Edmonton Oilers: Why They Must Acquire a Defenseman After Andy Sutton Suspension

Adam GrahamAnalyst IIDecember 11, 2011

EDMONTON, CANADA - OCTOBER 9: Andy Sutton #25 of the Edmonton Oilers skates against the Pittsburgh Penguins on October 9, 2011 at Rexall Place in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. (Photo by Dale MacMillan/Getty Images)
Dale MacMillan/Getty Images

On Saturday, the Edmonton Oilers learned how long they will be without defenseman Andy Sutton for. They also got another taste of what life might be like without him in a 3-0 loss to the Calgary Flames.

Sutton was handed an eight game suspension by league disciplinary sheriff Brendan Shannahan for his hit on Alexei Ponikarovsky, which will test the already depleted Oilers blue line.

If this isn’t a sign that Edmonton needs another d-man, I’m not sure what is. The team has already lost Cam Barker, Corey Potter and Taylor Fedun to fairly serious injuries (Fedun’s being the most serious). With Sutton now out of action until December 31, there isn’t room for any more injuries to a defense core that has generally been considered the weakest part of the Oilers ever since they went into rebuilding mode three years ago.

Ryan Whitney has looked somewhat slow since he returned from an injury two weeks ago and the Oilers don’t really boast anyone else with All-Star capabilities on the back end.

Granted, Ladislav Smid has looked solid and Tom Gilbert has decent statistics, but Edmonton needs more than that in order to ultimately compete for a playoff spot.

This is where GM Steve Tambellini enters the equation. If Tambellini wants to prove his value to the fans in Edmonton, he’ll make a move sooner rather than later to acquire a top-four NHL defenseman.

I realize it’s much easier to write about making a significant trade than actually completing the deal, especially with a salary cap in place. However, Tambellini needs to show just as much urgency to acquire a quality d-man as the players do in order to stay in the playoff hunt.

I’ll leave the speculating up to you as to whom the team should target, but they really can’t be too picky at this point. When your top scoring d-man only has 13 points and the only one other blue liner has more than five points, you need help.

The irony of all this is that Edmonton began the season as one of the stingiest teams in the entire league in the goals against department. Perhaps this was an anomaly or perhaps it was simply due to Nikolai Khabibulin standing on his head. Whatever the reason, it only masked the teams’ biggest shortcoming.

The Oilers are still a respectable 13th in goals against average, but they’re falling further and further down that list as the season continues.

Even when Sutton returns in three weeks, he doesn’t exactly provide a huge boost in the puck-moving department, which appears to be where the Oilers need help the most. There’s also no guarantee he won’t get suspended again at some point given his history, so Tambellini should be prepared to get help quickly.

Maybe it will be Sam Gagner that gets dealt. There have been plenty of trade rumors involving him lately. Perhaps it will be another top-six forward that will be swapped for a d-man. However it shakes down, I’d be very surprised if we don’t see a new face on the Oilers blue line before the trade deadline.

If not, Oilers nation won’t be too happy with how their team finishes the 2011-12 season.