As much as this roster needs an infusion of size and tenacity into their forward ranks, the greatest area of concern remains the blueline. With the trio of Jeff Petry, Justin Schultz and Ladislav Smid the only sure things moving forward, MacT clearly has his work cut out for him.
The chances of Ryan Whitney re-signing with the Oilers are basically nil, as neither side appear to have any sort of appetite to continue their present relationship beyond April 27th. One would think Theo Peckham is in the same boat, as the twenty-five year old has dressed for all of four games this season. In my mind, Peckham has the ability of being a depth NHL defenceman but clearly this coaching staff and management team think otherwise.
Leaving Mark Fistric, Corey Potter and Nick Schultz as the biggest question marks heading into the off-season. Potter has the inside track on being that number seven guy for a few reasons. The twenty-nine year old is signed for another year at a reasonable price tag of $775,000, has some, albeit limited, offensive ability and probably the most important reason of all...he is a right-handed shooting defenceman.
The vast majority of the Oilers fan base absolutely love what Fistric brings to the table but the hard hitting rearguard has a number of limitations to his game. The former first round pick struggles to move the puck, isn't a particularly good skater and is routinely caught out of position going for the big hit. At best he is a number six/seven D man and to be completely honest, both Peckham and Potter are probably better and most definitely cheaper options.
Bringing us to Nick Schultz. Unfortunately for the eleven year NHL vet, he was forced into the role of babysitter for rookie Justin Schultz during much of the 2013 campaign. While not necessarily a bad decision on its own merit, when paired with the one to use the duo as the team's top unit for much of the first half of the season, one has to scratch their head.
While the thirty year old rearguard has carved himself out a very nice career during his time with the Minnesota Wild, he has never been a "big" minute defenceman. Using him in such a role was a mistake from the get-go and having him look after a youngster like Schultz, only made matters worse. That being said, head coach Ralph Krueger had no other real option. Perhaps the biggest indictment of the job done by former General Manger Steve Tambellini.
Leaving MacTavish the task of being the one to go out and finally addressing the obvious weakness on the backend. At the very least, the Oilers need to add a pair of NHL defencemen that can either transition the puck up ice and/or play a hard-nosed but smart brand of hockey in their own end. In my opinion, there are two names that standout above the rest and would go a long way in helping this club in 2013-2014.
Keith Yandle -When word came down during the latter part of the 2011-12 campaign, that Yandle could be had for the right price out of Phoenix, in my mind, he immediately became target number one. With the Coyotes obviously being more than a little strapped for cash, the emergence of Oliver Ekman-Larsson and Phoenix in desperate need of adding some offence upfront, the former fourth round pick could most certainly be had for the right price.
On top of Ekman-Larsson, the Desert Dogs already have the likes of David Rundbland and Brandon Gormley coming down the pipe, making the departure of Yandle far more palatable. At this year's Trade Deadline, the rumour was the twenty-six year old could be had for a top line player, prospect and a first round pick. A steep price indeed but one that would likely become a little more reasonable closer to the 2013 NHL Entry Draft.
From Edmonton's standpoint, the centre piece of any deal would revolve around Sam Gagner and possibly one of a Magnus Paajarvi or Teemu Hartikainen. For MacTavish to even consider including the Oilers first round pick, the deal would have to be far bigger and include another personal favourite, in Martin Hanzal.
While Hanzal will likely not be in play, a swap surrounding two of the aforementioned pieces with a prospect or second round pick, could be enough to entice the Coyotes. With a guy like Hanzal and Antoine Vermette already in the mix, the addition of player with Gagner's skill set would be a very nice fit for both the player and organization.
Should the Coyotes want a blueliner as part of the return, to help fill the void in 2013-2014, Nick Schultz proved during his time in Minnesota to be solid fit in a defence first system. It would create another hole but one that would be far easier to fill via free agency or a smaller trade.
With Yandle signed for the next three seasons at a cap hit of $5.25 million and more than capable of playing twenty plus minutes a night, the move makes perfect sense for the Oilers. Adding a perennial forty point defenceman would also take a ton of pressure off the shoulders of Justin Schultz and allow him to develop into a far better player.
Robyn Regehr - As hard as it may be for Oilers fans to accept, the addition of a player with the experience and style of game the former Calgary Flame brings to the table, is exactly what this team needs. Edmonton currently posses the softest blueline core in the entire National Hockey League and considering they will be in the same division with the likes of the Anaheim Ducks, Los Angeles Kings, San Jose Sharks and Vancouver Canucks starting next season, that has to change and in a hurry.
At thirty-three years of age, the veteran blueliner is clearly on the back half of his career but has shown he still has more than enough gas left in the tank, since pulling on a Kings jersey at this year's deadline. Outside of the elder Schultz, Edmonton has exactly zero veteran leadership on the backend and not a single soul, with all due respect to Smid, who will make opposing players pay for hanging around the bluepaint. Regehr does both and would be the perfect short-term solution. Not to mention, allowing prospect Oscar Klefbom to start his pro career in the AHL and not only adapt to the North American game but also to a different life away from the rink.
With his current five year pact set to expire at the season's end, the twelve year vet will be looking for what will likely be his final NHL contract. MacTavish knows first hand what type of player Regehr is and whether or not he could still handle a four/five role on this club. As much as it pains me to say it, a two year offer to bring aboard one of the most hated players in recent Oilers history, would be a massive step in the right direction.
There will most certainly be other players available for Craig MacTavish to seriously consider, names like Mark Streit, Barret Jackman, Jordan Leopold and Andrew Ference, to name but a few. Heck, if they were to move a Nick Schultz in a trade, a player like Ference could very well be brought in to ultimately replace him on this roster.
Most feel the Oilers will target Streit due to his connection with Krueger and I count myself among them. However, offering a three year extension to player who will turn thirty-six years of age next December, would probably not be the road this team would be in any hurry to go down. Especially when you think back to how well the Nikolai Khabibulin signing worked out for them.