EDMONTON – The Edmonton Oilers opted to bolster the defensive reliability of their blue-line at the expense of offensive upside by trading Tom Gilbert to the Minnesota Wild for Nick Schultz ahead of Monday’s NHL trade deadline.
In Schultz, the Oilers acquire a defenceman who has made his mark as a steady defensive specialist and penalty killer, while Minnesota adds a more offensive dimension to its back end in Gilbert.
It’s a trade that meets the needs of both teams.
“I think we’re acquiring a player who has very good experience in a lot of different positions as far as left and right defence,” Oilers general manager Steve Tambellini said.
“I think Nick gives us an opportunity to use him with a shutdown player such as Ladislav Smid, where they can go against the top units. I think it gives us an option to play with someone like a Ryan Whitney. If he needs to go up the ice, you have someone like Nick Schultz who has the gamesmanship to be able to protect and allow him to do things he wants to do with the puck.”
The move also gives the Oilers options at key times during a game, Tambellini said.
“Normally, you would see Nick Schultz out there at a crucial time, so we’re getting a player who has a lot of poise in a lot of different situations,” said Tambellini.
Schultz, 29, drafted 33rd overall by Minnesota in 2000, leads the Wild in career regular-season games played with 743. In that span, the six-foot-one, 200-pound native of Strasbourg, Sask., recorded 26 goals and 102 assists. Schultz’s best offensive season was 2009-10, when he had a goal and 19 assists.
Gilbert, 29, selected 129th by Edmonton from the University of Wisconsin in 2002, is a native of Bloomington, Minn. In 384 games with the Oilers, Gilbert scored 33-125-158. His best season was 2008-09, when he had 5-40-45.
“When we’re presented with the opportunity of Nick Schultz, who gave us that ability to use him in different situations, I think we can be better as a hockey club under pressure moments,” Tambellini said.
“Whether it’s the last couple of minutes or when we’re defending a lead or learning how to play with a lead, I think he has the ability to demonstrate that type of poise we’re going to need as we get better as a hockey club.”
With Gilbert, who led Edmonton in average ice time per game at 22:47 this season, gone, Schultz will be part of coach Tom Renney’s top four with Whitney, Smid and Jeff Petry.
Whitney and Petry, emerging in his second NHL season, are considered primarily offensive defencemen. Schultz and Smid are textbook stay-at-home types. Schultz is signed through the end of the 2013-14 season, with a salary cap hit of $3.5 million.
“I think it’s one of those situations where they are two different players, obviously,” Renney told reporters at the MTS Centre in Winnipeg. “I think both teams have met a need, to say the least.
“As for Nick, I’ve had some experience with him in the world championships and have a decent idea with that, and also having coached against him, with what we’re getting.
“He’s a good first-pass guy. Very steady. Plays the game in a methodical way that is very, very tough to play against over time. He really knows his way around his own end in a real good way and we need that.”
Having signed talented forward Ales Hemsky to a new two-year contract worth US$10 million Friday, taking Hemsky off the market as an unrestricted free agent July 1, Tambellini turned his attention to bolstering the blue-line with the deadline approaching.
“If we lost that level of skill in our top six, then we were replacing part of it at the deadline and maybe part of it through free agency or trade,” Tambellini said. “That was our main focus going into this. Once that was completed with Ales, then our priorities changed.”
Prior to getting Hemsky’s name on a contract Friday, Tambellini made two moves.
On Feb. 13, he signed veteran defenceman Andy Sutton to a one-year contract extension worth $1.5 million. On Feb. 16, he traded centre Ryan O’Marra to Anaheim for defenceman Bryan Rodney in a swap of AHL roster players.