Buyer Beware: James Wisniewski

In August, there was interest from the Edmonton Oilers to sign offensively-gifted defenseman James Wisniewski. That interest, however, was limited to a professional tryout (PTO) and not a guaranteed one-year contract. The concern was that injuries to both of Wisniewski’s knees would slow him down and, that after missing a full season of NHL action in 2015-16, those injuries would be too much of a hurdle to playing meaningful and reliable hockey in 2016-17. With no guarantees, Wisniewski signed a tryout contract with the Tampa Bay Lightning. He was just released from that PTO.

A Revisiting?

James Wisniewski (Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports)
James Wisniewski (Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports)

With Wisniewski now trying to catch on with another team, should the Oilers again express interest? On paper, he’s the exact type of player Edmonton needs – a power play quarterback who can play a specialized role, at a cost-effective price.

Wisniewski is only a couple of seasons removed from one in which he scored eight goals with Columbus, seven of which were power play markers. Even in a limited role, with less speed and mobility, he could be useful on the mad-advantage.

In Kris Versteeg and Eric Gryba, Edmonton has two other NHL veterans on tryouts; the Oilers are not opposed to the idea of players who have been there and done that. Could Wisniewski prove to be a gamble with a lot of potential? The potential of a right-shooting, power play offensive defenseman checks off a lot of boxes for the Oilers, so the answer should be yes.

Buyer Beware

Any PTO or signing that includes Wisniewski better come with a buyer beware sticker. Lightning coach Jon Cooper discussed releasing him from his PTO:

“He’s a good pro, and you can tell the way he thinks the game and the skills he possesses, is why he’s been a good pro in this league,” Cooper said. “For him, he’s had some major injuries to both of his knees, and he slowed down a little bit. And we weren’t, unfortunately, in a situation where we could wait.”

Jon Cooper
Cooper will enter his fourth full season with the Lightning in 2016-17. (Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports)

Tampa plays an aggressive style and as such Wisniewski was considered the type of player who may have trouble keeping pace. His skating ability is obviously an issue, but does that necessarily mean he’s finished in the NHL? Perhaps not. It simply means that for Wisniewski to do well, he’ll need the right situation and Tampa, while cozy, wasn’t it. That Tampa is all the way maxed to the NHL salary cap with players to sign didn’t help Wisniewski’s cause.

If it was simply a wrong time and place situation for Wisniewski in Tampa, any team who brings him to camp or signs him to a low-end, one-year deal needs to be prepared for the fact that the signing may fail. His injuries may be too much for him to keep pace, his skating may be a concern and while he’s played approximately 20 minutes-per-game in his three preseason contests with the Lightning, sustaining that over 82 regular season games may be too much to ask.

Lesser of Two Evils

If the Oilers are prepared to take a flyer on a player who has the potential to help them in an area of need, then there may be worse options than Wisniewski. If preseason is any indication, Edmonton’s power play is going to be an issue this season. Perhaps having a less than one-hundred percent Wisniewski is better than having a woeful man-advantage. However, if the Oilers are planning to make a player like Wisniewski the solution to all of their power play woes, they are looking in the wrong place.

Wisniewski being released from his PTO in Tampa tells us he’s not the same player he was and he won’t fit into every system. It doesn’t mean, however, that in the right situation Wisniewski has no value. If the Oilers run out of options and can’t find a solution to their power play troubles, it’s possible we could see renewed interest as far as Wisniewski is concerned.