The truth is I don’t think about it anymore. The spring of opponents’ sorties handled expertly, the human rake with the enormous calm feet and the boys of winter winning deep into spring. I do retain one beautiful memory from that spring: the heavenly blue.
Good defenseman calm the waters, make bathroom trips at the house a breeze and at their best allow a fan to be confident even during panic moments like 2-on-1’s or Tommy Salo. For years now the Oilers have been driving me crazy with a tendency to have three or four reasonable sorts on D and then a steady stream of chaos blue. Chris Pronger made everything right, and the Stanley blue of 2006 had some other nice things too.
How do the Oilers get back there? Improved quality, more actual NHL players. A defense that sports Ladislav Smid, Nick Schultz, Jeff Petry and Andy Sutton has some nice things but stops well short of being good enough at the top and bottom ends. There is no "complete" defenseman and the club lacks an expert puck mover too.
If Ryan Whitney (a complete defenseman) is healthy AND they add a quality defender to the group? Music!
During the draft series just completed we had a long look at the up and coming defensemen available in this year’s draft, but what about more immediate solutions to the Oilers problems? None of these fellows is Chris Pronger but there’s room for improvement and the men on this list could help. If you click on the player names it’ll take you to either an article I wrote on them or a bio that provides information and a quick report on their skills. There are some things worth considering.
- Fedor Tyutin: Of all the defensemen we looked at during March, Tyutin is the most attractive option for me. He’s a puck mover who can play defense and has plenty of NHL experience playing against tougher opponents. I know he’s expensive and the Oilers would have to pay in full but this would represent an immediate upgrade of the type we’ve been talking about for years.
- Justin Schultz: Ideal acquisition for the Oilers because he’s young enough to grow with the cluster and has some skills that are unique for the club. He might be able to step right in and help out, although I don’t think we should count on it. It also seems that there are pockets of the fanbase who think Schultz is already gone to the Leafs. If that’s true–Schultz has agreed to sign with Toronto–the Leafs would be in more hell than a little bit. Should be an interesting summer.
- Jason Garrison: He’s coming off a career season but was doing good work before that and would appear to be an example of a late bloomer. If he’s a modern Bill White the Oilers would do well to sign him and I think he’s certainly worth the risk. I don’t know how much of the offense is real, but defensively he’s square.
- Dion Phaneuf is a famous player and his contract is a monster, but he can play defense and helps in all three disciplines. Toronto is unlikely to trade this player–they used him heavily last season and the results were good–but he’s worth considering.
I wanted to include Matt Carle and Dennis Wideman, but it is unlikely they’ll be Oilers in the fall.
- Matt Carle: A perfect candidate for the Oilers based on age and skill set, Paul Holmgren believes he can sign him for the Flyers. "I have had enough conversations with Matt to know what he is about and know that he wants to stay in Philadelphia."
- Dennis Wideman is 29, made $4.5M last season and certainly could help the Oilers in the coming years. I have him ranked lower than the others because it’s unlikely a player of his age and resume signs with a building club.
Your mileage may vary, and their are some interesting characters like Barret Jackman (UFA) and Travis Hamonic (Islanders usually trade their good young players just when they’re ready), but if the Oilers could add one or two of these men we might begin talking about playoff contention.
WHAT DOES IT ALL MEAN?
This is an important summer for the Edmonton Oilers in their rebuild. The goaltending needs another, and the defense needs at least one, maybe two. The men listed above can help and might be available. Getting two of them–and retaining Smid, Petry, Schultz and Sutton–would allow Edmonton to begin the season with quality, depth and enough on the farm to sustain them over the long months of winter. And if they do all of that AND Ryan Whitney is healthy?
What a wonderful problem to have: too much blue!