Heading into the 2013 season, the defense, as usual, remains the team’s weakest link. It’s not so much because of a lack of talent, as they do have some, but injury problems and a lack of depth at this position have repeatedly come back to bite the Edmonton Oilers in the back in recent seasons. And while this week’s surprise acquisition of former Dallas Stars defenseman Mark Fistric improves the back end a bit, the Oilers will still be treading on thin ice with this group.
You can expect Ladislav Smid and Jeff Petry to be the Oilers’ top pairing when the Oilers open the season against the Vancouver Canucks this Sunday, but the 3/4 and 5/6 pairings are where there is still a bit of uncertainty. It is widely believed that Nick Schultz will be on the 3/4 pairing while Fistric will round out the 5/6 pairing, but there is still some question as to how the Oilers will fill the other two spots. It’s not a big question, mind you–barring a massive injury to someone on the defense, the two spots will go to Ryan Whitney and Justin Schultz–but the Oilers are still trying to determine which combinations will work best.
There have been whispers that Nick Schultz could be the steady, stay-at-home defenseman to help Justin Schultz out as he takes his lumps, especially if Justin ends up playing like more of a fourth forward than an actual defenseman as he did at times at Oklahoma City this season, though the same result could likely come by pairing Justin with Fistric, so there is some debate there. Of course, given Whitney’s experience, matching him up with Fistric on the 5/6 pairing might be a better fit and so Justin Schultz could be best suited to play with Nick Schultz. Either way, these will be the six players the Oilers use as their top defensemen come game day.
Here is where things get a bit dicey though. The acquisition of Fistric likely spells the end of any chance Theo Peckham and Colton Teubert have of making the squad to start the season, so that’s a blessing for now as neither player is particularly mobile, adept at scoring or even that great at defense. Andy Sutton injured himself during the offseason and it appears that not only is his time with Edmonton done, but his career could very well be over, so he is not an option. And after his breakout performance in the first half of last year before he got injured, Corey Potter seems like Edmonton’s best option as the #7 defenseman, but his usefulness declined as the season went on, and bringing in Justin Schultz to help quarterback the power play could spell the end of Potter’s time on power play units, where he scored 11 of his 21 points last season. Add to this the ever-present possibility that Whitney could sneeze and injure himself for the umpteenth time, which would result in Potter, Teubert, Peckham or some other random defenseman at Oklahoma City–and believe me when I say they are nothing but random bodies at this point–coming into the lineup to replace him, and you can see how tenuous things are for the Oilers.
This is not a bad defensive unit, and Fistric does indeed solidify this weak spot for the team, but the Oilers have no one beyond this top six they can count on, so everything has to go right for the Oilers this year on defense if they want to keep this abbreviated season from falling apart. Defense will be essential to the Oilers’ chances of making a run for the Stanley Cup, so we will see if the Oilers’ D has it in them to produce a miracle run.