This is Jay Bouwmeester, one of thirty number one NHL defensemen. His exact value is a point of debate in Robin’s post below, but it seems fairly safe to say that he’s in the top-half of those thirty players. Some would even argue that he’s a top-five defenseman.
Regardless, I think he’s a luxury the Oilers can’t afford; a target created by a fanbase which (like all fanbases) loves the idea of bringing an elite NHL’er to Edmonton. Personally, I don’t think the Oilers should even bother pursuing him unless it’s clear that playing for the Oilers is a top priority for Bouwmeester. Now, before a lynch mob gathers up their pitchforks and assembles in the comments section, let me explain, because I think there are a number of very good reasons for this mindset.
1. Supply and Demand
How many NHL teams would like to get their hands on Bouwmeester? Let’s assume that he’s the fifteenth-best defenseman in the league, even though he’s almost certainly better than that. This means that at least fifteen teams out there would view him as an upgrade over what they already have. There’s going to be a bidding war for his services; there really aren’t a lot of high-end defensemen out there, and salary cap or no Bouwmeester’s going to be in high demand. In other words, a lot of teams are going to spend their first day of free agency focused on a target they won’t end up acquiring while other players are taken off the market. Plus, whoever does grab him will be spending a pile of money, which brings me to my second point:
2. Cap Space
The Oilers don’t have it. They were close enough to the cap all season long, and they’ve got somewhere in the neighborhood of 7-8 million to play with next year. With that money they need to re-sign Denis Grebeshkov, address their lack of a number one goaltender and bring back a bunch of restricted free agents on new contracts. It’s going to be tight enough as it is, and the long-term picture isn’t any brighter. Even assuming the Oilers were to move one of their higher salaries out of town (Visnovsky or Souray) they’ll be taking on more and at this point every dollar matters. Visnovsky and Souray are a nice bridge to my third point:
Don’t get me wrong: Jay Bouwmeester is a fantastic addition to any hockey club. When looking at the Oilers though, the defense isn’t a weak point. The top-four of Lubomir Visnovsky, Sheldon Souray, Tom Gilbert and Denis Grebshkov is one of the best puck-moving units in the league and puck-moving defensemen of that calibre aren’t readily available. The Oilers do, however, have a host of problems; I’d contend that keeping the puck out of the net is a major issue but other wish lists have different priorities.
Obviously there’s a wide range of opinion among Oiler fans about how to fix the team. However, the one point of consensus that I’ve heard again and again is that the top-four is the strength of this team, and I don’t think there’s an argument to be made otherwise. Their numbers:
- Sheldon Souray: 81GP – 23G – 30A – 53PTS, +1
- Tom Gilbert: 82GP – 5G – 40A – 45PTS, +6
- Denis Grebeshkov: 72GP – 7G – 32A – 39PTS, +12
- Lubomir Visnovsky: 50GP – 8G – 23A – 31PTS, +6
There’s nothing wrong with that.
To Sum Up
There isn’t any question that Jay Bouwmeester could help this hockey team. The fact of the matter is that the Oilers already have a strong top-four, and spending a truck-load of dollars to bring in another high-end defenseman just doesn’t make sense when there are so many other more pressing concerns. Fans have been concocting complicated proposals involving signing Bouwmeester and then dealing a defenseman for a top-end forward; it’s much simpler to just go after the forward initially, isn’t it?
Besides, the Oilers would probably still have a good group of defensemen if they were to trade off one of the top-four and bring in a responsible depth guy to round out the group. Given that there are probably a dozen candidates on the free agent market and more available via trade, that seems to me to be the logical and cap-friendly route for the team to take.
In any case, there hasn’t been any real proof that Bouwmeester has a burning desire to come play for Edmonton any more than he wants to play anywhere else. There’s been a handful of rumours, from some comments on the ESPN Trade Deadline show to column written by Bruce “Malkin to the Kings” Garrioch. Certainly the player himself hasn’t said it, and beyond the fact that he’s from Edmonton there isn’t much linking him to the team. But even if Bouwmeester were willing to entertain offers from the Oilers, it simply doesn’t make sense for the Oilers to make him their number one target in the offseason – make no mistake, that’s what it will take for a team to land him – and miss out on opportunities that make more sense for the team.