A Look Back: How Jeff Petry and Justin Schultz Could Have Saved the Edmonton Oilers

Almost every hockey fan has looked at the Edmonton Oilers over the past year or two, and wondered how a team with one of the best players in the game could still be a total mess. How does this team, which has had four 1st overall picks and eight top-10 picks since the 2010 draft, end up outside of the playoff picture?

In an effort to try and piece together this puzzle, I keep coming across two names. Two right-shot defence-men who started their career with the Oilers organisation, but were traded away before reaching their full potential. Those players are Jeff Petry and Justin Schultz.

Starting with the older of the two, Jeff Petry was a former 2nd round pick of the Oilers (45th overall) in the 2006 draft. He was looking to be an excellent addition to the Oilers' blue-line when he debuted in the NHL in the 2010-2011 season. After his fourth season in Edmonton, Petry was ready to sign his first big-boy contract. He wanted to sign a long-term deal and give himself some amount of job security. Former Oilers general manager Craig MacTavish had other plans. He believed that Petry needed more time to really prove himself before getting a long-term contract. He offered Petry no more than two years in term. This is what led to Petry signing a one year contract that would make him a UFA at the end of the year. For all intents and purposes, Petry seemed finished with the organisation, and was traded to Montreal at the deadline. He finally got the big contract he desired, 5.5 million per year for six years, but this left the Oilers with a fairly large hole to fill on the right side.

Not to worry, some thought. Edmonton has brought in a player that their general manager claims has the potential to be a Norris trophy winner. Who is that, you wonder? None other than Justin Schultz.

Schultz was originally a draft pick of the Anaheim Ducks, but decided to not sign with the organisation and become a UFA once he finished school at the University of Wisconsin. After coming to Edmonton, the Oilers organisation expected him to fix all of the flaws with the defensive core. Needless to say, it didn't work. Schultz's production and overall quality of play continuously declined year after year, before being dealt to the Penguins for a 3rd round pick. Another right-handed defence-man traded away, without any immediate player to supplement his loss.

You may be wondering, why is this relevant? What does this have to do with the Oilers today?

Well, both Schultz and Petry have really grown and reached their true potentials with their new teams. Both players were called upon to take over for injured defensive stars like Kris Letang and Shea Weber. They have answered the bell, and evolved into some of the best defenders in the league.

This begs the question: what if Edmonton kept those two? What if they gave Petry that big contract he wanted, and played Schultz to his strengths to help him grow as a player?

Having Petry would likely have put less pressure on Peter Chiarelli to go out and acquire another defence-man via trade. In other words, the Griffin Reinhart trade could very well not have happened. If that were the case, the Oilers could have had a player like Matt Barzal, Thomas Chabot, Kyle Connor or even Brock Boeser. Instead they have... nothing, since Vegas picked up Reinhart in the expansion draft.

If Schultz had not lost all confidence and then be traded in 2016, and the Oilers already kept Jeff Petry, the Adam Larsson trade would probably never have happened. The right side would already be very well set with Petry, Schultz, and Nurse. Not having Adam Larsson would mean having Taylor Hall.

How could they afford to keep these players though? They're all very expensive.

Yes, that's fair. However, think about some of the recent signings by the Oilers. After losing Taylor Hall in the Adam Larsson trade, Chiarelli needed to find another winger to play with Connor McDavid. That's where Milan Lucic came in. Had Hall not been traded for Larsson, I think it's fair to assume Lucic would never have been signed in the first place. Now the Oilers are stuck with that massive contract with a no-movement clause.

Moreover, the Oilers would have had much more leverage in the contract negotiations with Kris Russell had Petry and Schultz still been in Edmonton. Instead, the Oilers are saddled with his big contract complete with a no-movement clause as well. Even if they had lost Russell, the Oilers would be in a decent position with their defensive core.

To break it down:
Lucic + Larsson + Russell = 14.166 million dollar cap hit
Hall + Petry + Schultz = 17 million dollar cap hit.

That is a 2.833 million dollar raise for a massive improvement to the team overall.

Here is a rough idea of what the Oilers could look like if Petry and Schultz stuck around in Edmonton:

Draisaitl - McDavid - Hall
Boeser/Barzal/Connor - Nugent Hopkins - Rattie
Khaira - Cave - Chiasson
Rieder - Brodziak - Gagner

Puljujarvi is injured, but could slot in on the 2nd or 3rd line when healthy

Klefbom - Petry
Sekera - Schultz
Nurse - Benning

Petrovic and Manning likely wouldn't have been acquired in the first place, and could be buried in the minors in favour of Gravel, Bear, and Bouchard.

Of course this is all hypothetical, and there are a million other ways things could have panned out. Looking back, however, the Oilers really messed up on the Petry and Schultz trades, and they are feeling the effects now more than ever.

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