The market for defencemen

Bryan Allen (Photo: Benjamin Reed/Wikimedia/CC BY-SA 2.0)

The 2012 crop of free agent defenceman was decidedly weak. That weakness hurt a number of teams, including the Edmonton Oilers, since there was more need for help on the blue line than there were candidates to fill the role.

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With the signing of Michal Rozsival and Carlo Colaiacovo, and an NHL lockout just a day away, the free agent period for rearguards is all but over. What does the final list look like?

The following is a list of unrestricted free agent defencemen to sign deals with an average annual value (AAV) of $1.0 million or more per season since July 1.

The List

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* played only 17 games.

I’ve split the above list into three groups.

  • The big guns: Ryan Suter, Matt Carle and Jason Garrison all signed deals worth more than $4.5 million/season and to terms longer than five years. They are the trio most highly coveted by NHL general managers.
  • The mid-range guys: 11 defencemen signed deals for between one and three years, for a cap hit between two and four million. These are the guys who were expected to get paid in a big way, given the weak market.
  • The rest: Five others – mostly bottom-pairing types – signed for between one and two million dollars.

Could the Oilers have landed a defenceman?

Now, we’re dealing with a relatively small group. If we rule out Suter (a package deal with Parise) and Garrison (who made it clear he was signing in Vancouver early on) then we’re left with a dozen names, give or take.

Let’s start by eliminating the bad contracts. Mileage may vary, but my list would include Carle, Kuba, Salo, Souray, Brookbank, Rome and Carkner. Let’s further eliminate guys who aren’t of interest given the current makeup of the team; I’d add Lundin and Hannan.

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That still leaves eight players. Is it ridiculous to suggest that with a little extra money or term the Oilers could have landed one of Allen, Salvador, Colaiacovo, Zanon, Rozsival, Aucoin, Corvo or Bouillon? Particularly given that Colaiacovo and Rozsival didn’t sign until the last few days, and when they did the contracts signed were extremely reasonable?

I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that. If the Oilers had signed Colaiacovo to $8 million over three years, or Rozsival to $5 million over two, or Aucoin to $2.5 million over one year, nobody would be screaming that they’d made a massive overpay. Given recent commitments to guys like Andy Sutton (averaged 16:41/game last year, cap hit of $1.75 million) and Cam Barker (played 16:24/game in 2010-11, earned $2.25 million last year), those sort of stop-gap contracts would have barely registered a ripple.

Would they have solved the Oilers’ underlying defensive problems? No. But they would have bought time for young players to develop, and helped secure the blue line in the short-term. They would have added depth and stability and helped the team continue to improve this coming season. It would have been a good decision to bring in at least one of those guys.

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  • yawto

    The market for defenseman is weak, but signing anyone outside the top three makes no sense for the Oilers.

    We have enough bottom pairing guys, Sutton, Potter, Peckham, maybe even Fedun can be cast into that role?

    Adding another guy of that ilk changes little for our fortunes. IMHO the best guy would have been Garrison, he has a shot, can skate, and has shown he can put the puck in the net.

      • WeridAl

        Jonathan do you honestly think any of these D would be a upgrade with what the Oilers have. Most of them have age, size, health issues, or don’t play a physical game. Scraping the bottom of the barrel here if you ask me. Would rather see what Peckham can do, or some of the prospects.

  • yawto

    I like to think that maybe the Oilers, knowing there is most likely going to be a lockout, chose to ride with what they have.

    With a reduced schedule, there should be less injuries (knock on wood) and less need for insurance policies on the back end. Also, maybe with another half year under their belt some of the young defenders will be NHL ready by late in the season.

  • I think other than Suter, the Oilers got the best free agent on the market, no question. As for bolstering our blueline, we already have a ton of prospects who are going to be nhl players, some of them good nhl players. So it seems management wasn’t in a hurry to try and land a big name this year.
    I imagine they’re banking on Whitney being healthier, were happy with Smid and Petry’s progression, and think they have enough in N. Schultz, J. Schultz, Sutton, Peckham, and Potter to get it done this year. Playing how he was in his rookie year, a bottom pairing of Sutton and Peckham would just be a nightmare for other teams.

    N. Schultz is solid, and if J. Schultz develops as projected, then our top six actually looks pretty decent.

    But none of it matter because of the stupid lockout.

  • I said coming into the off-season that we needed to add at least two capable D-men, particularly if one of them was a certain rookie with no NHL games under his belt to date. Obviously that hasn’t happened yet. The only rumour that I ever really heard about was our apparent interest in J-Bo. There were affordable players to be had in free agency but now the trade market is our only option for a true upgrade. I just feel like we are an inevitable injury or two away from being extremely thin on NHL calibre D.

  • RexLibris

    My reservations would be in signing one of the above-mentioned players to anything longer than a single-year contract.

    Granted they would each be a relative upgrade over the some of the bodies on our blue-line right now, but I think having expendables on the blue-line is a necessary evil when weighed against the contractual flexibility that might be required to maintain the forward corps as the team enters whatever post-lockout landscape exists.

    I think biding one’s time until after the lockout, then either riding the group you have or trying to exploit another team’s weak position through trade is a worthwhile gamble at this point.

    It doesn’t strike me as any more or less of a gamble than what Adam Proteau argued in signing RFAs after the new CBA. The Oilers played it safe in signing Hall and Eberle under this CBA, so perhaps they are gambling with the defense situation, an area in which they can afford to absorb some risk in my opinion.

  • TeddyTurnbuckle

    Wouldn’t have minded Rome. Brings a much needed physical presence and would have a burr in his pants against the Canucks. A 1.5 cap hit is potatoes.

  • TeddyTurnbuckle

    Jeff Petry Laddy Smid

    Justin Shultz Ryan Whitney

    Nick Shultz Peckam

    Despite the lack of free agent signings our defence is the deepest its been in years

    • TeddyTurnbuckle


      Yes, Petry and Smid are proven NHL defencemen.

      The pairing of Justin Schultz and Ryan Whitney is problematic in that Schultz is an unproven rookie and rookie Ds take time to develop while Whitney is definitely injury prone. Don’t bet on this pairing.

      Nick Schultz is okay. Not so much Peckham, Sutton and Potter. Could the three of them make any other team’s roster? Doubtful.

      We can only hope that Teubert improves, but this too will take more time as it is questionable that he is now NHL-ready.

      In not adding a proven NHL veteran defenceman on an affordable and short term contract, Tambellini has taken a BIG gamble. But it won’t matter if we lose the whole season again over the impasse with negotiating a CBE.

      • RexLibris

        Who would you say took a larger gamble in how they approached adding to their blue line: Feaster (with the $5 x 5 contract – and a NMC to boot) or Tambellini (let it ride during a lockout season and perhaps improve when the roster shuffles happen with the next CBA)?

        I’d rather Tambellini gamble with a this blueline right now than gamble on one of Hall or Eberle’s contract extensions. To my mind, it was one or the other as it would have required an overpayment relative to the available talents to improve, even modestly, this defensive group.

  • TeddyTurnbuckle

    Other than Schultz, the youg guys are not ready.
    I had harped all summer they sould sign Roszival.
    Turns out he went fairly cheap. Would be great insurance ,even , if its just for injuries. He could have been signed for two year deal.
    Not sure where Peckham and POtter take their game too. Even Whitneys ankles still have to be tested.If Fedun makes a comeback, he will need a year in OKC,as does Tubert.

  • John Chambers

    There were all kinds of good defensemen who ended up signing with their teams over the back half of the season or just prior to free agency:

    Johnny Boychuk, Francois Beauchemin, Brad Stuart, Johnny Oduya, Nik Grossman, Tim Gleason, and many others who were retained earlier in the season.

    I think Tambellni & co realized they weren’t going to get much incremental benefit out of Roszival than out of Potter. Although Rosy is better historically, one guy is on the downside of his career while the other will likely improve.

    Adding Roszival would’ve cost $2,5M, and maybe gained us 2 or 3 points in the standings. We’re all waiting for that big trade …