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

  • nuge2drai

    If you look at the back-to-back president trophy winners as a model you will see a #1 stud D is not required to be the best team in the league (Bieksa, Edler, Salo, Hamhuis, Ballard, Rome, Tanev).

    We should follow this model due to simple math.

    #1 Stud Ds in the NHL: Weber, Chara, Doughty, Keith, Yandle, Letang, Boyle

    Failed #1 Ds in the NHL: Phaneuf, Boumeester, Green, Visnovsky, Pronger(injury), etc…

    The point is, there are more teams in the NHL than #1 Stud defensemen, and many who thought they had their guy and failed miserably. Simple math indicated we may have to embrace the Vancouver model as the better option.

    The OILERS PROBLEM LAST YEAR WAS SECONDARY SCORING. When the kids were on the ice(Hall, Hopkins, Eberle) the team looked great, like a true contendor. When the line change occured, the team was pinned in its own zone, and looked horrendous. The solution to this is draft Yakupov, and he will fix the teams biggest problem.

    I would love to see the secondary scoring numbers of this team compared to most teams in the playoffs, it has to be one of the worst in the leauge. No doubt the +- of the Vets was enough to make me puke. Draft Yakupov, bring in a #3/#4 dmen and the team will be much improved.

  • I’m more of the opinion that the Oilers need to trade for a younger top-pairing potential defenseman. Someone who has some NHL experience and can improve along with the Kid line line plus Gagner and Yakupov.

    Besides, with all the high picks, by the time we’re shooting for a cup, we may not have the cap room to land a Chara type player.

  • Quicksilver ballet

    The stars are aligning for a shot at Weber at the deadline next season, or in the summer of 2013. This meshes well with what’s going on here. Perhaps this happens sooner if the Preds choose the trade route to prevent them losing the asset.

    One more year of this suckage to go it looks like. Hope the kids will continue to remain patient to a fault. How could the hole have gotten this deep.

  • I dont think there’s a bad time for a Stud D-Man, but I think the point of the article was “Dont blow your brains out trying to land a 1D All-Star yet, the opportunity will be better shortly.”

    I’m cool with that. Somebody talk management off that ledge before they blow a 1st overall pick on a Dman.

  • OB1 Team Yakopov - F.S.T.N.F

    So the idea is that ideally the Oilers need #1 defenceman but they can wait to get him?

    I don’t really get the logic.

    Ignoring the UFA course of action for a minute and concentrating on aquiring one via the trade route.

    Considering no one can predict who may become available, when it may happen or what team will be offering him up it seems like a naive plan to wait until your timeline says you need him (even though you know you ultimately will) before shopping hard for one.

    The need is there, no reason not to start trying to address it immediately. Even then it could take a few years to get find the right fit.

    These ‘we can wait’ posts are mystifying given we have been waiting 6 years already.

  • OB1 Team Yakopov - F.S.T.N.F

    @ druds

    Weber and Suter are the exact opposite of magic beans, in fact if we went the RFA route with Weber, we would be the ones GIVING the magic beans.

    Suter could be aquired for nothing but cap space.

  • Bucknuck

    Damn it Willis,usually I am hating your words of wisdom but I must say you nailed it on this one. It seems everyone has been infected with “next year is the year” disease.
    Throwing away all the draft picks and half the team and all the salary cap to try and get the magic bean “Weber” or “Suter” would be insanity at this point in the rebuild.

  • OB1 Team Yakopov - F.S.T.N.F

    That said, I think the defense by committee could be just as effective. Adding 3 guys that could be 2nd pairing on good teams would go a long way as well.

  • OB1 Team Yakopov - F.S.T.N.F

    The problem with waiting, is that the right guy might not be available for a resonable price when you are “ready”.

    If you can get the #1 now without way overpaying, you do it.

  • Bucknuck

    “The Oilers are not going to win the Stanley Cup in 2012-13”

    Oh c’mon man! Where’s the faith~!? Oh wait, Tambellini is still in charge and Khabibulin isn’t going anywhere. I forgot.

    On another note, if we as fans do not want to watch another year of suck, I think they need at least one more GOOD defensman, if not that 1a stud everyone is frothing at the mouth about.

    • I agree. I’d be all for landing a stud defender if I thought it was a realistic possibility, but it isn’t – and the fact is, the Oilers aren’t burning a year in their victory window by not picking up one this summer.

      What they should be doing is addressing the blue line substantially but in more realistic ways.

      • DSF

        Why bother?

        Putting lipstick on the pig accomplishes exactly nothing.

        Every team in the league needs to go into the season with aspirations of winning a Stanley Cup.

        Anything else is an admission of failure.