The Edmonton Oilers are building an interesting group of defenders. They have two players locked into long-term deals at four million dollars per season in Tom Gilbert and Ryan Whitney. Sheldon Souray isn't in the long-term plans; even if the Oilers keep him for the duration of his contract, at 36, he probably won't be re-signed to play in the top four. Then there's Ladislav Smid, signed for one more year and still very young. He might be in the long-term plans but he hasn't really established himself as anything more than a solid 5th defender who can step up when injuries hit. Back to Whitney and Gilbert, both players are in their prime and are getting paid because of their ability to generate offence. Neither of them needs to be sheltered but neither is really used as a shut-down man either. Reports from Anaheim suggested that Whitney had trouble clearing the front of the net and we know Gilbert prefers to clear the puck in those situations instead of the man. They're both good players getting paid big coin but I don't think anyone would argue that either player is a top twenty all-around blue-liner in the league. So what do the Oilers need to add to this group?
In my opinion what they need is a shut-down pairing - two defenders that can take on the other team's best and come out ahead. But they don't need either of those defenders to have much offence since they're already paying Gilbert and Whitney for those duties. If we assume that the Oilers are going to be willing to spend to the cap, a budget around 57M for next season seems reasonable. Assuming the Oilers are able to move Sheldon Souray that should give them about 8M to spend on two defenders over the summer. After the jump I'll take a look at some quality defensive defenders in the league who may be available and engage in some good old-fashioned speculation.With the Oilers we're looking for something quite specific since they're probably at least one more year away from competing for the playoffs and two or three away from competing for the Stanley Cup. As such, they're likely going to want players that are 28 or younger today and have some track record of playing well in a tough minutes situation. The Oilers also can't really afford anyone that's already making over 5M per season since they'll need to pick up two pieces. I've picked out nine such players and put them in the chart below (which you can click to enlarge):
I included the Corsi numbers to show the nature of the role. It's tough out there and you'll be in your defensive zone quite a bit. Obviously the three unrestricted free agents are just flat-out available for nothing but money if they make it to July 1st. An offer to any of these players in the range of 5 years and 4.5M per season should at least get them in the conversation and may be enough to win one of them over.
The other three guys aren't free agents but may be available. The Rangers are in some cap trouble and it would be interesting to see if they'd be willing to part with Staal if they were also able to unload a big ticket like Drury along with him and get some value from the Oilers in return. A trade like Brule and Cogliano for Staal and Drury for example. This really only works if the Oilers aren't planning on competing for the playoffs for another year at least since the forwards will be a mess but getting a player like Staal could make it worthwhile. The other serious candidate for movement is Nick Schultz who has a very nice contract already signed to play tough minutes. However, the new coach in Minnesota hasn't used him against the other team's top players. I don't know that he's available, but if he is, this could be a very nice fit and would be a simple hockey trade of a forward for a defender. This option is somewhat more desirable if the Oilers want to compete in the very near future. Finally we have Nicklas Grossman. I have no reason to suspect he's available but if the Stars really are still interested in Sheldon Souray over the summer I'd be prodding them about Grossman to see if a deal could be reached, even if it meant giving up a bit more.
If the Oilers were able to pick up Schultz in a trade and then sign Michalek to some decent term at 4.5M, I think they'd have a very nice looking defence going forward. A top four filled with four guys between 25 and 30, two right-handers and two left-handers, two guys you pay for good defence and two for good offence but all of whom are competent defenders. That would leave Ladislav Smid as the 5th man to start the year but ready to step into the top four when injuries hit, and perhaps a re-signed Aaron Johnson as well as another UFA (see who shakes out in August) to fill the 6th and 7th holes with Theo Peckham getting the 8th defender spot if he earns it over a 14th forward in camp. You wouldn't have a game-breaker but, in my opinion, you'd have some depth and a group of defenders ready to compete for the next several seasons.