The obvious answer is “not well enough,” but the reality is a little more complicated.
When we look only at how Edmonton Oilers defencemen
performed against top opponents in 2015-16, we see some patterns, and a wide array of on-ice results. The Oilers’ best defenceman against top lines actually finished in the positives, but by shot and goal totals, despite playing in Edmonton. The worst saw his team surrender 20 shots more per hour than it attempted.
I was thinking about Tyler Dellow yesterday, and one of the
techniques he used frequently back when he was writing for public consumption.
He’d go through the league, pick out a top forward from every team, and look at
how players performed against them.
I was also thinking about some of the excellent
new work on quality of competition done by Darcy McLeod and GMoney and I
wanted to take a different angle on it.
So I quickly scrolled through the NHL’s 30 teams and picked
the top centre (in my opinion; your mileage may vary, and there were certainly some close calls) who was with the team all
season. Then I looked at time on ice, Corsi for and against, and goals for and
against when Edmonton’s defencemen were on the ice against those players.
The list I used is as follows: Ryan Getzlaf, Martin Hanzal,
Patrice Bergeron, Ryan O’Reilly, Sean Monahan, Jordan Staal, Jonathan Toews,
Nathan MacKinnon, Brandon Dubinsky, Tyler Seguin, Pavel Datsyuk, Aleksander
Barkov, Anze Kopitar, Mikko Koivu, Tomas Plekanec, Mike Ribeiro, Adam Henrique,
John Tavares, Derek Stepan, Kyle Turris, Claude Giroux, Sidney Crosby, Paul
Stastny, Joe thornton, Steven Stamkos, Nazem Kadri, Henrik Sedin, Nicklas
Backstrom, Bryan Little.
Then it was just a matter of checking results using Puckalytics’ WOWY function.
Oscar Klefbom is a superb player, and remains underrated
even in Edmonton. A healthy season from him would be a massive win for the
Oilers all by itself.
Brandon Davidson fares really well here, and it’s easy to
understand why Todd McLellan promoted him and started feeding him tougher
minutes as the year went on.
Andrej Sekera and Mark Fayne are real NHL defencemen, and it
shows. The treatment of Fayne last year was surprising at the time and clashes
with his performance in tough minutes here, which was really pretty decent.
Sekera’s contract is a little scary, but he provided a necessary element last
Griffin Reinhart doesn’t fare too terribly here. If not for
bonus/lefty issues, I could see him being a competent third-pair guy next
Eric Gryba has not been re-signed yet and I wonder what kind
of contract he eventually gets. He’s a righty, which helps, but he’s not a guy the
coach could play against good lines with any expectation of success last
Darnell Nurse is the most interesting player on this list.
The Oilers seem to be sold on him as a core piece going forward, but he needs
to improve by a massive amount. Last year he was six shots per hour worse than
Reinhart, more than 10 shots per hour worse than Fayne and a whopping 18 shots
per hour worse than Davidson against real players. That he mostly flubbed
playing with Sekera is another big mark against him. He could have that Corsi
differential next year and still not equal what Fayne did against top
competition on the same pairing.