The Oilers leapt into free agency with an eye for pugnacity and delivered in a big way. Though Ben Eager, Darcy Hordichuk and Andy Sutton will strain the Oilers already strained penalty kill, Steve Tambellini talked for a couple of weeks about getting tougher in the off-season. I looked at the what was lacking in the Oilers lineup as free agency approached, and it's worthwhile to review the depth chart after Tambellini's big day.
Others: Cogliano, Brule, Hordichuk
A tough minutes left wing to play with Sam Gagner and Ales Hemsky was second on the list of needs and Tambellini filled that spot with Ryan Smyth. If Tom Renney finally decides to match lines, Smyth - Gagner - Hemsky should provide plenty of cover for Taylor Hall and Jordan Eberle playing with Shawn Horcoff. If Hall and Eberle take a step forward, there's a very good chance the Hall - Horcoff - Eberle line will beat second minutes. Eric Belanger gives the Oilers something they've needed since Moses wandered the Earth, a capable veteran center who can win faceoffs and manage his own zone. Dropping him between Magnus Paajarvi and Linus Omark is perfect for a couple of possession wingers who struggle in the defensive end.
The fourth line is less-settled. Ben Eager on the left wing will be a regular and Ryan Jones on the right isn't going anywhere. Andrew Cogliano is due a raise and if Smid's contract is an indication, he should slot in around $1.75 million this season. If that's the case, the Oilers' bottom line is one of the most expensive in the league, especially when factoring in the 13th forward, Gilbert Brule and his $1.85 million deal. The Oilers are better off using Brule and Chris Vande Velde if Brule can't go, in the bottom line center role. Darcy Hordichuk couldn't stay in the Panthers lineup last season and shouldn't stay in the Oilers' lineup. With Eager and Peckham already on the ice, there's no need for a full-time goon. He should spot dress.
Left to do: Cogliano has no role and has Ryan Nugent-Hopkins breathing down his neck. The Belanger signing allows Tambellini to keep Nugent-Hopkins in Red Deer without burning a year of his ELC. With the above lineup, Tambellini is free to move Cogliano in a trade for defensive help.
Needs: Health. If the above group can stay healthy through the year, they should be okay at even strength and improved on the penalty kill. Depth is still a concern, Hordichuk is probably the worst 13th forward in the West, so it makes sense to either bring Vande Velde along or sign a veteran forward for $750k or so and push Hordichuk down the depth chart a slot.
Targets: Chris Vande Velde development, Mike Grier, Marek Svatos, Nigel Dawes
Others: Sutton, Petry
In his comparison of the Oilers to the Bruins, Jonathan Willis concluded, "...Bottom line: The Oilers need at least one and possibly two top-end defensemen before they can compare favourably to Boston."
The Oilers still need at least one top four defenseman, preferably a penalty killer before they can compete with the middle third of the conference on a nightly basis. Cam Barker has struggled with bottom pairing minutes for the last three years and should not be asked to play anything but bottom minutes and contribute on the power play. With Ladislav Smid's new contract and Steve Tambellini's press conference comments, it's obvious that Smid will take on a top four role.
Andy Sutton is the Oilers' version of the veteran depth defenseman they needed going into free agency, but Sutton is 36 years old and couldn't stay in the Ducks' lineup last season, a lineup that had one of the worst defenses in the league. Slotting him in to replace Jason Strudwick is ideal - keep him on the bench and hope that health allows Renney to dress him for only 35 games.
Left to do: General managers were all over defenseman on July 1st like fat men on an all-you-can-eat buffet. The pickings are slim in unrestricted free agency, but old rugged veterans are still out there. Radek Martinek, if healthy, is an option, though I don't know if he can handle top minutes at this point. With Cogliano available for a trade, could Tambellini move him for a guy like Colin White from the Devils?
Needs: Still need a top-pairing, tough minutes defenseman who can be a pack mule on the power play, or a reasonable facsimile of one. Nick Schultz remains the best possible target under any scenario, but the Wild want an NHL defenseman back. Would Cogliano and Peckham be enough to get Schultz out of Minnesota? What about Andrej Sekera in Buffalo? Darcy Regier has created a really crowded situation in Buffalo with three RFA's to be signed and very little cap space. Sekera played the toughs last year and he's only 25 years old. If the Oilers could get him out of Buffalo with some combination of Cogliano, Peckham and picks or prospects, he could play top line minutes, though he's also a left defender. I'd be extremely happy with a Sekera-Gilbert top pairing. Scott has mentioned Roman Polak in St. Louis as well.
Targets: Trade for Nick Schultz, Colin White, Andrej Sekera, Roman Polak / Radek Martinek, Karlis Skrastins
Nothing has changed here. The Oilers need a veteran to platoon with Dubnyk or a legitimate NHL goaltender. Either way, it allows them to bury Nikolai Khabibulin in the AHL to back up Olivier Roy for the next two seasons.
Needs: Veteran goaltender to platoon with unproven starter.
Targets: Ray Emery is still available and if his medical records check out after due diligence, he would be ideal on a one-year deal.