Edmonton - October 31, 2013 - While the results haven't been what either fans or the organization were hoping for, there is no question Craig MacTavish tried to upgrade the Edmonton Oilers blueline during this past off-season.
It was no real surprise that he fell short of acquiring a legitimate top pairing defenceman but he did manage to bring in better players.
That said, the opportunity to grab the likes of Philadelphia Flyers rearguard Braydon Coburn did present itself but the rookie GM decided the cost was too high to pull the trigger.
Instead he decided to pin the teams hopes on the additions of Andrew Ference, Denis Grebeshkov and Anton Belov. Clearly the idea was to go at it with a "blueline by committee" approach and clearly it has not worked.
With that being the case, the current situation will not be changing anytime soon. Unless the Oilers GM can put together an early season blockbuster trade, which seems highly unlikely, head coach Dallas Eakins will have to make due with what he currently has in house. Not exactly the easiest spot for any coach to be placed in, let alone a rookie NHL bench boss.
Eakins is clearly learning on the job but with the first month of the year now in the books and Edmonton sitting in the bottom of the Western Conference with a dreadful 3-9-2 mark, he has to seriously consider a reshuffling of the deck along his blueline. Does the group lack depth and the presence of a true first pairing guy? Most definitely but Eakins needs to show some flexibility and willingness to use guys in different roles...instead of just sending out the same three pairings on a nightly basis.
Outside of using Grebeshkov on a couple of occasions for veteran Nick Schultz, Eakins has pretty much kept the same duos together for the last number of games. Considering the sheer amount losing this club has done of late, you have to wonder why he has not changed things up inside the top five.
While Belov hasn't looked out of place during his initial run through the NHL, he has not been a good fit as a partner for Justin Schultz. Same goes for Ference and Nick Schultz but yet Eakins continues to lineup one of the three beside the talented twenty-three year old on nightly basis. Why you ask? Good question and unfortunately there really is no good answer
There is no doubt Jeff Petry is this team's best blueliner and is generally used with Ladislav Smid on the top pairing. Eakins has not shown the same type of confidence in the big Czech defender as previous coaching staff's but has decided to leave the duo intact on most nights. Again, odd considering all the losing and the fact Schultz badly needs a stay-at-home defenceman to be paired with.
I have been talking about and hoping to see a possible Smid-Schultz pairing since well before the 2013 season even started and in my mind, they are a perfect fit for each other. Schultz needs to be partnered with a defensively responsible guy, who not only thinks defence first but also plays with an edge to his game. On this current roster, the Oilers #5 fits that bill better than anyone else and could possibly have the same effect on the youngster's game, that he had on Petry's during the last half of the 2011-12 campaign.
The other thing it accomplishes, is using one of Belov or Ference with a much better all round player. As previously mentioned, Petry is Edmonton's #1 guy and his presence should simplify things for either one. Should one develop chemistry with the former second round pick, while Smid and Schultz do the same, Eakins would suddenly have two pairings to actually work with.
As it currently stands, the former Toronto Marlies coach has the Petry-Smid combo and a whole lot of chaos on his hands. Not exactly a recipe for success and yet he continues to use it. Time to change it up Dallas and try something different. It's not working and continually going back to the well and expecting something different to occur is nothing more than insanity.