Every defenceman in the NHL goes on waivers

Jonathan Willis
July 02 2013 10:38AM

At least, that’s what it feels like. Hal Gill, Matt Hunwick, Kris Russell and Greg Zanon were all placed on waivers by their teams today, while Washington’s Jeff Schultz was put on unconditional waivers for buyout purposes. Additionally, Nashville Predators’ general manager David Poile says that if the team cannot get a trade for Jonathon Blum they will not give him a qualifying offer, making him an unrestricted free agent.

Candidates

Jonathon Blum. Pros: 2007 first round pick is only 24 years old, and has put up crooked numbers in both the WHL and AHL. A very strong puck-mover and a decent skater with solid offensive instincts. Not overly physical, but will hit and block shots. Has started a surprising number of shifts in his own end for a guy seen as a defensive liability (42.7 percent of non-neutral zone starts in his own end this year) and yet had decent on-ice totals. Regular partner Hal Gill was better with him than when playing with other defenders, though Blum's numbers were actually better with other partners than with Gill.. Cons: Seen as a defensive liability, who needs to get stronger (despite his 6'1" frame, is lean at 190 pounds) and do a better job of protecting the crease. Isn't used on the penalty kill. Despite strong numbers this year, was much worse last season. Spells "Jonathon" in a goofy way.

Hal Gill. Pros: The 6’7”, 244 pound defenceman certainly adds size in a major way to an NHL lineup, and with 1,102 regular season games under his belt there’s no questions about experience. Logged heavy minutes on the penalty kill last season, and had very good on-ice numbers despite being deployed mainly in the defensive zone. Cons: There’s a reason they call him the U.S.S. Hal Gill, and it isn’t all size – mobility isn’t a strong point. He played just over 10:00 per game against weak competition last year, getting much lower minutes at evens than any other Nashville defender. He has a $2.0 million contract for next season, and that’s a lot of money for a third-pairing defenceman.

Matt Hunwick. Pros: Where to begin? Hunwick played an astonishing 21:31 per game for the Avalanche last season and was given minutes in all situations, including the power play. A very strong skater, and a guy who can also make a good first pass, Hunwick’s one of those strange players who can move the puck but struggles to get points (he had six assists last season). Started more shifts in his own end of the rink than any other Avs defenceman and saw tough competition, yet had very strong on-ice numbers. Left side defenceman is in the prime of his career at 28. Has an extremely reasonable $1.6 million contract for next season. Cons: He isn’t big (5’11”, 190 pounds), and while he doesn’t shy away from the physical game and will hit, he doesn’t play a bruising style. As noted above, struggles to score despite puck-moving abilities.

Kris Russell. Pros: Fantastic skater is also an excellent puck-mover. Played regular even-strength minutes (14:52 per night 5-on-5) for a very good team in St. Louis. Young defender just turned 26, and is a restricted free agent coming off a $1.3 million/year contract with the Blues. Cons: Lacks size (listed at 5'10", 172 pounds) and is frequently on injured reserve. Played carefully sheltered minutes in St. Louis (lots of offensive zone starts, third-pairing opposition) yet had some of the lowest on-ice numbers on the team, with the Blues allowing significantly more shots with Russell on the ice than with him on the bench. Has only been a middling point producer at the NHL level.

Jeff Schultz. Pros: The NHL's plus/minus leader in 2009-10, with a plus-50 rating. 6'6", 227 pound defenceman adds size, and is a regular penalty-killer. At 27, he's still relatively young, particularly for a guy with just under 400 games played. Cons: Has a $3.0 million cap hit for next season, which is presumably the main reason he's untradable. Plays a lot of minutes in the defensive zone, but hasn't seen tough competition in some time; despite this, for three years the Caps have been getting lit up on the shot clock when he's on the ice. Requested a trade from Washington earlier this year due to dissatisfaction with his minutes/role. Spent most of last season as Washington's seventh defenceman; it's difficult to project him as an upgrade on a player like Mark Fistric.

Greg Zanon. Pros: Veteran defensive defenceman logged significant minutes for Colorado at even-strength (16:32 per game) and on the penalty kill (2:40 per game). One of the league's best shot-blockers, and also very willing to step up and make a hit. Has for some time played extremely tough minutes - a heavy ratio defensive zone starts and good opponents, though that lightened a little this year. Cons: At age 33, on the wrong side of his career. Coming off a decidedly subpar season by his standards, playing much easier minutes than he normally does and getting peppered on the shot clock. Lacks ideal size (5'11", 202 pounds) for the role he plays. Has one year left at $2.25 million, which isn't bad if he plays top-four minutes but isn't good in a third-pairing role (which, after this past season, is where I'd slot him on a typical NHL depth chart).      

My View

It's a little hard to believe that some of these names weren't moved on draft day, given how it seems every team in the league is crying out for defencemen and the UFA market this summer is mostly spare parts. There are definitely players here that might be of interest to the Oilers. In order:

  • Matt Hunwick very well might slot in as a second-pair defenceman on the Oilers right now; he would be an exceptional fit as a third-pairing defender and comes on an extremely reasonable contract. The age, price-point and skill-set are all good fits for Edmonton's system.
  • Jonathon Blum's age and season make him an intriguing option as a reserve defenceman in Edmonton. He has more upside than Corey Potter and for my money isn't a bad bet to be the superior player right now. Right-hand shot is also a good fit for third-pairing/reserve slot.
  • Kris Russell has a case, though injuries and struggles in St. Louis make me nervous. Also working against him is his left-handed shot, something the Oilers have in abundance for the 5-7 roles. 

Then there are guys that don't really seem like good fits in Edmonton to me.

  • Hal Gill and Jeff Schultz both make too much money, and neither guys is likely to be an upgrade on a cheaper Mark Fistric. Unless Fistric's asking for the moon, why not stick with the in-house option?
  • Greg Zanon is a plausible upgrade on Fistric - not a certain one, but a plausible one - but the money's too high for his likely role in Edmonton.

Recently around the Nation Network

At Flames Nation, Kent Wilson goes through the Flames' depth chart, lays out the roster, and comes to the following conclusion

There is some promise in Backlund, Brodie, Baertschi and it will be interesting to see how the goaltending settles out and perhaps what Corban Knight can do, but clearly this is a roster hunting for a good draft position and not the cup. It's going to be long summer Flames fans, and likely an even longer 2013-14 season.

Click the link to read more, or alternately, feel free check out some of my other pieces here:

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Jonathan Willis is a freelance writer. He currently works for Oilers Nation, the Edmonton Journal and Bleacher Report. He's co-written three books and worked for myriad websites, including Grantland, ESPN, The Score, and Hockey Prospectus. He was previously the founder and managing editor of Copper & Blue.
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#51 WhattaMike
July 02 2013, 02:04PM
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Wow....things already happening with waivers and trades of Calgary and San Jose, now Tor and Pitts...

Nothing major yet but....Where are ya MacT & the Oilers??? Anyone awake in Oil City yet????

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#52 Truth
July 02 2013, 02:06PM
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I'm taking Hunwick and one of Schultz, Zanon, or re-signing Fistric.

NHL:

Smid - Petry

J. Schultz - N. Schultz

Belov - Hunwick

Schultz/Zanon/Fistric

AHL:

Klefbom - Marincin

Fedun - Davidson

Gernat - Potter

Musil

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#53 RJ
July 02 2013, 02:06PM
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Hunwick has got a reasonable contract for the next season, and all it costs is to claim him. You won't have to give up players, picks or prospects for him, and he's in the prime of his career.

There's a lot of upside. If he doesn't play well with the team, then you don't need to try to re-sign him. But players going into contract years tend to play very strong. It's a minimal risk, and a lot of reward, unlike a lot of those older guys on the list.

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#54 RexLibris
July 02 2013, 02:19PM
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@Jonathan

"Spells "Jonathon" in a goofy way."

Laughed at that one.

On a serious note, a few years back there was some talk of the Oilers moving Smid for Blum.

Blum, while obviously on the outs, does seem to have some of the traits MacTavish has spoken of previously (being in the right age-range, a puck mover, with a decent size).

If the Oilers flush Teubert, Plante and perhaps even Peckham, Blum might be a good replacement.

It could even come down to deciding between Paul Ranger (if that is even a possibility), Corey Potter and Jonathon Blum.

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#55 WhattaMike
July 02 2013, 02:23PM
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I would also say that of this group Hunwick seems logical for two to three yrs tops... but a one yr deal aside from this yr would be ideal.

But something in my head says that Paul Ranger may be coming here because of his playing for/friendship with Eakins...

However, there is still the idea/rumour floating around that a russian defenceman (possibly Grebeshkov) is talking to the Oilers and he would be a very good addition for three yrs max as well.

Grebeshkov and J. Schultz, Smid and Petry, then there is Belov and N. Schultz...leaving Potter as the extra..

Now if Ranger and Grebeshkov both were to sign...the trade front of assets to use for the Oilers wanting a couple of bigger tough 3rd to 4th line forwards...probably puts both N. Schultz and/or Smid soon after in this type deal(s)situation ..

Klefbom can work on the Barons alongside Marancin as that top unit for a season which would be excellent/

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#56 WhattaMike
July 02 2013, 02:32PM
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Geezus...thanks JW for advising the fake account trade with Tor and Pitts...why some people gotta throw crap like that out there not only deceives others (like me) but also it just ticks me off...

Hey JW....any opinions for of truth to ideas/rumours that it may be Grebeshkov talking to the Oilers? What about the Paul Ranger situation with talking to the Oilers maybe...any update info there?

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#57 Crooked
July 02 2013, 02:40PM
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mr common sense wrote:

100% i do. Tim Thomas is a fiend, someone who would win a Survivor contest...go read about his life. In his mind right now, he is thinking "everyone thinks I am washed up and a loser....ill show them" that is EXACTLY the guy you want. Proven. Champion. Tireless. Full circle to his career...drafted by Edm and finishes it all there. Think Roloson, not Khabby

He was drafted by the Nordiques in '94. Edmonton signed him as a free agent in '98.

That said, Thomas is certainly capable of coming back from a long layoff and performing well. Hasek did, and continued to play a strong game until he was 43. Whether Thomas can do the same, time will tell, but if he continues to perform like he did before he left, any team that signs him will be better for it.

Oilers won't be able to sign him, even if they want to, unless they're willing to drastically overpay. Colorado might be able to sign him, since he lives there now, but he'll likely end up going to a contending team on the east coast, namely Washington, Philly, or Pittsburgh.

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#58 madjam
July 02 2013, 03:35PM
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Spend the extra to get J.Schultz and dump the poor possession nbr.s of Fistric . I said long time ago he is an upgrade and we need to spend to get upgrades . Fistric is not the solution here , plain and simple we have to upgrade . Maybe Eakins can get a lot of old form back in Schultz . Worth the risk and could be an excellent find . The triplets -the three amigos !

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#59 NewAgeSys
July 02 2013, 05:23PM
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6'6 227 --6'7 244 lbs?

Pick the one most aligned to Nurses projected stengths.

Sign him, we need a man to pave the road for Darnell so we need to take some time to find the right partner for a Big Package, so naturally we need a Big Package template to build around --- right?

Big d-men just need predatory partners who will abso-freaking-lutely LAY Flat out anyone who tries to cheat on the Big Package.

You cant bring in a man that big and not manage around him , ha ha ha. I think the right man who likes to hit hard and terminally might love playing with a monster who can dictate dynamics on the ice with his size.

The size is or should be simply another dynamic managment catalyst, not really a hitting issue now is it?

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#60 Dog Train
July 02 2013, 05:48PM
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Either of Blum or Hunwick would be fine with me. I'm glad that the rumoured deal of Smid for Blum never materialized, especially if we can get Blum on the cheap now anyways.

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#61 Clyde Frog
July 02 2013, 06:13PM
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Jonathan Willis wrote:

That's from a fake account.

But I booked it...

DSF is never wrong once it's been booked!

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#62 nuge2nail
July 02 2013, 06:50PM
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Oiler Domination To Follow

Andrew Ference is the way to go. Braydon Coburn would be nice...

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