With Dustin Byfuglien and the Winnipeg Jets coming to agreement on a five-year extension earlier this week, the upcoming NHL unrestricted free agent market for potential impact defenceman has dwindled down to next to nothing. While the Edmonton Oilers were likely hoping to grab another quality player for a second consecutive summer on the open market, see Andrej Sekera, that could prove to be far easier said than done for general manager Peter Chiarelli.
All anyone has to do is simply take a look at the pending UFA defencemen who are still without a contract and have the capability of playing top four minutes and/or quarterbacking a power play and you will find a grand total of four names that could potentially help fill that void along the Oilers backend…Jason Demers, Alex Goligoski, Kris Russell and Keith Yandle.
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Jason Demers – Dallas Stars (Age: 27, 6′ 1″, 200 lb)
Of all the players who could potentially still be available on July 1, Demers is arguably the best of the bunch. While never one to put up big offensive numbers on the board, as the 2008 seventh-round pick is currently on pace for just the second 30-point season of his career, the 27-year old can transition the puck up ice with the best of them. The former San Jose Shark is used in all situations by Lindy Ruff, as he anchors the Stars penalty kill and also plays a key role on their second unit power play, and will likely be among the most sought-after free agents on the market this summer.
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In today’s NHL you would be hard-pressed to find a team that would not jump at the opportunity of adding a right-handed puck moving defenceman who is rock-solid in his own end of the rink and entering what should be the prime years of his career. Much like Sekera, he is not a true No. 1 defenceman but Demers is more than capable of playing on a top pairing in the right situation. Considering he is currently making $3.65 million in the final year of his deal, it will obviously take a fair chunk of change and term to get him to sign on the dotted line. That is of course unless Dallas gets out in front things and makes it a moot point by following the Jets lead.
Alex Goligoski – Dallas Stars (Age: 30, 5′ 11″, 185 lb)
In my mind, the only thing keeping Goligoski away from being the player most teams would be targeting to improve their backend is his birth certificate. The talented blueliner will be turning 31-years of age this summer and while he is still quite productive and capable of playing heavy minutes on a nightly basis, there is no guarantee that will still be the case in four or five years time. Just take a look at what Christian Ehrhoff has gone through over the past two and a half years and we see how quickly things can change.
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Add to that what will certainly be a raise on his current salary of $4.8 million and you can get bet there will be more than a few teams who will decide to go in a different direction. From an Oilers standpoint, adding another left-handed defenceman in the mix would be far from ideal but in doing so, it would open the door for possibly moving one of them to address needs elsewhere. The American blueliner’s lack of size, salary demands and age do not exactly fall in line with where Edmonton is headed but the former Pittsburgh Penguin is still one heck of a player.
Kris Russell – Calgary Flames (Age: 28, 5’1o”, 170 lb)
Like Goligoski, the Alberta native doesn’t exactly fit the mold of what the Oilers will be looking to add to their backend but his skill-set can not be ignored. Yes, he is undersized and never quite lived up to his potential during stints with the Columbus Blue Jackets and St. Louis Blues but that all changed in the summer of 2013. Russell has gone from being nothing more than a spare part to being a key contributor along the Flames blue line and is doing so at the bargain basement price of $2.6 million. However, that will all change in the very near future.
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As good as the 28-year old has been during his time in Calgary, having the likes of Mark Giordano and T.J. Brodie around has certainly made his life much easier. Now, does that make him any less of an effective player? Not at all but Chiarelli won’t be looking to add a nice complimentary piece to his defence. The Oilers desperately need to bring in a player who is not only capable of carrying the mail but also take pressure off a kid like Darnell Nurse and to a lesser degree, Oscar Klefbom. In my mind, Russell is not that guy.
Keith Yandle – New York Rangers (Age: 29, 6′ 1″, 196 lb)
There is no question that Yandle is among the very best power play quarterbacks in the game today and is showing absolutely no signs of slowing done. With that said, the veteran blueliner has always been challenged at even strength and at this stage of his career is best suited for the role of a No. 4 or No. 5 defenceman. With a price tag of $5.25 million already attached to his name, chances are the talented American won’t be getting much in the way of a raise via free agency but expecting him to take some sort of haircut would be foolish.
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While the former Arizona Coyote may be slightly off his usual 50ish-point pace in 2015-16 with the New York Rangers, he will still finish the season with somewhere in the neighbourhood of 45 points. Even with his defensive shortcomings being what they are, Yandle’s ability to move the puck, run a power play and put points on the board will ensure he continues to collect a healthy wage for the foreseeable future. Which essentially makes him a bad fit for the Edmonton Oilers.