Of all the reasons the Edmonton Oilers haven’t made the playoffs in a decade, the best is that they haven’t had a number-one defenseman since Chris Pronger forced his way out right after their run to the 2006 Stanley Cup Final.
In fact, they haven’t even had close to a number-one defenseman. Tom Gilbert might have been their best. Yes, really, Tom Gilbert. Unless it was Jeff Petry. Maybe it was him. (Here, you decide.)
And that’s why there’s so much pressure on GM Peter Chiarelli right now. Even with Connor McDavid and all the other talented forwards the Oilers have assembled, it’s hard to see them contending without a significantly better blue line.
“I can understand the fans’ frustration, but you have to make the right deal. I’m having lots of discussions,” Chiarelli told reporters Saturday at the draft. “It’s hard to get a No. 1 defenseman. There are not many — over half the teams don’t have one. There are deals out there we’re working on that have good defensemen. They’re smart, they can move pucks. Different players. As I’ve said, I’d prefer a right-shot defenseman. That’s what I’m focusing on.”
Which is why the Oilers have been linked to P.K. Subban, Kevin Shattenkirk, Jacob Trouba, Matt Dumba, and Jason Demers. The latter is the only unrestricted free agent. The others will cost some serious assets, if they’re even available at all. Remember that Columbus had to give up Ryan Johansen for Seth Jones.
Prior to last weekend, many expected Chiarelli to use Edmonton’s fourth overall draft pick as currency to land a top defenseman in a trade. Or, if not that, at least choose a defenseman with the selection — someone like Mikhail Sergachev, who went ninth to Montreal, or Olli Juolevi, who went fifth to Vancouver. But then winger Jesse Puljujarvi fell into their lap, and they weren’t going to pass on him.
And so Chiarelli will keep trying. (Just like Don Sweeney will keep trying in Boston.)
“You have to grind away,” Chiarelli said. “Whenever there’s a deadline, things loosen up. The next one is July 1.”
Related: Why are the Oilers still bad? Look at their drafting