a·cu·men [ak-yuh-muhn] noun: keen insight; shrewdness

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Sunday, 15 January 2012

01/15/12 Defense Wanted. But Who?

The buzz around the Oilogosphere today has largely been about the Oilers' defense, or lack thereof. There's talk of dealing away this year's first round pick in order to find a high quality defender, which is an idea that is rightfully gathering steam. But who would it be? Below I've compiled a list of teams that have defense to spare and would like a nice boost in their attack (which one of Yakupov, Grigorenko, Forsberg or Galchenyuk could provide as early as next year).

Eastern Conference

New York Rangers: The Rangers are tops in the East right now by virtue of their goaltending, having allowed just 86 goals all year (2.05/game). Marian Gaborik already has 23 goals, but he also leads the team in points with just 34 in 42 games. The Rangers do not have a player on a point-per-game pace and could use another strong attacker to put them over the top. Any potential deal with this team will have to wait until after the season is over because Sather won't want to mess up his team too much before the playoffs.

In return for their first round pick the Oilers could request Michael Del Zotto, who is finally living up to his draft pedigree (20th overall in 2008). This year he's got 5-18-23 in 42 games, and an impressive plus-24 rating. Another potential target could be Marc Staal, who, though injured, is in his fifth NHL season and has been one of that team's best for a long time. The presence of both of these players in New York may make one of them expendable. Neither is the "rake redux" that Lowetide talks about at OilersNation, but they would make for good Whitney insurance.

Florida Panthers: The Panthers need help with secondary scoring in a bad way, but if things continue on an upward path they won't have a shot at the top players in this year's draft. Three of Florida's last five drafts have seen them take a defenseman with their top pick, and they also added Brian Campbell and Ed Jovanovski in the off season. Huberdeau and another top prospect would make for a quality second line next season.

The Oilers would probably be looking at Erik Gudbranson in exchange for their pick, but Dmitri Kulikov could also be a good starting point. Gudbranson has the pedigree to be a top guy, but he's unproven in the NHL. Kulikov is in his third season and has tremendous offensive instincts, but that hasn't translated to big numbers at the NHL level just yet. That said, he's on pace for a career year with 4-17-21 in 42 games, and has almost reached his offensive output from all of last season (26 points in 72 games).

New Jersey Devils: With Patrick Elias in the twilight of his career and the potential to lose Zack Parise very real, the Devils would undoubtedly like to dip into the high end of this year's draft. The problem with a deal here is that New Jersey doesn't have much that is of equivalent value to the Oilers' pick, except for Adam Larsson. It seems highly unlikely that the Devils would be willing to part with the young Swede, so a trade with this team is a non-starter.

Toronto Maple Leafs: If the Leafs don't do any damage in the playoffs this year they may want to add more scoring. After Lupul and Kessel the dip in production from the forwards is steep. There are a lot of good support players on this team, but they could use another lethal threat to balance out two lines of attack. A potential number one center like Galchenyuk wouldn't hurt.

The return is simple: the Oilers would probably want Luke Schenn. Schenn is in his fourth NHL season but he's only played 274 games in the league (remember how it's taken Smid 300+ to become the player he is). He still has plenty of room to round into a complete player, and would easily be one of the Oilers' best right now.

Washington Capitals: The Caps are sixth in Eastern Conference scoring as of this writing, but the always enigmatic Alexander Semin could be in his last days in Washington. His contract expires after this season and for a team as close to the cap as Washington tends to be, it would be nice to replace him with an equivalent talent who is considerably cheaper.

In return for their top pick the Oilers might target John Carlson or maybe Karl Alzner. Carlson in on pace for career-highs in goals (10), assists (33), and points (43), and over his short NHL career of 146 games he's got a plus-32 rating. At just 22 years old he could anchor the blue line for years to come. Alzner is similar in that he's just 23 years of age, but he doesn't bring as much offense as Carlson. In fact, Alzner has just four goals in his 175 career games, but he's been a plus player in each of the last two years and a plus-22 in his career. At 6'3" and 213 pounds he's a fairly formidable presence on the backend.

Winnipeg Jets: Of all the teams in the East, the Jets may need a star forward the most. Blake Wheeler is their leading scorer with 32 points in 44 games, and as a team the Jets are 11th in goal scoring in the Eastern Conference.

There's little doubt that the Oilers would target Zach Bogosian or Tobias Enstrom in a trade with Winnipeg, as Dustin Byfuglien is unlikely to be moved. 21 year old Bogosian has played 241 NHL games and was on pace for a career high in points (37) before getting hurt on Tuesday. So far this season he's managed to bring his glaringly bad plus/minus back to reasonable levels. Enstrom has missed some time with injury this year, but he's a premiere offensive-defenseman; having collected 50 or more points in back-to-back years. Last season he managed the feat in just 72 games.

Buffalo Sabres: Another team that could use more balanced scoring, the Sabres don't boast much beyond Pominville and Vanek. Derek Roy is their third-leading scorer with 25 points in 42 games. Brad Boyes, who is having a miserable year, comes off the books after this season, and that could make room for the Entry Level Contract of a budding offensive star.

It may take more than just a high draft pick, but it would be nice to see the Oilers target Tyler Myers. He just signed an extension with Buffalo, but the Oilers may still be able to make a good offer. Also, when new and enthusiastic ownership comes in, they can sometimes tend to meddle more than they should, which might make a deal like this possible. Myers is 6'8" and 227 pounds and he's still only 21 years old. Six-foot-eight! He's also got 92 points in his 186 games, along with a plus-6 rating on some average teams.

Montreal Canadiens: This team could use an offensive star because they best they can muster is Tomas Plekanec and Erik Cole, who are first and second in points with 31 and 30 respectively in 44 games. P.K. Subban is the only player that might work in a deal, but he's unlikely to be moved. Beyond that, Montreal doesn't have much the Oilers will value as much as that first round pick.

Western Conference

St. Louis Blues: The Blues have scored by committee this year, with no player on a point-per-game pace but five who are on pace for 20 or more goals. Unfortunately, the Blues already traded a high profile defenseman in order to improve their offense and may not be inclined to do the same again. Kevin Shattenkirk would be a welcome addition, but he alone isn't necessarily worth this year's first round pick.

Chicago Blackhawks: One more high end offensive talent could put this team way over the top for years to come. The Oilers might ask for Niklas Hjalmarsson, but he alone may not get a deal done involving the Oilers' high first rounder. The emergence of Nick Leddy means the Hawks have a little wiggle room on the defense, so there's some potential for a trade if it's right. Edmonton would love to get Brent Seabrook away from Chicago, but he's probably not going to be moved.

Nashville Predators: This is perhaps the most interesting team of all. The Preds certainly lack an elite offensive talent, and right now they're being led in scoring by defenseman Shea Weber. That's a testament to the quality of Weber as a player but also an indictment of the offensive capabilities of the rest of the team.

Weber is a Restricted Free Agent after this season, and the contract negotiations between him and his team were not easy during the summer. If it turns out that he doesn't want to commit to Nashville in the long term, he could fetch one hell of a package. Part of such a deal could be the Oilers' pick, which may be as high as first overall. Obviously it will take more than that, and it's not a highly probable scenario in the first place, but it's worth at least asking about if the Predators are afraid that Weber won't sign long term and they'll lose him for nothing after next season.

Also interesting in Nashville is Ryan Ellis, who has posted 2-2-4 and a plus-2 in his first 8 NHL games this year. The former World Junior captain had 101 points in just 58 games for the Windsor Spitfires last year. He's a former teammate of Taylor Hall, and looks like he's ready for prime time. At 5'10" and 179 pounds he's a bit slight, but makes up for it with his exceptional offensive abilities.

Los Angeles Kings: This is the lowest scoring team in the league right now, and though they're strong at center they could use some more punch on the wings. One of the top guys in this year's draft would instantly make the Kings a solid contender for years.

The only player who would be worth a very high draft pick and who also may be available is Jack Johnson. Johnson has scored 7-13-20 in 45 games this year and is a minus-7. He has a good range of tools but has yet to really put it all together as yet. He's played 327 NHL games, so it's starting to look like he may just be what he is and no more than that. Johnson has never had a year with positive plus/minus, and he's an ugly minus-85 over his career. Still, he brings physicality and some offense from the backend, and he carries a very affordable $4.357 million cap hit. Certainly couldn't hurt the Oilers' blue line.

Phoenix Coyotes: Another team without much scoring punch, and many of their best offensive threats are almost ready to ride off into the sunset. Oliver Ekman-Larsson is probably an untouchable player in Phoenix, but he may be less so than Keith Yandle. Ekman-Larsson has got 7-12-19 in 45 games this season after posting 11 points in 48 games last year. His season-over-season improvement is enough to think that he could be a superb talent, especially because his team isn't that gifted offensively. Because of that the Coyotes will probably hang onto him, but Yandle is their key defender and they lack an elite forward for the future, so there's an outside chance of a deal here.

Anaheim Ducks: The Ducks will eventually need to replace Teemu Selanne, Saku Koivu and Jason Blake, but they'll probably already have a pick in the top five to draft an impact forward. Cam Fowler has 58 points in 119 NHL games but he's also a minus-40 in that time. He's probably not going anywhere. Luca Sbisa is interesting, but it's too early in his career to assign him too much value.


As far as I can see, those are the teams for whom it would make sense to make a sizable deal with the Oilers. There will probably be some deal that comes out of left field now that I've written this, but those seem to be the players that the Oilers could target.

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