Sam Gagner is a good NHL player and hopefully a part of this team when they turn the corner.

    I don’t disagree that Sam Gagner is a good NHL player I just have a hard time seeing a top 6 that includes RNH, Hall, Eberle, Yakupov and Gagner. I’m pretty sure Sam won’t be a 3rd line centre (or at least he’s not what I would want in that position – yet) and even if we had Milan Lucic to round out that top 6 there will still be too many nights that they are pushed around.

    Of course it could be one of those other names moving out…

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