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Armchair GM - UFA Targets (Defense)

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Can the defense be fixed?

Andrej Sekera is a UFA target on most team's list
Andrej Sekera is a UFA target on most team's list
Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

Since rebuild 2.0 began in 2010 the Oilers’ defense was the biggest question mark on the team. With rebuild 3.0 starting defense is still the biggest question mark on the team. Thanks to very poor decisions made by people that couldn't understand how to evaluate defensive talent.

Ken has done a piece on Dougie Hamilton and the Oilers and since Hamilton is a RFA and not an UFA, I'm not even going to discuss the possibility of acquiring him.

In the last post, UFA forwards, the cap room remaining for acquisitions was $9,459,083 which is a bit scary considering what needs to be acquired. I really don’t get what Craig was thinking here. Not only did he make his job next to impossible should he have stayed GM but the mess he left for Chiarelli to clean-up is going to require a lot of sawdust.

The Defense

Like we had to do with the forwards, before any spots can be filled we need to understand what the Oilers actually have and what they need to fill. Once again I'm going to reference the Armchair GM - The Salary Cap post and break the cost/cap hit by pairing.

Roster

Pairing Left Defense Salary Right Defense Salary Total Salary
1
2 Oscar Klefbom 894,167 Mark Fayne 3,625,000 4,519,167
3 Martin Marincin 850,500 Justin Schultz 3,675,000 4,525,500

The 7th defenseman is Andrew Ference who is making $3,250,000 each season for the next two seasons. Nikita Nikitin has been bought out of his contract and is costing the Oilers $1.5M/season for the next two seasons. The other potential player to make the Oilers this season could be Darnell Nurse ($1,713,333 including bonuses) although I’d prefer to keep him in Bakersfield for at least half the season if not the entire season.

Face Palm

I can’t emphasize this enough so please read carefully. CRAIG MACTAVISH SCREWED THE OILERS OVER WORSE THAN ANY GM IN THE HISTORY OF THE TEAM!!! Before I go any further I’d like to visit Craig MacTavish’s moves on defense:

  • Signed a 34 year old Andrew Ference to a 4 year $13M deal and then made him captain of the team
  • Traded Ladislav Smid, a top pairing defenseman at the time for a handful of magic beans
  • Traded for Mark Fraser when the team was already eyeballs deep in 7th defensemen
  • Signed Nikita Nikitin to a 2 year $9M deal
  • Signed Keith Aulie on the recommendation of his coach (who coincidentally recommended Fraser as well)
  • Signed the Oilers best defenseman, Jeff Petry, who was 1 season away from unrestricted free agency to a "show me" deal
  • Signed Justin Schultz to a one year 3.675M "bridge" deal that completely handcuffed the team any removed all negotiating power

Craig MacTavish’s 739 days as the Oilers GM is analogous to a clogged toilet that hasn't breached yet. MacTavish came into the problem, assessed the situation and just assumed that he knew how to fix it. Without any real expertise or training he walked up to the toilet and tried to flush it. When flushing didn't work the first time he tried to flush again and then again until he (and the team) was knee deep in you know what. Of course none of this would've been necessary if the guy who caused the clog in the first place just tried to fix it in the first place. Instead he just stood there doing nothing hoping that the clog would just fix itself which is what lead to the hiring of MacTavish. And that is the Oilers defense is in such a sorry state today.

Moving On

So the Oilers need a #1 and a #2 defenseman with just under $9.5M to spend. Oh right and they also need a goalie. Did I mention how bad MacTavish screwed this team over?

Trying to get a good UFA defenseman at a reasonable price is going to be very difficult. The best option for the Oilers is to make a shuffle before going out and finding a defenseman.

Pairing Left Defense Salary Right Defense Salary Total Salary
1 Mark Fayne 3,625,000 3,625,000
2 Oscar Klefbom 894,167 Justin Schultz 3,675,000 4,569,167
3 Martin Marincin 850,500 850,500

This isn't ideal but Fayne in the top pairing role, if paired with the right guy, could work. Schultz can’t move any higher than second pairing and his ice time and zone starts need to be monitored very closely. The biggest reason for this move is that both Klefbom and Schultz have played ok together while keeping Marincin buys some AHL time for Nurse.

Targets

So now instead of trying to find 2 top pairing defensemen, I need 1 top pairing defenseman and 1 bottom pairing defenseman. In order to get a goalie, the Oilers are going to have to set aside about $3.5M and although it may not all be used it allows for a bit of a buffer as well. That gives leaves the team with just over $5.9M to spend on these two defensemen.

6th Defenseman

Player Prev Team Prev Cap Hit
Matt Hunwick NYR 600,000
Jamie McBain LAK 550,000
Raphael Diaz CGY 700,000
Corey Potter CGY 700,000

Obviously anyone of these players has his spots but signing one of them to a short term low dollar amount contract would be alright. All of them have performed alright in a 6th/7th defenseman role and remember Andrew Ference is still on the roster. If anyone of these guys played more than 40 games I’d be ok with that. Jamie McBain would be the guy I’d look for in this situation. I'm guessing I’d probably be able to get him at $600K - $650K for a season. For the purpose of this exercise I will go with $650K that leaves the team with $5.2M to sign the top pairing defenseman.

Numero Uno

The number 1 defenseman is going to be tough to get. For both term and dollar amount there is really only five options.

Player Prev Team Prev Cap Hit
Zbynek Michalek STL 4,000,000
Christian Ehrhoff PIT 4,000,000
Johnny Oduya CHI 3,375,000
Cody Franson NSH 3,300,000
Andrej Sekera LAK 2,750,000

The other names that could possibly make the list are Mike Green and Paul Martin but both are making north of $5M/season and in Martin’s case he is on the tail end of his career. Looking at the names on the list, unless Katz’s deal with the devil flows over into free agency, I don’t see any of these players signing for $5M/season in Edmonton. There are just too many non-Oilers teams out there willing to offer the same amount of money to these UFAs.

Up Next

So far we've covered RFAs, Cap Space, Buy-outs, UFA Forwards and UFA Defensemen. Next up we’ll discuss goalies both of the UFA variety and the trade variety.

The number going forward in the Armchair GM series will be $8,809,083.