The Maple Leafs dealt defenseman Mark Fraser to Edmonton Friday in exchange for minor-league forward Cameron Abney and the rights to KHLer and restricted free agent Teemu Hartikainen. If you’re underwhelmed by the move, you probably need to adjust your whelm expectations as the NHL’s trade deadline approaches, because these types of defensive depth deals – and not blockbuster moves for marquee blueliners – are what NHL people expect to see.
Sure, there’s a possibility an elite defenseman such as Phoenix’s Keith Yandle moves on to a new team. And if the Rangers can’t get Dan Girardi’s signature on a contract extension, teams will line up to bid on his services. But take a good look at the larger pool defensemen believed to be available. There’s far more demand than supply for high-quality players of that position.
Boston, for instance, needs someone to replace veteran Dennis Seidenberg, who is out for the season with a knee injury. The Leafs and Senators were reported to be interested in Michael del Zotto before the Blueshirts dealt him to Nashville. The Red Wings, Hurricanes, Islanders and Capitals, among others, need upgrades of various degrees on the back end. And of course, there are the Philadelphia Flyers: they may or may not have people who own the team who would crush you and everything you’ve ever held dear to get their hands on a defensive menace such as Shea Weber.
That overcrowded market has to fight for defensemen such as Edmonton’s Nick Schultz, Florida’s Tom Gilbert and Phoenix’s Derek Morris; decent-enough blueliners, but not game-breakers. So, when you can’t get the best quality as an NHL GM, the next solution often is getting as much quantity you can to load up for a playoff run or to try and build depth for the future. That’s why deals like the one for Fraser – a third-pairing NHLer who will give the Oilers some size and snarl, if not footspeed – can be consummated with relative ease: the risk and reward are both moderate at best. Toronto was about to have cap space issues with David Bolland nearing a return from injury and accepted fringe prospects in return, and in Fraser Edmonton gets a soon-to-be unrestricted free agent on a type of tryout basis, a la goalie Ben Scrivens.
The market that exists for defensemen is about the polar opposite that exists for goalies. If you’re in a position to sell a D-man, you can ask for a lot and probably get it.
The problem is, everyone knows how dear they are, so nobody wants to sell.