HEAVENLY BLUE

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!

IMMEDIATE HELP

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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.

  1. 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."
  2. 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!

  • I think we should stop talking about Whitney “getting healthy”. He’s pretty much admitted his ankle is about as good as it’s going to get. The only thing he can do is strengthen the muscles around the joint. But he’ll never be as good as he was pre-surgery.

    He’ll still have the hockey smarts, but Whitney getting pyloned next year could be the signal for a pretty decent drinking game.

    • Lowetide

      While true, I think there is hope he’ll be a better player in the fall. When Jason Gregor was on Nation Radio a couple of weeks ago, he mentioned that Whitney had not enjoyed the normal build up to his training camp and that lack of training meant he was behind all year.

      Also, Whitney’s a guy who imo will find ways to make up for things he can no longer do. He’s a smart hockey player and those guys adapt. I don’t think he’ll play heavy minutes in all 3 disciplines but would be he looks better this coming season than he did coming off injury this spring.

      In fact, now that I think of it Jonathan Willis might have done something recently about Whitney’s improved player later in the year. Let me see if I can find it.

      • GVBlackhawk

        Those severe ankle injuries never heal 100%. See Peter Forsberg. Whitney has the same injury. His mobility and speed will be very limited from now on. He has a great mind for the game but a guy with that lack of mobility becomes a liability on the blueline.

        I don’t feel that he played very well down the stretch. Often times way out of position without the capacity to recover. A prime example was the second last game of the year against the Ducks. Whitney let Getzlaf get slightly behind him in overtime. A bounce pass off the boards to Getzlaf and he was gone on a breakaway (and scored to win the game). Getz is no speedster but Whitney made him look like a young Teemu Selanne.

  • Reg Dunlop

    We all can agree that the oil need immediate short term help on D. Until the prospects are fully cooked in the minors, 2 or 3 years, we need less chaos and panic in our zone. Since Pronger and Spacek are out as options, J Schultz is raw and Garrison is a poor mans Boumeester, this leaves IMO Tyutin and maybe Jackman as realistic acquisitions. If we can get one of them, and draft Murray 1st overall and play him in Whitney’s spot, just maybe…

    To all those who want to see Yak here I have one word for you: Bure, but Val not Pavel. Doesn’t the Govt have minimum Canadian content laws? Isn’t that why we used to have to watch The Beachcombers? Shop local.

    • I dunno man. That article doesn’t exactly give a guy a whole lot of confidence. Still, I agree he was better down the stretch. Slightly better than horrid, but better just the same.

      Of course we wouldn’t be so worried about Whitney if we still had Gilbert. If anybody knows the true story about that one I’d really like to hear it.

  • Good read LT

    What about Bouwmeester? Calgary is looking to off load some money, he’s not a bad defensemen and can help the power play.

    If you take into consideration Whitney comes off the books and the possibility of Smid leaving next year the Oiler’s could have money for serious upgrades.

    What’s the likely hood of the Oiler trying to trade for Schultz rights?

    If that is Plan A then Plan B might include a move at the draft to get one of those defensemen through a trade at the draft?

  • Lexi

    To me Phaneuf is a stay away for many reasons.

    I wonder if once Nash and Parise are moved, that Hemsky becomes a desired commodity among the teams that missed out on them. Guys I think we could get for Hemsky or less are; Tyutin, Nikitin, Martin, Timmonen, Green, Leopold, Sekera, Enstrom and Vlasic.

  • Well said Lowetide. My only fear is Namby Tamby will panic and take Murray instead of Yak to boost the defense and save his dawdling butt. Yes, improving the D is the key to making the playoffs, but not by blowing away the chance to add a likely star.

  • Reg Dunlop

    @Pouzar99

    Adding a potential star is in no way a guarantee to the ultimate success. Has Ovi won a cup? Or has he just divided the dressingroom. Yak may fit in here and he may not. Murray will fit in.

    Everywhere else in the NHL universe pegs this draft as weak and Yak as nothing exceptional. Only in Edmonton is he this over valued.

    • Wax Man Riley

      You can’t cherry pick players that haven’t won a cup.

      I’d take Ovi on my team over Fraser any day.

      And who pegs this as a weak draft year? Last year was supposed to be a weak year too. And the year before that.

    • Wax Man Riley

      You actually don’t read draft reports and don’t watch sports do you. Across the board Yakupov is consensus number 1. In fact many believe there is an immediate drop off after Yakupov and then an even steeper drop after Grigerenko and Galchenyuk. The draft is considered weak because most of the players don’t have a high ceiling like in 2003. But there is depth in the draft. Kind of like a weaker version of 2008. But many project Yakupov as a potential 30-40 goal scorer and even Stauffer mentioned that scouts believe Yakupov is a better finisher than Taylor Hall.

  • Kinda interesting to see Brad Stuart traded today. He would be a very good dman for the Oilers, a player type you are mentioning in this article. If a player like him is available for a poor mans 4th liner and a pick (either a 1st or 2nd Im assuming) then Im sure the trade market for someone like him would be Belanger and a 2nd or Jones and a 2nd.

    What Dman could the Oilers grab by offering that? Andrew Ference, Ron Hainsey, Eric Brewer, Tim Gleanson, Toni Lydman. There are a few solid veteran type Dman that have enough offence to match up with Stuart. All the Oilers need on the blue is someone with over 400 games played in the NHL to go along with Smid, Petry, Shultz and Whitney. Let Sutton, Pechkam and Tuebert play as the 6th and 7th dman. Potter is going to be lost in the flood of players coming in. Sutton should have been traded at the deadline for whatever we could have gotten. Great guy but honeslty does he belong playing out his career as an Oiler when we arent winning anything?

    • G Money

      I don’t think you can use the Brad Stuart trade as even the most remote measure of value for other trades. For two reasons:

      – It’s been stated for a loooong time that Stuart was looking to move back to California to be close to his family, and the story in TSN confirms that (“Stuart had made clear that he wanted to be closer to his family, which still lives in San Jose …”).

      – Secondly, this was a trade for the negotiating rights rather than the actual player, as Stuart is a free agent in three weeks if he can’t work out a deal with San Jose.

      So unsurprisingly, Detroit knows they won’t resign Brad and San Jose is only trading for three weeks of rights, so the trade value on both sides will be extremely low. I’m actually surprised that SJ didn’t just wait until free agency.

  • striker777

    It’s going to be an important year in this re-build. In order to acquire good players Oilers need to showcase a few of their players.
    Most important thing is they need to start winning. Then and ONLY then, they need to move players, because selling players for nothing is dumb. I couldn’t understand why Omark was not showcased at the end of the last season. Give him PP and play him with our good players to raise his profile.

    Trading is an art.

  • The Oilers Shot Clock

    Whitney cant be any worse than last year so our D is going to improve from just that alone…..kind of a backwards way to find a positive if you ask me.

  • GVBlackhawk

    LT: Only an idiot would trade Harmonic at this point in his career.

    Which of course means tambo had better be on the phone with the Islanders, cause he is defintely available.

    Only problem is Tambo would probably trade Petry to get him.

    Again, I point out. If the Oilers had stayed away from Penner and drafted Myers (1st round pick to the Duck in compensation) and Harmonic (2nd round pick traded to the Islanders for the 3rd round pick needed to sign Penner) instead, they would still have been a lottery team due to the Khabibulin effect, but we would be a lot more optimistic about the defence right now.

  • GVBlackhawk

    Does Yakupov speed up the rebuild ? Yes , as it adds depth to a young highly emerging skilled forward group . Does Murray do the same ? Questionable , but doubt as much as Yakupov might .

    Oilers will still be far from a playoff team either way, unless they can trade far better than they have over last 3-4 seasons . Doubtful Tams can make deals outside the draft to make us a legit playoff team for next season , as jurise prudence would suggest . To many deals for the man who has problems with multi tasking when coming to trades . He seems able to fill holes in theory and paper – just not on the on ice product . Maybe his evaluation process needs repair ? He who hesitates is lost , or loses out on a trade ?

    “Drive for show , but putt for dough” ? Yakupov is good for the show , and should help sell seats . This is an entertainment business afterall . Don’t believe Murray brings that type of charisma or excitement to the fans .

    • GVBlackhawk

      I do not agree that adding another 18 year old will speed up the rebuild, whether or not Nail or Murray is drafted. Players take a few years to adapt to the speed of the NHL, learn the defensive systems, get used to the length and grind of an 82 game schedule (plus practices), improve strength and conditioning. This is why the best teams have rosters full of 25 to 30 year olds.

      The Oilers need upgrades at all positions. Nail is the best upgrade available. However, the Oilers do not need him to sell seats. They have sold out every home game since the lockout, all while icing a near AHL caliber team.

  • Reg Dunlop

    @AndrewMK20

    Actually, I think this years draft is weak because only 2 players are NHL ready. Will Yak be a better finisher than Hall? Time will tell, but Tambo was quoted as saying ‘I don’t know if you can put Yakupov at that level yet’ when comparing him to Hall.

    Bottom line, the oil had no intrest in trading their 1st pick the last 2 drafts, this year it is in play. That should tell you something even if you don’t watch sports, and by the way I do watch sports; women’s golf is awesome.

    • GVBlackhawk

      The fact that the Oilers were talking about trading the first OV does not reflect on Nail’s ability, but rather the team’s requirement for quality defense. Plus they have drafted consecutive first OV forwards.

      Nail broke Stamkos’ junior rookie scoring record by 9 points. He has an equivalent one-time slapshot, speed to burn, great work ethic, and desire to win. I think the Oilers want all of that.

      Lastly Reg, do not put too much stock into Tambellini’s ability to evaluate players. Certainly do not quote him when trying to validate an argument…that’s a recipe for disaster.

  • Quicksilver ballet

    Can’t imagine the consequences of taking Murray in that No.1 spot. At nearly 4 million his first yr including bonuses, 10%+ raises everytime he signs a new deal. This kid would have a full career of being an overpaid career #3 or 4 defenseman.

    Somewhere Rich Winter must be laughing his arse off.

  • GVBlackhawk

    Each and every year there are gems in the draft. Players how for what ever reason rise and fall and usually there is a good answer for this, but only if you do your homework.

    There will be players later in the first round and second round that may not be receiving all the attention now, but will make teams pay attention later. We found one of those gems in Eberle.

    You can bet there is a defenseman in this years draft that no one is talking about now, but in a couple of years, everyone will be saying, “just how did we miss him”?

    I hope that we are the team that finds this player…….and ideas out there who this player could be?

  • OB1 Team Yakopov - F.S.T.N.F

    @ Tayranchula

    They traded only for Stuarts negotiating rights, and all indications are that he only wanted to play for SJ anyway.

    I believe the draft pick was also a 7th rounder, 2 years from now.

  • RexLibris

    LT

    Regarding Justin Schultz: barring a three-way trade that might see Schultz go to Toronto, Omark and a collection of picks from the Leafs to Anaheim, and Franson to Edmonton, if the Leafs do sign Schultz I hope Anaheim makes the tampering charges stick.

    The Leafs were let off with a stern warning in ’09 when Wilson shot his mouth off about the Sedins. If the team has actually gone through with poaching talent from a Burke-associated franchise this time, then I hope the league levels a hefty fine. The loss of a first round pick and compensation of an equal talent (would sending Gardiner back be too funny to suggest?) should send a pretty clear message.

    With youth being the NHL’s new gold-bouillon, I think that tampering with unsigned drafted players needs to be made an example of.

    Then again, maybe I’m biased against Toronto just a bit. 😉

  • vetinari

    I say take Yakupov with the first overall pick and then shop your second rounder and the rights to Omark, Plante and/or Peckham to see if you can move into the top 20 and snag a defenceman with that pick, or use those assets to see if you can instead snag a veteran top 4 defenceman.

    I would go so far as to add Paajarvi, Eager, Gagner and even Hemsky into the mix if you can land another top 5 pick and are guaranteed to get one of either Murray or Grigerenko. We have tons of wingers and we need to turn some of them into defenceman and centers.