Should the Edmonton Oilers have made a pitch for Zbynek Michalek?

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?

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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?

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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

  • Romulus' Apotheosis

    Is it possible (please let it be) that they are eyeing other talent and don’t want to end up with too many pieces but no finished puzzle…

    I mean that wait and see crap has failed us before… but grabbing anything that is better than what you got isn’t necessarily the best strategy… though it is better than sitting around doing nothing then betting on Cam Barker!!!

  • Toro

    The other consideration is that the Oilers may have tried to acquire Michalek but his NTC prevented the deal.

    I think they have room for 1 D first Dman and 1 puck mover(assuming they pick up Schultz July 1) The Oilers are still a soft team and Michalek would have brought some size to the back end.

    • If the Oilers had been a playoff team their defense would have been way bigger than average and only a hair back of Ottawa for biggest in the league.

      Michalek would have been a below-average defenseman size-wise for the Oilers.

  • I don’t get us not offering up a slightly better collection of magic beans to acquire Michalek. Odds are Whitney is going to be an epic fail this coming year. That’s assuming he gets anywhere near “80%”. Ideally we need two actual NHL’er D-men. If Michalek could have been had he would have been a great addition to what is currently one of the weakest D corps in the league.

    Get the sure thing and then shoot for the moon.

  • Romulus' Apotheosis

    I am looking forward to seeing management actually make a trade that addresses our defense. Really rotten luck Whitney went down to that ankle injury because before that he was our high end puck moving defenseman. Really hope he returns back to form, at least a little more than he was last year.

    I know everyone is clamoring for more size at center, which is hard to find in the NHL. But with the insane offense a third year Hall, and a first year Yak could bring to our second line, do we really need a big body offensive center at number 2? I mean couldn’t we almost slot in anyone of Horcoff, Belangier, or Lander (all decent 2 way guys who can win a face off) and let the kids do the rest? I mean, you almost want a center that hangs back a little bit in between those two. I know everyone was saying get Gal, trad Gags for D, but I think one thing we do have depth in is two-way centers. Gags needed to be more offensive because Hemsky was terrible, Hall couldn’t do it all himself (though he tried), but now with Yak, I really think Gags is still expendable and could be traded for our defensive needs.

    I think with all our young D on the rise (maybe a year or two off: Fedune, Cleffbomb, etc) could Yandle be that guy on the top pairing with Shultz? (the Shultz we have not the one we desperately want). Or free agent Wideman perhaps to a two year deal that upgrades us until our own prospects develop? Plus if we do win the Shultz sweepstakes then we maybe look something like this:

    Forwards: Smyth – Nuge – Ebs, Hall – Horcoff – Yak, Magnus / Hartikinen – Lander – Hemskey, Petrell – Belangier – Jones

    Defense: Shultz – Yandle, Smid – Petry, Shultz – Whitney, Sutton / Peckham.

    That, at least on paper, is a solid damn team. If we upgrade on Habby (the worst goalie in the last three years for the most money), well damn.

  • A quick comment on Michalek’s NTC – he could have supplied Pittsburgh an 8-team “do not trade” list.

    It’s certainly possible that Edmonton was on it, though it isn’t definite, and undoubtedly Phoenix was near the top of his list of preferred destinations as a former team.

    • I don’t know that Michalek wouldn’t have blocked a trade to Edmonton.

      It does seem extremely implausible that the Oilers bothered to really try and find out, though – there’s been no hint of a rumour that they had any interest.

      • Greg Stink | ESPN

        Your headline is unfair and misleading. It implies the Oilers 1) didn’t try and 2) may have not be eligible (because of how Michalek may have exercised his no-trade contract).

        It was a careless post on your part, not fully explaining the dimensions and the complications of pursuing Michalek.

  • Lexi

    If on July 2nd we don’t have two new Dmen I will be very worried. Lots of dmen out there way better than Cam Barker. Best case scenario sign Schultz and get the best guy that they can get for Hemsky.

  • RexLibris

    Just a thought here, but could Tambellini be positioning himself as a trade option for a team looking for immediate cap relief following a big free-agent signing?

    If a team goes and signs Suter to some ridiculous contract and then needs to shed a decent “Alexander Edler-type” defenseman to stay under the cap, Tambellini could pick him up for something less than 100-cents-on-the-dollar, as Lowetide likes to say.

    Tambellini strikes me as being very risk-averse, and leveraging that position against the eventual Justin Schultz destination, seems like the most conservative, and perhaps shrewd, strategy to take for this team.

  • justDOit

    It seems strange that the ‘Yotes have Yandle on the trading block because of his $5M/yr cap salary, yet the acquire a far less talented blueliner with a $4M/yr salary.

    Here’s hoping LoweBellTavish have their collective minds set on Yandle, even though I think he might be too much of a one dimensional defenceman for the Oilers.

    Edit: Regarding Michalek, maybe I should have said, ‘a much different style of defender’, than ‘far less talented’. $4M/yr for a defence first player seems skewed to me.

  • Quicksilver ballet

    Lowe and Tambellini were far too busy trying to hypnotize Scott Howson and get that second overall selection from him. They had bigger fish to fry than Michalek. Priorities dude.

  • Quicksilver ballet

    JW……..just to clear the air, Mr. Dithers is waiting for a deal to come to him! He is unable to orchestrate a deal all by him self, and that’s why Mac T was brought in.

    Mr. Dithers will sit by the phone and wonder why no one wants to play with him?

    Prediction: While other GM’s aggressively try and fix their respective teams, our GM will tell us over and over again that there are no deals out there he likes.

    Just how many times have you hear this sh_t! Oh well it gives you something to write about.

  • Quicksilver ballet


    Smyth, Nugent-Hopkins and Eberle? Smyth doesn’t have the gas or the speed to play on a first line.

    Horcoff centring Hall and Yukapov? At best, Horcoff is a 3rd line centre. He couldn’t keep up with Hall and Yukapov. He has lost more than a step and the ability to score around the net (not quick enough). And I don’t think Gagner is the answer either, better to trade him as he really doesn’t fit this squad (too small, not a strong skater, soft on the puck, gets knocked down a lot).

    Hall is most dangerous and valuable as a LW. The Oilers desperately need a bit, strong second line centre. There were some available in the draft, but the Oilers couldn’t move down from their 31st place and had their sights elsewhere.

    Columbus is looking for forwards. Time for Tambellini to trade Hemsky and Gagner while they still have some value. Could get a D that is better than what is on the roster.

  • Greg Stink | ESPN

    These are nice articles Jonathan.
    Many fans are always wondering these things when available players go in trades. Especially when the player seems to fit a need for the Oilers. It’s nice to see a breakdown of it to understand why or why not the Oilers are involved in these deals.

    I would have liked to see Visnovsky come back, but I guess we’ve been down that road before, however if his choices were coming back to Edmonton or going to NYI, who knows, he may have wanted to come back. Anyway, Michalek is gone, may not have been what we needed anyway.

  • Greg Stink | ESPN

    The Oilers should definitely have made a play for Michalek.

    He would be the Oilers best right handed D-man if he was on the team right now.

    Sure he’s not an offensive defenseman, but he can move the puck to the forwards well enough that it doesnt hurt the offense. Sure a more rounded defenceman would be nice, but there are no guarentees that the Oilers can land such a player. Even if they do land a puckmover I would say there would still be room on the team for Michalek. Since the Oilers don’t really have any top pairing guys, they should be looking at running out a dcore with 6 guys that are capable of playing top 4 minutes. There is space there for Michalek and another guy.

    With how bad the Oilers need defence, and how cheap Michalek went for, they should have absolutely been all over that deal.

  • Man, the Oilers could have had an instant D upgrade if they had been able to put together trades for Visnovsky and Michalek.

    That would pretty much have made this team a playoff team.

  • @DonDon

    Smyth doesn’t need to keep up with them. He needs to be the 3rd F high, help on the cycle and get to the front of the net. Let RNH and Eberle gain the zone, that’s what they do best.

    Horcoff has the same role with Yak and Hall. They don’t need Horcoff to finish, they need him to get them the puck high in the defensive zone so they can start the counter attack (where both players are at their best).

    Personally speaking, I’d go with Smyth-RNH-Eberle, Hall-Horcoff-Hemsky and Paajarvi-Gagner-Yakupov.

    This gives you 2 matchup lines (and allows RNH and Eberle more responsibility and less sheltering), while allowing you to shelter the Yakupov line (much like the RNH line was sheltered this past season).

    It’s nice to live in a vaccum and just say throw the kids together, but we have 4 of them and only one of them has shown that he can play without being sheltered (Hall).

    • I kinda see what you’re going for. Problem is both Horcoff and Smyth are boat anchors for gifted, swift players. The reality is that both are now 3rd liners at best. Also, PRV has yet to prove he’s a regular productive NHL’er so you might be getting ahead of yourself a bit there.

      • John Chambers

        It seems that veteran players are being had for cheap. Good time to go on a buying spree.

        I wonder what the price for Steve Ott would be? Imagine having him on the left side of Nugent and Eberle to create space.

        • I’d like to believe the brakes have been removed and we actually want to make a stab at winning some more games next year. If that’s the case, then yes by all means you’d think we’d be looking for some decent role players.

          *Prays to god the brakes have been removed*

  • misfit

    “The only way this comes back to haunt Edmonton is if they fail to substantially improve their defense corps over the summer”

    Which is, unfortunately, a very real possibility.

    While I think Michalek probably had Edmonton on his list of 8 teams he would not accept a trade to, I highly doubt he was ever asked to waive that because Tambellini likely had little interest in Z. So I definitely agree with you there.

    Maybe not the puck mover we need, but he’d arguably be our best defenseman if we aquired him (yes, he’s an upgrade on Smid and Schultz) and that’s never something you turn down IMO.

  • Reg Dunlop

    The way I see it, the Leafs dumped Schenn to create space for Schultz. The deal is done.
    If Tambo is banking on Schultz signing here, well, I hope there is a back-up plan(probably Hemsky for Methot).

    There is always a chance for young pros to make a leap forward, like Petry last year.Without large upgrades on D and tending we will need more than a few youngsters to make that leap. More likely,hello Mackinnon.

  • book¡e

    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.

    I don’t know if we can be so certain of this. The MSM seems to know little to nothing about what Oiler Management is doing. Added to this is the fact that the Oilers showing interest would likely involve one 5 minute phone call to Michalek’s agent. “Hey Mr. Agent, we were interested in Michalek and the Penguins have given us permission to talk to him – would he be willing to come to Edmonton – No, Ok, thanks for letting us know”

    Not exactly the kind of story that leaks out to the Press.

    Edit: I wanted to note that I enjoyed the article, I just take some exception to the assumptions that are being made here and elsewhere on what happens in the Oilers head office. Evidence suggests that the MSM and bloggers really do not have a clue and as such, making assumptions without any evidence should be avoided. I would prefer a statement saying something like “We don’t, and cannot know, if the Oilers tried to get Michalek, but we did not hear any suggestions that they did” or something like that.

  • OB1 Team Yakopov - F.S.T.N.F

    Another missed opportunity. Every year a handful of good players get dumped for peanuts … The only time we’re on the receiving end is when the guy essentially forces his way back here…. And even then the GM almost screws it up.

    Hurts double bad when the picks that could have filled MAJOR holes were used to draft low probability prospects.