Being sat out for a game is one thing, usually a clear message sent to a player that there is an area that needs to be improved. Being sat out as more of a regular occurrence is usually a different message, and that usually means someone is in the doghouse and potentially expendable.
There are many depth players around the NHL in this position, but for Ryan Whitney it is a new situation entirely.
When Whitney came over from Anaheim in the Lubomir Visnovsky trade, he came in and was the team’s go to defenseman. He put up points, played big minutes and in every situation. A year later an ankle injury hampered his play and limited his games, and things haven’t been the same since.
The Oilers blue line, as it stands right now, has Nick and Justin Schultz, Jeff Petry and Ladislav Smid as their top four, with Mark Fistric, Corey Potter and Whitney rotating through the last two spots in the lineup. Even though Smid and Petry have been playing with different partners lately they are in no danger of coming out of the lineup.
Add to the fact that Theo Peckham is on his way back from injury and the Oilers could have eight NHL calibre defensemen on the roster. He is currently playing in Oklahoma City but once he is deemed 100%, Ralph Krueger will no doubt want to inject his toughness into the lineup at some point.
The thing about Whitney is that it’s not like he is on the downside of his career, he just turns 30 on February 19, and he should be comfortably secure in at least being dressed every night with the skill set he has. However with inconsistent play, bad penalties and looking like he has lost a step due to the ankle injury, that has not been the case.
So what’s the plan for Whitney?
One option is looking to trade him. Obviously they feel he is not vital enough to the lineup at this point with the amount of games he has been scratched, so the logic would dictate that he could be available. Even with his play this year so far, there would no doubt be a market for him. There are plenty of teams around the league that are in need of defensive help and Whitney is not that far removed from a few strong seasons. No doubt there will be a team thinking a change of scenery could rejuvenate him. He is also a UFA at the end of the season and the Oilers would rather not lose him for nothing. His contract could be a potential issue, he’s the Oilers highest paid defenseman at 4M per and to trade him the Oilers would likely have to take some salary back in return.
In the event they do look to move him they also have depth waiting in OKC with veterans such as Brett Clark and Randy Jones and youngsters Taylor Fedun, Colten Teubert and Martin Marincin.
The problem is that the Oilers don’t necessarily want to trade him, and he has made it clear that he wants to stay in Edmonton, they simply need him to play better. With the glut of young forwards and Devan Dubnyk playing like a bona fide number one, their biggest issues are still on the blue line. If Whitney can return to form at least somewhat that would go a long way in improving that area.
It will be up to Whitney when he gets back into the lineup to prove he belongs to stay.