Sunday, May 13, 2007

The Thin Blue Line

Heading into this off-season the Edmonton Oilers have expressed the desire to pick up one or two veteran “puck-moving” defensemen. Whether they hit a home run or not, the need has clearly existed since the departure of Chris Pronger and one can expect the Oilers to make at least one move to address their defense. Considering the fact that Edmonton enters the UFA season with the NHL’s worst offense is well as a roster void of defensemen who can contribute on the powerplay, you’d have to expect that the Oilers are going to be setting their sights on a veteran “puck moving” defenseman who can also put up some offense. With this in mind here’s a look at the top defensemen in the league in terms of powerplay points per 60 minutes as well as two notable free agents who missed the cut.

Sheldon Souray:

Sheldon Souray is a name that would probably appeal to the masses. The guy put up an insane amount of powerplay points this year and just crushed the next closest NHL D-Man in terms of his powerplay scoring rate. He would cost enough so that the EIG could claim they were investing significant dollars into the club and he would put up enough counting stats to excite the casual fan. He is also a free agent and would therefore be attainable without giving up assets by trade.

That said, I don’t want the guy. He careered in terms of PPP this season and despite having an obviously excellent offensive presence at the point he came up a disgusting -28 sharing very similar ES TOI with Andrei Markov and Mike Komisarek who both posted + ratings. If you asked me which one of his 7.31 PPP/60 or his -28 was most likely to be repeated as an Oiler I would definitely not give you a good forecast. Also I think the Oilers are in a position with prospects and low level depth that they can probably better afford to make a trade for someone who would cost less in terms of payroll as well as ES goal differential. Could his PP production outweigh his defensive liabilities? Maybe, but I personally wouldn’t pay his UFA asking price to find out.

Philippe Boucher:

Philippe Boucher would be a perfect fit with Edmonton in virtually every way but attainability. He still has two full years left on the contract extension he signed with Dallas last March and is clearly relied upon to play on the top-4 ES minutes, top-4 SH minutes, and top unit PP minutes for a very good stars team. Not only that but he made just $2.5M this season and both articles I found on the guy included quotes containing high praise for the city of Dallas. As a compliment to Sergei Zubov, Boucher is probably in the Stars’ plans until he retires (he’s 34 now) and the Stars are probably in his.

For all of this, he is still a guy that I would want Edmonton to make a trade pitch for. I am not much for proposals so I won’t make one but the Oilers probably have the assets for the necessary overpay to get the deal done. Boucher brings everything I described to the table, is supposedly a locker room leader, and would bring a veteran presence to Edmonton’s d-corps that is sorely lacking IMO at an excellent dollar price.

Ric Jackman:

Ric (or Richard as he is known on many sites) Jackman’s powerplay stats should definitely be taken with a grain of salt compared to the other players on this list because he played the least 2006/2007 powerplay minutes of the players included. However, his contract is up, Anaheim clearly doesn’t need him, and he clearly does have a big shot and the offensive instincts needed to get the job done. Coming off an $800K contract and possessing defensive warts ( lists him as a top-6 defenseman), Jackman can be considered to be a budget solution more in the form of a band-aid than a cure. I wouldn’t be opposed to his acquisition if there was cavalry on its way but I don’t necessarily see him as a good fit with Edmonton.

Chris Pronger:

CFP. The devil incarnate. A man who can’t keep it in the pants that he apparently doesn’t even wear. His inclusion on this list is simply a nod to his ability as a hockey player and the stats he put up. He’s obviously not coming back to Edmonton but golly it would sure be nice to have him at $6.25M, a play-off spot, and 3 more bullets in Lowetide’s proverbial gun.

Andrei Markov:

Andrei Markov is the UFA Habs defenseman that I would most want Edmonton to sign. Entering his first big payday he has an impressive resume playing the 2nd most ES, SH, and PP minutes in Montreal this year (to Komisarek, Komisarek, and Souray respectively) and putting up strong results. His +2 was second on the Habs (again to Komisarek) and he was clearly an important player on both ends of the ice. I can’t imagine which of the two big MTL d-men get the biggest pay-out as one is famous and the other one is important but the rumours I have heard all point towards Markov being Montreal’s number one priority this summer so Edmonton may really have to offer some $ for him to sign as an Oiler.

Sergei Zubov:

Doesn’t it seem unfair that two teams would boast more than one defenseman on this top-10 list? Sergei Zubov is probably untouchable for every reason you’d think and then some. He’s a better ES player than he gets credit for, he puts up points at ES despite also carrying the mail in Dallas on the defensive side of things, and he has a very reasonable contract. Could he possibly make Boucher more expendable via trade? It’s a nice thought, but I still don’t think so.

Tom Poti:

Now having reached the age of 30, the player we booed out of Edmonton several years ago has apparently grown up in a lot of ways. In Long Island this season he played top-3 ES minutes, top-2 SH minutes, and the most PP minutes of any Islander defender. His -1 looks respectable but not impressive on that New York team and his offense, never an issue before, has become quite a strength for him.

Where I describe players such as Markov and Boucher to be ideal acquisitions and Jackman to be a potentially acceptable patch, Poti falls somewhere in between for me. He is a UFA this summer and is probably attainable for $3.5-$4 million (depending of course of this summer’s brand of GM idiocy). He brings a reasonable amount to the table, would require middling dollars, and is of an appropriate age to stick around if things work out. I am on the fence regarding whether or not I would want him as an Oiler but would not be upset to see a reunion if the dollars looked fair. Of course, this discussion is probably entirely moot based on the circumstances of his departure those years ago.

Mathieu Schneider:

Providing Mathieu Schneider’s wrist heals properly he would be an excellent pickup for any team looking to bolster its powerplay. He’s put up offensive numbers very consistently over the years and at age 37 does not appear to be slowing down immediately (“soon” felt like too optimistic of a word). I cannot imagine him wanting to leave Detroit but seeing as he is a UFA this summer his name is at least worth talking about.

Schneider played top-4 ES minutes and top-2 PP minutes but really didn’t kill a whole lot of penalties compared to the other Red Wing defensemen. To me, if you’re going to overpay (and Edmonton would have to) for a veteran in the twilight of his career, you’re probably going to want more than just powerplay production from him. For all of the reasons I’ve given I can’t see Schneider in an Oiler uniform but his name is still technically in play among the UFA crop this summer.

Brian Rafalski:

Brian Rafalski’s 4.64 PPP/hr didn’t put him in the top 10 but as a UFA with the skills Edmonton is probably looking for I should definitely talk about him (especially since I don’t feel like learning about Stephane Robidas and Nathan Paetsch, who ranked 9 and 10 by my standards). Rafalski was New Jersey’s main horse this past season, leading the defense in ES and PP minutes played, and put up very good offensive numbers in both contexts. As a UFA on a team that has had cap issue before he should be considered to be in play regardless of Lou’s apparent talent for cap management but strictly by my personal opinion, if NJ keeps one of Gomez and Rafalski it will definitely be the latter as his skills are less easily duplicated throughout the Devil roster.

Despite Rafalski’s skills, there are several reasons not to expect to see him in an Oiler uniform this fall. Beyond the sheer volume of ES minutes Rafalski played, New Jersey also has absolutely nothing beyond him in terms of offense from the blueline (Paul Martin’s ES rate is good but his PP rate is non-existent). His +4 also led the Devils’ defense. Finally, I’m not sure what Rafalski’s SH skills are like but he played the 5th most minutes among Devils’ D and he may not bring the total package that your average Oiler fan will surely expect based on the salary he is bound to be offered this summer.

Kimmo Timonen:

The last player I will talk about is very similar to Brian Rafalski in that his PP numbers are very good but not stellar, he provides very good ES offense, and his talents are so poorly replicated on his current roster that I can’t see him being available despite his UFA status. Kimmo Timonen is not the powerplay juggernaut he is made out to be but he and Shea Weber are two very good point men on an otherwise weak (from an offensive standpoint) defensive corps in Nashville. For all of Marek Zidlicky’s hype and ES production he still put up just a paltry 1.74 PPP/hr in 2006/2007 and cannot be considered a suitable replacement.

Among Predators d-men, Timonen ranked 5th in ES minutes, 4th in SH minutes, and 1st in PP minutes played. As a very good offensive player in a relatively sheltered defensive role, there should be no surprise that he carried a team-leading +20 and this number should be taken with a grain of salt. Considering the hype surrounding Timonen this off-season I was actually quite surprised to see so many options ahead of him at ES but his powerplay skills are unmatched outside of Weber so I cannot see Nashville letting him go unless someone offers him crazy $. As much as he could help the Oilers I don’t see them being that team.


Blogger Lowetide said...

Your last two posts on this blog have been exceptional. I'm fine with Poti coming back, he's matured and (iirc) has been fairly healthy all down the line.

5/13/2007 5:35 pm  
Blogger Jason said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

5/13/2007 6:12 pm  
Blogger PDO said...

I'd take Poti back in a heart beat, but he'd have to be borderline insane to want to come back here.

Outside of that, I think the only potential good deals on the table there are Boucher, who by all indication isn't available, and Markov. Pronger, Zubov, Timonen, Rafalski and Schneider are all staying where they are.

I'd take Souray, but not for a dollar more than $3,000,000 - and even then I'd be very cautious. He's just atrocious defensively. Ditto Jackman, but for even less dollars.

I wonder if Dick Tarnstrom could be convinced to come back across the ocean...

5/13/2007 6:13 pm  
Blogger Steven said...

I agree some terrific posts... always reminds of me why I love the blogosphere so much.

5/14/2007 11:00 am  
Blogger Showerhead said...

As an open question: would readability/discussion be better if I were to break giant posts such as this one and the Red Wing one into smaller pieces?

Also, thanks for the kind words - this is what happens when your summer job hires you two weeks ahead of having work for you to do :)

5/14/2007 11:25 am  
Blogger namflashback said...


Nope, like Andy Grabia's long rants, and BDHS's works of art, they work for me as a reader when they are in whole pieces. You might get nice traffic increases if you were to "choke" it into multiple pieces and get return visitors -- but its all one subject, so I like it.

5/14/2007 2:51 pm  
Blogger Lowetide said...

I agree with nam. If the information is worthy then length isn't an issue. Your last two posts here are pretty much what Bill James made millions doing: asking a question, carefully looking at it, and offering informed solutions based on a rational view.

It's exactly why blogs are so valuable: while Don Cherry is pissing in the wind, Showerhead asks better questions and gives better answers.

Hopefully the money comes before everyone loses interest. :-)

5/14/2007 5:26 pm  
Blogger JavaGeek said...

Here are a few UFAs you could look at as well:

5/14/2007 5:41 pm  
Blogger namflashback said...

On the subject of Nashville, I recall some analysis done around these parts last year which reviewed the role of Eaton and Markov last season for the preds. It was revealed, IIRC, that those two boys handled the tough stuff. Clearly Poile/Trotz went with the concept that forwards would drive the results and that the blueline was "goodnuf" without the two vets and that they could run their kids out on the blue line. Was in the reg season, but hurt them in the playoffs. Maybe they are dumb enough to make the wrong choice this year too?

Sadly, the Montreal staff are not stupid and will properly value aMarkov over sSouray. Unless aMarkov steadfastedly wants to test UFA, odds to get him are bad. If he goes to UFA, I'd go at him hard with an 8yr x $6M cap hit.

5/14/2007 9:26 pm  
Blogger YKOil said...

Markov is the bomb, no question, but I like Tanabe out of this year's UFA crop.

25 years old, some offensive talent, other teams have paid for his development and he will be relatively cheap.

Sign him long term however. The guy is ready for a career year.

5/17/2007 9:22 pm  
Blogger Art Vandelay said...

Fire Sale coming in Nashville unless Ballsy gets his due diligence completed before July 1 UFA stampede. Timonen, Timonen, Timonen.

5/24/2007 9:49 am  
Blogger Art Vandelay said...

Fire Sale coming in Nashville unless Ballsy gets his due diligence completed before July 1 UFA stampede. Timonen, Timonen, Timonen.

5/24/2007 9:49 am  

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