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Photo Credit: JOHN E. SOKOLOWSKI-USA TODAY SPORTS

UFA Defenceman Options for the Oilers

Long-term free agent signings rarely pay off. I’d rather pay a player more for on a short-term deal, than sign them long-term at a slightly lower cap hit and have buyers remorse for the final few years of the contract. History is littered with buyers regret on long-term deals compared to short term signings.

I also recognize it is challenging for a general manager to sign the top free agents to shorter teams. No one said being an NHL GM was easy.

I outlined earlier this week why I believe why Edmonton Oilers GM, Ken Holland, needs to re-construct his defence corps. They’ve had five players in six spots for the past three seasons and there has been no improvement in limiting goals against at 5×5. It isn’t just on the defenceman — the forwards need to be much better at not losing coverage on the down low forward — but I think the current group of Oilers defenders needs more diversity.

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I can envision a trade where Holland moves a defenceman for a winger, but that means he’d need to sign someone via free agency. Edmonton has more left-shot defenders than right, and I know they like the organizational depth of their left side more than the right. So let’s focus on UFA right shot defenders.

Alex Pietrangelo (30 years old): Okay, this is a pipe dream as I expect he will re-sign with the Blues, similar to Steven Stamkos re-signing with his team right before free agency begins. The other aspect is money. Pietrangelo will command, even with a flat cap, $9 million. He likely will get more if he leaves St.Louis, but I see his new cap hit in the $9-$10million range.

He is a bonafide #1 D-man. If he makes it to free agency Holland should make him an offer. His chart at PuckIQ.com shows you what a legit #1 D-man can do and how often he plays against elite forwards. It is also interesting to note that this past season he played less against elites than ever before. That is because the Blues also have Colton Parayko on the right side, and he can play against the top players as well. What a luxury for coach Craig Berube.

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If the Oilers signed him they’d have to shed a lot of salary. It is possible, but I don’t think very plausible.

Tyson Barrie (29): By his standards he had a down season offensively, finishing with 39 points. It wasn’t as bad as it looks, but lower than he’s accustomed to after producing 53, 49, 38, 57 and 59 points the previous five seasons. However, the drop is mainly due to him only scoring 12 points on the power play.

His 25 points at 5×5 were close to the previous five seasons when he produced 32, 21, 25, 23, 30 and 25. He played 70 games this season after averaging 75 games (80, 78, 74, 68 and 78) the previous five seasons. So if you prorate his 5×5 totals over 75 games he’d be at 27.

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Barrie has never been considered a great defender. He likes to get the puck, move it up quickly and join the rush. Mike Babcock tried to get him to play a complete game in Toronto and it didn’t work.

In 19 games under Babcock Barrie scored 0-3-3 and was -11.
In 51 games under Sheldon Keefe he produced 5-34-39 and was +4.

The Oilers don’t have a dynamic defender like Barrie. Yes, he has some deficiencies defensively, but his puck handling and passing abilities, and his willingness and ability to jump up and join the rush would fill a void in Edmonton.

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What will he cost? With a flat cap, and coming off a perceived down season (which it really wasn’t based on these numbers from NaturalStatTrick.com and PuckIQ.com) maybe more than we think.

He was on for more goals against, but his CF%, FF%, SF%, xG%, SCF% and HDCS% were all the highest or second highest of his career.

Here, PuckIQ is showing his dangerous Fenwick For%. It was second highest in his career, but he played fewer minutes against elite competition. That is important to note.

His salary was $6m this past season and he carried at $5.5m cap hit. I sense the offers will be lower. Will he want a one-year deal, to rebound and sign longer next year, or will he get a four-year deal. Remember last off-season how Jake Gardiner was perceived. Many felt Gardiner was going to get big money. He didn’t sign until September 6th with Carolina and he settled for a four-year deal at $4.050m. He was a healthy scratch twice in the playoffs and when he played he was the 6th D-man — although the Hurricanes have the deepest blue line in the NHL.

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I’d take a long look at Barrie and I’d play him with Oscar Klefbom. Then you’d have Ethan Bear and Barrie as your main puck movers paired with Darnell Nurse and Klefbom.

Kevin Shattenkirk (31): I could write a lot about him, and there are many positives, but he wants to play in the United States. He isn’t an option for the Oilers.

Justin Schultz (30): Solid puck mover, but don’t see him returning to Edmonton. Getting back with your ex rarely ends well.

Sami Vatanen (29): Vatanen can excite you with his speed and puck moving, but also can be a liability defensively. He is best suited to play third pairing minutes and can help on a powerplay. With Evan Bouchard coming, I’m not sure Vatanen fits.

The other right-shot D options aren’t strong puck movers, but are solid NHL defenders.

Travis Hamonic (30): He is similar to Adam Larsson, but with a bit more puck skill. He made $4.875m this past season with a $3.875 cap hit. Because he doesn’t generate much offence, his underlying numbers have rarely been that goodHe is a solid PK guy, and solid defensively, but needs to be paired with a good puck mover to maximize his strengths. Some could ask if you are moving Larsson to replace him with Hamonic, are you really changing the makeup of your blue line?

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Justin Braun (34): He will be taking a pay cut from his current $3.8m cap hit. Braun was a top-four defender in San Jose for years, but was used mainly in a third pair role with the Flyers. If they are looking for a steady, smart veteran on a short-term deal he’d be a good option.

Chris Tanev (31 in December): After battling injuries for three seasons he was healthy and paired with Quinn Hughes for most of the regular season, and they are the Canucks’ top pair in the playoffs. Tanev lets Hughes touch the puck as often as possible, while he is the stay-at-home defender. His six points in the playoffs thus far are a massive bonus. He made $5.25m this year with a $4.5m cap hit. He isn’t flashy, and doesn’t bring much offence, so his possession numbers suffer. But he has consistently played against top lines for much of his career in Vancouver courtesy of PuckIQ.

He helps your team, but his playoff performance will likely earn him a contract that fans and the GM will regret in the future. I’d have him on my team, but overpaying him in term or dollars is a mistake. No reason to sign him longer than three years, ideally two, based on past injuries and his style of play.

Mark Pysyk (28): He had quite the season with the Panthers. He scored a hat trick while playing forward and had another three-point game as well while playing up front. He is best suited as a third pairing defender. He will end up signing for lower than his current $2.733m cap hit. If the Oilers don’t re-sign Matt Benning, then Pysyk might become an option later in the free agent signing period.

OVERVIEW…

Free agency is rarely the place to build your team. The best signings are usually short-term with reasonable cap hits. Pietrangelo is clearly the best option, but not a realistic one at this point, unless Edmonton can shed salary. Barrie is the best fit, and if you can sign him for a $4.5-$5m (if the Oilers are interested in dealing Adam Larsson to open up a spot), he makes the most sense to me.

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