Rumor Roundup: Which defensemen will the Oilers target this summer?

Oilers (Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images)

Entering the final four weeks of this season, Edmonton Oilers fans – having already resigned themselves to missing the playoffs for the eighth consecutive year – are left wondering if management can finally find a solution to end this playoff drought.

The Oilers were supposed to emerge from a lengthy rebuild this season and compete for a post-season berth. When Craig MacTavish was hired as GM last April, he promised bold moves, but he quickly discovered fulfilling such promises was easier said than done.

To his credit, MacTavish didn’t spend his first season in the GM’s seat making cautious moves. He traded Ales Hemsky, Nick Schultz, Ladislav Smid, Devan Dubnyk and Ilya Bryzgalov for draft picks and prospects and acquired: Andrew Ference, David Perron, Ben Scrivens, Viktor Fasth, Matt Hendricks and Mark Fraser via trades and free agency.

The additions of Scrivens and Fasth should improve the Oilers’ goaltending, which has long been a weakness. Perron has proved to be a worthwhile addition to their scoring lines. Still, MacTavish faces a number of roster issues that must be addressed this summer.

Landing a top-two defenseman remains MacTavish’s biggest challenge. The Oilers have been linked to Nashville Predators’ captain Shea Weber, largely based upon the perception the cost-conscious Predators were unwilling to carry Weber’s expensive contract.

Given the stated unwillingness of Predators’ management to trade Weber, it’s an option MacTavish won’t have to consider. Even if the Predators were receptive to the idea of deal Weber, it would prove quite costly for the Oilers. MacTavish would face giving up either Taylor Hall or Jordan Eberle as part of the package. Such a move would be too bold for even MacTavish to contemplate.

But if not Weber, then who? CBC’s Elliotte Friedman reports hearing the Oilers had interest in Buffalo Sabres’ blueliner Tyler Myers, but it was quickly dismissed. Only 24, Myers is struggling to regain the form that earned him the Calder Trophy in 2010. While Myers can still blossom into a skilled top-two defenseman, the Oilers need one who is already established.

This summer’s free agent market doesn’t offer up much to address the Oilers’ blueline needs. The best of the bunch are ageing (Dan Boyle, Marek Zidlicky, Sami Salo) or carry long injury histories (Andrei Markov, Joni Pitkanen). Prior to the trade deadline, the Ottawa Sun’s Bruce Garrioch claimed the Oilers made an offer for Markov. If the Canadiens fail to re-sign the 35-year-old defenseman, Garrioch speculates MacTavish will pursue Markov as a free agent in July.

Underrated Pittsburgh Penguins’ defenseman Matt Niskanen is the right age (27), but probably not suited for the pressure of carrying a rebuilding Oilers defense. Rugged Penguins blueliner Brooks Orpik could also be available, but convincing him to sign with a rebuilding club in Edmonton could prove a difficult sell.

If MacTavish is still willing to make a bold move, he could pitch an expensive offer sheet to Montreal’s P.K. Subban, but odds are the Canadiens would simply match it. He could also enquire into Subban’s trade status, though the Habs are unlikely to move the 2013 Norris Trophy winner.

The Oilers also need an experienced stay-at-home defenseman. The Edmonton Journal’s Jim Matheson recently advocated pursuing former Oiler Matt Greene, but reports out of Los Angeles suggest the Kings intend to re-sign him.

Prior to the Olympic break MacTavish attempted to ship center Sam Gagner to the Kings, but the deal ultimately fell through. Gagner’s no-movement clause goes into effect on July 1, but MacTavish could use him as trade bait for a defenseman during the NHL draft in June.

Rumor Roundup appears regularly only on thehockeynews.com. Lyle Richardson has been an NHL commentator since 1998 on his website, spectorshockey.net, and is a contributing writer for Eishockey News and The Guardian (P.E.I.).

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