Building a Championship Blueline: An Oilers Management Imperative

For those of you who commonly believe that the Oilers' self-described re-build started in December, 2009 (when the team was on the outside of the playoffs and Hemsky and Khabibulin were deemed injured for the season), we are now exactly 1.5 years into it. Most of us realize that like the recession of '08, the markings of an uncompetitive team, and therefore an inevitable "re-build" could be evidenced as early as 2007, and the true re-construction of the Oil back to a championship-calibre team is now over 4 years into the making.

Several silver linings exist adjacent a couple of ugly last-place finishes - and their names and pedigrees are well-documented. If you just spent $100 on lettering an Oilers jersey with NUGENT-HOPKINS, you my friend are consuming the lump of sugar that helps to go down with your medicine. However the illness is still lingering.

As one of those guys who actually believes that Tambellini has a plan or at the very least a functioning human brain, I believe the remedy to fix the blueline is both calculated and imminent - and by imminent I believe we'll be sporting a D corps that we can be proud of within the calendar year.

Here's why:

This was a good UFA season to sit on the sidelines, or even better, acquire low-cost depth talent. I applaud the signings of Belanger and think Barker was a reasonable risk. What I'm glad we DIDN'T do, was throw a ridiculous amount of money at James Wisniewski or Jan Hejda. We'll leave that to desperate men.

The 2012 UFA season is, 11.5 months ahead of time, looking like a veritable bumper crop. And, with the 2011 UFA's getting stupid rich, perhaps these guys will be more inclined, as Shea Weber is positioning to do, to become UFA's to seek the grand pay-day. Take a look at this snapshot of potential 2012 UFA's on the blue and tell me how many of these guys would immediately fit into the Oilers' top 4:

Beauchemin, Boychuk, Burns, Carle, Coburn, Jackman (STL), Oduya, Roszival, Suter, Tyutin, Weber, Wideman, Zanon

And if you don't like them (or better, they don't like us), there are all sorts of consolation prizes in: Barker, Coliaccovo, Kubina, Liles, Saarich, Spacek, and Colin White.

Let's even assume that half those guys sign on a line that is dotted in between now and UFA season next year, it still leaves 10 decent guys left on the radar, right when Smytty's big cap hit comes off the books.


Most of the guys who sign in advance of UFA day sign for a bit less money. It's probably a safe bet that a guy like Brent Burns re-up's in San Jose for $4-5M. Tambellini needs to take similar action. If I were him I would pursue a team who looks to be out of playoff contention in January (like Nashville or Minnesota), and see if I can't pry Zanon or Suter out of them for a pair of lesser grade prospects. I'm not opposed to throwing crazy money Shea Weber's way next Canada Day, but that might imply a more cost-effective 5-6 pairing instead of going the Vancouver model of $4-5M defensemen 1 through 6.

It's a big opportunity. Arguably the most talented crop of UFA D-men since the end of the lockout. Like I say, I've so far applauded ST's calculated approach to re-building, but he'll need to be proactive about improving our blueline over the next calendar year if we want to end our playoffless drought by the spring of 2013.

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