Not broken: Right-handed defenceman headed to free agency

Not five minutes after I hit “publish” on my last post, theorizing that the right-handed defenceman that the Toronto Maple Leafs so desperately need would have to come by trade and not by a free agency signing, news broke that the Minnesota Wild were buying out Tom Gilbert, a 6’3″ defenceman that moves the puck well for his size.

He’s not a big lug on puck possession, and was a heavy TOI guy in Edmonton playing upwards of 22 minutes a night on average. He was traded last deadline for the more defensive Nick Schultz, in a move that was roundly panned by Edmonton Oilers bloggers, some of the sharpest on the net.

And now he’s available. He’s a big right shot and was forced out of ice-time now that the Wild have signed Ryan Suter and have developed Jared Spurgeon into a top four defenceman. There’s some quality on the right side, and the decision by the Wild to buy him out stems from the fact there wasn’t more than one bidder for the year left on Gilbert’s deal worth $4-million.

Frankly, I probably would have paid that, if only because the Maple Leafs have some cap space and if they have one hole in their lineup everybody can agree on, it’s the lack of a right-handed shot that can play on the second pairing. Gilbert is no François Beauchemin, but he ate up heavy minutes during some particularly lean years in Edmonton. With a year left, there isn’t very much risk, but now that Gilbert is getting $1.32-million a year through 2015, he may be looking for a lesser deal.

Here is what Jonathan Willis wrote about Gilbert at the start of last season:

Yet, it’s Gilbert’s work at even-strength that really stands out. He and Smid have been hard-matched against the best possible opposition. He’s playing more than 18 minutes per game, and doing the bulk of the puck distribution (even as Smid handles the bulk of the hitting game). Yet, whether one grades his performance by scoring chance or by eye, he’s done a superb job of shutting down those players.

In other words, Gilbert has filled the role of number one defenseman for the Oilers and filled it well. Not only has he (along with Smid) done a fine job of shutting down other team’s best lines, but he’s also on pace for 38 points – the second best offensive output of his career.

If you go to Behind The Net and search for Oilers defencemen with more than 40 games played, you’ll find that Gilbert is in the top two of Corsi Rel QoC (quality of competition) for every year 2008 through 2011. He also led the Oilers in Corsi in both 2010 and 2011. Corsi Rel QoC is more of a usage-based metric, and it’s only practical purpose is for checking to see which players had the minutes against the strongest opponents. It tells you little about how they performed in those minutes, but Gilbert has generally been accepted as a good puck-possession player when you factor in how poor Edmonton has been for years and how little defensive depth they’ve had in helping him out.

He is bought out, and could be gotten for cheaper than $4-million, and fills an immediate need.

Broken old Carlo Colaiacovo is also available, but he’s a left shot, and not as durable as Gilbert.