The UFA Market For Defensemen: It’s Going To Get Ugly

Photo by Sean Russell, via Wikimedia Commons

We’ve considered the weak free agent market for defensemen a few times now. Teams looking for a defenseman under the age of 30 who played 20+ minutes per game last season now have exactly three choices: Ryan Suter, Jason Garrison and Matt Carle. That’s the entire list.

The worse news is that there’s absolutely no shortage of teams looking for help on the back end.

Advertisement - Continue Reading Below

The Detroit Red Wings lead the way. With the retirement of Nicklas Lidstrom and the return of Brad Stuart to California, Detroit needs one high-end defenseman and could probably use two. They’re the best run team in the NHL over the last decade, have mountains of cap room, and supposedly have Ryan Suter top of mind.

Of course, Suter has no shortage of options. The Pittsburgh Penguins are a continual contender, they cleared cap rook at the draft and they are supposedly interested in his services. The Minnesota Wild are said to be preparing a massive bid to land Suter as well, and the Nashville Predators have rather pointedly failed to trade away the defenseman’s rights because they think they still have a shot at keeping him. Chicago is rumoured to be attempting to clear cap room to make a bid for Suter as well. Only one of those teams will land the free agent; everyone else is going to be forced to settle for leftovers.

Carle and Garrison are going to get paid. We saw Dennis Wideman, a comparable player in some respects, ink a five-year, $5.25 MM/season contract with the Calgary Flames – that’s the contract those players are going to be looking at. They’ll likely get it too – the teams that missed out on Suter will be joined by other clubs that are looking for help. Philadelphia and Florida are both trying to hang on to Carle and Garrison, respectively – if Philly fails they’ll want to sign a defenseman to help out on the back end while if Florida misses out they’re likely to hand the job over to youth. Anaheim, Carolina, the New York Islanders and St. Louis are all very interested in augmenting their bluelines.

Advertisement - Continue Reading Below

What does this mean for the Edmonton Oilers? It means that the summer ahead is likely to be difficult, expensive, or both. It’s like a game of musical chairs at this point – when the music stops, a few teams are going to be out of luck. The Oilers, tasked with selling to free agents a team that’s been terrible forever in a city well to the north of where most NHL’ers want to live, don’t exactly have a strong hand to play from. Given the need to maintain flexibility to get all the young kids under contract – starting next summer – it’s not like they’re going to be able to offer huge contracts that run until forever, either.

It’s a good thing the Oilers are on Justin Schultz’s short list. It will be a far better thing if they can somehow get him under contract.

A tip of the hat to Spector’s Hockey, arguably the best site around for keeping track of which teams want to land which players.

This week by Jonathan Willis

    • I honestly think that if Calgary wants to trade him, they’ll be able to. And get useful players back.

      Bouwmeester’s a superb defenseman, as long as you don’t expect offense. Unfortunately, he’s paid like an offensive guy.

      • Copperblueandwhite

        I disagree, In an offense sunk hole that is Calgary he still managed to put up 30+ points. When with Florida he was more of a 40-50 range kind of guy. I think with a team like the Oilers he would be back to the 40-50 range maybe more. If you look at all defenseman in the league the top 30 players range from around 34-78 points but only one player broke 53 points. So he is still a top 2 defense (points wise)on a really sh*tty team. I wouldn’t have an issue with getting Jay Bow he would still be the Oilers best defenseman.

  • This whole offseason hinges on Justin Schultz… I dont think there’s anyway we get Suter, Garrison or Carle. I was hoping we could get Gill from Nsh but he resigned today. If we don’t get Schultz, its going to take a monster step forward from one of our young D (fingers crossed on Klefbom) to take us out of the basement!

  • The Soup Fascist

    Back to trading for a top 4 D, I suppose. What is the going price going to be for Streit, Kjarlmarsson, etc?

    If Oil have cap room, best options (in terms of what Oil will need to give up) are going to be guys with the worst contracts – Campbell / Bouwmeester / etc. I think he is a bit of a flake, but is Burns available out of SJ for the right trade?

  • Come on J Schultz. Our future is so much brighter if this kid signs here. If we got him and 1 other top 4 Dman I actually thing our D looks pretty strong. We will be missing that complete #1 defender, but have a few that could grow into that role in a couple years or if Whitney returns to form he could potentially be that guy. People that say we are full of 5-6 dmen look at our roster.

    I would say Smid, Petry, Whitney, and N Schultz are all top 4 with potential to continue to evolve. I would say the rest of our D from last year are #7 Dmen or AHL Dmen.

    If we enter the season with 6 legit top 4 Dmen and 4 #7 Dmen to fill in for injuries we are looking pretty solid. Then figure more scoring from our front end, and another year of maturing for Dubnyk……..I am starting to get excited about this season.

  • justDOit

    My vote goes to Garrison, watched him closely for a couple of games and the guy is impressive.

    Schultz is not coming to Edmonton……deep down we all know that. The way he has conducted this sideshow is nothing short of pathetic.

    Why should any team go begging for his services……he has not proven a bloddy thing in this league and is setting himself up for a big fall! He has squarely placed himself under the microscope and I hope for his sake, he has considered all of this.

    • A) There’s no way of knowing where Schultz is going to go – all we know is that EDM and VAN are regarded as the front-runners.

      B) There’s nothing “pathetic” about how Schultz has handled things. Teams are interested – he’s giving a few a chance to talk to him. It’s hard to see how else he could handle things after deciding to leave Anaheim.

      C) Edmonton has far less of a chance of landing Garrison than Schultz. With Schultz, the Oilers are on the short-list. With Garrison, given the 10 above options would you rather sign in Edmonton or one of those places? And then you can add in the fact that he’s already publicly identified Vancouver as a team he’s interested in playing for.

      D) You’ve been railing against Schultz for weeks and for the life of me I can’t figure out why.

  • Quicksilver ballet

    It’s to the point right now that the Oilers could even gift a roster spot this season to Oscar Klefbom. They gifted one to Paajarvi a couple yrs ago.

    Schultz or no Schultz, the Oilers could certainly utilize Klefbom.

    • justDOit

      He is looking pretty good at the camp, but even Oscar himself has stated that he doesn’t want to play in the NHL until he’s ready. Video interview is on the Oilers site.

  • justDOit

    If you’re expecting immediate help for the blueline, and contention for a playoff spot next season, then I can see why Schultz isn’t the player you want to see land in Edm.

    If you want to see the Oilers complete more on a game basis, and would like to see another young stud to go with Hall and co, then Schultz looks pretty entertaining.

    My reservations about Schultz are that he’s too focused on what’s good for him and his career, rather than the team, and that coming in and demanding 1st PP time might PO Petry a bit.

  • justDOit

    I agree. Could this be somewhat comparible to the Lindros situation when it comes to personal selection of where the player wants to be? Geographicaly, Edmonton is the worst city in Canada for NHL players with Winnipeg not far behind if not even. Crime rate is high, city is filthy, infrastructure is in shambles and the only light of hope is the new arena downtown which is pretty much trying to cover up an old tattoo with your high school girlfriends name in the middle of it. This team was lucky to have the players they did in the early 80’s but look at what has happened since they all retired, left or got traded. What has the team managed to reel in regarding free agents in that time that are worthy of calling elite? Pronger for sure but, we know how that fiasco turned out!

    • justDOit

      Crime rate and poor roads are not as much of an issue when you make $1M or more per year. You buy a Hummer or Mercedes G class SUV, live in a secure neighbourhood and spend half of your work year flying to other cities. And the crime rate in Edmonton pales in comparison to some big US cities like Tampa.

    • The reality of the situation is that Edmonton is a city that is more loyal to the hockey team than any other city with NHL teams. Wanye and I talked about this at The Pint during the draft. There’s no reason for Oilers fan to be fans right now and yet we still buy tickets, jerseys, tshirts, etc. Players who actually love hockey love playing in cities like this, players who are mostly in it for the money don’t. Is Katz money worth any less than other NHL owners money? NO! Players should be honored that ANY NHL team would want to pay them millions of dollars to play a flippin’ game!! You think Detroit/Pittsburgh/Columbus/Uniondale(NJ)/ St Louis are any nicer of a city than Edmonton? Not a chance!!

    • Bucknuck

      Crime rate is high? Compared to the other cities which have NHL teams? I dissent. Have a look at this link:

      Edmonton is 19th most dangerous city in Canada. Better than Winnipeg and Vancouver (and Surrey).

      Edmonton had a record breaking 48 homicides in 2011, which works out to about 5 per 100,000 people. Compare that to the list below.

      Some examples:

      Memphis: 13.2
      Dallas 11.3
      Columbus 12.2
      Detroit 34.5
      St Louis 40.5

      I’m happy I live in Canada. The cities which seem to be a lot safer are Ottawa and Calgary.

  • RexLibris

    @Jonathan Willis

    “On the other hand, the two guys could just hold hands, stand on either end of the ice, and block the entire blue line.”

    What’s the Slovakian translation for “Red Rover, Red Rover, send somebody over!”?

  • Bucknuck

    Jonathan. Explain to me what the difference is between Klefbom and Shultz in terms of NHL readiness? I see 2 young men with 0 NHL games. Klefbom played in the SEL last year and Shultz the NCAA. Correct me if I am wrong but would not the SEL be considered the superior league? Lastly if Klefbom did want to come to NA to play why would we not give him the same consideration as J Shultz?

    • 1) Schultz is much older. The difference between a 22-year old and a 19-year old in the NHL can be huge.

      2) Schultz is an unrestricted free agent that the Oilers can get for nothing if they play their cards right. He has leverage. Proper development is an entirely irrelevant consideration if the Oilers can’t secure his rights.

      3) Klefbom has no such leverage. The Oilers own his rights forever – if he wants to play in the NHL, it will be with Edmonton. Thus they have far more leverage than they do with someone like Schultz.

      Basically, what it comes down to is this: Schultz gets more consideration because he’s in a very powerful bargaining position. Klefbom is not.

  • justDOit

    If the Oilers could get one of those guys at a reasonable price, sure why not?

    But the Oilers don’t necessarily need to get one of those guys, particularly if they get Schultz. Landing an older D on a 2 or 3 year deal might be just as good for the Oilers. You open up some cap room a bit quicker when you might also want the roster spots for a young D or two, who knows how things go?

    If the team gets better over the course of the next 2 years, and EDM is a more attractive UFA destination in two years, they might be pretty happy they’d have the cap space at that time.

  • John Chambers

    That’s why the Oil need to get proactive and make a trade to acquire Garrison’s rights and sign him to a deal similar to Wideman’s.

    At this point there’s no other choice, other than offer an impressive package for a player like Yandle or Hjalmarsson. If Dan Boyle is available as rumored, the Oilrs might have to be prepared to del guys like Klefbom or Paajarvi. We can’t go into next year without a couple of major additions.

    • GVBlackhawk

      John, trading Klefbom for an old guy like Boyle would be a massive mistake. Go to Sherwood Park and check this kid out. He’s going to be a solid Dman in Edmonton for many years. Boyle’s play is going to trend downward and retirement is on the horizon.

  • justDOit

    Honestly, the guy I would target is Carlo Colaiacovo. He played well with Pieterangelo this year, can fit in on the Oilers second pairing. And his cap hit is likely going to be 2 million less than Garrison or Carle. He is an injury concern, but his career PPG (.38) isn’t that far off Carle’s (.43). He can play PP & PK and he’s relatively young.

    I was thinking that 3 years and his cap range is likely going to be around 3.5 – 4 million. The cap hit is manageable. He can step in for Whitney if he leaves as a UFA next year.

  • I’d say the acquisition of Yakupov now makes the Oilers a much better destination for UFA’s . The troubles of the past in signing them should pick up significantly starting right after the last draft . Schulz’s hockey career is best served with coming to the Oilers , even if it only be for 2 years . The Alberta advantage is truly that , as we support/subsedize most of the rest of Canada . I don’t believe he wants to pass on the tremendous opportunity the Oilers can offer him – especially ice time and premier young gifted talent in abundance to grow with . He’ll be a bit player most other places he goes in comparison to what he may/probably get here . Hockey sense you choose the Oilers – bottom line .

  • Bryzarro World

    JW……I’m sure that Schultz will one day be a good NHL’er all things considered.

    It’s just that when you fixate on one player it limits you ability to see other potential situations, that may be just as good for the team if not better.

    You yourself must admit, the media and fans have covered this topic to death?

    • Seriously....Gord?

      We will also continue to cover this to death until there is a resolution to the story. That’s life. I have no doubt fans are fixated on one player, but management certainly is not. In due time the D will be resolved, and we’ll find new things to fixate on such as who plays Center, LWs, Khabi etc.

      On another note,
      There isn’t a person on this board, given a life altering career decision, who would not like to have future employers line up to talk to them. JS just happens to be one of those guys.

  • Reg Dunlop


    You are right. Cities like Detroit are way safer than Oilerville. You can drive for miles downtown and see nothing but abandoned, burned-out buildings. The addicts are very slow, like Night of the Living Dead zombies; EASY to outrun. Also, all the suburban developments are walled-off with guards at the gates; very safe.

    Old E-town is also filthy. No doubt. But if you trucked out the wringer washers,tires and Big Mac wrappers from your yard it would help. If only Edmonton could be a garden spot like Buffalo.

  • If in moneyball on base percentage was the magical factor, what is the hockey equivalent? I am not sure but goal plus minus has to come into it at some point, although I know the way the numbers work out is not always indicative of the situation.

    If the Oilers score more goals tha n their opponents they will win, whether the score is 2-1 or 9-7.

    They are not going to land a top four UFA defenseman and they know this. Just like the Oakland A’s couldn’t replace Jason Giambi with just one similar player the Oilers will need to find a way to win with what they have. That may be trying to score 6 goals every night or by investing a small amount on a good 3rd or 4th line group of checking forwards.

    There is no point in clinging to the delusion that the Oilers can compete with Detroit, New York or any other big market team for free agents. They will need to find a way to win with what they can realistically put together.

  • Boumeester would be a fine pick up on our Oilers , and better than anyone we got now . His style would fit in well with ours and i dare say his offence will pick up with us far better than with Flames . Can we make a reasonable offer where both clubs win is the question , without giving away any of our untouchables ? He definitely fills a need .

  • Copperblueandwhite

    Jon I believe you to be one of the sharpest of the Oiler scribes….and I know you are ginned about young Schultz….but Matt Gilroy was a Hobie Baker can’t miss guy, blah, blah..guess what…he missed…and unfortunately this is a grownup game and this nonsense of playing in mommy’s backyard goes nowhere…I hope Vancouver gets him and the Oilers get a couple of rentals (Streit would work) and wait for our kids to come around…Klefbom looks ready from what I am reading…JMHO.–nhl.html

  • The Soup Fascist

    I doff my chapeau, Sir Reginald of Charlestown.

    Oops, forgot which website I am on … I mean, “Props, dude”

    Not to go all “Columbo” or anything, but judging by our friend’s user name he is in the 416 area code, which is, somewhat predictably, the center of the universe … Toronto. So the mud slinging is coming from a place affectionately known as “Hogtown”, which of course has no slums or crime…… or Stanley Cup for the past 45 years.

  • The Soup Fascist

    So based on this summer’s defenseman crop, it seems as though teams are forced into a position of pay now AND pay later – as in you pay the big bucks to Suter or whoever is left, but then you get handicapped long term by paying so much to one player (ie: Horcoff)…

    Bouwmeester’s locker was 4 down from mine in high school, and while I really respect the kid, and believe he can play to a higher potential, and wouldn’t be disappointed to see him in Oilers blue…I certainly wouldn’t give up a ton to get him given his contract. I do believe he can get to form, but I don’t believe he’s worth the risk of a Paajarvi/Klefbom. Maybe a 2nd round pick and Pitlick?

    It’s good we have a whole stable of defensemen in junior/AHL who are primed to make a step in the next couple years. Ryan Murray might be looking like a better pick at #1 overall now…

    That being said, I’m ecstatic at having Yakupov add to our offensive dynamo…and I personally believe Petry has the potential for 40 points in him…

    Schultz is the best option no doubt. Plan B I guess is that we go on a hope and a prayer that Petry and Smid keep up their pace from this last season (2nd half of it especially). Plan C is not worry about goals against and just score, score, score…we might be a 1st round knockout, but we might make it to the playoffs…