After a rocky first few games, the Edmonton Oilers have found their offensive groove, but their defensive game is still an area of concern. The Oilers currently rank fourth in the NHL in goals per game with 3.83 but their goals against are only 24th best in the league at 3.50 per game despite getting around league-average goaltending overall.
I suspect the current group will be given time to try and tighten things up, but there are several reasons why I think the team will ultimately look outside the organization for defensive upgrades.
Current Oilers Dmen
While they managed to re-sign most of their core players from last season, the Oilers didn’t make any meaningful additions on the blueline, and with the retirement of Duncan Keith, they have had to try a combination of Ryan Murray and Markus Niemelainen at the 3LD position.
Murray had a few shaky performances next to Evan Bouchard, most notably in the second game of the season against Calgary where the pair was burned 3 times for goals against. While Bouchard has made strides in his game, he’s still had some defensive issues and Murray hasn’t been able to provide stability to the pairing at all.
Lately, Markus Niemelainen has been getting the majority of the starts on the third pair with Tyson Barrie, and while he has fared better than Murray there are still some valid concerns.
Like Bouchard, Barrie has some deficiencies defensively, and while I like the physical edge that Niemelainen brings, the Oilers are simply asking too much from their rookie to have him play with someone that can’t provide consistent defensive support.
Niemelainen has been mostly serviceable, but as expected, he still makes some rookie mistakes as was the case when he got caught off guard on the game-winning goal scored by Jesper Bratt for the Devils on Friday night.
Offense-first defensemen like Bouchard and Barrie can be valuable, but only when paired with players that can provide balance to the lineup through reliable defensive play. Murray and Niemelainen are fine seventh defensemen, but they aren’t consistent enough at this stage of their careers to be a good fit for this group.
They are ok options for now, but if the Oilers have aspirations to win a Stanley Cup this spring, just ok isn’t going to cut it. Only one team in the last 20 years has won the Stanley Cup with a goals against per game above three (the 2006 Hurricanes had 3.15 GA/GP in 2006).
The Oilers will need upgrades on the back end. With that being said, let’s take a look at a few options they have for addressing this concern.