Free Agent Blue Plate: James Wisniewski


July 1st is steadily creeping up on us.  With the Oilers securing the number one pick in the NHL draft, a lot of press ink will be jammed up in who Edmonton will select first overall.

Shortly after, free agency will be knocking on our door.  Over the next few weeks, we’ll take a look at some free agents that may (or may not) fit in Edmonton’s future plans.  Today, we’ll feature James Wisniewski of the Montréal Canadiens,

Wisniewski is a UFA come July 1st. Photo courtesy sportsnet.ca

James Wisniewski is probably the biggest unrestricted free agent defender available this summer.  I’m going to go out on a limb and say that Nick Lidstrom of the Detroit Red Wings will either retire, resign for one year with the Wings, or otherwise be ‘unavailable’ to other teams.

The Wiz was a midseason acquisition for the Canadiens in 2010-11, coming over from the New York Islanders in exchange for a couple of draft picks (MTL’s 2nd in 2011 and 5th in 2012).  Wisniewski immediately brought a couple of  important piece to the Montréal blue – he has a rocket shot, he’s a physical threat, and he’s not a liability in his own end.

Rather, he’s a pretty good defender.  One that if I was running the Edmonton Oilers organisation, I’d at least have written his agent’s phone number down on a bar napkin.

Wisniewski had 51 points spread out between the Islanders and the Canadiens last season – in 43 games with the Habs, he was 7G-23A-30PTS with 20 PIMS.  Wisniewski also had two assists in six playoff games this year.  While 51 points over a full season is certainly nothing to sniff at, you’ve got to at least acknowledge that 20 PIMs for a tough defender is a worthy statistic.  He’s a physical player and can scrap when needed, but he’s not going to take dumb penalties. (Seven of those 20 penalty minutes were taken at a BOS-MTL game in April.  If Montréal and Boston didn’t hate each other’s guts at that moment, Wisniewski could have ended up with even less PIMs on the season).

Wisniewski sat for a two game suspension for making what some would call an obscene gesture at Sean Avery, but I’m willing to look the other way on this one, being that the gesture was made at Sean Avery.  Sean Avery is…well, Sean Avery.  If you’re not a Ranger fan, who likes Sean Avery?

YES, I’M INTERESTED IN JAMES WISNIEWSKI.  WHY DO YOU ASK?

Wisniewski’s 30 points in a Canadiens sweater was third on the team to PK Subban and Roman Hamrlik, yet Wisniewski played in 34 less games than Subban, and 39 less than Hamrlik.  He lead the defence with an 8% shooting percentage, besting Subban by almost 1%.  Subban also led the team in time on ice, and pulled around 25 shifts during a game. Everyone knows who James Wisniewski is, and the only reason you might not is because he’s not screaming ‘superstar’ from the rafters.  He’s a solid, every shift guy.  And that’s why I’d like him on my team.

WHAT’S IT GOING TO COST?

The short answer:  Probably more than Edmonton is willing to pony up.

I almost forgot that Wisniewski probably would like to be compensated for his time and effort in helping a team that’s missed the playoffs five consecutive years to get back near the playoffs in 2011-12.  Also, there’s a little bug in my ear about the last big ticket free agent signing the Oilers landed from the Habs in ’07.

Wisniewski’s 2010-11 is $3.25M, and he’s 27.  That’s prime time real estate in your playing career. If he’d jump at $13M over the next three years, I’d be eating through the cord to get him on my squad, plus it will give both the Oilers and Wisniewski a chance another valuable contract when he’s 30.  $13M over three years is a 1M raise over his current contract.  I can find $3M really quick if the Oilers don’t resign Jason Strudwick and James Vandermeer during the offseason.  I don’t know if I’d feel any comfortable taking it higher than $13M over three years, and that’s probably because of the whole Sheldon Souray fiasco fresh in my mind.

Think about it for a minute…What if the Oilers took Adam Larsson on draft day?  Could you imagine?  The defence might actually shape up this year.  Throw me in Ryan Whitney, Ladislav Smid, a Larsson, a Wisniewski, a Foster and a Peckham? I’d feel pretty good about opening up with those six on my blue in October.  Could the Oilers actually…be…competitive?!?

It’s a far fetch that the Oilers will reach this point in question.  It’s a distinct possibility that the Canadiens will see Wisniewski in their long term plans – about $13M of salary is falling off the books with contracts from Roman Hamrlik, Hal Gill and Andrei Markov expiring.  If the Canadiens go over the top with a six million dollar figure over the next four or five years, then it was nice to dream.

But if Wisniewski is still an unrestricted free agent come 01 July, pick up the phone, and tell him how much you’d like to see him in copper and blue.

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