The top right-shooting free agent defenceman came off the
market on Saturday. Jason Demers signed a deal for the next half-decade with the Florida Panthers and did so in exchange for a shockingly reasonable amount of money.
So why didn’t the Edmonton Oilers sign him?
Jason Demers signs with Florida. 5 yrs at $4.5
— Darren Dreger (@DarrenDreger) July 2, 2016
Part of the reason is probably contract. Sportsnet’s Chris Johnston reports that Demers took “a little less” to go to the Panthers.
That makes sense, because $4.5 million is not really the kind of contract one imagines going to a good second-pair free agent. Demers was the No. 3 playoff defenceman for a contending Dallas Stars team a year ago in terms of total minutes played (Kris Russell averaged slightly more per night but missed one game); he just signed for the same annual value as Nikita Nikitin. More importantly he was also the only right-shooting defenceman of any import on the market, and as Oilers general manager Peter Chiarelli so powerfully demonstrated, the price tends to be high on those guys.
So if we imagine him talking to Edmonton, it’s worth tacking some money on to that contract, or perhaps an extra year.
Even so, as it stands the Oilers could use somebody like Demers. The addition of Adam Larsson did help the right side of Edmonton’s defence, and I’m more bullish on Mark Fayne being able to help than most others are. Still, that’s only two names, and we know for a fact that Chiarelli (correctly) believes that a left-shot/right-shot balance is important.
At something in the $5.0 million range, there would have been room for Demers and he would have given the Oilers a better shot at the playoffs next year. If the trade of Taylor Hall for Larsson was meant to bring balance, the signing of Demers would have been a logical extension of that instinct, creating a surprisingly deep blue line:
- Oscar Klefbom – Adam Larsson
- Andrej Sekera – Jason Demers
- Brandon Davidson – Mark Fayne
There is, of course, something missing from that blue line: a power play defender. One of the surprises of the Hall trade was that the player brought back didn’t fill that niche, and Demers doesn’t either. Nobody still on the market really does, with the possible exception of James Wisniewski, who might be a nice fit on a short-term deal.
It would make sense that Chiarelli wouldn’t want to tie up dollars in two new defenders without one of them adding more of an offensive element.
There’s also no Darnell Nurse on that list. My read on the situation is that Nurse is regarded by the management group as the most important piece long-term on Edmonton’s blue line. He’s a perfect fit for Chiarelli’s new vision for the Oilers, combining size and aggression; it would be surprising to me if his name wasn’t written in ink in a top-six role next season, even if it means going with one lefty/lefty pair.
The reason Edmonton didn’t sign Demers was because they brought in Larsson in trade. Demers is faster and more aggressive, Larsson is bigger and stronger, but both fill the same role: defensive defencemen who are also competent with the puck.
The benefit of bringing in Larsson is that he’s a long-term solution on the right side. He’s only 23 years old (he turns 24 early next season) and for the next decade or more can be expected to log major minutes. Demers is 28, and while he may be a decent bet for the length of his current deal there’s a possibility his play drops off into his 30’s. Chiarelli also sees Larsson as having more upside:
Chiarelli: “We’ve added what I assess as a top defenceman. He’s going to be a two at some point, Larsson.”
— Jonathan Willis (@JonathanWillis) July 1, 2016
Still, it’s hard not to imagine the other scenario, the one where Edmonton passes on the Hall trade and signs both Demers and Milan Lucic. Benoit Pouliot would likely have to be sacrificed in such a scenario, but in the short-term the Oilers would have been far better off. Assuming that Lucic plays next to Connor McDavid, Edmonton is going to ice a top-heavy lineup up front next season; in this hypothetical that wouldn’t be the case. There’s also minimal gap between Demers and Larsson in the present, so the blue line would not have been any worse off.
This is all hypothetical, though; that road is now closed to the Oilers. If the new path leads to the playoffs and then to a contender, nobody’s likely to complain too much. Chiarelli obviously believes that Larsson gives the team a better shot at that than Demers could.