LOOKING AHEAD: CHANGING THE BLUELINE

This is what the Oilers blueline and depth chart looked like at the start of the season. It looks even worse now with the trade of Ladislav Smid, but it is obvious that the Oilers D corps will look significantly different at the start of next season. Nick Schultz, Corey Potter, Anton Belov and Denis Grebeshkov are unrestricted free agents, and Belov is the only one they might re-sign.

Jeff Petry, Justin Schultz, Taylor Fedun and Philip Larsen are restricted free agents. The first three will likely be re-signed, while Larsen should be let go.

How will Craig MacTavish re-build his blueline, and who should he be looking to sign?

We can all agree the Oilers need a top-pairing D-man, but the only way to get one is through free agency, or by trading one of the four skilled forwards.

Here is the list of the top 45 pending UFAs. Many of these guys will sign with their teams before July, so the list will be shorter, but it will give you an idea of who is available in free agency. I listed them by age. 

Player  Team  Age  Cap Hit 
Bouillon, Francis  MTL  38 $1,500,000
Mitchell, Willie  LAK  36 $3,500,000
Robidas, Stephane  DAL  36 $3,300,000
Markov, Andrei  MTL  34 $5,750,000
Phillips, Chris  OTT  35 $3,083,333
Morris, Derek  PHX  35 $2,750,000
Sarich, Cory  COL  35 $2,000,000
Weaver, Mike  FLA  35 $1,100,000
Tallinder, Henrik   BUF  34 $3,375,000
Orpik, Brooks  PIT  33 $3,750,000
Hainsey, Ron  CAR  32 $2,000,000
Alberts, Andrew  VAN  32 $600,000
Klesla, Rostislav  PHX  31 $2,975,000
Komisarek, Mike  CAR  31 $700,000
Guenin, Nate  COL  31 $600,000
Engelland, Deryk  PIT  31 $566,667
Pitkanen, Joni  CAR  30 $4,500,000
Greene, Matt  LAK  30 $2,950,000
Gilbert, Tom  FLA  30 $900,000
Colaiacovo, Carlo  STL  30 $750,000
Girardi, Dan  NYR  29 $3,325,000
Stuart, Mark  WPG  29 $1,700,000
Ranger, Paul  TOR  29 $1,000,000
Benoit, Andre   COL  29 $900,000
Smith, Derek  CGY  29 $775,000
Sulzer, Alexander  BUF  29 $725,000
Strachan, Tyson  WAS  29 $550,000
Phaneuf, Dion  TOR  28 $6,500,000
Meszaros, Andrej   PHI  28 $4,000,000
Quincey, Kyle  DET  28 $3,775,000
Stoner, Clayton   MIN  28 $1,050,000
Kostka, Mike  CHI  28 $625,000
Niskanen, Matt  PIT  27 $2,300,000
Nikitin, Nikita  CLB  27 $2,150,000
Butler, Chris   CGY  27 $1,700,000
Stralman, Anton  NYR  27 $1,700,000
Fraser, Mark  TOR  27 $1,275,000
Diaz, Raphael  MTL  27 $1,225,000
Fistric, Mark  ANA  27 $900,000
Prosser, Nate  MIN  27 $825,000
Schultz, Jeff  LAK  27 $700,000
MacDonald, Andrew  NYI  27 $550,000
Russell, Kris   CGY  26 $1,500,000
Fayne, Mark   NJD  26 $1,300,000

The five players in bold are playing top pairing minutes currently, however Markov, Phaneuf and Girardi are the only three I’d consider top pairing D-men. Tom Gilbert and Andrew MacDonald play lots of minutes on bad teams just like Petry in Edmonton. The Oilers can’t sign Gilbert when they already have J.Schultz and Petry on the right side. They are all similar players. The Oilers need to diversify their blueline. They won’t win with three non-physical right-handed D-men.

Phaneuf is the best UFA option. If he doesn’t re-sign in Toronto he will get at least $7 mill/year for seven years. Phaneuf isn’t a top-10 D-man in the league, but he is a legitimate first pair defender. If he is available, the Oilers will try and sign him.

Girardi is a very good #2 D-man. He doesn’t bring any offence, so he can’t be a true #1, but he is solid in his own zone.

Markov is turns 35 on Friday, and if he tests the free agent waters, I’m sure he will sign with a contending team. He only has a few years left to win a Stanley Cup.

MacDonald plays 26:16/game, but many in New York feel is he likely a #3 on a good team. He isn’t very big or physical, but he’d be a major upgrade on N.Schultz, Potter or Larsen. He likely will get a deal worth $3.5-$4.5 million if he chooses the free agent route.

The odds of landing a top-pair D-man via free agency are slim, considering Phaneuf and Girardi are the only options, so MacTavish likely has to look at a trade to facilitate that position.

The names that some feel might be available include Tyler Myers, Zach Bogosian and Alex Edler. There would be others, depending on what or who MacTavish offers up in a trade, but if they do acquire a top pairing defender it will cost them one of Jordan Eberle or Nail Yakupov and possibly something more. ( I don’t see them moving Hall or RNH).

OTHER OPTIONS…

There are some other names on the aforementioned list that would help the Oilers. They desperately need a big, strong defender like Matt Greene or Brooks Orpik. I doubt those two make it to free agency, but if the Oilers need to find a player similar to those two. They need some size in their bottom two pairings.

The Oilers might look at signing a veteran for to a one or two year deal, just so they don’t have to rush Darnell Nurse, Oscar Klefbom or Martin Marincin and play them more minutes than they are capable of handling.

Players like Derek Morris, Paul Ranger or Mark Stuart could be good stop gaps until those kids are ready to play more minutes.

You will notice that there are very few big, heavy D-men available. It is hard to find big D-men who are quick enough and savvy enough to play sound defensively and not get exposed by speedy forwards. The Oilers desperately need some size and strength on their backend, and while Nurse and Klefbom are big it would be asking a lot for a 19 and 20 year old to play significant minutes against men.

MacTavish needs to add a top-pairing D-man, but he’ll also need to find at least three new D-men for next season. This isn’t impossible. The Colorado Avalanche completely changed their blueline over the summer, and they are a much better team because of it.

Here is who they used last year, and who they are using this season.

2013 

Player  GP  G  A  P  +/-  TOI/G
Tyson Barrie 32 2 11 13 -11 21:34
Matt Hunwick 43 0 6 6 4 21:31
Erik Johnson 31 0 4 4 -3 20:45
Jan Hejda 46 1 9 10 -3 19:41
Greg Zanon 44 0 6 6 -16 19:19
Ryan O’Byrne 34 1 3 4 -8 18:51
Ryan Wilson 12 0 3 3 4 18:30
Stefan Elliott 18 1 3 4 -3 17:30
Shane O’Brien 28 0 4 4 0 15:30

2013/2014 

Player  GP  G  A  P  +/-  TOI/G
Erik Johnson 33 4 8 12 18 22:21
Jan Hejda 29 3 6 9 19 22:13
Andre Benoit 32 2 10 12 1 20:42
Nate Guenin 32 0 4 4 -2 18:31
Cory Sarich 31 1 8 9 7 17:49
Matt Hunwick 1 0 0 0 0 17:27
Tyson Barrie 19 1 4 5 2 17:25
Ryan Wilson 10 0 4 4 2 16:48
Nick Holden 13 2 3 5 -1 16:38

Johnson and Hejda are their top pair, which begs the question why Matt Hunwick and Tyson Barrie played more than them last season? Pretty easy to say Joe Sacco wasn’t using the right guys.

The Avs have added Andre Benoit, Nate Guenin and Cory Sarich in place of Greg Zaone, Ryan O’Byrne and Hunwick. Barrie is now their #6 D-man, while Hunwick is in the American League.

The Avs weren’t afraid to change their roster, and they didn’t guarantee guys like Hunwick and Barrie jobs just because they played significant minutes last season. They went out and re-tooled their blueline. They didn’t add big name players, but they got better players and their team is better because of if.

WRAP UP

It is painfully obvious that the Oilers need to improve their backend. Nick Schultz will be traded at the deadline, and the Oilers should say goodbye to Potter and Larsen. Belov’s play has regressed and unless he has a solid second half, I wouldn’t bring him back either.

MacTavish should be instructing his scouts to watch these UFAs closely, and find out which ones will help the Oilers improve. He has to improve his blueline over the summer, and the organization can’t expect those spots to be filled with rookies. If they do, then the Oilers are in for another long season next year as well.

Do any of those name appeal to you? If so, who and why.

DAY 14…MONTH OF GIVING

Darrell bid $5,000 on our Eskimos dinner at Vons Steakhouse yesterday bringing our monthly total up to $53, 950. Awesome.

Today’s packages include…

Package #1:

  •  A $1,000 Easton Hockey shopping spree at United Cycle.
  • Pair of club seats (sec 120, row 15) for Oilers vs. Canucks on January 21st.
     

Package #2:

Package #3:

  • A Party for 10 at the Druid Irish Pub. Includes food and four drinks for each person.
  • Two tickets to an exclusive Hot Stove with Jordan Eberle on January 22nd, hosted by ATB Financial. A great place to take your son or daughter to meet Eberle. Includes appetizers and food.

You can bid by calling 780.444.1260 or 1.800.243.1945 between 2-6 p.m. today.

Thanks in advance. All proceeds go to Santas Anonymous.

RECENTLY BY JASON GREGOR 

 

  • bazmagoo

    Trade Gagner and our first round pick for Phaneuf and a contract extension. With Arcobello playing so well Ganger is expendable and the leafs are hurting up the middle. Gagner being from Toronto might also be an upside for the deal.

  • outdoorzguy

    Nothing will change!! Oiler management are incapable of assessing talent, making decisions to improve the team or ensuring that the on ice talent is professional grade.

  • Bucknuck

    You cannot win in this league when you have poor Goaltending. I am not saying that is the only thing wrong, but it’s hard for the team to have “spark” and “compete” when the goalie is letting in softies on a regular basis.

    If DD had only been average, the Oilers would have a lot more points IMO. Not playoff points, but not the embarrassing fiasco that they have now.

  • Bucknuck

    Jason; In view of the overwhelming consensus on the need for more abrasive players, what is the rationale for the baffling trade of Smid? Has anyone pushed Mctavish for a more complete explanation other than cap room. I’m beginning to wonder if the move was prompted by Eakin’s biases and preferences.

  • The Real Scuba Steve

    MacTavish should be instructing his scouts to watch these UFAs closely?
    No one wants come here we, have to make trades and force players to come here and hopefully they will like the city and organization. Doug Weight was an perfect example of this.

  • Johnnydapunk

    I’m prepared for a rain down of trashes but I wouldn’t mind seeing the Oil try to see if they can get Byfuglien perhaps, he has a modified NTC and for once Edmonton is a step up from Winnipeg city wise so he could go for it. The Jets are also having a pretty crap season and seem like they could use a shakeup or two. They aren’t really loaded on offence so they may be up for one of the kids. Byfuglien has size, plays big minutes, isn’t too old (28) and has a 5-6 mill a season for the next 2.5 seasons so isn’t crazy money.

    I am a bit concerned that Belov is gonna be another Hejda and leave for greener pastures and turn into a solid number one or two Dman. He has been a pleasant surprise so far and done alright for himself so far. He can only get better I am thinking.

    • Bucknuck

      “for once Edmonton is a step up from Winnipeg city wise so he could go for it.” Bwahahaha you keep telling yourself that.

      Buff gets a call to waive his NTC, he says to where, and gets the response “Edmonton”. Buff hangs up the phone. As will any other Jet with a NTC/NMC (Little, Wheeler, Ladd, Bogosian, Enstrom).

      People like Buff take NTC’s to prevent going to places like Edmonton. What’s that crime rate again? Honestly under these circumstances, hearing the Albertan superiority complex is quite comical. No one wants to go there.

      • Johnnydapunk

        Wow, you shouldn’t have done that, you could have pulled out some non objective stat like Winnipeg is prettier or better transport or just a more fun place to live, as then it would be an opinion and we could agree to disagree. But no, you pull out a fact that could be looked up, and thank you as you just made Edmonton look even better….

        Crime rate by city

        CBC article on Manitoba crime rate

        Winnipeg’s apparently won the award for 2nd highest rate of violent crime in Canada, Edmonton is 15th, that’s just a start…

        Anyways I had no intention of really saying anything overtly terrible Winnipeg as it was the place I was born, and I don’t think saying that Edmonton is a step up is that wrong or horrible. It’s an opinion and that’s that.

        PS don’t look at your cities Wiki page, they are a bit merciless on your crime rate there…

        • crobar

          Well Edmonton is certainly the murder capital of Canada, even the Edmonton Sun says as much, and the stats prove that.

          http://www.edmontonsun.com/2012/01/01/edmonton-murder-capital-of-canada

          So to claim a city is a step-up over another city is frankly, your worthless opinion.

          I’ve lived in both cities and I preferred Winnipeg by far. Not only that, players will prefer the management of the Jets over the Oilers… Unless they like losing.

          This isn’t the 80’s any more, NHL players aren’t going to prefer Edmonton over Winnipeg, in fact the opposite is probably true due to Edmonton’s recent history. The only dynasty Edmonton currently has is it’s ability to draft first overall. Not gonna attract talent that way.

          • Johnnydapunk

            Stop man, your arguments are becoming comedy, and the stats you pull out are making your case even worse. Edmonton has been named “Murder Capital” of Canada twice since 1981, Winnipeg has been named 16 times!!!! The city closest to Winnipeg is Ottawa and that is at 8.

            Anyways, if you think that Winnipeg is the place to be, fair enough. I don’t consider your opinion worthless in any way, I’m kind of indifferent about it but I am amused by your heated response to an opinion I have of Winnipeg. It was a pretty minor statement in the grand scheme of things as I am expressing an opinion on an Oilers website about a player I think the Oil should try to trade for.

            By the way, if you have a hate on for Edmonton and the Oil, why are you here? Surely there must be numerous riveting articles about the Jets to keep you amused without having to wander onto other sites of teams and cities you apparently hate.

          • beloch

            Simply put , the D lacks size as well as anticipation of the puck and player which means positioning . It is time to bring up Marincin , like Reilly in Toronto all he needs is an opportunity to show his talent . Klefbom is the other opportunity that can use the experience . Both have size and skill , Teach defensive positioning properly at the NHL Level , we have the coach and just get it done . Before any more trades are made MR Katz should trade away upper management with hockey sense from outside the organization brought in that can actually cause healthy nonpartisan changes to be made .

  • Johnnydapunk

    I bet Belov would be better on another team, and it’s simply our defensive coaching as the problem that makes everyone look bad..

    How appropriate that the Oilers will be the one to kill his hopes for Sochi meanwhile he signed here to try to improve those chances.. Better trade him before it’s too late.

  • Johnnydapunk

    Oh I did forget to mention that Belov apparently has a thing for signing one year deals only. His reasoning is that it makes and motivates him to work hard for a new contract and allows him the freedom to move if he wished to. As he is rarely interviewed, I have no idea of his impressions of Edmonton or the Oilers. Perhaps he is the type of person who would consider the Oil taking a chance on him as a nice gesture and would stay. Again one can hope.

    When I first read of that, my respect level for him jumped up as it is rare to hear that from a player. Fair play to him.

  • Time Travelling Sean

    Maybe MacT realized the season was lost and so traded Smid earlier than one usually would have to further depress our record to get a better return on our #1 pick.

    • Johnnydapunk

      I suggested something similar at the time. MacT babbled something semi-coherent about “dealing from an area of organizational strength”. If he thinks the Oil have any organizational strengths he must be smoking something.

  • HardBoiledOil 1.0

    i keep hearing whisperings about trading Darnell Nurse to get something now. This is exactly the foolish path that the Oilers have made far too many times in the past and i hope they refrain that impulse. Darnell is exactly the kind of player we need and hopefuly he is playing here next season and could end up #1 defence man in the future.
    Trades Oilers have lost on:
    Ray Whitney, Glencross, Stoll, Brodziak, Matt Greene, Cleary, and on and on.
    I don’t understand why we keep duds all the time and yet when we aquire something that we need he gets traded like Glencross, Stoll, all of the above and more. Gagner has had too many chances to up his game and yet he keeps making the same defensive mistakes costing us goals and we keep playing him, this guy should have been gone 3 years ago he is a liabity and does not deserve the minutes he is getting. Arco is far better and dependable player.
    I am hoping we have seen the last of Dubnyk another guy we stuck with for eight losing years. Bryz should defintely be signed long term.
    TO ALL OILER FANS STOP ASKING TO TRADE NURSE, HALL, NUGE, BRYZ, YAKS, or EBERLE.
    How come other teams have big behmoth noname defense men and we have our soft powder puff ones that we pay millions too?

  • Jason Gregor

    This may be hard to believe, but Ference and N.Schultz were actually serviceable NHL defencemen when they played in Boston and Minnesota.

    I’m not saying the defence is good or that there isn’t a big need for improvement on defence, but they certainly wouldn’t be as abysmal as everyone describes if the forwards back-checked and the goalies stopped the puck on a more consistent basis.

    Defence is a team effort and the whole team has been a letdown this year.

  • Johnnydapunk

    Bottom line is if we want the D man we’re looking for it has to involve one of our top 3…my choice is Eberle. Obvious skills but he’s the most one dimensional of our ‘big guns’. Plus, we’ll be getting a pretty skilled player to fill his spot in June. Let the Trashing commence!

  • camdog

    I have no problem with the Smid trade; it was a basic salary dump.
    Smid has been the worst puck-mover we’ve had over the last two years; he seemed to be regressing every year. Every time he touched the puck it was either a giveaway within our zone or a turnover in the neutral zone.

    That fact, combined with his overpriced contract over the next few years was why he was traded. MacT didn’t wait because he was worried the chance to make the deal wouldn’t come up again.

    He was a good guy, good teammate, great shot blocker, but his physical play is overrated. Smid had trouble breaking up cycles just like everybody else on this team.

    • camdog

      Again.. Enstrom has a NMC and there’s little chance he’d waive it to go to Edmonton. Plus we don’t want Gagner. keep him far away from Winnipeg! Hemsky I could see the Jets interested in but he’s a FA after this season so it wouldn’t get Enstrom.

  • camdog

    One trade to sniff around at could be with Nashville. Yak for Jones. Two young players with loads of talent and pedigree. Nashville could use offense and we need defense.
    Jones would, in a few years be a #1 or 2.

  • Petry stinks and should not be resigned unless its for peanuts. He’s not good despite what some people think, he’s just no good. Too inconsistent, too soft, too many bad plays with the puck, too many bad plays away from the puck. If he has any value, trade him right F*@#ing now!

    • Zarny

      What an absolutely idiotic statement. Petry doesn’t stink; far from it.

      What he is is a 3-4 pairing D that is being forced to play over his head. An epidemic up and down the Oiler’s roster.

  • DoubleJ

    The Coyotes are the team to deal with. Yandle is making 5 mill. I’d be throwing a package at them for him. Eberle could land Yandle and a pick probably. Maybe even another useful NHL player.

  • Rdubb

    Gregor, wouldn’t Paul Ranger be a good fit on the Oil and should be had for a reasonable dollar, maybe even Fraser too?
    Wasn’t Hunwick a good d-man the past few seasons & wouldn’t he be a big upgrade to what we currently use on our back-end, plus, again, reasonable value?
    Now, you mentioned Martin Marincin, shouldn’t the Oil now allow him to come this season and get his feet wet in a “lost season”, thus, wouldn’t this allow him to get accustomed to the NHL’s speed and skill, and in the few games he played this season, I thought he played really good & didn’t look out of place. The Oilers should bring him up, play him in the 3/4 or 5/6 role for the rest of the yr, what do you think?
    Now Nurse…he could have easily made this team this spring, and if he was a bit older, he would have. So, next spring the Oilers should allow him to play, if he makes the team, and see what he can do, and if needed, send him to OKC.
    Some guys don’t do all that good in the minors but excel in the big’s, in this happens in all sports. Nascars jimmy Johnson for 1 pops out…if I had more time to think I am sure I could mention a few more…
    I am interested to hear what you think????
    Peck

  • Zarny

    Painfully obvious may actually be an understatement.

    The time for half-measures is over. Teams that play for the Stanley Cup trade picks and prospects for proven NHL players. LA turned Schenn and Johnson into Richards and Carter.

    That is how MacT needs to think. You can’t support a young group of F with a younger group of D. MacT needs to target two top pairing D and push the projected bottom pair to be:

    Ference – Petry
    Klefbom/ – Schultz
    Marincin

    Maybe Belov and/or Fedun/Larsen (same thing) are around short term. Spare parts.

    I don’t see Phaneuf in Edm. Girardi would be the perfect 2D ahead of Petry.

    Regardles, waiting on Nurse, Klefbom and Marincin isn’t the answer. They are 4-5 years away and none of them may develop into a 1-2 D.

    One of Klefbom or Marincin has to be packaged for an upgrade. If Girardi isn’t available then Myers, Bogosian, Ehrhoff and Coburn are all candidates for a 2D.

    Yak or Eberle will need to be packaged for a legit 1D. I don’t see any of the top 10-11 “franchise” D being available. McDonagh in NYR would be next on my list. Yandle or Ekman-Larsson in Phx perhaps.

    It’s time to think big. With Hall, Nuge, Perron and one of Yak or Eberle the Oilers have all the skilled forwards they need. Fans have to wrap their heads around the fact we need someone that talented on the blueline and it can’t be Nurse. He’s half a decade away from being that guy.

    • Zarny

      If the Oilers got Ekman-Larsson that would be a huge win for the oilers. Not sure how that would happen but that would give them a guy who I think is already a top 10 dman in the NHL if not better.

  • 2004Z06

    Please stop with the Princess Phaneuf talk. He is the biggest coward in the NHL and even Toronto fans think he is already over paid and underperforming.

    Don’t believe me, go read the comments Toronto fans are posting on TSN.

    All he would be here is another Shawn Horcoff type contract and the new whipping boy for the fans.

    Of course Gagner would be happier.

  • 2004Z06

    So it sounds like going forward next year we’re looking at Ference, Petry, J Schultz, and maybe Belov?

    I doubt we’ll get a legit top D man, especially Phanuef. One, he likely resigns with the Leafs. Two, if he goes to free agency, why on earth would he sign in Edmonton of all places?

    So, with that in mind, why not try and supplement our D with another guy like Ference. Orpik would be magic on our back end.

    That would be Ference, Petry, Belov, Orpik, and Schultz. From there I would look at trading one of our guns and a 2nd round pick, or some form of package built around either Ebs or Yak that could land and actual top 2 d man. I will say Yandle till the cows come home, though that package might be a bit of an overpayment for Yandle.

    Then graduate one of Klefbomb, Nurse, or Fedun for the 7 slot. Maybe give them all a taste at different times of the year and see who might stick.

    So our depth chart would be, Yandle, Petry, Shultz, Ference, Orpik, Belov, and say Nurse. That to me is a good mix of size, grit, skill, experience, nastiness, and stay at home. Plus, with either Yak or Ebs gone, that would free up even more cap room to go land something that changes the dimension of our top 9. Like a Dwight King, or Willie Mitchell. Or Carter (just as examples I know that’s a King’s heavy base of picks).

  • beloch

    Flames fan here. I was initially pretty stoked about the Smid trade, but I’ve been watching him play for a while now and I don’t really like him. He’s got size and truculence galore (Burke must think he’s dreamy!), but he’s slow, doesn’t move the puck well, and takes dumb penalties. The Flames’ blue line is going to look a lot better once Wideman returns and Smid can be banished to the third pairing. If he was an impact player on the Oilers’ blueline… that’s just not a good sign.

    If the plan to fix things is to sign multiple quality free agents to reasonable contracts this summer, you’re doomed. It’s time to trade some forwards.