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What About the Back End?

Yesterday concluded with a look at what the Oilers have done and still need to do with their forward group. With a goodly portion of the forward group from a year ago departing and the addition of Colin Fraser to the bottom of the roster, the top and bottom end of the forward group is now set. Steve Tambellini could still use a few veterans for his middle six forwards, but he has the money to go and get that help should he choose to do so (let it be so). But what about the back end? The last two days have seen the Oilers add Jim Vandermeer through trade and Kurtis Foster as a free agent. After the jump, I'll take a look at the defense and goaltending as a whole and talk a bit about what the Oilers can do now that most of the best free agent defenders have already signed with other teams.

As usual, I'll give my cap guideline first followed by how the Oilers actual contracts compare. Here's the guideline:

Top 4 Defenders - 27.5% or $16,335,000
Bottom 4 Defenders - 7.5% or $4,455,000
Goaltenders - 10.0% or $5,940,000

And now here are the Oilers:

Top 4 Defenders - Whitney, Gilbert, Souray, ??? - 22.3% or $13,400,000
Bottom 4 Defenders - Vandermeer, Foster, Smid, ??? - 9.1% or $5,400,000
Goaltenders - Khabibulin, ???, ??? - 6.3% or $3,750,000

My preferred method for dealing with the goaltending problem would be to sign an average NHL goalie for $1.5M per season and risk waivers on the two young guys but that doesn't seem likely. Instead, the Oilers will give the back-up role to one of Dubnyk or Deslauriers - hopefully Dubnyk - for something around $0.8M. My one request in that case is for the Oilers to use a part of their NHL budget on a third goalie who they plan to send down to Oklahoma City but who can step in and play if Khabibulin gets injured. I'd also like to add a third goaltender who will be playing in the AHL but who has some NHL pedigree in case Khabibulin gets injured, something similar to the contract the Canadiens gave to Curtis Sanford yesterday. One candidate who remains available is Yann Danis who may be willing to sign what would essentially be a $0.7M contract to play in the AHL. Those two goalies would then combine for something around $1.5M and provide the team with some legitimate security.

Now, the defense. The two new players have a couple of things in common: they're big and they're no hell at evens. As a third pairing, they're actually very good, but I wouldn't want them playing more than that. In fact, starting the year with Vandermeer as the seventh man would be my preference. And it could happen, with just one more signing. In theory, this part of the roster is further away from done than that. The trade winds continue to blow at the name of Sheldon Souray but after seeing so many superior defenders sign for less money, I wonder about what kind of trade value Souray could possibly have. The only defender who signed yesterday for more than Souray's cap hit of $5.4M was Sergei Gonchar at $5.5M and a lot of the players who signed for less are a lot better than Sheldon. All of these rumblings that lead nowhere also serve to increase my skepticism. So far we've heard that Souray was going to move at the deadline, then at the draft, and then on July 1st once his no-trade clause expired, but each time he's stayed an Oiler. More and more, it seems like Souray may be back in Edmonton to start the season, if only to prove that he's healthy and able to play at a high level. Hopefully, for everyone's sake, those two things will end up being true if Souray is still here in October.

Assuming Souray may not be moving, that leaves the Oilers with just two slots and about $2.6M to spend. The Oilers are likely to spend about $0.7M of that on Theo Peckham who would need to clear waivers to hit Oklahoma City, so he's probably staying. That leaves only $1.9M to spend on a guy who can play top four minutes, which seems like a tall order. I'm not certain that it will be quite enough cash, but one guy who has had some recent success with tough minutes, who's still young, and is flying way under the radar is former New Jersey defenseman Mike Mottau. Of course, the Oilers may be able to offer him a bit more if they can move Souray and retrieve some cap space in the process. At this point, I'll believe that's a sure thing when I see it.