NHL NEWS CATCHUP: Oilers acquire Fistric; Canucks sign Barker, Vandermeer; Hurricanes ripped off in Westgarth trade; Flyers reacquire Boucher, sign Foster.

All kind of news to catch up on in the days since the NHL resumed action on Saturday night, as teams were allowed to begin signing and trading players again following approximately 3-4 months of lockout-induced inaction.

EDMONTON OILERS TRADE 2013 3RD ROUND PICK TO DALLAS FOR D-MAN MARK FISTRIC

A nice little pick-up here by the Oilers, as spoken by an Oiler fan.  Initially I was overjoyed with the news, now I’m simply very pleased with the news – put that down to months of literally nothing happening.  Nonetheless, it is well documented that if the Oilers want to compete this season – and compete they very well could – they need to improve their woeful defensive depth.  Trading a 3rd Round Draft Pick, I feel, was a small price to pay for picking up a third-pairing, keep-it-simple-stupid, bonafide-NHL-standard defenceman.  It’s also nice that he can hit like an absolute freight train:

I’m not one to place too much value in a player being physical though.  It’s a nice bonus, but I’d far rather have a player can actually play hockey.  And Fistric, as mentioned above, can play hockey.  He has pretty much no offence to speak of, but is a defensive specialist who reportedly is great on the PK.  He’s not a guy you’d want to rely on to be a Top 4 player for any length of time, but he has proven himself to be a true 3rd pairing defenceman in the NHL.  This is essentially a younger (just 26) slightly less skilled version of Andy Sutton, who if you missed the news might be forced into retirement due to injury.  It also means the club doesn’t have to rely on similar player Theo Peckham, who 2 years ago looked pretty damn good but completely lost his way last year, and this year is struggling with injury and reported conditioning issues.  I like Theo as a player and a person (what I’ve seen of him on TV), and he could yet return to form as a NHL-level d-man, but the Oilers have to improve their depth right now.  Furthermore, this enables another similar player, Colten Teubert, to return to the AHL to hone his game some more in hopes of one day becoming the player that Fistric is.

This trade becomes somewhat less palatable if Fistric leaves the team in the offseason – he’s a UFA this summer – but unless he really stinks the joint out or doesn’t wish to remain playing in his hometown then I don’t see them not signing him.  3rd round picks aren’t worthless, but they’re not guaranteed by any stretch to turn into an NHL player.  The Oilers have two 2nd round picks in this draft (one obtained from Anaheim in the Cogliano trade), making this pick a bit more expendable, but if Fistric does leave after just ~4 months of being an Oiler, it would be nice to have that pick back.  Still, nice move for now – and it’s been a looooong time since I could say something the Oilers did was a “nice move”.

VANCOUVER SIGNS D-MEN CAM BARKER, JIM VANDERMEER

In somewhat surprising news, the Vancouver Canucks – whom many see as Cup contenders and one of the top teams in the league – have signed Cam Barker and Jim Vandermeer to one year deals.  It’s not surprising that Vancouver signed some defensive depth – that’s what smart teams do, especially ones loading up for a run at the Cup.  It’s not even surprising that they signed Vandermeer – in his year in Edmonton in 2010-11, he was a good soldier, well-liked by fans and team-mates and a capable bottom-pairing defender, and hence a good option for a powerhouse team like the Canucks to have to step in when needed.

No, the surprising part is the signing of (former 3rd Overall Pick in 2004) Cam Barker.  Barker was once thought of as an integral part of the future of the rebuilding Chicago Blackhawks club, providing offence from the blueline by getting the puck to their superstar young forwards and being a powerplay wiz.  The problem with that was, Barker kind of sucked.  Big time.  He had one good season in 2008/09 when he put up 40 points, but that was an outlier, with his stats defying the percentages for the most part.

The Blackhawks decided to offload him to Minnesota before their run to the 2010 Stanley Cup, and made off like bandits (in hindsight) by getting young defender Nick Leddy in return, a guy who is looking like a quality top-4 player.  Barker was awful for the Wild, not putting up points, being crap defensively and spending much time injured.  He was then bought out of his contract in 2011, only to be picked up by the hapless Oilers for a cool $2m+ for a year.  I actually didn’t mind the move – the Oilers, then as is now, needed defensive depth, and I thought he might be able to resurrect his career here.  That didn’t happen.  Barker was awful for the Oilers, not putting up points, being crap defensively (including some hilarious efforts at defending breakaways following him giving the puck away), and spending much time injured.  He was not offered a new contract by Edmonton.

Many thought that was pretty much the end of the line for Barker in North America, and that he’d have to find work in Europe (and improve his dire skating ability).  However, he caught on with the Texas Stars of the AHL on a pro-tryout contract and reportedly actually looked pretty good at that level.  Then he was released from that contract, causing many to point and laugh, though it should be noted that it was probably a mutual agreement due to the lockout.  Still, he wasn’t expected to be receiving many offers from NHL teams, particularly not from top-level teams noted for their smart moves.  But Vancouver inexplicably picked up the phone, clearly showing the odd affinity that NHL GMs have for former high draft picks and giving them numerous chances to revive their career.  Good luck with Cam, Vancouver, you’ll need it.  Good guy, awful NHL defender.

LA KINGS TRADE WESTGARTH TO CAROLINA FOR ANTHONY STEWART AND TWO DRAFT PICKS

In a hilarious trade, the LA Kings acquired a 4th line NHL forward who can score a little and play a physical game on a regular shift, plus two mid-to-low-end draft picks (a 4th and a 6th rounder), in exchange for a big physical forward who fights a lot and scores a lot less and who barely plays in half his team’s games (only 25 games last year).  I get that the Hurricanes want to get tougher, but giving up three tangible assets for essentially one intangible asset (and possible liability) is just ridiculous.  That’s really all I can say about that.

PHILADELPHIA REACQUIRE GOALIE BRIAN BOUCHER, SIGN D-MAN KURTIS FOSTER.

The Flyers got things going early on Sunday by trading minor leaguer Luke Pither for Brian Boucher and prospect Mark Alt from Carolina.  Boucher is a capable backup goalie who’s had two previous stints with the Flyers.  He should be an OK backup for the team, but certainly won’t be solving the team’s goaltending woes any time soon.  Alt is a legitimate NHL prospect defender, currently playing in the NCAA, so well done on the Flyers for getting him and a backup goalie for a forward who’s struggled ever since turning pro in Luke Pither.

The Flyers also announced the signing of defenceman Kurtis Foster to a 1-year deal.  Foster is kind of like a slightly better Cam Barker.  Like Barker, he’s not very good defensively, he’s big but not physical, and he can’t skate very well.  Still, he is a lot better at putting up points than Barker is, owning a cannon of a shot.  I also have a soft-spot for Kurtis given all he’s had to overcome in his career – having his leg shattered while playing for Minnesota and nearly ending his career, followed by the death of his baby daughter – it is remarkable that he’s been able to keep it all together and carve out a respectable NHL career.  A pretty good depth signing for the Flyers.

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