Are the Oilers defense (already) better than last season?

Mike Smith and Darnell Nurse Defending Oilers' Goal (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
Mike Smith and Darnell Nurse Defending Oilers' Goal (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images) /
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First Three Overall Picks for the 2012 Draft
First Three Overall Picks for the 2012 Draft (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images) /

The bottom line of defense can change quickly, with a lot of new prospects wanting some minutes on the big league and trades still to happen, wouldn’t be a surprise if it becomes a different bottom 6 in the curse of the season.

On the left he should see Ryan Murray getting some time. The 2nd overall pick of the (un)forgettable 2012 draft ended up playing for Edmonton 10 years after all the fuss between his name and Nail Yakupov. And as Nail, he never fulfilled the expectations in the NHL, coming to his third team in three seasons (NJD, COL and now EDM) after spending 8 years in Columbus, the team who drafted him in 2012.

The main cause of him never getting able to accomplish these expectations were the injuries. He has only played 432 games since 2013, averaging 48 per season. His best season in points was in 2018-19 with the Blue Jackets, the only one he played 82 games, when he scored 29 points (1 goal and 28 assists) in 56 games played, having an average ice time of 21:26.

But last season with the Avalanche, he just had four assists in 37 GP, being a healthy scratch for the playoffs. Since March 2017, he has on Injured Reserve seven times, and an additional one in LTIR. Here are some stats about his last seasons and the influence of the injuries on them:

"Granted, Murray has never been known as a scorer. Even during his standout junior career with the Everett Silvertips, the blueliner failed to reach double-figures for goals in any of his four Western Hockey League seasons. For his career, he has 15 goals in 432 NHL games (plus one in 20 NHL playoff contests), with a single-season high of four (2013-14 and 2015-16). Don’t look for Murray to start lighting the lamp in Edmonton, either. At this stage of his career, it’s pretty clear what Murray is, and he is not an offensive defenceman. But the Oilers already have plenty of players who can put the puck in the net, including on the backend. What Edmonton needs from him is a dependable veteran blueliner that can be a positive influence in the locker room and fill the challenging role of seventh defenceman, who could just as easily draw onto the first pairing as be a healthy scratch in the press box."

For only one-year contact, earning the minimum salary of the NHL ($750.000), Murray brings good competition for some minutes in the defense, getting himself and the AHL players to always be improving and, if it doesn’t work for him and the team, is a bet with no risks involved for the Oilers.

"Injuries hampered him during his tenure with Colorado, but he also served in a limited role while healthy. Still, he’s turning just 29 on Sept. 27 and he’s played as a top-four defenseman at times in the past, so he’s someone to keep an eye on going into the Oilers’ training camp."

But what about Tyson Barrie? The main question about him is not about his abilities, his stats or anything else. It is if he will be an Oiler this season.

At this moment, the Oilers still must find a way to be cap complacent. With Klefbom and Smith on LTIR, the team yet need to clear 1.19 million and sign Ryan McLeod, so something has to change on this lineup until opening day, and a 3rd line defenseman who has a 4.5M AAV is one of the favorites to leave.

We all know how good Barrie was in the 2020-21 season on the offensive side, scoring 48 points (8 goals, 40 assists) in just 56 games of the shortened season. That was better than his 39 points with the Maple Leafs in 2019-20.

Like Evan Bouchard, he is great on offense, but in defense, which is his primary position, is where the problem is. We can bring some stats to prove it, but just seeing Barrie in the last defensive line on the Oilers’ defense, which is average compared to the NHL, losing already minutes to Cody Ceci who just arrived last season and Evan Bouchard, who made his rookie season last year, shows that Barrie has to get back his good form to have place on the team.

Even on Power Play, where he was undoubtedly the defenseman in first line, now he has lost this place. Evan Bouchard is here to stay, and names such as Philip Broberg, Markus Niemelainen and Dmitri Samoroukov are on line to get some minutes. Even some known names, like Kris Russell and Slater Koekkoek are always trying to get back, and that puts competition for these spots, which is always good for the team as a whole.

Tyson has yet 2 more years on his contract, and he can’t keep playing in a way he’s fighting for minutes with AHLers. If he stays as an Oiler, he will have some work to do. Like the other defenseman, let’s hope a full season of Jay Woodcroft and Dave Manson helps him and the team to be even better in this season that is about to begin.

Next. Who Should Be The Edmonton Oilers First Line Wingers?. dark