In a recent post, I discussed the dangers of the Oilers trading away one of their young forwards for a goalie, and while that’s a position that certainly needs an upgrade, there isn’t a lot of great options available via trade that would be worth a young player. Granted, that could change if a team decides to make a good offer. For example, if the Bruins offered up Tuukka Rask, do you consider that deal? They probably won’t, and taking a risk on a guy like Robin Lehner, for example, is not worth a Taylor Hall or Leon Draisaitl. Today, we’ll be focusing on defence, and who may be out there in the free agent market.
Oilers Prospects on Defence
For as much as the Oilers need a goalie, they also could use some help on the blueline. Fortunately, however, they do have some promising talent in the pipeline. Darnell Nurse has improved leaps and bounds over the past few seasons, and the decision to keep him in Junior last year was the right one. His overall awareness on the ice has improved, his decision making is better, and he has evolved into the kind of defenceman who controls play. He’s currently playing in the AHL with Oklahoma City, and has been faring extremely well. I know the AHL isn’t the NHL, but he’s getting the experience of playing with men and he doesn’t look out of place.
I don’t want to put too much weight on Nurse’s shoulders, however. And I’m assuming he makes the team out of camp, but until we know for sure, it’s just speculation. But, he is a guy the Oilers can count on in the future without a doubt. Another guy who has been showing some promise is Oscar Kelfbom. He played a key role for Sweden at the World Championships, and looked comfortable and poised playing with pro players. At just 21 years-old, his development is also still ongoing but there is every reason to feel good about him as a fixture in the team’s defense corp moving forward.
I have a feeling that the recent strong play of these young guys have given Oilers fans some hope that the blueline situation isn’t as dire as it seemed like. But, there is no question the Oilers have to bring in some help for this season, and there are some viable options on the free agent market. I caution these names (which are in no particular order) with this: there is no guarantee they will want to sign in Edmonton, and no guarantee their old teams won’t re-sign them, so it’s not a forgone conclusion. It’s simply a discussion at this point.
1. Mike Green (current team: Washington Capitals)
Mike Green is one of those players who’s stock has fallen consistently over the years. Once seen as the most dangerous defenceman in terms of his ability to score goals, Green’s name doesn’t come up as often, and he was bumped down the Capitals depth chart with the emergence of guys like John Carlson and Karl Alzner, and the addition of Matt Niskanen. At age 29, Green still has a lot left in the tank, but I think there is somewhat of an identity crisis with him. Is he that powerplay quarterback that is a guaranteed point machine? Is he simply a second-pairing guy? Can he be counted on for huge minutes?
Last season Green was making $6.25 million last season, and he probably won’t be getting a raise unless a desperate team throws a lot of cash at him, which is always possible. His numbers this season were actually an improvement over last year. He finished the season with 10 goals and 45 points in 72 games. Last season he was a minus -16, but was a plus 15 this time around. Of course, he had Braden Holtby behind him and a vastly improved Capitals defensive structure. Some people are going to say that Mike Green is a terrible defenceman and would be horribly exposed on a weaker Oilers blueline. That could be true.
Green averaged more than 15 minutes a night on a regular basis in Washington, which is a good amount of ice time. So you have decide what kind of role he would play in Edmonton. Is he simply a depth guy? How much would you have to pay him? Can he be effective right now on a team like the Oilers? At this point, I would say pass on Mike Green. I feel as though there are too many question marks.
2. Francois Beauchemin (current team: Anaheim Ducks)
Seeing a veteran name like Beauchemin may strike fear into the hearts of Oilers fans. But he’s not another Andrew Ference. Granted, he did have a terrible stint with the Toronto Maple Leafs, and that does give me a few concerns. Would he be out of place in Edmonton as he was in Toronto? He’s also 35 and has a lot of miles on him. But he has a ton of experience and could be a great mentor to the young defenders on the Oilers. He has done a great job of guiding the glut of talented young blueliners on the Ducks, and he quietly put up 23 points this season.
With Beauchemin, you have to consider his age, and the cap implications. You also have to consider that he had been playing on a really good team, and he would be more counted upon on the Oilers. I like the veteran presence that he has, but I feel like he’s the kind of veteran presence that a contender could use to help their run in the playoffs. So for the Oilers, I would also have to pass.
3. Paul Martin and Christian Ehrhoff (current team: Pittsburgh Penguins)
I really liked when the Penguins signed Ehrhoff last season. It was a one-year deal, so no long term risk. But it didn’t quite go to plan. Ehrhoff dealt with injury, and had trouble finding his groove in Pittsburgh. When he was healthy though, he did have his effective moments. He’s a great puck mover, makes a good first pass and can chip in with offence. His concussion issues will be a concern, but he can still help a team. He made $4 million last season, and will likely be looking for a longer term deal.
Even though his season was derailed by injury, the Penguins really missed his presence in the playoffs, and that says a lot about his value. He’s 32 years old, and I really think he’s someone the Oilers may want to kick tires on. If his health is not a problem, Ehrhoff is definitely a guy who I think can help the Oilers this season.
And then there’s Paul Martin, who because of injuries to other players was arguably the Penguins most important defender down the stretch. And he played a ton of minutes. Martin will have to take a pay cut on his $5 million dollar salary to stay with the Penguins, so expect him in new digs next season. He’s 34, and I think he still has a lot in the tank. He could definitely be a good pick-up for the Oilers because he’s got the experience and he’s still effective as a top pairing defenceman. I would imagine that a lot of teams would be after his services, and I wouldn’t want to see Edmonton overpay for him.
5. Cody Franson (current team: Nashville Predators)
It’s safe to say that Franson’s return to the Predators wasn’t a great one. He played 23 regular season games for them and had just one goal and four points. He had two assists in the Preds playoff series and was never a fit on their blueline. Franson is 27, and he’s going to be looking for a longer-term deal. He made $3.3 million last season, which is a decent amount, but he’s a guy who has never scored 10 goals in an NHL season and has been a minus player for most of his career.
When considering Franson for the Oilers, you have to decide whether or not he’s going to be leader on that defence corp, or is better served being a complimentary piece. At a reasonable price, I would take a look at him, but I can’t say I’m overly convinced he would be an effective player in Edmonton. I would take him over Ference at this point, there’s no question. When you look at some of the players the Oilers skated out there last season (Nikitin for example), Franson is certainly an upgrade. But, a lot depends on how much he will ask for and for how many years.
Alright Oilers fans, what do you think? Any of those names jump out at you? Or maybe there is someone I didn’t mention who you think would be a great fit in Edmonton. As always, have your say in the comment section below.
Marcy, a former hockey player, is a hockey correspondent on CTV News and TSN radio. She began her career as a Sports Journalist in 2009 and has been part of The Hockey Writers since 2010, where she is currently a senior writer and editor.