With Seth Jones being traded to Columbus, ending the long speculated possibility of him coming to Edmonton, the Oilers find themselves still searching for a quality right shot defenseman to help anchor their top pairing. Justin Schultz never lived up to the lofty expectations placed upon him my management, Boston rejected Edmonton’s offer for Dougie Hamilton, instead shipping him to provincial rivals, and now Seth Jones, who’s brother was drafted by the Oilers this past June, is well on his way to help shore up the Columbus back end. All of this begs the question: how can the Oilers finally satisfy their need for a right shot defenseman?
First let’s look at the options within the Oilers organization:
- Justin Schultz
- Mark Fayne
- Eric Gryba
- Ethan Bear
- John Marino
Sadly, that is an exhaustive list, a list that pales in comparison to the Left handed defenseman in the organization. Any two of Schultz, Fayne, and Gryba, should be serviceable on the bottom two pairings, however both Fayne and Schultz are being over compensated for their respective roles, and none of the three satisfy the Oilers need for a legitimate top pairing defenseman. Edmonton’s AHL affiliate, the Bakersfield Condors, currently do not have a single right shot among their defense.
The two prospects are all that is left to consider. John Marino is having a respectable year in the USHL this year, and intends to play at the College level next year. He remains a long shot to carve out an NHL career, and is most likely years away from turning pro. Ethan Bear on the other hand is an interesting prospect. Currently sitting 2nd in points by a defenseman in the Western Hockey League (WHL), and receiving very positive reviews from scouts, the Oilers may have a player here. Still he is still several years from being NHL ready and may never develop into a top D-man. There also does not seem to be any relief coming from this year’s draft, as the consensus top defenseman is lefty Jacob Chychrun, and no blue chip righty has emerged yet.
This leaves two options for the Oilers: Free agency or a Trade. Looking first at free agency, there are a couple of big names that the Oilers may have interest in: Alex Goligoski, and Dustin Byfuglien, both of whom will be 31 years old by the time next season rolls around. Although at opposite ends of the size spectrum, both free agents have proven offensive ability from the back end. Questions with age and contract size are worrisome however, as with the oilers already committed to Sekera long term, it would be unwise to have too much locked into aging defenseman on a young emerging team. Considering these factors, the trade route appears the most attractive.
With Seth Jones already moved and Adam Larsson signed long term this past off-season, three main options are left: Kevin Shattenkirk, Sami Vatanen and Travis Hamonic. Hamonic is known for his physical play, and comes on a sweetheart deal that would be very manageable for the Oilers moving forward. Shattenkirk on the other hand is a powerplay ace, which would help address a glaring need for the Oilers. Finally, Vatanen provides respectable offensive contributions from the back end and, is in the final year of a two-year deal and should command a significant raise on his $1,262,500 cap hit, but would give the Oilers flexibility.
Each of these players would have a positive impact on the Oilers. One of the biggest disappointments so far this season has been the Oilers lack-luster powerplay, for which Shattenkirk could be an immediate fix. He is signed to a manageable deal for one more season after this one, in which time the Oilers will hopefully see several bad contracts off of the books. Although he will be due for a significant raise, the contracts of Fayne, Nikitin, and Ference should make room for him. Not since Sheldon Souray have the Oilers had a defenseman who could put up points like Shattenkirk, making him an enticing option. Hamonic does not have nearly the offensive ability of Shattenkirk but is still minute munching blue liner, who is locked up to a very manageable contract for several years. Vatanen, lies somewhere in the middle as he has more offense than Hamonic, and would likely cost less in terms of contract than Shattenkirk. Although undersized and not a proven top pairing option, Vatanen could be paired with the bigger Oscar Klefbom, to form a potential long term top pairing.
No decision has to be made here about which player would be a better fit for the Oilers, but what is clear is that the Oilers have yet another opportunity to fill a recurring need, and would be smart to pursue one of these players aggressively. The right side of the blue line has been a sore spot for years and does not seem to have an internal solution, so the Oilers must look externally to fill this need, which any one of these players has the potential to help solve.
UPDATE: The Oilers today picked up Adam Clendening (a right shot), which will increase the internal competition but does not address the need for a top pairing guy.