The Oilers Don’t Need A Stud Defenseman Now

It would be a great thing for the Edmonton Oilers if they could add a stud defenseman, a true number one who plays heavy minutes on the back end, contributes offensively and shuts down the opposition’s best players. But it’s not a necessity right now.

I say that for two reasons.

There’s Time

The Oilers are not going to win the Stanley Cup in 2012-13. Even if they could somehow trade two prospects and Nick Schultz to St. Louis for Chris Pronger, this coming season would in all probability not include a championship.

This is not a team that’s one player away. In all likelihood, this is not a team that’s three players away. This is a team that is a few players away, plus a few years for some of the young players they currently have away.

Therefore, if the Oilers want to address the defense through free agency, they don’t have to add the star guy right now. They can tinker, upgrade the top-four through trade or development or with lesser free agents (such as, for example, Matt Carle) and wait for that piece to become available.

As things currently stand, the Oilers should (assuming some positive strides are made) be in a better position to bargain in the summer of 2013. Free agents slated to become available that July definitely include Tobias Enstrom, Alex Edler, Mark Streit and Lubomir Visnovsky. Assuming Shea Weber signs a one-year deal this summer, he’ll also be included on that list. The summer after – assuming no major changes in the CBA – will see Dion Phaneuf, Kris Letang, Jay Bouwmeester, Dan Girardi, Dan Boyle, Joni Pitkanen and others eligible for UFA status.

If free agency is the route the Oilers opt for, this summer’s prospects are bleak. Ryan Suter is the only top defender available this July, and the Oilers – the league’s second-worst team last year – can sell the future, but there’s no way they can sell the present. A year from now, they should be on the upswing; two years from now, they might be able to pitch that they are a star defenseman away from contending for it all.

And hey, if everything falls apart, Seth Jones is a darn good prospect.

The By-Committee Apporach

Of course, the last time the Oilers went to the Stanley Cup Finals, they had a stud defenseman. Chris Pronger was (when healthy, he still is) one of the best in the game, a true difference-maker for any NHL franchise. The best defenseman on the team they lost to was Bret Hedican. Nothing against Bret Hedican, but if a 35-year old Hedican was Edmonton’s best defenseman today, I’m highly confident we’d be hearing lots of ‘the Oilers can’t win if Bret Hedican is their best defenseman’ in the comments section here. He was an excellent player, but not the star, number one defenseman people hope for.

As the Oilers try to build themselves into a team that can approach marquee free agents seriously, they could do worse than to pursue a by-committee approach to their own blue line. In Ladislav Smid, Jeff Petry and Nick Schultz, they already have three very capable defenders. If Ryan Whitney returns to form – which is a long shot and not something I’d be comfortable betting on – they would have four. Andy Sutton will be a year older, but if there’s no degeneration in his play he’s an effective bottom-pairing option. The Oilers could add another defenseman in the same range – a player like Michal Roszival, Dennis Wideman, Barret Jackman, Johnny Oduya, Matt Carle, Carlo Colaiacovo, or one of half a dozen other names – and be improved over where they were a year ago. If they were able to do that and reel in Justin Schultz (far from guaranteed, given that virtually every team is going to want him) they could be vastly improved.

Over the long haul, the ideal situation would see the Oilers add that true, number-one rearguard, either through free agency (as Boston did with Zdeno Chara), via trade (as both the Oilers and Ducks did with Chris Pronger) or by way of development (as the Blackhawks did Duncan Keith). If that’s not possible over the short term, upgrading the defense to a respectable level in the meantime is a good alternative.

Recently by Jonathan Willis

  • OB1 Team Yakopov - F.S.T.N.F

    @ D-man

    Are you jerking me around here? Do you seriously believe what you are writing?? You think it’s that hard to sign quality free agents when you are a bottom feeder and that you can’t trade for quality players without moving elite young talent?

    The length you’ll go to, to give the team a free pass is hilarious.

    Brent Burns was aquired for Seteguchi and a prospect

    Phaneuf was aquired for Stajen/Hagman/White

    Christian Erhoff was aquired for Daniel Rhahimi and Patrick White

    Vishnosky for Stoll and Green

    Pronger for Brewer/Woywitka/Lynch

    Thorton for Sturm/Primo/Stuart

    Luongo for Bertuzzi/Auld/Allen

    Carter and Richards for 2nd/3rd liners and good but not great prospects/picks

    Ladd for Vishnisky

    Bufflien, Sopel and Eager for Reasoner and a couple draft picks

    Those are good to great players traded for a basket of inferior players… not elite youg talent…dispite your refusal to admit it, these trades happen.

    Chara signed in Boston when they were one of the worst teams in the league

    Timonen, Hartnell and Brier signed in Philly when they were the worst team in the league

    Flieschman, Jovanovski and Upshall signed in Florida when they were one of the worst teams in the league

    Hejda signed in Colorado when they were one of the worst teams in the league

    Streit signed with the NYI when they were terrible

    TBay signed Ryan Malone when they were terrible

    Beauchimen signed in TO when they were terrible

    Scuderi signed in LA when they were terrible

    Good players go to bad teams, good players are traded for baskets of inferior players. It happens. Their is no excuse for the Oilers to not bring in quality players this summer.

    • D-Man

      One – how many of those signings were significant overpays?? I would argue that most of them – especially your Florida, Colorado, Toronto, and Tampa Bay examples were significant.. Perhaps I should have clarified to you that we won’t be able to get quality free agents as a 29th place team without significantly overpaying players… Otherwise, what other motivation would they have to come??

      Second – your sample is skewed in the sense that Pronger, Phaneuf (and don’t quote me on), Thorton and Luongo all wanted out of their current situations tying their respective GM’s hands… Of course, when you’re negotiating with an opposing team with a player that wants out – you’re not going to get a fair return… You’re also underestimating the value the return Philly got for Richards and Carter.

      Some of the trades you’ve mentioned do add some merit to your argument – I must concede… Unfortunately, I would also say that Tambo doesn’t really have many options in regards to trade pieces… For example, asides from the young elite talent we have – the only assets that other teams would ask for would be Hemsky, Gagner and (maybe) Whitney. Considering the holes we need to fill (mostly on the back end) would you as a GM dealing with the Oilers seriously consider giving up a legitimate #2-#3 defender for Hemsky/Whitney considering their injury issues and Gagner?? Even if you packaged all three??

      You’ve proven your point (somewhat) that some GM’s can get hosed for bad trades… I hope you’re right and the Oilers are on the right end of a couple – as much as I doubt that.