Edmonton - September 28, 2014 - The Edmonton Oilers organization had a rather difficult decision to make when it came to defenceman Taylor Fedun.
On a team littered with nothing but middling National Hockey League talent and a plethora of potential along its blueline, finding a spot for the Edmonton native proved to be an impossible task for general manager Craig MacTavish.
While the Oilers liked what they saw from the local fan favourite, they clearly did not see him as a part of their future. To their credit, instead of signing Fedun to some sort of deal that would have kept him within the organization but ultimately not given him a legitimate shot at cracking the NHL roster, MacT did the noble thing and cut-ties with the kid and allowed him to look elsewhere.
The twenty-six year old rearguard wound up signing a one year deal with the San Jose Sharks for the grand total of $575,000. While that is less than he would have made during his time in Edmonton, the contract does call for Fedun to see a rather substantial increase to his salary at the American Hockey League level (from $77,500 to $125,000). On the surface, it looked to be fairly solid depth signing for Doug Wilson and an absolute no-brainer from the player’s standpoint.
Despite their meltdown against the Los Angeles Kings during the last year’s playoffs, San Jose remain among the very best teams in the Western Conference but they are far from being rock-solid on their backend. While the quartet of Justin Braun, Brent Burns, Jason Demers and Marc-Edouard Vlasic are essentially locked and loaded as the Sharks top two pairings to the start the 2014-15 season, the opportunity to possibly crack the bottom pairing and earn a spot on the roster was there for the taking.
Now it may still be early in pre-season but word out of San Jose is Fedun has done nothing but impress head coach Todd McLellan and is seriously pushing for one of the final three spots out of camp. With the trio of Fedun, Mirco Mueller and Matt Tennyson all playing well, the likes of Matt Irwin or veteran rearguard Scott Hannan being bumped out of the equation is a very real possibility.
And yet when it comes to the Oilers and their revolving door on defence, they could not find a scenario in which a player with Fedun’s skill-set could be employed in some sort of depth role for the upcoming season. Instead they went out and signed former Calgary Flames draftee Keith Aulie to a one-way $800,000 deal. While I am all for bringing in defenders with size to help out on their own end of the rink, which is exactly what Aulie is at 6’ 6”and 225 pounds, those players still have to able to do a couple of things….1) actually be able to play the game and 2) use their size to their advantage.
One could argue if the twenty-five year old or recently acquired Nikita Nikitin even do the latter to the point where it has any sort of real effect on the game but after watching Aulie during his first couple of appearances of the pre-season, one has to wonder if he can even survive as a No. 7 defenceman on a team as paper-thin along the blueline as the Oilers.
Did everyone within the Oilers offices simply decide to bury their head in the sand and pretend that last year’s Mark Fraser Experiment did not actually occur? While head coach Dallas Eakins may have had both of these players in the past and thought they could possibly be useful pieces of the puzzle, this is not the AHL.
In hindsight, would have using a player like Fedun in such a role not made more sense? He was already familiar with the organization’s expectations and played fairly well during his four game stint in the show during the 2013-14 campaign. David Staples over at the Cult of Hockey had been pleading for ages that the organization should give the youngster a shot and yet it never came.
While the former Princeton grad has always displayed the ability to jump into the rush and chip in from time to time with some offence, his overall game improved by leaps and bounds over the last season and a half under the tutelage of Todd Nelson in Oklahoma City. All positive signs but in the end, they ultimately had no bearing on the route the organization decided to go down.
So instead of giving the kid a chance at seeing what he might have been able to accomplish in an NHL that is all about defencemen who can transition the puck out of their own end, MacTavish went in the complete opposite direction and signed one of his coach’s favourites after being thrown onto the scrap heap by the Tampa Bay Lightning.
Confused? Don’t worry…that makes two of us.