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Oilers revamp blueline in late flurry of moves

Well that was quite the 72 hours. On Monday afternoon came news of the departure of Denis Grebeshkov and the disc problems of Ladi Smid; on Tuesday prospect Cody Wild was sent packing; and today two more high priced defencemen left town while a third has developed a troubling medical condition. In return the Oilers acquired two maturing defencemen, three draft picks, a whole bunch of cap room, and possibly the worst defensive crew in the National Hockey League. Oh yeah, and a physical forward picked up on waivers. Not to mention a very welcome show of the long-rumoured but rarely-seen Katz Bucks.

The transactions:


Recall G Devan Dubnyk, D Taylor Chorney, and D Theo Peckham from Springfield Falcons
Announce D Ladislav Smid is out indefinitely with a bulging disc in his neck
Trade D Denis Grebeshkov to Nashville Predators for a 2010 2nd rounder


Trade D Cody Wild to Boston Bruins for F Matt Marquardt


Claim F Ryan Jones off waivers from Nashville
Trade D Lubomir Visnovsky to Anaheim Ducks for D Ryan Whitney and a 2010 6th rounder
Trade D Steve Staios to Calgary Flames (!!!) for D Aaron Johnson and a 2010 3rd rounder
Announce D Sheldon Souray is out for the rest of the season with a post-surgery infection in his hand
Recall D Johan Motin and D Mean Dean Arsene from SF


Analysis after the jump ...

Of the 6-man defensive unit that all agreed was the Oilers' strength heading into this season, three have been traded and two shelved with bad medical news since Monday. The early result will be that tonight the Oilers will likely ice the worse defensive unit that has hit the ice for an NHL team since late in the 2006-07 season, when the Oilers (natch) had to use the likes of Dan Syvret, Bryan Young, Sebastien Bisaillon, and Toby Petersen on the blue. Assuming neither Whitney nor Johnson makes it to Chicago on time, the Oilers will ice four guys who were in the AHL last Sunday. The Hawks, meanwhile, will ice four guys who played in the Olympic Gold Medal Game on Sunday.

It gets worse when you consider that putative 7th man Jason Strudwick is on the top pairing. "Mr. Reliable" has over 2/3 of the combined NHL experience of tonight's defensive group! Including the goalie!! Only purge-survivor Tom Gilbert can be considered a bona fide NHL defenceman as the Oil line up against the powerful Hawks. Two helpful tips: Take the "over" on the Oilers game. And take the "way over" on the next Springfield game. Of all the times they could have used Cody Wild ...

Of course the short term is the very least of Oilers concerns right now, and a cup o' coffee might be a beneficial thing for Arsene and Motin. Presumably it will be just the one game and Whitney and Johnson will be put to work as soon as they arrive. Chorney and Peckham on the other hand appear to be here for the duration given the bad medical news on Smid and Souray.

In the process the Oilers created some $6 MM in cap space, more than all of it on the blue. Gone are Visnovsky's $5.6 MM cap hit, Grebeshkov's $3.15, Staios' $2.7; in their place are Whitney's $4.0 and Johnson's $0.54, and up front, Jones' $0.975.

Most of the Katz Bucks were spent on the biggest transaction of the day. Both Visnovsky and Whitney have three years to run on their long-term pacts. Oddly, although Visnovsky's remaining cap hit is about $5 MM more than Whitney's, due to the unbalanced structure of both their contracts it is the latter who will be earning more actual money over that span. Visnovsky's contract was front-loaded with two years - his time here in other words - at $7.0 MM; then $6.0, $5.0, and $3.0 which is all Anaheim needs to pony up. Whitney's contract was just the reverse, paying him $2.5, $3.0, and $3.5 in the time before he got here, but scheduled to jump to $4.5, $5.0, and $5.5 over the three years that remain. Mr. Katz picked up the heavy end of both deals, outspending the actual cap hits by more than $5 million.

A further half a mill Katz Bucks were spent in the trade that unloaded sent Steve Staios to Calgary Flames of all teams. Staios was thought to be a tough move with another year to run on his $2.7 MM cap hit. That his actual salary was only $2.2 in another front-loaded deal might have made it a little easier to move, which they did for Johnson and a third rounder. A more than decent return. Johnson is a career 6/7 blueliner with a contract to match (!), although in Edmonton he will likely slip right into the top 4. UFA at season's end, he should be anxious to make a good impression, and I'm hopeful he might be a decent fit here. I anticipate we will find a surprisingly serviceable defenceman, with 206 NHL GP under his belt and a career +19 rating, all of it earned in 38 games in Chicago last season before the arrival of Niklas Hjalmarsson pushed him aside. Otherwise he's been a break even 14 minute a night guy for mostly crappy teams (CBJ, NYI, Calgary :).

Speaking of Calgary, this was indeed the very first ever trade between the two clubs. Certainly there have been a number of guys who played for both squads over the years - Grant Fuhr, Steve Smith, Kent Nilsson, Frank Musil, Fred Brathwaite - but the only time I ever remember a player proceeding directly from one team to the other was this guy, who was cut by the Flames and given a brief tryout by Glen Sather on a whim. Needless to say if he wasn't good enough to make the Flames he certainly wasn't good enough to make the 1983-84 Edmonton Oilers, so in a week or so was on his way home to Finland. If anybody can think of another example of a player who went directly from the Flames to the Oilers or vice versa please mention him in the comments ... they don't get much more obscure than Kari Jalonen, and he's all I got. Unless you want to count Curtis Glencross, I suppose.

And all that said, best wishes in (inhale) Calgary (exhale) to Steve Staios, a warrior if I ever saw one, a guy that gave everything he had pretty much every shift he played as an Edmonton Oiler. On the talent front that wasn't as much as  demanding fans would like some nights, but on the effort meter I have nothing but respect and admiration for Steady Steve.

For all that huge flurry of activity on the blue line - 12 different blueliners listed in those transactions! - precious little was done up front. There was no subtraction whatsoever, while Marquardt was brought into the farm system and Jones into the NHL roster. He has a year to run at $975 K but cost nothing in the way of assets, and brings a few things the Oilers forward corps sorely needs, including size and aggression.

Indeed, size and relative youth was the common denominator of all of Edmonton's acquisitions. Jones, 25, is 6'1, 206; Johnson, 26, is 6'1, 211; Whitney, 27, is 6'4, 219. The three have 87, 206, and 335 GP respectively of NHL experience. Marquardt, described as a "project" at 22, is 6'3, 222. The Oilers didn't dump any smurfs other than Vis I guess, but they certainly didn't add any new ones. Moreover, they actually added a few pieces who are somewhere close to the middle of their careers, while seeing the backs of two guys whose best years are certainly behind them. Sad to see both go, but it's hard to argue with making the team younger, bigger, and cheaper. The draft picks don't hurt either.

I'm still somewhat baffled by the Grebeshkov deal and will definitely have to, uh, evaluate Ryan Whitney before declaring that trade a win, but overall there at least seems to be some semblance of a plan, albeit concentrated in one position. Overall I give Steve Tambellini a solid B-minus for his work this week.

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