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Unrestricted Free Agent Defensemen - Filling Out The Oilers Blueline

While there are serious needs at forward heading into the 2010-2011 season, the Oilers have a serious problem on the blueline, namely, they only have three NHL defensemen. Right now, the depth chart is lacking:

Ryan Whitney Tom Gilbert
??????? ???????
Ladislav Smid ???????
Taylor Chorney
Theo Peckham
Jason Strudwick

It's Ryan Whitney, Tom Gilbert, Ladislav Smid and a whole bunch of negative Corsi. The three guys competing for the title of "seventh defenseman on the worst team in the league" don't have much of a history of success in the NHL. In fact, two-thirds of them comprise the backbone of "The Shift", the longest shift in NHL history. Steve Tambellini has his work cut out for him.

I've previously linked to the interview I did at Red Light District Hockey when I discussed the Oilers' off-season plans, and the bit about the defense is still a framework for the defense:

If Sheldon Souray is traded at the draft, as he's expected to be, then the Oilers are going to need the most affordable second minutes defender with penalty killing experience in the class of Henrik Tallinder, Jordan Leopold, Zbynek Michalek, and Dennis Seidenberg. They're also going to have to find a low cap hit bottom pairing defender that can move the puck to pair with Ladislav Smid, guys like Kurtis Foster, Brian Pothier, and Carlo Colaiacovo fit the bill. Finally, they'll want a cap-minimum bottom-pairing defender for depth, and I'm expecting them to find one in the European leagues.

Carlo Colaiacovo D 27 STL $1,283,333 2010 (UFA)
Mark Eaton D 33 PIT $2,000,000 2010 (UFA)
Kurtis Foster D 28 TBL $600,000 2010 (UFA)
Denis Grebeshkov D 26 NSH $3,100,000 Not Qualified
Aaron Johnson D 27 EDM $540,000 2010 (UFA)
Milan Jurcina D 27 WAS $1,375,000 2010 (UFA)
Brett Lebda D 28 DET $650,000 2010 (UFA)
Jordan Leopold D 29 PIT $1,750,000 2010 (UFA)
Andreas Lilja D 34 DET $1,250,000 2010 (UFA)
Toni Lydman D 32 BUF $2,875,000 2010 (UFA)
Freddy Meyer D 29 NYI $587,500 2010 (UFA)
Zbynek Michalek D 27 PHO $1,250,000 2010 (UFA)
Shaone Morrisonn D 27 WAS $1,975,000 2010 (UFA)
Brian Pothier D 33 CAR $2,500,000 2010 (UFA)
Henrik Tallinder D 31 BUF $2,562,500 2010 (UFA)

The above list spans a number of different options, from older defensemen that may take a short-term contract like Mark Eaton and Brian Pothier. Both of them would be bottom pairing types, playing with Ladislav Smid. Other possible partners for Smid inclue Carlo Colaiacovo, Kurtis Foster, Milan Jurcina, and Freddy Meyer. The most attractive of them is Colaiacovo, the former first round pick who found a home on the bottom pairing with the Blues. If Tambellini were able to ink him to a long-term deal at a reasonable price, Colaiacovo could likely swing between the second and third pairings on the rebuilding Oilers.

The Oilers need to fill both spots on the second pairing and Grebeshkov, Leopold, Lydman, Michalek, Morrisonn and Tallinder would all work, but are they realistic options? We know how Michalek has been used in Phoenix -- he's the defensive version of Shawn Horcoff. With less of an own-zone and tough minutes load in the underlying stats, would he be more effective by the top line numbers? He's only 27 and offering him a five year contract isn't the worst idea - there are no stoppers except maybe Johan Motin anywhere in the Oilers' system right now - so Michalek fills a hole not only on the team but in the entire system as well. Lydman and Tallinder would be short-term fixes, but I have an inkling that Tallinder ends up a Red Wing come July 1st.

Another option is a return on Sheldon Souray. Right now, it's expected that the Oilers will be giving up a useful player or draft pick to move Souray to get something useful in return. However, it's also been suggested that the OIlers could move Souray and take back a more toxic contract with a useful player or pick. Think Brian Campbell or Wade Redden. Now cry.

The final option available to Steve Tambellini is an offer sheet. There are a number of defensemen headed to restricted free agency and the Oilers might be able to acquire them for a second round pick. Younger impact blueliners like Dan Girardi, Nicklas Grossman, Niklas Hjalmarsson, Kyle Quincey and Jeff Schultz are prime targets for an offer sheet, especially Grossman, as the Stars are operating on a hard budget, just a couple of million dollars above the salary floor. After being thrown to the wolves in his formative years, Grossman has become the go-to tough minutes guy in Dallas and he's shown that he can handle tough minutes, though not yet outscore them.