Edmonton's defense takes a large amount of abuse for it's shortcomings, and rightfully so. The Oilers have two natural right defensemen and six on the left side. They only have two legitimate top four defenseman on the roster, yet have six bottom pairing guys tagging along. It's not a pretty picture. They're short on penalty killers and don't have the horses to run with the Flames, let alone the Canucks.
But the Oilers are not alone in the Northwest when it comes a weak blueline. I was chatting with Broad Street Hockey's Geoff Detweiler recently when he brought up the Colorado Avalanche's blueline in a "what in the world are they doing?" kind of way. After taking a deeper look, I agreed with Mr. Detweiler - General Manager Greg Sherman is doing his best to build a similarly bad defense 1,000 miles to the south in Colorado. Sherman tried to fix his problems by dealing Chris Stewart and Kevin Shattenkirk for franchise defenseman Erik Johnson, Jay McClement and a 1st round draft pick, signing Jan Hejda to a four-year deal and Shane O'Brien to a one-year deal. But things aren't completely rosy in Colorado.
Comparing the depth charts side-by-side makes the breakdown fairly simple and straightforward. I've used the expected depth charts from each team and totaled the cap hit of each group at the bottom of each chart.
|Ryan Whitney||Jan Hejda|
|Ladislav Smid||Ryan Wilson|
|Theo Peckham||Kyle Cumiskey|
First off - the gap in dollars spent isn't as wide as these numbers indicate since I've got Cumiskey on the list and he hasn't yet signed.
On to the analysis: Whitney and Hejda are polar opposites in style, but when healthy, they are similar in effectiveness. Hejda is 33 years old and slowing, Whitney is still in his prime. Whitney wins this by a nose. Smid is out of place in the top four, but Wilson is even more out of place. A comparison of the two shows that Wilson is still struggling to get the puck moving. The Oilers win again. Cumiskey's numbers look better than Peckham's at first glance, but Cumiskey has played some seriously sheltered minutes, while Peckham has done the opposite, mostly due to injuries. Peckham wins this one by a nose.
Verdict: The Oilers sweep the entire left side, something I don't know they'd do against any other team in the NHL.
|Tom Gilbert||Erik Johnson|
|Jeff Petry||Kyle Quincey|
|Cam Barker||Ryan O'Byrne|
The dollars match, so neither team can claim a better value proposition on the right side.
The breakdown: Johnson bests Gilbert by about the same margin that Whitney bests Hejda. They've played similar roles for the last few years, but Johnson should be better. Whether he can do that in Colorado without Roman Polak remains to be seen. Jeff Petry is completely unproven but looked good last year in his first season. That doesn't compare to Kyle Quincey, a proven commodity and one of the few Avs who comes close to handling himself against the toughs. Barker is playing the wrong side and hasn't been very good to this point in his career. O`Byrne is an underrated commodity - he's played tougher minutes without sheltered starts and has performed admirably.
Verdict: The Avs win the entire right side.
|Andy Sutton||Shane O'Brien|
|Taylor Chorney||Matt Hunwick|
Once again, the dollars are very close.
Sutton and O'Brien are both penalty-prone defenders with limited possession capabilities. Chorney and Hunwick are both swift-staking, unproven defenders without much of a resume.
|Total Cap Hit
Cumiskey's contract is going to bring the Avs' final defensive cap hit much closer to the Oiler's cap hit, effectively washing out most of the spending difference. The Oilers win the left side, the Avs the right and they tie in the press box. Both teams are going to have some serious issues on the back-end in 2011-2012. "But he's doing it too!" isn't a legitimate excuse, especially when "it" is building a bad defense, but at least the Oilers aren't alone in their defensive struggles.