The Edmonton Oilers have several excellent defensive prospects working their way into the NHL lineup.
Players like Martin Marincin, 2015 World Junior Hockey Championship-standout Darnell Nurse, future-Norris Trophy-winner Justin Schultz, and, perhaps the best of them all, Oscar Klefbom are on the verge of bringing up the back end of the perennial basement-dweller and returning the once-proud Oilers franchise to respectability.
With the management staff focused on future success, their current best NHL defenceman, Jeff Petry, has been all but dismissed by the organization after being signed to a $3 075 000 contract this past off-season that covered just his final remaining year of restricted free agency. Heading into unrestricted free agent territory, the trade deadline could be Edmonton's only chance to get a return for their under-valued number-one defender.
He's no P.K. Subban, but Jeff Petry is still a very good NHL defenceman capable of playing at least top-quality second-pairing minutes while having the ability to move up into the top two when the need arises. His numbers in the graphic above don't suggest top-pair calibre, but it's important to know that he has achieved those values playing the majority of his 2014-15 five-on-five minutes with this guy:
One thing that is apparent from Petry's HERO chart is that he hasn't been a particularly dangerous offensive threat in his career. Even the not-very-good Andrew Ference has managed a better rate of offensive production, as have the two players whom Petry would be in immediate competition with for a defensive spot this season: Tom Gilbert and Sergei Gonchar.
Gilbert's numbers in these HERO charts are actually quite similar to those of Petry, with the better offensive numbers mentioned above, but without the top-60 minutes. It's not clear how the players in question have been deployed from the HERO charts above, so a comparison that looks at relative possession numbers while factoring in zonal deployment could be beneficial.
The chart below has a data point for the four players being discussed for each of the past five seasons. The Y-axis is the proportion of end zone starts (i.e. offensive and defensive zone faceoffs) that the player has taken in the defensive zone; the higher the point on the plot, the more difficult the zonal deployment the player faced that season. The colour of the dot corresponds to the relative Corsi-for percentage of the player, as per the legend below the graph.
For those who may have difficulty identifying the players via the colour of their line, the order of players by 2011-12 data points, from top to bottom point in the chart, is: Gilbert (top), Petry, Ference, Gonchar (bottom).
The green (bottom) line depicts an aging Sergei Gonchar gradually having his deployment reduced as he approached the end of his career, not achieving a shot attempt differential of equal-to-or-above his teammates' in any of those years, before being moved to Montreal and thrust into a tough-minutes role. The result is about what you would expect from such a change: a significantly-negative relative Corsi-for percentage.
Andrew "Equipment Malfunction" Ference doesn't look any better in this alternative analysis, having been solidly in the red for at least his last five campaigns, although with a much tougher deployment in his last two.
With the exception of this season (playing with his most difficult zonal deployment) and the shortened 2012-13 season as a member of the Minnesota Wild, Tom Gilbert has very good career numbers.
Jeff Petry has been about even or better in terms of possession in each of the last five seasons. Granted that is relative to members of an Edmonton Oilers club that has struggled with controlling the play over those years, but Petry has still been the best-performing member of his team while burdened with difficult defensive responsibilities. He would be an upgrade on Sergei Gonchar, who will turn 41 years old just as the playoffs are about to begin, but the advantage he would offer over Tom Gilbert in a second-pairing situation is debatable.
For a decent price, a right side consisting of P.K. Subban, Jeff Petry, and Tom Gilbert would be a strength heading into the post-season.
The community at The Copper & Blue is resigned to seeing Petry exchanged for a mere second-round pick. Winging it in Motown is prepared to part with Jakub Kindl and a conditional fourth-round pick to bolster their defence corps with the hometown right-hander. The Toronto Maple Leafs recently shipped out their pending-unrestricted-free-agent right-handed defenceman, Cody Franson, to Nashville for a 2015 first round draft pick. The question is whether the Oilers consider Petry to be of equal value to Franson. With a market established, that will likely be the starting point.
Marc Bergevin's trades this year have been executed with a mind on the 2015-16 NHL season. Travis Moen and his two-year contract were sent to the Dallas Stars in exchange for Sergei Gonchar, who had just one year remaining on his. A similar move saw Rene Bourque, on a contract through the end of next season, traded for Bryan Allen, who is currently playing out the remainder of his current deal in the American Hockey League with the Hamilton Bulldogs.
Having all but sacrificed the current season to off-load some bad contracts, Bergevin and his management team do not appear likely to trade away valued assets to acquire a pending unrestricted free agent rental. Adding a high-profile UFA for a playoff run, like last year's late deadline day acquisition of Thomas Vanek, will probably not be in the cards in this setup year.
If Montreal is to give up assets in a trade to bring in another defenceman, the final of the three bad contracts the team had to begin this season will need to be one of the pieces going the other way. The tricky part is that it's a deal Bergevin constructed himself.
For this season to be a success from a financial perspective, Alexei Emelin and the three years that remain of his four-year, $16.4 million contract need to disappear. A Petry-for-Emelin deal probably isn't very compelling for the Oilers brass (but if it is, that deal should be made right now). Sweetening the package with a replacement right-handed defender — Greg Pateryn or Darren Dietz, perhaps — could be an enticing offer for an organization that already has several up-and-coming defencemen in its system. Adding a conditional mid-round pick that could become one for an earlier-round in the event that Petry is signed by the Canadiens (a much more likely proposition with Emelin's numbers off the books) could be the deciding factor for Craig MacTavish.