This past NHL season, there were 60 defensemen who averaged more TOI per game than the top Oilers blueliner (Jeff Petry). The club has no top pairing, but rather five men who alternate between 18:30 and 21:54 a night. There is no "go to" guy–no top flight, complete defender–and that’s a major job for Craig MacTavish.
THOSE GUYS ARE NEVER AVAILABLE!
Sure they are. Over the last 10 NHL seasons, Edmonton has employed several "complete" NHL defensemen who played major minutes in all three disciplines (EV, PP, PK). The overwhelming majority of them came via trade: an Oiler defenseman for another defender.
- 2002-03: Janne Niinimaa (acquired from Philly for Dan McGillis plus); Eric Brewer (acquired from the Islanders in the Roman Hamrlik deal).
- 2003-04: Brewer again
- 2005-06: Chris Pronger (acquired for a package of D including Brewer); Jaroslav Spacek (deadline pickup)
- 2006-07: None.
- 2007-08: Sheldon Souray (free agent signing); Joni Pitkanen (acquired for Lupul and Jason Smith)
- 2008-09: Souray again; Lubomir Visnovsky (acquired for Stoll & Greene)
- 2009-10: Ryan Whitney (acquired for Lubo, played only 19 games with team in 09-10)
- 2010-11: Ryan Whitney again; Tom Gilbert (acquired as a prospect and brought along by team)
- 2011-12: None
- 2012-13: None
So, that’s nine defenseman; none via draft (although that may change with Petry); one from free agency; 8 from trades, usually involving defensemen going the other way.
The Oilers have been able to add complete defensemen over the last decade, and the most effective way is by trade. The one free agent signing (Souray) was an overpay, and the club can’t afford a major cap misstep if they plan on keeping all of these lottery picks and #1 overalls.
A trade that involves a current Oiler defenseman of some ability–say from the group that includes Smid, Petry and Nick Schultz–is probably the better plan in acquiring that 25+ minute defender to anchor the defense for the rest of this decade.
WHAT DOES IT ALL MEAN?
Complete defensemen are a very rare, valuable item. A team like the Oilers is extremely unlikely to get one without giving up a capable (if lesser) defender in return. In our next installment of this series, I’ll look at free agents who may be able to help bridge the gap and a select group of defensemen who may be worth the enormous assets required to procure them for the Oilers.