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 

 

  • Romulus' Apotheosis

    I’m a little surprised that P Larsen is someone who you do not see us moving forward with. He may not have the defensive stats to say he is a solid defenseman…….but by the eye he seems to be the only one who can make a decent first pass.

    If this guy was paired with someone who could defend and someone with size his stats would change drastically. I for one can’t see any other current defenseman we have being able to move the puck as efficiently as P Larsen. Both Petry and J.Schultz look nothing like they did……..neither one can make a play right now……..or have been instructed to scale back their offence??

    We have let too many defenseman go who end up on some other team playing good hockey…….just maybe it’s the coaching these players are receiving?

    • Dan the Man

      I kind of agree with you on Larsen. He’s still pretty young for a defenseman and he definitely has skill.
      Ideally he would be playing in OKC this year but I think there is potential there.

      • Johnnydapunk

        Larsen is far from an NHL defenseman, way to small and cannot handle any forwards with size. He is a good AHL defenseman that can be used for emergency situations but that is it.

        • 2004Z06

          Agreed, there’s a reason Larsen was looking like the odd man out in Dallas & why they hastily threw him in for Horcoff, knowing MacT had glazed over eyes for puck moving defencemen in the summer.

    • Ducey

      You have it all wrong Rama.

      We must make snap judgments on 24 yr old defenseman. Get rid of him NOW! I mean if he can’t dominate after playing 110 NHL games he is garbage!

  • A-Mc

    Jason:

    On that list, are you able to add Italics (or different color) to the UFA’s which would clearly NOT help the Oilers at all (in your opinion)?

    Sure there are maybe a couple #1/2 defensemen, but as you go on to explain (ie: Colorado), we might not need to land a home run; we might just need to have solid upgrades to 3 or 4 of our guys.

    Returning to playoff contention for this team is going to take a few stages, and i think the next stage (Before we go whale hunting) is to do a series of solid upgrades to several personnel! (eg: Magnus for Perron. Ference Signing, etc)

    I ask you to go through your list real quick because you can come to quick conclusions faster than any amount of research we can do.

  • Ducey

    It’s a little early to write off Belov. Dude has only played 35 games in a whole new world (new country, new language, new rink size, different game).

    I think he has shown enough that he can play bottom pairing minutes pretty well – and he might move up the depth chart with more experience.

    I’d sign him if I was MacT.

    The Dion at $7 million x 7 years will be a mistake.

    • Spoils

      Dion for $7M would be an unmitigated disaster.

      The absolute sweet spot would be a true top D who is under 25 and will peak with the team.

      How do you get Jonas Brodin, Seth Jones, Del Zotto (maybe), Roman Josi (maybe), or Ekman Larsson?

      BOLD MOVE

      Their choice of Yak or Eberle AND Gagner or Hemsky? Do we have to give more?

      I love the idea of our D = Schultz, Klefbom, Nurse, Jones, and Petry at their primes

      MacT then continues to make smooth moves like getting Perrons and Gordons, our remaining forwards hit peak age, and we add our final puzzle piece at the last moment – give up our next top draft pick (or two) for a true top goalie.

      Bryz or whoever moves to backup and collects his ring for riding the pine.

      BOOSH

    • Spoils

      Dion for $7M would be an unmitigated disaster.

      The absolute sweet spot would be a true top D who is under 25 and will peak with the team.

      How do you get Jonas Brodin, Seth Jones, Del Zotto (maybe), Roman Josi (maybe), or Ekman Larsson?

      BOLD MOVE

      Their choice of Yak or Eberle AND Gagner or Hemsky? Do we have to give more?

      I love the idea of our D = Schultz, Klefbom, Nurse, Jones, and Petry at their primes

      MacT then continues to make smooth moves like getting Perrons and Gordons, our remaining forwards hit peak age, and we add our final puzzle piece at the last moment – give up our next top draft pick (or two) for a true top goalie.

      Bryz or whoever moves to backup and collects his ring for riding the pine.

      BOOSH

    • A-Mc

      I agree. Belov was one of the few guys i noticed stapling a few LA guys to the boards last night. Not board shaking hits, just solid defensive stapling.. And that’s a big part of what we need.

      I’d re-sign Belov for another year

  • Ducey

    Girardi and Macdonald make the most sense from that list to pursue. I still feel that as far as trading partners go that St. Louis would be an excellent target for some top end guys. Maybe have to toss in a bit more if they are still sore about Paajarvi.

  • Spydyr

    This rebuild was broken from the start when they built from the wing out instead of defense then center then wing.Don’t even get me started on how they pooched goaltending.

  • Romulus' Apotheosis

    I’ve always felt like Dan Girardi is the kind of nuts and bolts, solid Dman that we could use as part of a solid top pairing. Phaneuf is incredibly overrated if you ask me. He can skate and brings some offense but he chases the big hit and is out of position quite often. He will get paid and whoever pays him will live to regret it but that’s just my opinion.

    We definitely need to get better on the backend. We need better defenders and we also need Dmen who are willing and able to shoot the puck. Ference is pretty much the only guy we have who is not afraid to throw the puck at the net even when he doesn’t really have a clear look at the net. All the other guys just put the puck back in the corner so that forward line x can fail miserably at cycling the puck.

  • Jason Gregor

    Or trade? Gagner/prospect for Kulikov/Matthias?

    Out of this list Girardi or Greene look like targets – Phaneuf will likely resign with the Leafs. Don’t see a LD that looks suitable. McDonald would be an upgrade I guess.

    Just hope they don’t rush Nurse, Klefbom or Marincin… but this is the Oilers. Nurse next year I guess.

  • Jason Gregor

    Attention Management: There is no way that Fedun isn’t at least as good as Larson or Belov, so why don’t we bring him up and see before he becomes a FRA. The team could send either down and no other team would look at picking them up off the waiver wire. And if some sucker is out there to take them all the better. He might not be better, but lets find out

      • Romulus' Apotheosis

        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.

        This isn’t the case. In fact, while is it very rare for top pairing D to switch teams, when it does happen, it almost never happens via a “hockey trade” (i.e., a straight swap of equivalent talent, or nearly thereof).

        Far more common is the UFA route (as you mention), or a 2(and up) for 1 trade (i.e., a jumble of picks and/or prospects and/or marginal NHL players).

        Trading one of the 4 skilled forwards would actually be pretty unprecedented. Which is not to say it won’t happen, or that it wouldn’t be advantageous to all involved.

        But, if history is a guide… if/when the Oil land a top pairing D it will come from one of three sources:

        1. internal development (this is where most top pairing D have ever come from)

        2. UFA deal

        3. packaged deal involving lesser pieces and magic beans for established talent

        • Tikkanese

          Gregor said for next season. The Oilers won’t internally develop a top pairing defenseman, or two for that matter, by next season.

          We all hope the Oilers can package up some magic beans for the top D.

          • Romulus' Apotheosis

            Can’t disagree with that and never said otherwise. Nurse has a chance but he’s realistically 4-5 years from getting a sniff of being a legit top pairing NHL player…

            that list is simply noting where top pairing D typically come from.

            They don’t come from “hockey trades” typically.

            Again, this isn’t to say that one won’t happen, won’t help us, etc.

            It is simply to note that if the history of these players’ movements is a guide… The fatalism around “have to” “only way” etc. is ahistorical.

        • Dan the Man

          You make some good points. I agree with your 3rd point on the packaging of prospects and draft picks for talent. If you look at what most people will say our biggest needs are.
          1.) Size in our top 6
          2.) Top defenseman,

          I think one of those trades can be made by that kind of package. But I don’t see us being able to acquire both without having to give up a top piece (one of the Top 4).

          I think some people need to be prepared for us to “lose a trade” in order to bring in some pieces we desperately need.

          • Romulus' Apotheosis

            There is no need for fatalism here.

            It is not necessary to trade one of the 4 to acquire these things.

            The next two first rounders are in play apparently and will be very, very valuable at the draft tables.

            There are a number of interesting D prospects that can be packaged.

            Other teams always sour on players with bad contracts or for some other reason and sell low.

            The UFA market is a great place to find a Clarkson type and simply spend the cash not assets.

  • Oil Kings 'n' Pretty Things

    I wonder what kind of Defenceman Gagner, Hemsky + 2014 1st round pick would bring..or which team would give up a top pairing dman for that package. Maybe Winnipeg?

    • Oil Kings 'n' Pretty Things

      Based on the media coverage here in Winnipeg, Yakupov would be the starting point of that discussion. When you only have 2 players on the team (E. Kane and Setoguchi) who shoot the puck, a guy like Yakupov is worth a lot.

      Edit: There’s also no way they’re parting with Byfuglien, so the top-end return from Winnipeg would be Toby Enstrom. Meh.

      • Oil Kings 'n' Pretty Things

        Not single d-man on Winnipeg should a 19 yo 1st overall pick be traded for, let alone him being the “starting point”. Not a chance.

        • crobar

          big buff isn’t worth a first overall pick?? are you nuts?? 26+ mins. a game, and nearly a point per game?? how do you replace that? which oiler is worth that?? none really .(maybe hall) the jets made this mistake when they let odouya go thinking he could be replaced. i don’t see them making the same mistake again. and make no mistake about it. man for man, a defenceman is more valuable.

          This is the biggest problem with oiler management, as they over value their players. they MAY have been able to get value for hemsky 2 or 3 years ago, now everyone can see how useless he really is. you can’t give him away. wasn’t this guy a sure fire blue chipper?? gimme a break!! which of these first round picks will turn out to be hemsky? as is, this team is going no where. perron is by far the best player on the team this year. what does that say??

          • Zarny

            I will answer your questions in the order you asked them…

            No buff is not worth a 1st overall pick. Not by any stretch.

            I am not nuts that I know of.

            Are you asking me if buff is a point per game? If so the answer is no, he has never been or even “nearly” been a point per game player.

            Hall Nuge Yakupov are all worth Buff and more.

            Hemsky is a top 6 forward and he has had a very good career for a mid-1st round pick. For his draft position he has done more than most other mid-1st round picks do. Not sure who called him “blue-chip”. If so they don’t know what that means.

            I assume you mean which of these first *overall picks will turn out to be Hemsky? At this point, even at the ages of 22 and under, they are already better than Hemsky, or are trending better than Hemsky in Yaks case. So the answer to your questions is NONE will turn out to be Hemsky. Comparing 1st overall picks to mid-1st round picks is your mistake.

            Perron has been the best player on this team for a short span this season. Sure. What it says is that Perron is 25 years old and in his prime. The first over all picks are still kids, learning the game. Why would we expect kids with

          • DoubleJ

            Perron has been the best player on this team for a short span this season. Sure. What it says is that Perron is 25 years old and in his prime. The first over all picks are still kids, learning the game. Why would we expect kids with less that 3 years experience to be better than a skilled 25 year old? This unrealistic expectation is likely the reason for your overactive trade everyone for “big buff” opinion.

            Hope that help…

        • Oil Kings 'n' Pretty Things

          That’s exactly what I’m saying. Winnipeg doesn’t have the defensive depth to unload a guy like Enstrom without hitting a home run that addresses a team need.

          The return would be underwhelming, and Yakupov is likely the only NHL player they’d be interested in, so Winnipeg is not likely to be a trading partner for NHL-level deals in the near future.

    • Chainsawz

      The 2014 pick is more valuable without Gagner and Hemsky. Sheesh, what a ridiculous suggestion.

      You want a top pairing defenseman? The 2014 1st pick, Eberle, and J Schultz. At least the opposing GM would listen long enough to hammer out a deal.

    • Puck_In_Throat

      Hemsky is a UFA- so not a huge return. Gagner has one year and $4.8M left on his deal before he is a UFA.

      Neither of those two is worth much.

      Seeing as our 1st rounder will be in the 1-3 range, that will have value. But not the value of a 1st pairing D man.

      As always, put yourself in the other team’s shoes. What would you accept in a trade for a top pair D-Man? My guess is the ask list is like this:
      1. a dynamic 1st line scorer (eberle);
      2. a young d man with upside who can play in the NHL right now (petry); and
      3. a solid prospect (Klefbom? Marancin?).

      The scorer provides the team trading the top D man with something that every team needs. Young D man with upside is a stop-gap but also may turn out well. The prospect is a shot at a home run. If I was a GM, all of those things would be required to even CONSIDER trading my top D man.