Photo by Michael Miller, Wikimedia Commons
A pair of veteran defensemen switched teams yesterday. Former Oilers Lubomir Visnovsky was dealt from Anaheim to Long Island in exchange for a 2013 second round pick; a small price to pay for a top-four blueliner with a high level of offense.
Perhaps more interesting was the trade of Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman Zbynek Michalek. In exchange for the big 29-year old, Phoenix dealt away an unimpressive package centered on a third-round pick and a pair of middling prospects. Should the Oilers have pushed for Michalek?
I’ve talked about Michalek previously, back when it became apparent that the Pittsburgh Penguins might be willing to trade him or fellow blue-liner Paul Martin. I summed up his game this way:
Michalek is a defense-first rearguard; he turned 29 midway through 2011-12 and he’ll be 32 when his current contract ends. Like Martin – and current Oilers’ defender Nick Schultz, for that matter – he’s not a big bruiser and he’s even less of an offensive option. He doesn’t hesitate to throw his body in front of shots, he’s got good size, and he’s a regular penalty-killer. According to Behind the Net, Michalek played the second-toughest opposition on the Penguins’ blue line this year. Michalek is a right-handed shot and plays on the right side.
While that description isn’t a perfect fit for the Edmonton blue-line – the team needs a skilled puck-mover or possibly two more than anything – there’s no question that Michalek would have represented an upgrade on the personnel already on the back end.
Edmonton could also easily have matched the package Phoenix put together – a third round pick, goaltending prospect Marc Cheverie (a 25-year old ECHL’er) and defensive prospect Harrison Ruopp ( a third-round pick in last year’s draft). Why wouldn’t they?
Part of the answer we’ve already discussed – Michalek isn’t the perfect fit for the needs of the current roster. Another part of the answer likely lies in Michalek’s contract – he has three more years on it with a $4 million cap hit in each. That’s not a ridiculous amount but with Pittsburgh obviously looking to dump salary and with significant term remaining that is a consideration.
If the Oilers feel they can trade for a defenseman who is a better fit – Bob Stauffer suggested today that the team is likely to move either Ales Hemsky or Magnus Paajarvi in a deal to address the blue line – then it makes sense that they would pass on Michalek. There are only so many spots on the team for defensemen, and the Oilers will be better off if they could find a better fit. Ultimately, based on that criteria, I don’t mind the Oilers opting not to pursue Michalek (or Visnovsky either, for that matter).
The only way this comes back to haunt Edmonton is if they fail to substantially improve their defense corps over the summer. If they enter next season with largely the status quo on the back end, the team won’t have the excuse that it was too difficult to acquire a defender. The New York Islanders are a punch line of a team with erratic ownership, while the Phoenix Coyotes continue to be owned by the NHL and existing in limbo until a new ownership group officially takes over. Both teams managed to address defensive weakness without trading a single asset off their NHL roster or a first round pick. If the Oilers can’t manage to equal that effort, then their failure to land a defenseman at the draft is going to look very ugly indeed.
Note: Michalek had a limited no-trade clause on his contract, a clause which would have permitted him to block a trade to a list of eight teams. However, given that there has been no hint that the Oilers pursued Michalek, it seems more likely that no interest was shown rather than that the team tried hard and was blocked.
This week by Jonathan Willis
- The Oilers select forward Mitch Moroz 32nd overall
- The Jets select Lukas Sutter 39th overall
- The Canucks select Alexandre Mallet 57th overall
- The top five ranked players left after the end of the first round
- Moving up and down at the NHL Draft
- Should the Oilers take a goalie in the second round?
- The Edmonton Oilers and the window to win
- Lennart Petrell returns to the Edmonton Oilers
- St. Louis Blues re-sign Barret Jackman
- Are the Blue Jackets and Oilers good trading partners?
- Dale Tallon: things get worse before they get better
- The Edmonton Oilers are getting a little light on forward prospects