When Edmonton Oilers GM Peter Chiarelli sent prospect Travis Ewanyk and the 107th pick in the 2015 NHL draft to the Ottawa Senators for defenseman Eric Gryba, he created a log jam on the Oilers blue line.
Wait....he created a log jam on the Oilers blue line?
Okay, maybe it wasn't that specific move that created the surplus of NHL talent on the blue line. It could have been the signing of Andrej Sekera, or maybe it could have been the trade that sent the 16th overall pick and the 33rd overall pick in the 2015 draft to the New York Islanders for Griffin Reinhart. That's three players set to fill six defenseman spots on the roster.
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On top of those three additions, the Oilers still have Andrew Ference, Nikita Nikitin, Mark Fayne and Oscar Klefbom all still signed on the roster for next season. And the Oilers made sure to lock up restricted free agent Justin Schultz to a one-year deal, in which he becomes a restricted free agent once again next year.
That's eight defensemen on the roster with NHL experience, and we haven't even mentioned Darnell Nurse, the Oilers' seventh overall pick in the 2013 draft who has excelled for the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds for the last two years and is no longer junior eligible.
You could even probably throw prospects Brandon Davidson and David Musil into the mix.
In the short-term, the Oilers may have a problem at the blue line, but it is a good problem to have. They have a lot of guys that could play in the NHL as a defenseman. But will the Oilers have this same issue down the road in the near future?
In short, no. At least, they shouldn't.
Fortunately for the Oilers, they aren't locked up into too many long-term contracts. Sekera is locked up until 2021, but he should play an big part in the Oilers defensemen corps for years to come. Fayne has the second-longest contract among Oilers defensemen, and he's signed until just 2018. The remaining defensemen on the roster become unrestricted or restricted free agents within the next two seasons.
Next season, Schultz and Klefbom become restricted free agents. Klefbom showed a lot of potential last season in 60 games with the Oilers, and even became one of the Oilers' top defenseman by the end of the year, averaging 21:59 minutes per game, second-most on the team. And while Schultz hasn't lived up to his expected potential defensively just yet, he still led the Oilers in ice time with 22:36 minutes per game and has proven he can consistently score 30 or more points each year.
Schultz and Klefbom are just 25 and 22, respectively. Both haven't even reached their full potential yet, so letting go of either of them to clear up some room on the blue line would just be silly.
It would make more sense to part ways with an upcoming unrestricted free agent next year.
Who are those upcoming free agents next year? Nikitin and Gryba.
As long as he is healthy, Nikitin is capable of top-four minutes and has the ability to generate some offense. He's a puck-moving defenseman that can find the open man and record plenty of assists. He's a valuable part of the Oilers, but he needs to stay healthy if he wants to return to Edmonton this year.
Gryba....well, he doesn't add much offense, and at 27, he has pretty much solidified himself as a career third-pairing defenseman. Not that there is anything wrong with that, but if you have guys on the roster that could potentially fill out top-four minutes and they can't even crack the roster, then guys like Gryba are the odd man out.
In Ottawa, Gryba had the second-worst Corsi-Relative percentages among Senators defensemen with at least 40 games played, and he played third-pairing minutes. That's not very good.
Gryba has proven to be a serviceable player that can play third-pairing minutes for virtually any team. At 6'4", 225 pounds, he's a big, mean, physical defenseman that teams usually covet. And at just $1.25 million per year, he's a pretty cheap contract to add to the team.
But if Gryba wants any sort of raise after this upcoming season (and, who wouldn't want a raise after they just turned 28?) and Chiarelli wants to free up some space for some of his younger prospects, why would extending Gryba make any sort of sense for the Oilers?
So if you planned on going out and buying a new Oilers sweater for next season, why don't you skip over that number 62 Gryba uniform and just go right over to that number 97 jersey like a normal fan would?
(h/t Edmonton Journal)