Where Do the Oilers Go From Here With Their Blueline? I Have a Feeling This Is Just the Start

If you didn't catch it yesterday, a serious rebuild is underway here in Edmonton. Fan favorite and productive veteran Lubomir Visnovsky was traded and despite an earlier unanimous feeling from fans that a clearing house and shedding of salary was the smart way to go; Visnovsky was moved to a chorus of geers and vocal regrets.

I was absolutely a fan of Visnovsky. Hands down, I believed he was the best all around Oilers defenceman to play for this team in the last two seasons. But this turn from fans all of a sudden has me wondering if most understand the definition of a rebuild in the NHL.

It seems clear to me that for Visnovsky, he was getting older and the team was getting younger. He was expensive and the team was getting cheaper. He was of value and the Oilers wouldn't have been able to do much to utilize his skillset this, next or maybe even the year after next in terms of competing for the playoffs, which the Oilers likely won't do.

And for all the quick to judge the value of a trade fans who feel Tambellini got hose (and there are a great number that feel that way), Ryan Whitney isn't a bad return either. Sure, he's not Visnovsky. But who's to say he doesn't become a close comparison at what is currently $1.6 million per year less for the next few seasons. If he's able to put up 40-50 points along with the size he brings and the leadership he says he'd like to offer, the Oilers could do much much worse.
Whitney is hitting his prime as a player. He's learning how to play without the assitance of a terrific surrounding cast like he had in Pittsburg, and despite what many are geering him for, he's still an Olympian who in a bad year has twenty some points from the blueline. He's also a fraction of the cost, many years younger and his totals so far rank him tops among the Oilers by the way.

With the clear direction now in place, the question on a few minds becomes where the Oilers go from here with their blueline.

Don't for a second think that the Oilers are done moving things around. They'll have time to inquire at the draft and during the summer and if value exists for Sheldon Souray, they'll likely make a move. Souray's no trade clause ends after the final game of the season for Edmonton and to some teams, including Anaheim who had discussed Souray before injury finished Souray's season, he has value.

If not and the Oilers can't find a taker; with a corps of Souray, Ryan Whitney, Tom Gilbert, Ladislav Smid and hopefully Taylor Chorney if he continues to improve, the Oilers shipped out three big name defencemen, the money that went with them and left themselves nothing to sneeze at. It's a much less expensive and still decent start for a total retooling of their blueline.

The prospects in the system (outside of maybe Chorney) are likely not ready to make the jump, leaving the Oilers with two choices. Spend next year near the bottom of the standings, but develop and draft high, or bring in one or two more younger defensive bodies through free agency or trade that help the Oilers as they get better eventually competing in the next two to three years.

With Souray as your leader and possibly future captain should he not be traded, Whitney providing size and playoff experience, Smid a gritty and a shut down blueliner in the making and Tom Gilbert and Taylor Chroney your puck movers; the Oilers could do a whole lot worse. Assuming they can stay healthy.

But who do you add to round out your blueline?

The Oilers have for absolute love for Dan Hamhuis, who I'm sure the Oilers are aware is a UFA come the end of this season. Hamhuis will draw some attention from other teams, but the Oilers could do worse than spending some of their newly freed up money on a fair but longer term contract on what could be a top defenceman in the NHL if he progresses as the Oilers seem to think he will.

Even without Hamhuis, who I agree is a nice building block on a long term (maybe five or six year)deal, there are plenty of options available which help you round out your top six if you are the Oilers.

Players like Paul Martin from New Jersey at 28 yrs old, Denis Seidenberg who just moved to Boston at the deadline and the Bruins won't likely keep, or even an Adrian Aucoin from Phoenix, who while not a rebuilding piece, provides great leadership and a terrific shot from the point at a fraction of the cost; show that the Oilers have quite a few options and that what we see now is likely not what starts the 2010/2011 season.


For me, Jason Strudwick is an example of a way to fill in. He has a $700,000 salary and, for that money, might be the best bang for the buck on the Oiler's roster. He makes the odd mistake - sure isn't a big star - but the Oilers could do lots worse than fill in the gaps on their team with players like him until the young guns get it going in a couple of years. I am sure he isn't the only guy out there with this sort of salary - who would be happy to still be playing for a short salary - and would give his money's worth.

March 5, 2010 at 7:28 AM comment-delete

Not to nitpick, but Souray's NTC doesn't expire until July 1, and my understanding is that that actually means the earliest he can be moved without having to waive his NTC is July 2.

March 5, 2010 at 9:58 AM comment-delete

You're right and I actually noticed my mistake a bit after I posted it. I think however, with Souray willing to move on, it won't take until July 1st if a team shows interest. It won't surprise me one bit if he moves at the draft.

March 5, 2010 at 12:05 PM comment-delete

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