Edmonton Oilers' Greatest Need at the Deadline: A Top-4 Defenseman

James Onusko@@jonuskoContributor IIIMarch 30, 2013

NASHVILLE, TN - MARCH 25:  Ryan Nugent-Hopkins #93, Ales Hemsky #83, and Taylor Hall #4 of the Edmonton Oilers congratulate teammate Corey Potter #44 on scoring a goal against the Nashville Predators at the Bridgestone Arena on March 25, 2013 in Nashville, Tennessee.  (Photo by Frederick Breedon/Getty Images)
Frederick Breedon/Getty Images

While there may be a flurry of trade activity before the deadline on April 3, if the past two years are any indicator, there may not be as much activity as some predict or hope for. 

With almost all teams still within reach of a playoff spot, it is a seller's market without question.

The salary cap will be lowered next year and that complicates potential trades. Some teams simply cannot add to their payrolls.

The Edmonton Oilers do not fall into this category as they have a lot of cap space (per CapGeek).

The biggest issue facing the management team, as it is with so many others, is handicapping the chances of making the playoffs.

If the Oilers are within four points of the final playoff spot leading up to the deadline, it would seem appropriate to try and add to the roster.

While the team has several needs, landing a defenseman that can log a lot of minutes while playing in one of the top two pairings, should be their first priority.

Here are the three reasons why this should be a priority for the Oilers.



Jeff Petry and Justin Schultz Are Not Ready


Petry and Schultz are not quite ready to play the minutes they are being asked to play.

They will be soon, however, and both players have a lot of potential.

Schultz has more offensive upside, but both players are exceptional skaters and above average puck-movers.

They can play and contribute on the power play—particularly Schultz—and those minutes should not be reduced.

However, neither of them is ready to face the opposing team’s top lines, shift after shift and night after night.

At times, Schultz has appeared overwhelmed in the defensive zone as the season has worn on, although this should not be surprising for a rookie defenseman.

Petry also seems challenged to play the kind of minutes that have been asked of him and has been error-prone against better competition.

Adding another defenseman would allow the Oilers to spell these two off in the top pairings and have them play against comparatively weaker competition on more shifts.



Team Lacking in NHL-calibre Defensemen


While Ryan Whitney and Cory Potter have been okay when they haven’t been asked to do too much, the Oilers' depth defensemen have not been good enough to step in when needed.

Mark Fistric and Theo Peckham both have big hearts and a willingness to do whatever the team asks from a physical standpoint.

However, neither of these players has proven they can play a consistently error-free game this season.

Essentially there is no one on the current roster within in a sniff of being able to play the minutes required of top defensemen.

The Oilers have some defensemen in their system that might get there, though.

Oscar Klefbom and Martin Marincin seem the most likely to be potential minute eaters for the organization, but this might not happen for two or three more seasons.



Always Need Defensemen For Depth


It is the rare NHL team that does not use at least seven or eight defensemen in a tight stretch run and then in the playoffs.

Injuries are inevitable, particularly with the way the Oilers’ defensemen pride themselves on shot-blocking and putting their bodies in harm’s way for the team.

Adding another defenseman would allow the Oilers to make some choices in their seven and eight spots—namely between Fistric and Peckham who seem to be interchangeable for the most part.

What I don’t think the Oilers should do is give up someone from their current top three pairings to do this.

They need to increase their depth on the back end, not just maintain it, and certainly not diminish it.

The organization is flush with young forwards and this would be one of the few times that trading away a second-round draft pick in a package deal would make sense.